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The Thief's Journal (Twentieth Century Classics) Paperback – 22 Nov 1990

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Paperback, 22 Nov 1990

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (22 Nov 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140180893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140180893
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,425,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Jean Genet was born in Paris in 1910. An illegitimate child who never knew his parents, he was abandoned to the Public Assistance Authorities. He was ten when he was sent to a reformatory for stealing; thereafter he spent time in the prisons of nearly every country he visited in thirty years of prowling through the European underworld. With ten convictions for theft in France to his credit he was, the eleventh time, condemned to life imprisonment. Eventually he was granted a pardon by President Auriol as a result of appeals from France's leading artists and writers led by Jean Cocteau.$$$His first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, was written while he was in prison, followed by Miracle of the Rose, the autobiographical The Thief's Journal, Querelle of Brest and Funeral Rites. He wrote six plays: The Balcony, The Blacks, The Screens, The Maids, Deathwatch and Splendid's (the manuscript of which was rediscovered only in 1993). Jean Genet died in 1986. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kat on 1 Jun 2004
Format: Paperback
For anyone studying a foreign language text, a translation is a great way to get the gist of it without having to plough through it with a dictionary first. If you ARE studying Journal du Voleur though, beware of this one. Although it is, for the most part, a pretty faithful version, the translator, for reasons best left to himself, has inserted great chunks of narrative that don't feature in the original, mostly to do with Genet's sexual encounters, so for god's sake don't put all your faith in this version.
For those of you who have no idea about Genet, he was a homosexual writer who counted Cocteau and Sarte among his friends and supporters and wrote The Thief's Journal in the late forties. It is based on his experiences of being a thief and homosexual travelling around Europe and his encounters with various men, most notably Stilitano who he almost worships. It had to be published anonymously in Switzerland to prevent an enormous outcry - as it was, Genet was banned from entering the US for years on the grounds of being a deviant. He demands a degree of complicity from the reader, but at the same time keeps us at a distance, manipulating us to his will in order to convey his rejection of society and simultaneous need to be condemned by the same. It's a disturbing read at times - his subjection is deliberately humiliating - but fascinating in terms of how the author can hijack language for his own gains. Genet takes a fairly colourful attitude to factual biography so don't trust his word completely, but as an exploration of submissiveness, love, prison and beauty, you won't find a much more interesting read than this.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eleanor Hough on 22 Mar 2010
If you're looking to buy this then you probably know what to expect, seeing as Genet isn't exactly up there with the "Twilight" saga in terms of popularity right now... Part fact, part fiction, this details the author's journey through 1930s Europe, focusing around frequent incarcerations and homosexual love affairs with a variety of people. Yes, it's complicated, yes, it's bizarre, but it's also fantastic and well worth the read. His most famous work, and definitely recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. P. W. D. Preston on 23 Nov 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Brilliant and beautiful. Genet's world is composed of petty thieves and homosexuals. From this material he makes a crystalline and radiant world. A masterpiece of European literature.
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Format: Paperback
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 22 reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
In The Age Of The Poet-Assassins 24 Sep 2002
By The Wingchair Critic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In Jean Genet's complex novel 'The Thief's Journal' (1949), the author has modeled his protagonist, Jean, on himself, and the loose, conversational plot after his own experiences as a young thief, drifter, and poet in thirties and forties Europe.

'Jean' is Genet's fictional recreation of himself; but readers should keep in mind that Jean's relationship to Genet is to some degree imaginative. The book provides an excellent illustration of how even when speaking or writing with as complete an honesty as believed possible, man is still caught in a process of creation, structuring, and discrimination--a process of fictionalization. Therefore, honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness always retain elements of artifice, and, as pure states, remain ideals only.

Abandoned by his family as a boy, sentenced to reform school at sixteen, as a young man, Jean is still "alone, rigorously so," he lives "with desolation in satanic solitude." Realizing early that he is, in status and nature, completely at odds with the social order, Jean learns through trial and error how to care and not to care, how to make all possible outcomes to his actions reasonably acceptable.

"Rejecting the world that rejected me," Jean exacerbates his position: identifying with his rejectee status, he feels it appropriate that he should "aggravate this condition with a preference for boys." Thus his homosexuality is at least partially an act of self-creation, part of his perverse desire to transgress the rules of order as broadly as possible. Jean decides he will henceforth admit to guilt whenever accused, regardless of the truth or the nature of the crime, and thus rob his accusers of the ability to jeopardize his fate.

"Betrayal, theft, and homosexuality are the basic subject of this book," he says. For Jean, theft becomes a means of survival while simultaneously representing a daily blow against society. If caught and arrested, he readily throws himself into the homosexual life of the prison, making himself available to those in authority as well as to fellow inmates.

Jean allows himself a somewhat desperate game of searching for a dominant male partner who is completely, impossibly powerful. Submitting physically and emotionally to men he believes meet this standard, Jean repeatedly proves himself the more powerful by betraying the men when he inevitably senses a definitive crack in his exaggerated conception of them.

Once he has glimpsed some "inelegant," unforgivable portion of their imperfect humanity, his slavish masochism fades and sociopathic indifference replaces it: the abandonee becomes the abandoner and assassin. For Jean, a well-planned, keenly-felt personal betrayal is the ultimate show of toughness and "a handsome gesture, compounded with nervous force and grace."

As in Genet's other novels, homosexual love and physical interaction is a given between all of the male characters--pimps, prostitutes, gamblers, gangsters, and thugs--each of whom has a theoretical set of rules and limits concerning the degree of their own participation. But regardless of their speeches and proud macho denunciations, they loosen their belts for one another at a moment's notice if they feel so inclined.

Genet cleverly has Jean reacting and reporting in the same indeterminate manner: Jean identifies Michaelis as wholly homosexual but then denies it; one-armed stud Stilitano, who wears a bunch of artificial grapes buttoned inside his fly to lure strangers and enhance his mystique, routinely denies Jean access to his body at night but coyly raises the subject repeatedly during daylight hours. Regardless, Stilitano and Jean live and share a bed together, affectionately plucking one another clean of head and body lice.

Ugly Salvador strikes Jean on the street for kissing him in public while simultaneously whispering, "tonight, if you like," in his ear. When hairy Armand decides he respects Jean too much to be anything other than friends, Jean sleeps between his open legs, Armand's colossal sex organs resting nightly on his forehead.

Only gorilla-like, Paul Muni-faced Java is wholly unconcerned with the nature of his acts or words. He provocatively exposes himself to other men in saloons, daring them to hold and guess the weight of his genitals, and repeatedly forces himself on willing Jean, who, gloriously obliterated by Java's assault, finds it a blissful but inevitably temporary salvation. Java "cringes in fright" during a fight, and Jean sees even his cringing as beautiful. But then "yellow diarrhea flows down his monumental thighs," and--well, so much for Java.

Clinging to his masochistic illusion, Jean continues drifting, his submissive position a seeming necessity. When discovered sleeping in a beachfront shack by a guard, Jean services him automatically and the guard accepts it automatically as a given in turn. These are the strange, all-encompassing rules of Genet's world. But free or imprisoned, single or partnered, masochist or sly sadist, Jean is ultimately self-fulfilling and independent.

Jean, who says "metamorphosis lies in wait for us," is an almost unknown quintessence, a mass of animal meat and instincts coupled with emerging homo sapien characteristics.

Constantly in a liminal state of becoming, he atavistically prefers stepping sideways or backward instead of forward; for long periods his existence seems mere ostensible movement through time and space. But Jean, who in fact secretly enjoys and protects his isolation, really seeks only to fulfill himself "in the rarest of destinies," a kind of quest for "sainthood," one born of reducing himself to pure essence and thus becoming his own temple, savior, and deity.

On this final road, which Jean sees reachable by both subjective and objective methods, including sacred betrayal, there is in truth no room for anyone but himself, as there will be none afterward when he has attained his goal of becoming a selfless but self-complete being, like Jung's psychological, alchemical, and hieratical hermaphrodite.

'The Thief's Journal' is a full-frontal, multi-layered book that should be read several times to be fully appreciated. One of the finest portrayals of the introverted character in literature, 'The Thief's Journal' has a great many things to express about man's nature and psychology, most of which should be revelatory if somewhat jarring to the general reader.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
More existential(?) than homosexual 7 July 1998
By Jason Sickmon (stilitano@hotmail.com) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I don't think I would categorize The Thief's Journal as Gay fiction. I would allign it more with existentialism/metaphysics in that Genet's sensibilities and motives lie in other areas than solely his own homosexuality. Genet seeks to travel deeper and deeper within himself in order to reject "your world" as well as its inherent value and morals systems. I think his own homosexuality is among one of the many plateaus or steps that he uses in his "journey". As he says, his life was open to his own interpretation; the signs were interpreted in his own way for his own purposes. Sometimes Genet's prose is heavy in that his lines are long and he uses run-ons separated by commas. He takes great care in his descriptions (necessarily so) such as the gob of white saliva in the corner of someone's mouth. The work is another bold gesture by a man who brings the reader as close to the author as is seemingly possible. Another reviewer here says to check out Celine. Make sure to read the editions translated by Ralph Mannheim, he's superb.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Jean Genet is a magician 20 Sep 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jean Genet suffers a lot, I think, due to popular culture...the fact that his works necessarily involve homosexual activities leads mainstream culture (including even university professors!) to marginalize him beyond all rational limits, and leads conversely, the gay community to celebrate him possibly a little too much...but that's just my opinion. The fact is that he's a master of language, and when he writes about almost anything, it's transformed into an incredible landscape of experience, thought, desire, motives. In most of his purely fictional works he acts as an omniscient narrator to describe exactly why the characters do as they do...and in a way that not only makes perfect sense, but also in a way that the reader probably never thought of. This work being mostly autobiographical differs, actually, not much. If all you asked of this book was to take you into the world of small-time crime and skid row activities of barely post world war II europe, you'll be more than happily surprised. If you demand more, direct transportation even, to the world he was living in, you won't be disappointed.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Among my very favourite books 8 Nov 2001
By jacob cohen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is mesmerising. The distinction between the beautiful and the obscene is folded inside out like a velvet glove. Abjection has never seemed so appealing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Long Walk to Nihilistic Authenticity 20 April 2009
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Genet, as this his first book aptly proves, is understood best when he has an interpreter: ideally the iconic Jean Paul Sartre (or as I later discovered in the review section as I was about to post this review, Mr. J.E. Barnes). Thus, I feel like I have cheated in having first read Sartre's "Saint Genet, in which all of Genet's works are put in a proper psychological context. I am not sure I could have gotten the full import of this book without Sartre's (and now Mr. Barnes') help.

Genet's dark, exquisite interior prose occupies a higher dimension in a universe on the plane above the heads of our normal understanding of the human condition. He treads on much forbidden terrain: thievery, homosexuality, treachery and betrayal, societally inspired structural and overt violence. His craft exists and extends far away from and on the outskirts of the normal socialized and socially adjusted human mental frame. Yet, because of this vantage point, he and his writings are more alive, more aware of the limitations of this (the external) world, more in tune with normal human weaknesses, more real than any normal mind could ever be, or ever even imagine.

This, the first of his many criminal's confessions, is not just a clinical baring of an interior soul, but a living reflection of how the soul is organized and lived from the inside out, and, more importantly, how it is incrementally corrupted as a result of normal societal rules. Yet, Genet does not claim a defense or an excuse for his societally produced criminal mind and behavior: Although he is the purest of a socially produced incorrigible, he revels in his station in life; he takes it and remakes it as his own. He refashions it so that he can own it fully: it is his choice to own it. He populates it with characters, including himself, as Jean, that reflect and alternative moral universe. This alternative criminal moral universe is his counter-cultural kingdom, his existential domain. It is his psychological, spiritual and physical home.

Yet, even though Genet owns the universe he creates and so vividly describes, and reports to us, curiously it is us too. It is our reflection as seen through a truly authentic mind. One cannot read this book without the voyeuristic understanding that Genet's soul is but a "stand-in" for the inner torment, violence and fear that lives hidden just beneath consciousness in each of our souls. Genet is our true psychological doppelganger. He exposes the myth that our moral ideals and standards are real, inviolable and pure.

His "slow-dance" towards his own interior oblivion, the criminal abyss; a slow walk down to nihilistic authenticity, is as exquisite a representation of who we are, as we are ever likely to see in printed form. He describes what we would see if we had the courage and strength to see, that is if we had the true courage and strength of true introspection; if we had the courage and strength to confront our deepest fears, our deepest inner selves; in short, if we had the courage to be authentic beings. His descriptions remind us of how deep our socially adjusted cowardliness really is. He reminds us of what a truly authentic existence really looks like from the inside out.

The world of the "existential thief" is inhabited by a slow dance between a quest for heroism, a quest for an easy route to spiritual glory (the same quest we all have), and a fear of the limitations of our inherent human weaknesses. It is an interior struggle that ordinary people do not normally get to see, because socially organized mental barriers carefully insulate, wall us off and protect us from, ourselves.

An absolutely exquisitely crafted Freudian and existential tour de force: Ten stars
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