Blogcritics book review: Saint Genet

By Jack Goodstein
Blogcritics Books

sartre_saint coverIf a biography is a chronological account of the life and work of its subject, Jean-Paul Sartre's classic study of Jean Genet, Saint Genet, is far from what would be called a biography. If a biography is an attempt to understand the psychic make-up of its subject, how it was formed, and its effects on his life and work, it comes a bit closer. If, on the other hand, a biography is an attempt to understand how an individual's life echoes certain elemental patterns growing out of key determining events, Saint Genet hits the bull's eye.

Rather than being a study of the events of Genet's life, Sartre's 1952 text,  nearly universally acknowledged as a masterwork, has been reissued by the University of Minnesota Press. It is an examination of the existential forces that create the being that creates itself.

Sartre has a particular philosophical view of the world and the individual's place in that world, and Genet becomes a kind of metaphor for that philosophical view. Branded as an outlaw as a child, Genet chooses to embrace the brand, to be the outlaw. "I decided to be what crime made of me," he says.