New Culture is happy to publish The Forbidden Genes of Genet: a script by Dr. Janardan Ghosh. The script and the play was based on the life of Jean Genet.
The play was performed at Alliance française du Bengale in January 2018. The play was directed by Dr. Janardan Ghosh. Click here for details
The Forbidden Genes of Genet
J.G. seeks, or goes in search of, or would like to find or never to find the delicious disarmed enemy whose balance is off, whose profile is vague, whose face is unacceptable, the enemy knocked down by the slightest puff of air, the already humiliated slave, throwing himself out of a window when the sign is given, the enemy who has been beaten: blind, deaf, mute. No arms, no legs, no belly, no heart, no sex, no head: in sum, a complete enemy, already bearing the marks of my bestiality, which being too lazy would no longer have to make any effort. I want the total enemy, one who would hate me beyond all bounds and in all his spontaneity, but the subjected enemy, beaten by me before ever laying eyes on me. And irreconcilable with me in any case.
All – No friends. Especially no friends: an enemy declared but not divided. Clean edges, no cracks. What colours? A very tender green like a cherry with effervescent purple. His stature? Between the two of us, let him present himself to me man to man. Man to woman. Man to us.
No friends. I seek a faltering enemy, on the verge of giving up. I’ll give him all I’ve got: blows, slaps, kicks, I’ll have him gnawed by starving foxes, I’ll make him eat English food, attend the House of Lords, be received at Buckingham Palace, fuck Prince Philip, get fucked by him, live for a month in London, dress like me, sleep where I sleep, live in my stead: I seek the declared enemy.
M.G.-Why did you decide to be a thief, a traitor, and a homosexual?
G.-I didn’t decide, I didn’t make any decision. But there are certain facts. If I started stealing, it’s because I was hungry. Later it became necessary for me to justify my act, to absorb it in a sense. And for homosexuality, I have no idea. What do we know about it anyway? Do we know why a man chooses this or that position for making love? Homosexuality was imposed on me like the colour of my eyes, the number of my feet. When I was a little kid I became aware of the attraction I felt for other boys; I never experienced an attraction for women. It’s only after becoming aware of this attraction that I “decided,” that I freely “chose” my homosexuality, in the Sartrian sense. Put another way and more simply, I had to get used to it, while I knew that society disapproved.
M.G.-When did you leave prison for the last time?
G.- In 1945, I think.
M.G.-How much of your life did you spend in prison?
G.-All together, if I include the time in reform school, it was about seven years.
M.G.-Was it in prison that your work took shape? Nehru said that his time in prison was the best period of reflection in his life.
G.-Then let him go back!
M.G.-Do you still steal today?
G.-And you, mademoiselle?
G.-You don’t steal? You’ve never stolen?
The family, the nuns, the pigs, I resisted them all. I know my mother likes to tell everyone that I was a good boy, but that isn’t true. I’ve been a brigand all my life. It was these years in prison with the time and the opportunity available to me for research and thought that motivated a desire to remould my character. I think that if I had been on the street from age eighteen to twenty-four, I would probably be a dope fiend or a small stakes gambler, or a hump in the ground.
Images, as we know, have a double function: to show and to conceal. These images begin with a gunman and his rifle, but why? And then after that, why so many guns? Why so many photographs showing a Palestine armed and fierce?
A photograph has two dimensions, so does a television screen; it is impossible to walk through either. From one wall of the street to the other, arched or curved, their feet pushing on one wall and their heads leaning against the other, the blackened and swollen corpses I had to step over were all Palestinian and Lebanese. For me, as for the remaining inhabitants, moving through Shatila and Sabra was like a game of leapfrog. Sometimes a dead child blocked the streets, which were so narrow, almost paper-thin, and the dead were so numerous. Their odour is no doubt familiar to old people: it didn’t bother me. But there were flies everywhere. If I lifted up the handkerchief or the Arab newspaper placed over a head, I disturbed them. Infuriated by my gesture, they swarmed over the back of my hand and tried to feed off of it. The first corpse I saw was that of a fifty- or sixty-year-old man.
He pulled back the blanket covering the feet and part of the legs. The calves were naked, black, and swollen. On the feet were black unlaced boots, and the ankles were tied very tightly by a strong rope-its strength was obvious-about three meters long, which I arranged so that Mrs. S. (an American) could photograph them clearly. I asked the forty-year-old man if I could see the face.
B – If you want, but look at it yourself
G – Will you help me turn his head?
B – No.
G – Was he dragged through the streets with this rope?”
B – I don’t know, sir.
G – Was it Haddad’s people?
B – I don’t know, sir.
G – The Israelis?
B – I don’t know.
G – The Katayeb?
B – I don’t know.
G – Did you know him?
B – Yes.
G – Did you see him die?
B – Yes,
G – Who killed him?
B – I don’t know.
Americans, are you asleep? Are you dreaming? May the words I write make you sleep even more deeply, may they make your dreams even sweeter, Oh widows, Oh mothers and daughters! I do not doubt that in the proud depths of your grief you will discover great stores of pleasure. What a pleasure to live with dead men hardly twenty years old!
M.M.- How did you happen to go to the United States to meet up with the Black Panthers?
G -Two members of the Black Panther Party came to see me in Paris and asked me what I could do to help them. I think that what they had in mind was that I would help them in Paris, but I said, “The simplest thing would be to go to America.” This answer seemed to surprise them a little. They said, “In that case, come. When do you want to leave?” I said, “Tomorrow.” They were even more astonished, but they reacted immediately: “Okay, we’ll come by to get you.” That’s how I ended up going. But I didn’t have a visa.
M.M.-You haven’t had a visa since you wrote on the Democratic Convention in Chicago?
G.-No, I never had a visa. They refuse to give me one.
M.M.-How do you do it then?
G.-It’s very easy to cross the border?
M.M.-People say that you never drink. Why is that?
G.- Because I’m not an American writer. The other evening I was having dinner with Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and they were drinking double whiskeys. Beauvoir said to me: “Our way of losing ourselves a little every evening in alcohol doesn’t interest you, because you’re already completely lost.” Little alcoholic spells don’t do much for me. I have lived in a state of lost consciousness for a long time now.
M.M.-But you do eat at least?
G.-I like to eat when I come back from England. It’s only through two things that I belong to the French nation: the language and the food.
H.E-Why do you like Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and why don’t you like the Brecht of Galileo Galilei?
G.-Because what Brecht says is nothing but garbage; because Galileo Galilei cites the obvious; it tells me things I would have discovered without Brecht. Strindberg, or in any case Miss Julie, does not present the obvious. It’s very new. I wasn’t expecting it. I saw Miss Julie after The Dance of Death, how do you say it in Swedish?
M.G.-Have you ever been interested in women?
G.-Sure I have; there are four women who have interested me: the Holy Virgin, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, and Madame Curie.
M.G.- Sartre calls you a saint. What relation do you see between the saint and the criminal?
G.-Solitude. And you, don’t you think that the greatest saints are a lot like criminals, if you look at them closely? Saintliness is frightening. There is no visible agreement between society and the saint.
M.M.-You believe in God?
G.-I believe that I believe in him. I have no great faith in the mythologies of the catechism. But why is it that I should account for the time allotted for my life by affirming what seems most precious to me? Nothing obliges me to do that. Nothing visible obliges me to do that.
Why then do I feel so strongly that I must do it? Before, the question was resolved in an immediate way by the act of writing. The rebellion of my childhood, my rebellion when I was fourteen, was not a rebellion against faith, it was a rebellion against my social situation, against my humiliated condition. That didn’t touch my deeper faith-but faith in what?
M.M.-And eternal life, do you believe in that?
G.-That’s the question of a Protestant theologian on his deathbed. It’s a meaningless question.
M.M.-Well, what sense is there in this writer’s life of wandering not from prison to prison but, now, from hotel room to hotel room? You’re rich, and yet you own nothing. I’ve counted: you have seven books, an alarm clock, a leather jacket, three shirts, a suit, and a suitcase. Is that it?
G – Why should there be anything more?
M.M.-Why this satisfaction in poverty?
G. (laughing).-It’s the poverty of the angels. Listen, I don’t give a damn …. When I go to London, sometimes my agent books me a room in the Ritz. What am I supposed to do with things and luxury? I write, and that’s it.
M.M.-Where are you taking your life?
G.-To oblivion. Most of our activities have the vagueness and stupefaction of a bum’s life. It’s very rare for us to make a conscious effort to go beyond this stupefied state. For myself, I do it by writing.
M.M.-Do you think of yourself as a revolutionary?
G.-My situation is that of a vagabond, not a revolutionary. How do you expect me to be able to define myself! Besides, the words that people try to pin on me are of no importance: thief, homosexual … and now revolutionary. No, I’m not inclined to say I’m a revolutionary.
One thing is sacred for me and I knowingly use the word sacred… time is sacred. Space doesn’t matter. A space can be reduced or enlarged enormously, it has little importance. But time, I have had the impression, and still do, that a certain amount of time was given to me at birth. Given by whom? That I don’t know, of course. But it seems to be given by a god. But, in any case, don’t imagine a god even if it’s not a question of a dancing god don’t imagine a god who moralizes the way you do, with a shadowy face like the one you know. That’s not it. It’s a god who is cheerful enough to guide me and to make me win at chess, for example. And then, in the end, it’s something like what I was saying to you yesterday, it’s a god that I invent, as one invents rules. I refer to him that’s a given, but I invent him. That’s all I can tell you. But he doesn’t dance, like the one Nietzsche would like to believe in; he doesn’t dance, but he amuses himself. In any case, he amuses himself with me; he doesn’t leave me for a second.
HF: Well, do you think that this conversation, this performance gives an idea of what you really think?
H F-What’s missing?
G.·-The truth. It’s possible when I’m alone. I tried to answer your questions as close as possible. But I was very far away.
H.F.-That’s very harsh, what you are saying.
G.- But harsh for whom?
H F- For anyone who tries to approach you.
G. -I can’t say anything to anybody. To others, I can’t say anything but lies. If I’m all alone, I speak a bit of the truth…. perhaps. If I am with someone eIse, I Iie . I’m somewhere else, off to the Side.
H F- But lies have a double truth.
G. – Yes! Try to discover the truth they contain. Try to discover what I wanted to hide by saying certain things to you.
All: He has an ideal, He’s honest. He has never been convicted. He is a Thief. He is a homosexual. He’s going to be a father. He’s such a good son. He is a saint. He is a revolutionary. He is… he is… he is….he is….
It seems indecent for me to speak of myself when such a serious trial is being prepared against Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party. But since I am here for them, I owe you a brief explanation of what I’m doing. For an inattentive listener, it might seem that what I have said is a kind of confession, not a complacent one with regard to myself, I hope, but indeed a solitary one. The five books I wrote were written in prison, and you can understand that, given my solitude at the time, this situation made it necessary for me to turn toward myself and to the realm of the prison cell. After that came five or six years of silence, then suddenly I wrote five plays, and the last one, The Sereem, was nothing but a long meditation on the Algerian War.
Therefore, wherever I am, I will always feel connected to any movement that will provoke the liberation of men. Here and now, it is the Black Panther Party; and I am here by their side because I am on their side.
The majority of blacks live in poverty and deprivation. It’s not the police who put an end to drugs in the black ghettos; it’s the Black Panther Party itself. But we close our eyes and stop up our ears, so as not to be too troubled by the poverty and misery of black people. If we looked directly at the reality of America, we would soon understand that blacks are more and more capable of taking care of their own affairs. So the simplest and most prudent thing is to leave them in a state of physical and moral poverty, in total solitude. Let’s not be afraid of words: this poverty makes our comfort possible. Moaning about distant bombings was our luxury. Our cowardice will prevent us from opening our eyes here. In order to complete the scenario, we have perfected an imposture in the grand style: to a few carefully chosen blacks we have granted celebrity status, and we have multiplied their image, but only so that they will remain what we ask them to be: actors and comedians.
We should not let ourselves be distracted by the sexual myths which are said to be the origins of racism. The origins of racism are socioeconomic.
What people call American civilization will disappear? It is already dead because it is founded on contempt. For example, the contempt of the rich for the poor, the contempt of whites for blacks, and so on. Every civilization founded on contempt must necessarily disappear. And I am not speaking of contempt in terms of morality, but in terms of function: I mean that contempt, as an institution, contains its own dissolving agent, and the dissolving agent of what it engenders. I am meddling, you will say, in the affairs of America: this is because it set an example for me by meddling in my own affairs and in the affairs, pretty much everywhere, of the entire world. Mter meddling with Korea, it took care of Vietnam, then of Laos, today it’s Cambodia and me, I’m taking care of America.
I don’t think that Brecht did anything for communism, and the revolution was not set off by Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro. I also think that the closer a work of art is to perfection, the more it is enclosed within itself, Worse than that it inspires nostalgia!
I just wrote the word young. Angela Davis is young, Huey Newton is young, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, David Hilliard… the Panthers are young. One sees the evolution of this people, at first subjugated, driven underground, then suspended in the air and floating-but not at random.
Angela Davis, young black woman, elegant and beautiful, refuses to be integrated into the black American bourgeoisie. When I first met her in Los Angeles in March 1970, her essential choices had already been made. For the government of California, and especially for the governor, Ronald Reagan, she was a woman who had to be if not struck down, at least taken out of the way, especially when it comes to higher education, since her last course, I think, was on dialectical materialism.
A spy? It’s possible. The image violently refers us back to King Hussein of Jordan as he gives the order to destroy Amman. “There is only one statesman in history who ordered the destruction of his own capital, and that was Nero.” Too beautiful, too distant, and too grand! Long after Nero, and closer to us, there was Thiers in France, whose stature and dimensions are shared by the Hashemite king. During the bloody week of August 1970 in Amman, between twelve and fifteen thousand Palestinian men and women were burned alive or incinerated.
The Palestinian women, the ordinary women of the people, are beautiful; their beauty is a sovereign beauty. They are very independent in relation to the men. They know how to cook, sew, fire a rifle, read Mao. After the massacres at Amman, they are the ones who first came out of the ruins and out of the trauma…
One can only agree-even applaud-when men and women refuse to be subservient, in whatever way; to the greater or lesser benefits of the capitalist organizations. It is a sombre occasion when a revolutionary is killed; it is a joyous occasion when a revolutionary has scoffed at the power wielded through money, domination, the name on everyone’s lips, and, for a few years now, the proliferating portrait.
What is prison? It is immobility. “Free man, you will always cherish the sea!” (Baudelaire). It is becoming more and more obvious that mobility is one of the signs of our times. To restrict a man for eleven years to surveying the same four or five square meters-which in the end become several thousand meters within the same four walls opened up by the imagination-would justify a young man if he wanted to go … where, for example? To China perhaps, and perhaps on foot.
When I was invited by the Cuban Cultural Affairs, I said, “Yes, I’d like very much to go to Cuba, but on one condition: I’ll pay for my own trip, I’ll pay for my stay there, and I’ll go where I want and stay where I want,” and I said, “I’d like very much to go, if it really is the kind of revolution I’d like to see, that is, if there aren’t any more Rags, because the flag, as a sign of recognition, as an emblem around which a group is formed, has become a castrating and deadly piece of theatricality and the national anthem? Ask him if there is no longer a Cuban flag and a national anthem.” He said, “But you don’t understand; our national anthem was written by a Black.”
I was seduced by language… yes I was….
Cover Image courtesy : By International Progress Organization – http://i-p-o.org/genet.htm, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8499473
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