Jack’s Naughty Bits: Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal

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Jack's Naughty Bits

As if more needs be said. The “Prince Noir des Lettres” stands alone,
monolithic, iconic and synonymous with the idiom he invented. To include Genet in a Naughty
Bits column is like inducting Babe Ruth into the Hall of Fame: it confuses the categories of
whole and part, for indeed there is no fame if not Babe’s, nothing naughty if not Genet.


Orphan, thief, vagabond, homosexual, prostitute: these, the oft-mentioned components
of Genet’s life, get so over-romanticized by people who share none of them that, when I catch
myself doing it too, I end up not even wanting to like Genet, not wanting to be another Sartre
sitting in the comforts of the rue d’Ulm eulogizing Genet’s blacknailed alterity. Yet the beauty
of Genet’s prose demands no badge of authenticity, no street scars or bruises, and certainly no
saccharine sympathy. We might try to read Genet as tourists, but we’re all too likely to go
native, to feel, alongside our masterful guide, the hard heat of a man’s body pressed against us
in a sordid cell, and to suspect that our own scrubbed experiences blanch in comparison. Reading
Genet, I see the safety of my own life present before my eyes as a blank screen on which he
projects a dance of passionate shadows.

In the scene below, Genet sketches, in two paragraphs, the vicious interlacing of shame, desire
and self-loathing that consume his male lover as they fuck for the first time. Yet the sad fact
is that Genet seeks out these “queers who hate themselves,” finding, perhaps, in their pained
concessions to desire a Dantesque punishment for his own inescapable self-hatred.

* * *

From Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal

(translated by Bernard Frechtman)

When I buggered this handsome twenty-two-year-old athlete for the first time, he pretended to
be sleeping. With his face crushed against the white pillow, he let me slip it in, but when he
was stuck, he could not keep from groaning delicately, the way one sighs.


Deeply threaded by my prick, he becomes something other than himself, something
other than my lover. He is a strange part of me which still preserves a little of its own life.
We form one body, but it has two heads and each of them is involved in experiencing its own
pleasure. At the moment of coming, this excrescence of my body which was my lover loses all
tenderness, clouds over. In the darkness, I sense his hardness and can feel that a veil of shadow
is spreading over his face, which is contracted with pain and pleasure. I know that he knows
he derives this pleasure from me, that he awaits it from my hand which is jerking him off, but
I feel that the only thing that concerns him now is his coming. Though we are bound together by
my prick, all our friendly relations are cut off. Our mouths, which could perhaps re-establish
them are unable to meet. He wants only to be more deeply impaled. I cannot see him, for he has
murmured “Put out the light,” but I feel that he has become someone else, someone strange and
remote. It is when I have made him come that I feel him hating me.

© Grove Press, Inc.