Jean Genet by Jeannette L. Savona (auth.)

By Jeannette L. Savona (auth.)

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The physical and ideological topology of the world of the play can easily illustrate what Michel Foucault describes and analyses in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison; Foucault's French title, Surveiller et punir, published in 1975, recalls the same notion of penal surveillance as the French title of Deathwatch, Haute Surveillance, a technical expression for a specific sort of legal detention reserved for prisoners awaiting execution. Discipline and Punish is more than a simple history of the evolution of the French penal system since the seventeenth century.

His interpretation is the more fascinating as it recalls an important aspect of the history of French theatre: Racine's characters illustrate a Jansenistic vision of life, whereas Corneille's plays reveal a definite Molinistic viewpoint. The only shortcoming in this brilliant reading which turns Deathwatch into 'the most purely mystical work that Genet has ever written,a is its almost total grounding on the last two pages of the play and its heavy reliance on the evidence provided by Genet's novels.

Their two initial endeavours - to harm Monsieur and to kill Madame - may seem to be childish, depraved gestures, but they represent efforts on their parts to shake off their physical bondage and free themselves mentally. As Madame is perpetually associated in their minds with all the acceptable values - religious, ethical, sexual and cultural - which have helped to enslave them, murdering Madame amounts to a symbolic attempt to get rid of such values. Any political revolution starts, as we know, with acts of destruction generated not simply by resentment but also by a legitimate desire for liberation from social taboos.

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