PRINT October 1993


Jean Genet: A Life

A FAMOUS BRASSAÏ PORTRAIT of Jean Genet adorns the dustjacket of Edmund White’s new biography of the writer. Genet seems physically slight, his head somehow too big for his frame; his sleeves rolled up and his hands stuffed in his pockets, he is almost the image of the street toughs he lovingly glamorized in Notre Dame des Fleurs, Journal d’un Voleur, and other works. He looks 40. His hair is close-cropped and graying, his eyes are dark, melancholic, even angry. Brassai has backed him into a corner for the picture, a glancing allusion to the various confinements Genet suffered in his youth and perversely celebrated in his art.

White’s book is some 800 pages long, rivaling the girth of Jean-Paul Sartre’s obese “preface” to the 1952 Gallimard edition of Genet, Saint Genet: Comédien et Martyr. Yet White begins on a note of oblique circumspection, as if telegraphing his doubts about narrating

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