Sartre in Search of Genet


sartre_saint coverIt seems necessary at the outset of this review to note that Jean-Paul Sartre’s magisterial Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr is a book that resists reviewing. Saint Genet is excessive: it spills over with words, and any commentary that is likely to do it justice will necessarily have to be another book-length endeavour. As such, this review is more of a record of impressions and fragments than an authoritative statement or judgment of it as a “text”. Indeed, to review Saint Genet is to fail from the start, but it’s a kind of failure that produces its own illuminations and insights.

I can’t help but turn to Susan Sontag’s words in Against Interpretation and Other Essays, where she begins an assessment of the same book with these words: “Saint Genet is a cancer of a book, grotesquely verbose, its cargo of brilliant ideas borne aloft by a tone of viscous solemnity and ghastly repetitiveness.” Grotesque and ghastly—Sartre’s work is a monster that will devour the reader’s presence of mind, to be sure. It seems perfectly appropriate, then, that I began reading Saint Genet while Kanye West’s “Monster” played in the background: much like Nicki Minaj’s persona in the song, Sartre’s implicit announcement to his future reader seems to be “First things first, I’ll eat your brains.”

Read the full article.

Published in: Popmatters
By: Subashini Navaratnam