on June 22, 1998
Jean Genet's ``Miracle Of The Rose. '' is a modern masterpiece written by one of France's most tortured and brillian writers. An honest reflection of prison, men, love and pain; the characters fix together in a brutal recollection of childhood memories, lost loves, hope and the fight against stagnation and conformity within the bleak and often romantic prison walls. Genet, writes firsthand as having been orphaned and raised in a disciplinary `warehouse 'for wayward youth. He was imprisoned several times during his lifetime and ``The Miracle Of The Rose. '' is a journal of his experiences there, the prison becomes the setting for secret romances and courthships, the saintliness of the prisoner who turns his chains into roses and the connection between these men who have shared their lives together. Hitting upon the often vilified role of sex in prison and love between men, Genet makes the characters all the more human for the brutality of his recollection. He sweetly takes EVIL in hand and charges pornography with poetry and pain with pleasure. Combining the complexity of the human soul and the God fearing body, Genet has written a book that supercedes any of Sade's wildest fantasies or greater humanitarian views. Genet is considered one of Modern Europe's greatest writers and was succesfully petitioned out of a life time prison sentence in France by Sartre and other leading intellectuals and visionaries, Genet's, `` Miracle Of The Rose '' is a riveting must.
on November 1, 2002
Genet's second novel, 'The Miracle of the Rose' (1946) is a phantasmagorical account of his youthful incarceration in the Mettray penal colony and subsequent imprisonment in the adult facility of Fountevrault. The author portrays Mettray as a womb-like hive of sunless corridors and constricting passages that both shelters the prisoners and guards and incubates their stark attempts at individual development.
The formless men of Mettray constantly meld and mesh into one another, existing between mental and emotional states of absolute being and permanent dissolution and drift. Genet sees the hieratical Mettray as "the universe itself," something he finds "fabulous." Surrounded by 400 other confined men, many who are attractive and apparently virile, young Genet searches for potential lovers and models upon which he might base his coreless identity.
The narrator identifies these young men as his literal brothers, born from the same maternal body of childhood desolation leading to crime, and is highly drawn to this incestuous angle of his attractions.
He describes the other boys "stroking themselves" in unison alone in their single unit cells, the mixed perfume of wisteria and rose vines creating a "vegetable incest" which wafts over their dreaming heads; he "yearns for a mother," feels he's returned, via Mettray, to "the mother's throbbing breast," and describes the prison and his mood as permanently tinted in autumnal shades.
The female principle reasonably dominates the state of male immaturity, and in both benevolent and malevolent fashion, for Mettray is surrounded by a minefield of "traps laid by women's hands" that create an "invisible, undetectable danger" which throws would be escapees into "wild panic." For hoping to gain the fifty franc reward that comes with each capture, local women lie in silent, unseen wait like archetypal witches, accompanied by shotguns, pitchforks, and dogs.
Unloved, cast out, and uneducated, the instinctively virility-seeking boys of Mettray are little more than unindividuated eggs united in a desperate search for a master sperm bearer to fertilize and transform them into legitimate men. Each acts as a 'double' for another, but combined, the two halves still add up to less than one definite being.
Though some "big guys" and "toughs," especially mysterious Christ figure Harcomone, act as witting or unwitting father substitutes to those in need, 'Mother' conquers in the end. Returning years later to find Mettray in ruins, Genet sadly notes that swallows have built their nests in its window ledges, grass sprouts between the impregnable stones, and thorn bearing vegetation covers and "pierces" the place. The rugged house of troubled, fragile lads has returned to the soil forever.
Fifteen years later, at Fountevrault, Genet finds hero and double murderer Harcomone locked in irons in solitary confinement, condemned to death.
He discovers Fountevrault's foundational hub when he stumbles upon former Mettray lover Divers, a powerful and handsome tough, freakishly squatting atop the central iron cone which serves as a toilet, his genitals exposed and hanging as he defecates loudly, surrounded as he is by the circle of punished and endlessly marching prisoners he oversees and verbally abuses daily.
Thus the lord of Fountevrault is an unconscious, ridiculous clown and fool, his pointed punishment and dunce cap under him instead of atop his head. Nonchalant Divers, "a barbaric king on a metal throne" gets up "without wiping" and actively resumes command as Genet allows himself the pleasure of sniffing Divers' "vast and serene" bowel gases. Drunk with sensation, Genet commits a willful infraction and happily joins Divers' marching circle, which becomes his new microcosm of "eternal reoccurrence."
While the broad-shouldered "big guys" gather in all alpha male groups like a huddle of mountain gorillas, Genet loves--and often confuses--three men. Divers; dying, crown-of-thorns bearing god and great subject of prison gossip Harcomone; and mercurial "chicken" Pierrot, who straddles the safer middle ground and whose essence contains elements of both men.
Genet sees Pierrot as a Sphinx and himself as a "questioning Oedipus," he describes their desperate lovemaking, clandestine stairwell meetings, and risking note passing, but later says they were never lovers and met only on twelve occasions. Divers and Harcomone are the twin father kings of Fountevrault: earthy, feces-smeared Divers, who upholds macho postures even while defecating, symbolizes the Genet's reality principle.
Supernatural Harcomone, the single complete man, "the emanation of a power stronger than himself," is even loved and cherished by the stars, moon, and seas -- by nature, his transcendent bride. Paternal Harcomone had once read nightly to the youths at Mettray from a book intended for very small children; now his chains blossom fragrantly into white roses before the astonished prisoners, an experience divinely denied the guards. Harcomone's rapidly approaching execution by beheading becomes a crisis for everyone under Fountevrault's roof.
Active mystic Genet calls himself "the spirit that hovers over the shapeless mass of dreams," "a dead man who sees his skeleton in the mirror," one who "sings the void" and who strains "every fiber to see very high or very far within himself." By "cutting all threads" that hold him to the world, he "plunges" into "prison, foulness, dreaming, and hell," believing this will land him in a garden "of saintliness where roses bloom."
Exhausting himself with the effort, he manages, by a kind of remote viewing, to project himself into the condemned man's cell during the last nights of Harcomone's life, where he finds Harcomone already a ghost, his spirit drifting through the prison, and visited by specters.
Perhaps Genet's most deeply felt novel, the meditative 'Miracle of the Rose' finds the author alternately confronting and avoiding his deepest obsessions and the shadowy motivators stirring uncomfortably within him.
The archetypal "ghosts" of the male and female parental figures, in both their nurturing and paralyzing aspects, constantly overwhelm Genet's consciousness, are projected, embodied (Genet, the bride, is officially wedded to Divers in an elaborately structured midnight ceremony) or obscurely grappled with during moments of reverie. Transvestite figures and shifting configurations of gender and persona abound; male identity, like the ever shifting and unsustainable ocean shoreline, is in constant, painful flux, perpetually threatened with an obscuring inundation that will reduce man back to his earliest, in utero female state of existence.
on September 24, 2004
In the 60's, it was cool to like Genet. Ginsberg even made a reference to the boys in Kansas reading him (aspiring to a future when even the clodhoppers would be enlightened).
There are really some fantastic reviews for this book on here, so I'll try to cover some new ground in a brief manner.
A lot of people have no idea who Genet is. He died in 1986, just in the finishing stages of a book (Prisoner of Love)... his first since the Thief's Journal, almost 30 years before it. He had surfaced briefly to author some of the most incredible dramatic works ever... in fact, far greater than his novels, and his novels are some of the greatest of all time (definitely ranks with Dostoevsky).
There is no explanation for Genet. He wrote Our Lady of the Flowers in prison, and it was a masterpiece. And the he wrote four more. And then he stopped. Just like Shakespeare, he came from nowhere, and he stopped when he decided it was time to stop. His books are intensly 'evil', but they're also incredibly lyrical and always beautiful. They're also quite profound, not just morally, but also in the way that he freely transposes his world, interacts with his creation, and commands powerful meanings from the simplest gestures. Specifically this book deals with his obsession with a fellow prisoner, condemned to die for a murder. The book is the process by which Harcamone (the murderer) develops and blooms in Genet's mind, ultimately culminating in a feverish and spiritually tormented vision of the mystery of Harcamone. His works make effective use of the ritual and spiritual processes, and although I don't believe they will make you evil, I think you'll find that your imagination will be enlightened, and you will be able to view the mundane world around you in a new and passionately intense way after reading his books. Genet realized that everything has the power to become significant and sanctified through our imagination, and he's especially good to read if you are at all interested in Nietzsche, Freud or anything dealing with existentialism. If you haven't read him, do not do anything until you do. If you have, make sure you let some people borrow your books... those of us who love his work need to make sure we do our best not to let him fall into obscurity.
Having read Sade, Bataille, and all the supposedly "shocking" literature to emerge from literary periods when all modern values were being turned on their heads, I expected that Genet would be merely another poser who could string a few words together, the kind of guy who did a few bids in prison and was therefore looked upon by the intellectual camp of the 20's as the living incarnation of this or that former literary figure.
I was wrong. Genet transcends the stereotype of "the literary prisoner" and does justice to Rimbaud's famous cry of revolt: "I admire the criminal on whom the prison bars close again and again." He paints the cretins with whom he is incarcerated with stunning beauty. His idealization of the the "dregs" of society works well, and never falls into pretentiousness. The way in which his fellow criminals lament their fate is astounding, and one wonders whether Genet took a little artistic license with the affair. One young man exclaims: "Wow! They really did a number on me. Hard labor for life." With somewhat homoerotic overtones, Genet looks on all these young hoodlums with the tender pity of a mother for her child.
Of course, Genet knows that his "negation of reality" and his willing descent into the underworld is little more than a wistful illusion which cannot last. The pimps, thieves, and addicts he idealizes so beautifully are merely pimps, thieves and addicts. His celebration of evil as the ultimate form of beauty goes from being believable to being absurd. The idea of Genet having been the embodiment of Sartre's philosophy seems petty in retrospect, as Genet's work has held more water than Sartre's. Sartre's dimestore psychoanalysis, laced with faux pas Marxism and some pastiche ideas he lifted from better thinkers, was never enough to explain any human being, let alone Jean Genet. I suppose it was good Sartre was so obsessed with him, though, as Genet would have gone away for life had Sartre and the existentialist crew not showed up at his trial.
Do not miss out on this.
on January 2, 2010
Imprisoned in Fontevrault, Genet looks back at his time at Mettray, a youth correctional unit, that was home to many of his fellow inmates at Fontevrault including his lovers Vileroy, Buckaen and Divers as well as the Christ like figure of Harcamone, a double murderer awaiting execution.
Genet looks for the aesthetic and beautiful in his degrading world of prisons; escaping the privations of his life inside via his imagination that lends myth and legend to everything.
I honestly think most people will struggle to read this and many more will give up long before the end.There's just about enough substance to keep up interest-the routine and depravities of prison life;the society that develops where ever human beings are be it paradise or prison;the almost irrelevent background of the world outside in which Hitler has conquered France,but too often Genet numbs the mind with his searches for the poetic in the profane.
Yes, I can see the influence of his concept of attaching Gods myths legends and beauty to the ugly or everyday (one could make an argument that this concept influenced Saul Bellow in writing 'Augie March' in a neo classical style,attaching it to the ordinary life and times of Augie March)but there is something deeply flawed and unsatisfying in Genet;something pseudo and pretentious.
Genet loved prison, despite its degradations.Well bully for him! The flaws in his thinking don't serve to make him beautiful, rather they are so severe they make him fall apart. Why exactly he earned the patronage of Cocteau and Sartre amongst others really is beyond me. Very disappointing.
on March 3, 2009
I am sure there must be deeper existential lessons to be learned here that I have missed, as Genet delves into the depths of the degradation of prison life and in particular into a rash of homosexual trysts, spanning several prisons and Reform Schools. However, whatever the larger message is, it seems to me it has been missed or is overshadowed by a familiar and troubling but very common psychological motif: The desire to make his netherworld, his underworld at the outer border of human degradation, seem normal and pathetically heroic in the same way that any victimized subgroups uses denial and pretense to romanticize, enlarge and otherwise turn their indignities in life into heroic actions via literary device. If this interpretation is correct. It is not an entirely honest way of using language to rise above an embarrassing reality. And really, how heroic is that?
The beauty of the language aside -- and it is beautiful indeed -- the first emotion evoked at these dives down into (and below) the subhuman is pity, then sorrow, then shame; never heroism, never dignity, never defiance; only capitulation. Even Harcamone's "suicide by legal death sentence" (by killing a prison guard) seems more like a coward's escape than a hero's gallant exit to me.
Certainly there is an artistic backside to all of this that cannot be denied. I have not missed the delicacy of Genet's language: It is like Miles Davis' tone of walking on eggshell raised to a new level. His ability to pack his language with inchoate hatred and anger has no peers: it must have been what Emile Griffith was thinking just before he unleashed the fusillade that killed Benny "Kid" Paret in the ring in 1962. However, beautiful language as a lament is still a lament, unless the whole fabric of the story is pulled together to a higher psychological plane.
So far, I have not seen Genet do that in this much-praised book. I have several others of his, and I will be watching like a hawk to see if this psychological circle is closed. Without that, for me at least, this is a three star effort.