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Genet’s Shadow Theatre: Memory and Utopian Phantasy in Un captif amoureux Scott Durham I N UN CAPTIF AMOUREUX, Genet describes the encounter of two conflicting figures of collective memory. Its site, a place once called Maaloul, is to be found in some olive groves near Nazareth. Every year, Israelis return there with their children to see the forest they have sown. Each tree, a memorial to those who made the desert bloom, bears the name of the one who planted it. But there are other visitors as well. These are Palestinians, the former inhabitants of Maaloul. They, too, have come back to remember. Somewhere beneath the soil in which these trees are rooted lie the remains of their former houses. Above, these villagers will attempt to reinvent, through a sort of con­ jurer’s trick, the place from which they have been uprooted. Using cans of paint they have brought for the occasion, they trace on scraps of cloth, on the ground beneath the trees, and even on the trees themselves, the outlines of the former village of Maaloul. “ Réalité d’autrefois,” writes Genet, “ fantaisie d’aujourd’hui.” 1 Led by their childish game through imaginary doors, up stairs that lead them scrambling into olive branches, these refugees raise an extinct collective from the shadows. Thus, concludes Genet, for at least one day a year, “ l’état bien réel d’Israël se connaît doublé d’une survie phantomatique” (Captif 410). What is most affecting in Genet’s description, however, stems less from the utopian image of resurrection itself than from his suggestion that it is the childish dreamers, and not the victors, who offer the more lucid image of the forces, at once historical and libidinal, that are at play on this contested site. However moving we may find it, the image of col­ lective memory figured by the Israelis in their olive groves is compro­ mised by its amnesia with regard to the process of its constitution. In ful­ filling their long-standing wish to be rooted in a memorial space, the Israelis efface the memory of those they have uprooted. The resurrected village, by contrast, does not appear in place of the memorial groves, but in their interstices. Like the Israelis, the former villagers invoke a van­ ished collective, but they do not attempt to legitimize their claim to this disputed territory by erasing the figure of their antagonist. The former 50 S p r i n g 1995 D u rh a m villagers reinvent the vanished collective through a dream image—that of a tree-village, marking a point of passage from an actual world to a vir­ tual one, from Israel to Palestine—but in doing so they incorporate into the space of phantasy the very figures of the collective’s disappearance. The image that mediates their experience of this historically overdeter­ mined space is thus a dialectical one. On the one hand, it extracts from the image of the vanished village a utopian power it had never realized in any present, marking the potential point of emergence for a new collec­ tive. On the other hand, even as it asserts the claim of a thwarted wish on collective memory, it awakens the resurrected village to itself as dream. As with his earlier work, much of Un captif amoureux—Genet’s book consecrated to the Palestinian resistance—is devoted to such dreaming. But the predominance given by Genet to the play of phantasy in an explicitly political work will not fail to arouse in some readers sus­ picions of excessive literariness. Couldn’t this work be viewed—as some critics have viewed such plays such as Le Balcon and Les Paravents—as the mere projection of the writer’s aesthetic preoccupations and private phantasies into a collective reality with which they would be incommen­ surate? Sartre long ago attributed the origin of Genet’s writing to an imaginary operation charged with derealizing a social reality that excludes the dreamer: would Genet in this case have merely picked the Palestinians as his teammates in a game of “ loser wins” ? In this case, Genet would stand convicted of having substituted a false...


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