The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet

I read this because of the way Patti Smith wrote about Genet in M. Train. There’s a certain sort of transference, where your hero’s heroes start becoming your heroes as well, because you want to be cool enough to like the same thing. Also, Genet is epically gay, which means he is definitely someone I want to read.

Thief’s Journal is a beautifully written book. The plot wanders, but that’s the point. Genet isn’t interested in getting you anywhere directly.

This novel is semi autobiographical, taking on a small part of Genet’s fascinating life. I’m reading Edmund White’s biography of Genet right now, and it’s super interesting.

I was trying to pull out something about this novel that I wanted to write about, which wasn’t easy because it’s a very dense text. One thing that really struck me is how distinctly, unapologetically homosexual it is. This was a part of the literary creation of homosexuals being a type of person, instead of acts being things people do. Genet saw his sexuality as something identifiable and important to who he was. He was a homosexual, and a thief. He didn’t just steal things, he was a thief, it was ingrained in him, just as his sexual interest in men was ingrained in him. This was a new type of identity formation, which Foucault lays out in his History of Sexuality, vol 1. Genet takes this new way of understanding identity and uses it to create literature that is distinctly homosexual, that comes from a homosexual identity. There’s a picture in the biography, of an elderly Genet standing around with Foucault, which was just so cool.

I really wish that I had read Genet in school, when I would have had an excuse to dig into this sort of analysis. I know I’ll have more to say about Genet when I finish the biography, and Our Lady of the Flowers, which I picked up second hand.

I guess one takeaway is that it’s really cool to see an author that you’ve seen references to, in punk books and Todd Haynes films, and then start to have your own relationship with their work. It’s a neat feeling of things clicking into place.


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