The Methods of Cultural Appropriation in Jean Genet’s “The Balcony”
The now-famous story of Jean Genet’s ascension to literary sainthood begins with an accusation. The young Genet, an orphan and an outcast in the rural Morvan, was subject to suspicion and, due to his dubious origins, finally accused of thievery. However, instead of shaking the label, Genet decided to embrace it to fulfill all the mordant potential that it promised. From this inaugurating act sprang the literary Genet. As Sartre says in his monumental study Saint Genet: “For him, to compose is to recreate himself”(584). As a result, Genet’s persona is as famous (or notorious) as his works are.
Genet’s early initiation into a mental, if not physical, sort of underworld predicates his awareness of the problems of subcultural existence in a society ruled by signs, symbols, and rituals. His writing often focuses on the detailed qualities of inanimate objects, attributing meaning to them and in the process forging almost personal relationships with them. This is important because Genet is highly aware of the effects of the proliferation of images in the media and their uses for various interests. In his literary career, Genet moves from a consciousness of the importance of symbols and images in identifying and defining a particular subcultural milieu to an awareness of the ways in which these symbols can be appropriated by dominant culture, thus losing their subversive edge. It is in this way that dominant culture disarms potentially dangerous subversive or criminal elements. “The Balcony” illustrates to a superlative degree his awareness of image and symbol for subcultural elements and the danger of approp...
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...ame time casts a leery eye towards the use of images to facilitate this process. However, by exposing the means of appropriation Genet allows leeway for re-appropriation, a way for subcultures to assert their own self-representation. This leads to a kind of cultural barter or negotiation between subculture and dominant culture; the methods of this barter must therefore become the primary concern of subcultures.
Genet, Jean. “The Balcony”. New York: Grove Press. 1966.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Saint Genet. New York: Mentor Books. 1963.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge. 1979.
Plotz, John. “Objects of Abjection: The Animation of Difference in Jean Genet’s Novels”. Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 44, No. 1. (Spring, 1998). 100-118.
White, Edmund. Genet: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1993.
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