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Jean Genet --- Our Lady of the Flowers (1)

(Artwork by Roland Caillaud)

(LustSpiel was asked to contribute to a bibliophile book on Genet's "Our Lady of the Flowers," so we had to read it---run a magazine, see the world---and our first effort entails the publication of a few fragments from the book. People have heard of Jean Genet, of course, but few of our generation will have read the "Lady", his first book, published in 1943. The all-knowing Perry Brass wrote in an email-exchange a few days ago: Our Lady of the Flowers was one of those superhip books that everybody bought when it came out in mass market paperback back in circa 1964, when I was graduating from high school. They bought it, but nobody finished it. Supposedly it reads much better, though not easier, in French than in English.  
Well, LustSpiel is hailing from France, so we tried the French edition first, but the vocabulary was simply too difficult. The English translation is adequate, we feel (better than, say, the English translations of Anna Karenina). We read the "Lady" twice now, and it reads better the second time. There's something worthwhile to one of the first unabashedly gay books in the history of world literature. So, we publish a few fragments, and here's the first:)

I do not know whether it is their faces, the real ones, which spatter the wall of my cell with sparkling mud, but it cannot be by chance that I cut those handsome, vacant−eyed heads out of magazines. I say vacant, for all the eyes are clear and must be sky−blue, like the razor's edge to which clings a star of transparent light, blue and vacant like the windows of buildings under construction, through which one sees the sky from the windows of the opposite wall. Like those barracks which in the morning are open to all the winds, which one thinks empty and pure when they swarm with dangerous males, sprawled out promiscuously on their beds. I say empty, but if they close their eyelids, they become more disturbing to me than are huge prisons to the nubile maiden who passes by the high barred windows, prisons behind which sleeps, dreams, swears and spits a race of murderers, which makes of each cell the hissing nest of a tangle of snakes, but also a kind of confessional with a curtain of dusty serge. Those eyes, seemingly without mystery, are like certain closed cities, such as Lyons and Zurich, and they hypnotize me as do empty theaters, deserted prisons, machinery at rest, deserts, for deserts are closed and do not communicate with the infinite. Men with such faces terrify me when I have to cross their paths warily, but what a dazzling surprise when, in their landscape, at the turning of a deserted lane, I approach, with my heart racing like mad, and discover nothing, nothing but looming emptiness, sensitive and proud like a tall foxglove!

Each cell is a hissing tangle of snakes

As I have said, I do not know whether the heads there are really those of my guillotined friends, but, I have recognized, by certain signs, that they, those on the wall, are as utterly supple as the lashes of whips and rigid as glass knives, precocious as doctor−children, bodies chosen because they are possessed by terrible souls.
The newspapers are tattered by the time they reach my cell, and the finest pages have been looted of their finest flowers, those pimps, like gardens in May. The big, inflexible, strict pimps, their wangs in full bloom—I no longer know whether they are lilies or whether lilies and wangs are not totally they, so much so that in the evening, on my knees, in thought, I encircle their legs with my arms —all that rigidity floors me and makes me merge them, and the memory which I gladly give as food to my nights is of yours, which, as I caressed it, remained inert, stretched out; only your rod, unsheathed and brandished, went through my mouth with the cruel and sudden sharpness of a steeple puncturing a cloud of ink, a hatpin a breast. You did not move, you were not sleeping, you were not dreaming, you were in flight, motionless and pale, frozen, straight, stretched out stiff on the flat bed, like a coffin on the sea, and I know that we were chaste, while, I, all attention, felt you flowing into me, warm and white, in little continuous jerks. Perhaps you were playing at coming. At the climax, you were lit up with a calm ecstasy, which enveloped your blessed body in a supernatural nimbus, like a cloak that you pierced with your head and feet.

All that rigidity floors me

Nevertheless, I managed to get about twenty photographs, and I pasted them with bits of chewed bread on the back of the cardboard sheet of regulations that hangs on the wall. Some are pinned up with bits of brass wire which the foreman brings me and on which I have to string colored glass beads.
Using the same beads with which the prisoners next door make funeral wreaths, I have made star−shaped frames for the most purely criminal. In the evening, as you open your window to the street, I turn the back of the regulations sheet towards me. Smiles and pouts, all of them inexorable, enter me by all the holes I offer. Their vigor penetrates me and erects me. I live among these pits. They watch over my little routines, which, along with them, are all the family I have and my only friends.

Smiles and pouts, all of them exorable

Perhaps some lad who did nothing to deserve prison, a champion, an athlete, has strayed in among the twenty by mistake. But if I have nailed him to my wall, I have done so because he had, as I see it, at the corner of his mouth or the angle of the eyelids, the sacred sign of the monster. The flaw on the face or in the set gesture indicates to me that they may very possibly love me, for they love me only if they are monsters—and it may therefore be said that it is he himself, this stray, who has chosen to be here. In order to provide them with a court and retinue, I have culled here and there, from the illustrated covers of some adventure novels, a young Mexican half−breed, a gaucho, a Caucasian horseman, and from the pages of the novels that are passed from hand to hand when we take our walk, clumsy drawings, profiles of pimps and apaches smoking butts, or the outline of a tough with a hard−on.

At night I love them

At night I love them, and my love endows them with life. During the day I go about my petty concerns. I am the housekeeper, watchful lest a bread−crumb or a speck of ash fall on the floor. But at night! Fear of the inspector who may suddenly switch on the light and put his head through the grating forces me to take sordid precautions lest the rustling of the sheets draw attention to my pleasure; but though it lose in nobility, my gesture, by becoming secret, heightens my pleasure. I dawdle. Beneath the sheet, my right hand stops to caress the absent face and then the whole body of the outlaw I have chosen for that evening's happiness. The left hand closes, then arranges its fingers in the form of a hollow organ which tries to resist, then offers itself, opens up, and a vigorous body, a wardrobe, emerges from the wall, advances, and falls upon me, crushes me against the straw mattress that has already been stained by more than a hundred prisoners, while I think of the happiness into which I sink at a time when God and His angels exist.
No one can tell whether I shall get out of here, or, if I do, when it will be.



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