UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

In memoriam : monuments, memorials, and the revolutionary dead in the work of Jean Genet Reddon, Madeleine


This thesis investigates the memorial and monumental aspects of Jean Genet’s final memoir, Un captif amoureux. My introduction discusses biographical reading as a predominant trend in the critical literature and argues that this way of reading Genet empties out the political force of a deeply committed literary text, severing Un captif from the historical genealogies that led to its production. In response to this history, my work addresses the text’s memorial and monumental character in order to argue, first, for the sincerity of Genet’s articulations of political affinity to the Palestinians and the Black Panthers and, secondly, to argue that mourning, and the memorial impulse, are coextensive, in this text, with the (retrospective and prospective) production of community. I suggest that Genet considers memorial art as a means of assembling this community, whose point of connection (mourning) enables the transcendence (without the negation) of what might be considered to be irreconcilable differences, specifically national, ethno-religious, social, sexual and racial categories of identity. Chapter one considers the figure of cemetery as a spatial metaphor for the memory work being undertaken by the memoir. I argue that Genet conceives the power of the text’s commemorative capacity to be in its creation of a flexible and indeterminate discursive space, a figurative territory, for the literally dispossessed (living and dead) to inhabit. For Genet, the limitations of this project circulate around the identity and disposition of the prospective reader who, despite sometimes being characterized as sympathetic, appears to inhabit the text’s discursive space as an outsider. Chapter two turns from the architectural towards the sculptural. Unlike the spatial metaphor of the cemetery, which suggests habitation, dwelling, and the confluence of perspectives, the recurring image of the pièta suggests the devotional and ceremonial qualities of the memoir as a commemorative object and the text’s uneasy position within, and relationship to, the broader history and economy of Western representation. Comparing Genet to the vandalizer of Michelangelo’s pièta Lászlo Toth, I argue that his “vandalism” of the pièta produces both a new image to be circulated but, in creating a new image, a new referent also emerges.

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Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada