The Rites of Passage of Jean Genet
In this book, Gene A. Plunka argues that the most important single element that solidifies all of Genet's work is the concept of metamorphosis. Genet's plays and prose demonstrate the transition from game playing to the establishment of one's identity through a state of risk taking that develops from solitude. However, risk taking per se is not as important as the rite of passage. Anthropologist Victor Turner's work in ethnography is used as a focal point for the examination of rites of passage in Genet's dramas. Rejecting society, Genet has allied himself with peripheral groups, marginal men, and outcasts--scapegoats who lack power in society. Much of their effort is spent in revolt or direct opposition in mainstream society that sees them as objects to be abused. As an outcast or marginal man, Genet solved his problem of identity through artistic creation and metamorphosis. Likewise, Genet's protagonists are outcasts searching for positive value in a society over which they have no control; they always appear to be the victims or scapegoats. As outcasts, Genet's protagonists establish their identities by first willing their actions and being proud to do so. Unfortunately, man's sense of Being is constantly undermined by society and the way individuals react to roles, norms, and values. Roles are the products of carefully defined and codified years of positively sanctioned institutional behavior. According to Genet, role playing limits individual freedom, stifles creativity, and impedes differentiation. Genet equates role playing with stagnant bourgeois society that imitates rather than invents; the latter is a word Genet often uses to urge his protagonists into a state of productive metamorphosis. Imitation versus invention is the underlying dialectic between bourgeois society and outcasts that is omnipresent in virtually all of Genet's works. Faced with rejection, poverty, oppression, and degradation, Genet's outcasts often escape their horrible predicaments by living in a world of illusion that consists of ceremony, game playing, narcissism, sexual and secret rites, or political charades. Like children, Genet's ostracized individuals play games to imitate a world that they can not enter. Essentially, the play acting becomes catharsis for an oppressed group that is otherwise confined to the lower stratum of society. Role players and outcasts who try to find an identity through cathartic game playing never realize their potential in Genet's world. Instead, Genet is interested in outcasts who immerse themselves in solitude and create their own sense of dignity free from external control. Most important, these isolated individuals may initially play games, yet they ultimately experience metamorphosis from a world of rites, charades, and rituals to a type of "sainthood" where dignity and nobility reign. The apotheosis is achieved through a distinct act of conscious revolt designed to condemn the risk taker to a degraded life of solitude totally distinct from society's norms and values.