Monday, February 1, 2021


The high points of Fragments of the Artwork, a thin posthumous selection of Jean Genet's writings on art--culled and Englished from the French and padded with a long interview--are the essays on Giacometti and Rembrandt. The lesser-known of the latter two, "Rembrandt's Secret," contains a passage that strikes me with the force of truth. Genet is differentiating between his impressions of Rembrandt's self-portraits and of the other figures in the artist's oeuvre:

His [non self-portrait] figures, all of them, are aware of the existence of a wound, and they are taking refuge from it. Rembrandt [in the self-portraits] knows he is wounded, but he wants to be cured. From that knowledge comes the impression of vulnerability we get when we look at his self-portraits and the expression of confident strength when we are faced with the other paintings.(86)

Genet likewise speaks of this 'wound' in the Giacometti essay:

Beauty has no other origin than a wound, unique, different for each person, hidden or visible, that everyone keeps in himself, that he preserves and to which he withdraws when he wants to leave the world for a temporary but profound solitude... Giacometti's art seems to me to want to discover that secret wound of every being, and even of every object, so that it can illumine them.(42)

(Now, as I transcribe this passage, I'm reminded of Hemingway's great letter to Fitzgerald upon reading Tender is the Night: "We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it...")

As I stated, the Rembrandt passage impressed me deeply, leapt off the page, exemplifying Emerson's aphorism on genius: In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts. They come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Substitute "unconscious apprehensions" for "rejected thoughts" and you'll get a flavor of the "alienated majesty" I find in Genet's lines.

No comments: