NOTRE DAME DE FLEUR
Notre Dame De Fleur (Our Lady of the Flowers)
is a feat of a novel in many ways, through the ways that it tackles
various problems and reverses them to make them something
It is this which makes it one of the most distinctive novels ever written.
Of course, attempts to write an introduction to Notre Dame De
Fleur are extremely difficult considering the strength of Jean-Paul
Sartres classic introduction to the text.
Few introductions to any book can ever be described as classics,
but Sartres is so. (Let's not forget, it was Sartre who discovered
Genet, labelled him Saint Genet and bought him to the wider
world. For the French, a stamp of approval from Sartre still appears
to be of a great deal of significance so much so that the Saint
Genet label appears to have stuck.)
Sartres own thought can, to a point, be applied to Notre
Dame De Fleur. The core theme of Sartres Being and
Nothingness is the distinction between en-soi, being-in-itself,
and pour-soi, being-for-itself.
En-soi is conscious of its own consciousness, but in its concrete nature
its inability to change itself is somewhat incomplete. En-soi here,
then, defines human beings as a species. Pour-soi is a different matter
as it has to create itself from nothingness, lacking as it does the
pre-determined essence of en-soi. En-sois role in defining humans
as a species is difficult to challenge, but to a point Genet does so.
Gender, being fixed, could easily be seen as part of en-soi. But Genets
protagonist Divine starts life as a young boy before he seamlessly changes
from writing he to she, somewhat like Virginia
Woolfs Orlando, and also in a style that owes something
to the creation of the hermaphrodite in Ovids Metamorpheses.
But, unlike these, it is unlikely that Divine has actually turned into
a woman and more likely that she is transgender.
But the key is that the characters are Genets creations, fully
acknowledged within the text as fictional, and he can do with them as
he pleases. Joseph Campbells The Hero With A Thousand Faces
has never seemed so relevant as in Notre Dame de Fleur. Campbells
argument starts with the basis that an everyday individual reading a
book is going on some kind of journey through the hero. This may seem
like mere being lost in a book, but for Campbell this concludes
with being aware of the unity at the centre of the self. By following
the path of his characters creation, Genet makes us acutely aware of
the self, in a way few other twentieth century texts have achieved.