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Reading Life Signs in Jean Genet’s “Atelier d’Alberto Giacometti” and “Ce qui est resté d’un Rembrandt. . Cynthia Running-Johnson S CHOLARS WRITING on Jean Genet’s relatively little-commented essay, “ Ce qui est resté d’un Rembrandt déchiré en petits carrés réguliers, et foutu aux chiottes” (1967), almost always link it to his “Atelier d’Alberto Giacometti,” published a decade earlier.1They focus on the subject and theme which the two share: in each, the narrator meditates upon the idea of the fundamental equivalence of all human beings, and includes the telling of an event in his life—a “ révélation” — which led him to reflect upon this notion. The two pieces are typically grouped also because of the closeness of their periods of composition. Genet produced “ L’Atelier” between 1955 and 1957 (White 404) and as early as 1957 was writing what was to be a large work on Rembrandt (Moraly, La Vie 248). According to the title of the second essay and information provided by Genet’s biographers, this manuscript was even­ tually “ déchiré . . . et foutu aux chiottes” and its remains reassembled as “ Ce qui est resté. . . .” 2 In both essays, Genet recounts an incident of seminal importance in his life; it took place around 1953, four years before the publication of “ L’Atelier.” Seated across from a repugnant older man in a train, Genet met his fellow traveler’s gaze and was suddenly struck by the thought— one which he had “ bien sûr” heard before but had never so immediately experienced (“ Ce qui” 25)—that they, and all people, were basically identical. Genet’s biographers have noted the influence of this event upon his development as a writer. According to Jean-Bernard Moraly, the incident freed Genet from the eroticism of his poetry and fiction and enabled him to write “ une œuvre objective,” that is, his theater (Moraly, “ ‘Ce qui’ ” 106).3Edmund White, in a more nuanced appreciation of the intersections between Genet’s writing and events in his life, situates the episode as one which, whether literally or emblematically, permitted Genet to enlarge the scope of his work—to, in part through his drama, become “ the poet of the dispossessed of the world” (404).4 “ L’Atelier” and “ Ce qui est resté. . .” have been connected, then, through their content, themes and period of origin, and viewed in light of 20 Sp r in g 1995 R unning-Johnson Genet’s move into theater. However, the two essays also differ from each other in important respects. It is revealing to read these dissimilarities not only in the context of Genet’s concentrated writing of drama in the fif­ ties, but in relation to later developments in his life and work. I will explore the philosophical and formal differences between the two essays in the context of changes which the author underwent beginning in the mid-sixties: his self-distancing from his status as a literary figure and his movement into the political arena. I will begin with a short description of “ L’Atelier” as a basis for examining “ Ce qui est resté. . . which is more perplexing and, in its enigmatic twists and turns, more meaningful in relation to the author’s later work. In “ L’Atelier d’Alberto Giacometti,” Genet subtly inter­ twines his presentation of the Swiss sculptor and painter with a portrait of himself, investigating the aesthetic and philosophical approaches which he indicates that he and Giacometti share. Genet implies that both he and the artist search for and display in their work an irreducible “ point précieux” of solitude and wounding which he sees as common to all people—“ [leur] solitude d’être exactement équivalent à tout autre” (51)—through a method of creation involving repetition, constant refine­ ment, and density of form. The author explains these ideas in part by recounting the incident which took place in the train. In the later essay, “ Ce qui est resté. . . Genet takes this event and enlarges upon it to form the greater portion of the piece: an eleven-page column of text in which he reflects upon the episode and its implications for his life. This meditation is...


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