This week I continue talking about those writers who were bandits-bandits (as my mother says) or those criminals who ended up being writers.
Criminal writers (I)
I appropriate this phrase from Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his letters to Kappus, collected in Letters to a young poet —Highly recommended!— to evade court when evaluating a work of art —in this literary case— for the actions of its authors:
“(…) Art is also just a way of living and one can prepare for it by living in any circumstance and without realizing it. In all that is real we are closer to art than in the semi-artistic and unreal crafts that, giving us the illusion of their proximity, in fact deny their existence and damage it…”.
Well, without further “artism”, let’s get down to business:
Jean Genet: Complaint of Brest
Jean Genet, Parisian poet, playwright and writer, in all his work attacked Puritan society and conservative customs. He was so rebellious that he even decided that his remains should rest in Morocco, and not in his native France.
When he was seven months old, he was handed over to Social Assistance, raised by an adoptive family, and at the age of ten he committed his first robbery. Some say that Genet exaggerated the details of his past to create an image of a tough guy, but hey… He spent his adolescence in juvenile prison, and at 18 he enlisted in “The Foreign Legion” in order to escape; he deserted; he returned to Paris, and there he survived by stealing and prostituting himself with men; he was in and out of jail several times, in total, during that stage he spent 4 years in prison, and behind bars he wrote Thief’s Diary.
To cut a long story short; of so many sentences that began to fall on the head of Jean Genet, who already had several published works, despite his criminal acts, the weight of life imprisonment was warned, because nothing more was going out and he was already getting into trouble again . It was thanks to Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau that he evaded jail for the rest of the days, as these artists who admired him managed to free him and pardon him through the very president of France.
He became a great figure within the artistic guild, political activist and controversial person. And although he stopped writing for a few years, he attempted suicide after the death of a lover and suffered censorship in many times and countries, he returned to writing and it was not until 1986 that he died of throat cancer.
Complaint of Brest
As Jean Genet said: “It is aimed at investors, flowed into my mind during the reading with images of Tom of Finland, although the edition I read —in digital— was rather illustrated by Jean Cocteau. Then I got the Cuban edition lacking what is commonly said out there: cartoons.
This is a novel that revels in criminality, in the desire for the male body and turns what is supposedly amoral into a standard of beauty, an ideal, a provocative motivation, because in Querelle de Brest everything that does not seem to fit in the world moralist blooms and shines: “(…) Too much love until you…”.
It was published anonymously at the end of the 40s of the last century, precisely to avoid moralistic evil —if I always say it, the more puritanical people are, the more bizarre.
At times I wondered “What am I reading?” “Is this some kind of hybrid between Dirty Realism, surrealism, a dream novel, lyrical and a porn movie script with plot to heat more?”.
I loved the rawness of the thought descriptions and how hypersexualized everything is. I must confess that years ago I saw the film that Fassbinder made of this novel, just as strange and erotic. In Cuba we have a kind of tribute film: Green Green (2012), by Enrique Pineda Barnet, do you remember?
Within all this ode to the consummated crime that is Complaint of Brest As a work, it should also be noted that Jean Genet shares his philosophical reflections on life: morality, order, politics, business…although, it is said, the novel contains a large amount of biographical information about the author —or perhaps it is mere embellishment invented with which Genet baited his reputation of terrible kid.
Querelle, the protagonist sailor, arrives at the port of Brest, murders, steals, uses his charms to get away with it, and various events take place around him that entangle the plot. Always the attractiveness of him is what makes others become as out of themselves, in addition to the competitions established with his brother.
All the characters in the novel are amoral and twisted, which makes the story more raw and intricate. The poetry contained within so much sleaze is what elevates Genet’s work: “(…) That severe look, sometimes almost suspicious, even righteous, that the pederast keeps fixed on the young man he has just met, is a brief but intense meditation on his own loneliness…”.
It is a morbid novel that exalts an antihero, plays with desire in its weak moments, when it is confused with love and leads to jealousy. Here the crime is the steering wheel that drives the plot about a kind of parody of a time when homosexuality was as persecuted and punished as murder.
It is a novel that leaves you thinking about the uselessness of puritanism and the vileness of artistic repression that, in the end, only manages to magnify what is repressed.
Jack Henry Abbott and incidentally Norman Mailer: in the belly of the beast Y Tough men don’t dance
I will try to be as brief as possible with something that is not; Who was Jack Henry Abbot? Jack was a man, convicted of murder, who got out of prison thanks to the writer who won two Pulitzer Prizes and the one who elevated American journalism, Norman Mailer.
It so happens that Mailer was researching Gary Gilmore to write The executioner’s song; Jack Henry Abbot wrote to him to tell him about the living conditions in those prisons where Abbot had coincided with Gilmore, executed in 1977, and from there a correspondence arose that became the support of Mailer and even of Jerzy Kosinsky (whom I already spoke with the painted bird). Jack was published by Mailer, his book in the belly of the beast prefaced by his literary godfather was a bestseller: “Out of Abbott’s letters emerges an intellectual, a radical, a potential leader, a man possessed by a vision of human relations better than any revolution can forge.” Norman Mailer wrote.
To the disappointment of all those who had welcomed Jack Henry Abbott into intellectual circles in the wake of In the belly of the beast our ex convict walked into a New York bar with two women, suddenly got into a fight with the young bartender and killed him with a knife, fled and was found under false pretenses in New Orleans. This happened in the summer of 1981.
Some 20 years earlier, Norman Mailer himself almost killed his then-wife, Adele Morales – Mailer was married 6 times and had 9 children between all those marriages. It happens that Adele knew that Norman was cheating on her with another woman, and in the middle of a drunken party, she challenged her husband to play the bull and provoked him in this way: “Aha bull, aha. Come on, where are your balls? Or is it that your mistress has cut them off? Mailer, drunk as a skunk, stabbed her with a knife and urged the other guests to let her die. Despite this, Adele Morales did not accuse him, however, in 1997 she decided to take revenge on him by publishing everything she experienced in her book The last party.
The novel written by Norman Mailer 4 years after stabbing Adele was an american dream, in it appears the odd fantasy with a murdered wife, which is then repeated in Tough men don’t dance from 1984.
Into the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison by Jack Henry Abbott
These are the letters that Jack sent to Norman Mailer when he found out that he was writing a book about a death row inmate, Gary Gilmore, with the excuse that no one can write about prison without having been in it. In his lines, Abbot talks about how a crime is committed and the remorse after having done it. The ideas of Henry Abbot were applauded by critics and compared to The Marquis de Sade. Once back in prison, he published another book, My return. Jack committed suicide behind bars at the age of 58. He was 37 when he published, through Mailer, this compendium of letters.
Tough men don’t danceby Norman Mailer
24 days after being abandoned by his wife, Tim Madden, the protagonist of this novel, a failed writer addicted to alcohol, nicotine and blonde women, wakes up with a horrible hangover and some amnesia. On his arm is a name from his past tattooed in red, on his car is blood, and in his stash of marijuana is a blonde woman’s head. The novel focuses on efforts to rebuild that night Madden doesn’t know if he became a murderer. Mailer unfolds a critique of American society through his characters that oscillate between debauchery and moralism, sexism and homosexuality, and the struggle between virtues and defects.
There is a homonymous film from the year 1987 with a very beautiful Isabella Rossellini and directed by none other than Norman Mailer himself.
For today I will finish talking about authors who broke the law and the moral and/or ethical codes of our species. After three “Libras” it will probably be you, readers, who send me to prison for being an abuser; The other day they told me: “boy, do you just read?”, to which I responded with a smile that poorly imitated —due to lack of mouth size— that of the Cheshire cat. I would like to read more, but believe it or not, I also live, I cook, I go out to slash food around —in Cuba the wiggle is like that— and I even have my parties. Being a great reader is not divorced from full life, in fact quite the opposite. But hey, now, I came to talk about books and criminals, not about me. Until next time.