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Jean Genet and the Psychology of Colonialism Anthony Graham-White I Interpretations of Genet’s plays have concentrated upon their psychopathology, their inversion of conventional moral standards, and their dramatic form, which consists in great measure of following that inversion to its logical conclusion. These are the constants in his work. For each of his plays, however, Genet seeks a different social situation, a situation which fosters the pathological. Perhaps one might even say that the relative success of his plays depends upon the strength of the social corollary he can find for his own pathological views. The more of a special case the social context, the more limited is the force of the play. Genet moves from the artificially maintained and highly limited society of prison, in Deathwatch, to the explora­ tion of one particular social relationship, that of master and servant, in The Maids. In The Balcony he attempts to depict society as a whole, but the play remains rather schematic because he starts from the pathology of the brothel and then shows us a society which conforms to its standards, attempting finally to draw in the spectators themselves with Irma’s final remark that “You must now go home, where everything—you can be quite sure—will be even falser than here.” Despite this attempt to implicate the spectator, one may reject Genet’s view of society as special pleading: Genet turns to a special context which reflects his view of society for his premises, and then has little difficulty in interpreting society to accord with his premises. It is only with The Blacks that Genet arrives at a social corollary for his own pathological vision which is based upon the general state of a society rather than upon that of a particular relationship or institution within it. The generality of the social context provides Genet with a richer field in which to explore the parallels between his own vision and the workings of society, while also making it more difficult for the spectator to shrug off Genet’s presentation. His own satisfaction with the subject of colonialism is perhaps shown by his return to it in The Screens. II So fascinated have critics been with Genet’s manipulation of 208 Anthony Graham-White 209 theatrical illusion and his inversion of moral norms that they have hardly asked how closely The Blacks corresponds to the colonial situa­ tion. Yet, by design or chance, Genet’s play matches the views of Frantz Fanon, a Haitian psychiatrist who lived in France and died while working with the F.L.N. in Algeria, and with the aspirations of the writers of the Négritude movements Moreover, The Blacks was first performed by Les Griots, a company formed after the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists met in Paris in 1957. A griot is a praise-singer, usually attached to the household of a West African chief, singing of his deeds and of the past glories of the tribe. This company, then, set out to sing the praises of Africa; in their own words, its actors wished —to create a theatre which would express our own temperament; —to contribute to a better knowledge of Africa by presenting works of African literature.2 If they performed The Blacks it was presumably because it reflected the colonial reality they knew.3 A simple outline of Fanon’s ideas will reveal the affinity of Genet’s play to them. “It is the settler,” Fanon declares, “who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence.”4 The settler is an exhibitionist who constantly reminds the native that he alone is master. In a world full of prohibitions and restrictions “the dreams of the native are always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of motion and of aggression.”5 He can express himself freely only in dance, a permissive circle within which no limits are placed upon him. Outside the dream and the dance the native faces frustration, and so he displaces onto his fellow natives the aggression he feels towards the settler.6 The native, Fanon argues, must redirect the hostility he feels towards other natives to its proper object, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 208-216
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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