- Queer Writing: Homoeroticism in Jean Genet's Fiction
Clearly written and loaded with sensitive and astute readings, Elizabeth Stephens's Queer Writing makes several important and welcome contributions to Genet studies. First, Stephens identifies and critiques the 'psychobiographical' trend in Genet criticism, inaugurated by Jean-Paul Sartre's Saint Genet, comédien et martyr, which views Genet's literary work as a representation of his famously marginal selfhood, then uses the work either to condemn or to redeem its author. As she persuasively argues, Genet's writing, in which perverse, capricious, and unreliable narrators incessantly problematize the relation between text and author, contradicts such readings. In her strenuous efforts to counter psychobiographical criticism by locating queerness in the operations of Genet's writing rather than in his own authorial subjectivity, Stephens rigorously avoids the issue of Genet's homosexuality (or pédérastie, as he preferred to call it). She therefore misses a chance to reflect on how some of the perverse textual strategies that she identifies might be understood not as sincere expressions of Genet's sexual subjectivity, but precisely as a means of confounding those who would read his work as an expression of his homosexual 'truth'. Secondly, Stephens critiques the assumption, common within much Genet criticism, that any participation in dominant cultural forms by marginalized subjects is inherently oppressive and normalizing. She counters this simplistic conception of power by pinpointing one of Genet's dearest narrative strategies: by enthusiastically assenting to and espousing dominant norms, his writing ends up deconstructively revealing the internal contradictions of these norms, their intimate dependence on their constitutive 'outside', and their openness to corruption and contamination by this outside. Stephens's writing is at its best when she is mapping the dynamics whereby homophobic discourse and virile boasting work not to reject same-sex intimacy, but to enable it; the worship of a masterful phallic masculinity, literalized in the hard phallus, gets lost in the fleshy imperfections of the penis; and dominant masculinity itself is shown to be the product of a chain of homoerotic imitations. While she excels at tracing the complex reversals between the dominant and the marginal, these two categories map too neatly on to heterosexuality and homosexuality, while other axes, such as class and criminality, are left out of the equation. In addition, Stephens's presumption, throughout the study, of an organizing homosexual/heterosexual binary is belied by the world of Genet's novels, in which virile/not virile is the operative distinction, and in which virility neither requires nor equals heterosexuality. While Stephens's study would benefit from greater [End Page 507] specification in its analyses of power and of social and sexual identities, its major contributions to Genet criticism by far outweigh these weaknesses. She closes with a very fine reading of the similarities between Genet's textual strategies of camp mimicry and literary corruption and Hélène Cixous's and Luce Irigaray's theorizations of écriture féminine. Concisely countering the claim that Cixous and Irigaray are sexual essentialists, she demonstrates how, like Genet, they seek to resignify a negatively constructed marginality and to inscribe its corporeal and erotic specificity in language.