By Tim Cronin
Tim Cronin: Cross Pollination
With a senior research paper to write, I wondered how to start. Where would I begin to conduct research on the unsettling and perverse subjects of abjection and depravity with which I had become so enamored in the fiction of the French writer Jean Genet?
I turned first to Genet’s words themselves, hoping to find an explanation for their explicit monstrosity. But I found something more. There, under the harshest language, I found beauty in Genet’s incessant use of flowers as a perplexing décor for his dark and abject world. They surround his scenery, ornament his language, and embellish the very gestures of his characters. The more of Genet’s fiction I read, the more I became preoccupied with the breathtaking and unrelenting use of floral imagery that filled otherwise gloomy pages.
I combined what I could understand of botany with literary theories of such philosophers as Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous. This, together with my own observations of Genet’s personal and capricious style, helped me reflect on Genet’s world. I found that through Genet’s prose, beauty and abjection are crafted into a unified whole, an element linked inextricably to the description of his dark world and the unexpected characters that inhabit it. The combination of such oppositional elements affords Genet’s texts the very tension and uniqueness that I have come to hold so dearly.
I was certainly not the first to be enchanted by the paradox of beauty and abjection in Genet’s fiction. But the work I completed last year helps me still, as I continue to absorb Genet’s work. I recently saw his highly controversial short film, Un chant d’amour, made in 1950. Watching Genet’s lost film, with its floral imagery juxtaposed with images of prison life and forbidden desire, I knew that my work had captured something fundamental about Genet.