The onanist or the author?

#42 of 2011 • Our Lady of the Flowers, by Jean Genet
translated from the French by Bernard Frechtman
with an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre

This was such a commitment, so much heaviness in its packed little paperback self. So lush and detailed and fevered, written in the throes of loneliness and delirium and crazy-crazy ecstasy of imagined eros. Intense, mehn, intense.

And for the first couple of days, I had no idea how to read it.

The height of aloofness,” Sartre calls Genet’s book in his as-detailed and as-complex introduction. “Genet is not speaking to us; he is talking to himself though wanting to be heard.” See, Genet wrote Our Lady of the Flowers on brown paper-bags while he was in prison. And, thus, the reader, to the author, is purely incidental. An unexpected variable, an unconsidered one. It’s an epic of masturbation, ladies and gentlemen:

One is bored in a cell; boredom makes for amorousness. Genet masturbates . . . The words which compose this book are those that a prisoner said to himself while panting in excitement, those with which he loaded himself, as with stones, in order to sink to the bottom of his reveries, those which were born of the dream itself and which dream-words, dreams of words. The reader will open Our Lady of the Flowers, as one might open the cabinet of a fetishist, and find there, laid out on the shelves, like shoes that have been sniffed at and kissed and bitten hundreds of times, the damp and evil words that gleam with the excitement which they arouse in another person and which we cannot feel.

See what I had to put up with? Well. When one of my bosses saw me lugging around Genet, he advised, “Don’t read it the way you’d read a normal book. Because it’s not. Just run with it.” Between us, we managed a description for the book—a journal of eroticism—and of the experience—its author allowing you to riffle through the pages.

It was a good thing that I raised egoistic masturbation to the dignity of a cult! I have only to begin the gesture and a kind of unclean and supernatural transposition displaces the truth. Everything within me turns worshiper. The external vision of the props of my desire isolates me, far from the world.

Pleasure of the solitary, gesture of solitude that makes you sufficient unto yourself, possessing intimately others who serve your pleasure without their suspecting it, a pleasure that gives to your most casual gestures, even when you are up and about that air of supreme indifference toward everyone and also a certain awkward manner that, if you have gone to bed with a boy, makes you feel as if you have bumped your head against a granite slab.

I’ve got lots of time for making my fingers fly! Ten years to go! My good, my gentle friend, my cell! My sweet retreat, mine alone, I love you so!

And Genet examines his own intentions. Of course, he knows to a certain extent why the need for scribbling on paper in that cell of his—isn’t that human? to reach for freedom where you can? But even though he begins as one who simply rambles and allows the text to stand for his fantasies, the onanist occasionally gives way to the author. “What is involved for me who is making up this story?” he asks himself at one point.

So there. I most certainly did not read Our Lady of the Flowers. I just opened that cabinet, surveyed the shoes bitten and exhaled over; I just ran with it. I was confused, quite disquieted. But man, it was glorious.

I got my copy of Our Lady of the Flowers [PhP569 ] from National Bookstore. Click on the linky to order one online, but I saw some in a couple of branches around Quezon City.

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