Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Brief Note on Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal

Few days back I was reading The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet—the vagabond, the impostor, the male prostitute, and yes, the saint (as proclaimed by Jean Paul Sartre), in short, the most rebellious voice in French literature.

The book recounts Genet’s experiences while travelling across Europe in 1930s as a petty thief, male prostitute and confirmed criminal, enduring hunger, fatigue and contempt. The book candidly depicts his homosexual love affairs with fellow criminals, pimps and even a detective, upholding a reverse moral system where freedom is the ultimate goal for any human being.

Initially, it is difficult for a reader to digest such open confessions of one’s lewdness, but, as he progresses, he cannot help feeling asphyxiated by Genet’s beautiful prose—full of poetic expressions, imageries and an unmatched sensitivity towards even the most ordinary objects in life. It is like a sweet but poisonous drug, drowning your senses in a timeless sea of beauty and melancholy.

Another thing that captivated me was Genet’s attitude towards his criminal life. He never despises it, neither he glorifies it (here, I disagree with those critics who argue that for Genet, petty delinquency was an act of brazen heroism). What I find in this text is a quest for beauty even in the most deplorable destitution, in the vilest crimes committed. Genet doesn’t sound sympathetic towards his criminal self or that of the others, but carefully delineates the aesthetic aspect of it, the inherent splendor of the lower depths, without passing any judgment. It is a difficult task, but Genet performs it flawlessly, leaving his readers agape in a curious limbo of amorality.

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