Saturday, August 20, 2016


When the Criminals All Spoke Perfect French

Mohamed Choukri (1935-2003), Jean Genet in Tangiers, tr. Paul Bowles (New York: The Ecco Press, 1974), pp. 14-15:
He [Brion Gysin] went on to say that he had been rereading some of the books. I can't believe that man didn't have a classical education, he said. There's some mystery that he's trying to hide. His life is one of the great literary mysteries of the century.

I asked him how he thought it was possible for Genet to have had such an education. He said he had spoken of it with him, but Genet would never say more than that his entire education came from the thieves and vagabonds he happened to know in his formative years. Brion told him outright that he wasn't going to accept that, and added that he suspected he'd been brought up in a Catholic institution.

You don't learn the language of Racine in the street, Brion went on. And I wouldn't be surprised if Genet knew Greek and Latin.

I asked him how Genet had reacted to that.

No reaction, except that he got a bit pale, and looked very much astonished. Then he laughed and denied it. And he went through the same story as always. The thieves and the pimps. He claims it was a very special period that didn't last, the time when the criminals all spoke perfect French! No. You've got Genet the genius, and Genet the criminal. But there's another Genet, Genet the third, Genet the mystery man.
Cf. Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, II.8 (tr. M.A. Screech):
I see even today's brigands, hangmen, mercenaries and stable-lads better taught than the teachers and preachers of my day.

Je voy les brigans, les boureaulx, les avanturiers, les palefreniers de maintenant, plus doctes que les docteurs et prescheurs de mon temps.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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