The Dark Seduction of Jean Genet

My connection to the Minotaur is bringing me back to a time in my life I had forgotten and a connection to a man I was absolutely obsessed with in my youth: Jean Genet. I put on a collection of Edith Piaf songs in the studio this morning and hear that melancholic voice of France ringing within its walls. When I was a student in theatre back in my twenties I fell in love with the French playwright Jean Genet. A man born of a prostitute in poverty; spent his youth in a dark world of seduction, thievery, eventually ending up in prison. Not only did he write plays, but also wrote some of the darkest, most poetic novels ever written. The first one I was drawn to was Querelle de Brest. About a sailor caught in a web of lust, homosexual seduction and murder. The novel was written in 1947 and was originally banned in the USA. In 1982 Rainer Werner Fassbinder made it into a film just titled Querelle with an all-star international cast and with the American actor Brad Davis playing the role of the sailor Querelle. This is the moodiest darkest, most theatrically cinematic film I think I have ever seen and I think is a fairly good adaptation of the original narrative style of the novel. Back when I was a student at the University of Montana I was one of the arts coordinator for the campus. I brought this film to the campus as part of my film series and it was one of the most attended events of season.

To me Genet represents the darker side of seduction within myself. He holds a mirror up to the world and says dare to look into your darkest secrets and desires. Being a gay man in the early eighties the world definitely seemed dark mysterious and seductive. It was like we had no place to call our own and therefore lurked on the edge of shadows. Desire became a hypnotic aphrodisiac. Encounters were inevitably with strangers in dark secret places, without the possibility of a real connection or relationship. Genet knew this better than anyone and it was like reading the stories of my life through his works. I had forgotten the power Genet had on me and how it shaped the way I saw the world. In returning to this master yesterday I had an epiphany that THIS IS the core of where all my art currently springs. In so many ways I am on a quest to return to that dark world I once cherished. I feel very dissatisfied in my current world and the way our openness has commercialize being gay. I long for those moments when dark seduction ruled my desire. When everything seemed dimly lit by candlelight; and a connection to flesh, taste, and sweat was intoxicating. It seems the new culture, though we now have the freedom to speak of it openly, is drawn to become a clone of its self and we are all losing any sense of personal identity. Men now meet on electronic devises and communicate with such a minimalist impression; text rules supreme. The art of seduction is lost as the world evolves toward self-fulfilling sexual gratification without personal connection and porn rules the Internet. I long for the moment when passion overwhelmed all of our senses and we become aware of our total self through such experience. It was shared and sacred. We could dwell in an extraordinary moment that could linger in our thoughts for an eternity, and then slip away as strangers into the foreboding darkness. To me this is the crux of finding myself as an artist and revealing to the world my longing for that lost passion. Genet you have touched me at my very soul and I have never recovered and
I am sorry I have forgotten you.

I did actually meet Jean Genet for a brief moment near the eve of his death. I was in Paris during a cold winter break while I was student. I was in love with the French absurdest and existentialist theater movement and went on a pilgrimage in search of its origins, which of course was Paris. I wandered into the Le Comédie-Française one winter afternoon to view a rehearsal for a production of one of Genet’s plays, I believe “The Screens.” I turned around to see this man sitting there and gazed upon the darkness of this figure seated in the back, perhaps it was only his ghost, as I was being evicted from the theater for being where I wasn’t supposed to be. A few nights later he died. I have been touched by your presence and am eternally blessed.

“Erotic play discloses a nameless world which is revealed by the nocturnal language of lovers. Such language is not written down. It is whispered into the ear at night in a hoarse voice. At dawn it is forgotten.”
— Jean Genet (The Thief’s Journal)

One thought on “The Dark Seduction of Jean Genet

  1. Marklin

    >Gorgeous image Terry, and kudos for the Piaf. Funny When I look through your work I am often listening to her or Rachel Portman's " Marvin's Room". I am a big fan of Jean Genet as well. I now want to revisit Querelle. The film was so important to me when I first saw it over 20 years ago. I was an image of a gay man, and there where not that many of them when I was growing up. Thanks for the reminder.

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