On the dark erotics of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers

JeangenetMax Nelson at The Paris Review:

It’s a seductively ironic notion that the freedom Genet gave his narrator consisted precisely in letting him abuse and enslave the rest of the book’s characters. But rarely do the figures who move through Our Lady of the Flowers—Divine/Culafroy, but also Darling, her primary male love interest; Our Lady, the young murderer for whose charms Divine falls; and Gorgui, “the big sunny Negro” she treats with a mixture of tenderness and exotic fascination—seem shackled to their fates to the extent Sartre suggests. What gives the book much of its depth is the intensity with which its narrator identifies with these men. “Their density” as characters, in Sartre’s words, might be “measured by the effect they produce in him” (i.e., their ability to arouse him), but they arouse him precisely by giving him bodies to occupy, spaces to inhabit, memories to relive, and frissons to experience outside his prison’s walls.

In some cases, they enjoy all the freedoms of movement he himself lacks. Late in the book, the narrator skims over a period during which Divine “pursued the complicated, sinuous, looped existence of a kept woman.” Each sentence carries her across another ocean, first to the Sundra Isles and Venice:

Then it was Vienna, in a gilded hotel, nestling between the wings of a black eagle. Sleeping in the arms of an English lord, deep in a canopied and curtained bed. Then there were rides in a heavy black limousine … She thought of her mother and of Darling. Darling received money orders from her, sometimes jewels, which he would wear for one evening and quickly resell so that he could treat his pals to dinner. Then back to Paris, and off again, and all in a warm, gilded luxury, all in such comfort that I need merely evoke it from time to time in its smug details for the vexations of my poor life as a prisoner to disappear.

more here.