The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

October 1, New York: I can easily say Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Genet’s mastery of the prosaic meditation is extraordinary, even in translation. The book, an autobiography of a life’s moments, travels the synapses of recollection and reconsideration in the most gorgeous sentences.

I can also easily say The Thief’s Journal is one of the gayest books I’ve ever read. In it, Genet recounts his life as a thief and as a homosexual, the latter in extraordinary physical detail. It was published in a time when a first person account of both of those was shocking. And it is the beauty of the book crossed with the supposed vileness (let’s call it “other-ness”) of its themes that make it a work of genius.

When I first read Genet, I was in Europe with a group of male friends. I don’t remember who brought this book, but we all passed it around and read it on trains and in bus stations. We all shared the experience of being seduced by Genet’s depiction of his life as a homosexual. On every third page, it seemed, was another exquisite and explicit portrait of gay sex. We all shared the experience of our faces turning pink behind the cover of this book in public places. And more, unlike most young, heterosexual American men, we had provided ourselves with a readymade discussion group to talk about how the book affected us. None of us discovered we had been gay the whole time, there was no closet-exiting or drunken experimentation, but we all grew a little closer to a conceptual Other.

The book is still beautiful, but that experience was hardly revelatory on this reading. I think it made the book less interesting then I remembered it. There was more of a struggle to get through the 268 pages of lengthy meandering meditations, albeit beautifully inked, to follow the plot. I found myself more intrigued by the other Other Genet offers: the thief. I don’t think I’ve ever seen villainy in homosexuality, but it’s certainly the character I would ascribe to the muggers and pimps and burglars Genet describes. And he wraps them in this exquisite lace, these beautiful anti-heroes (barely -heroes, even), gushes with true and honest love for them and dares you to love them too.

Do. Go ahead and love them all. Buy a copy of the Thief’s Journal.

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