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November 12, 1998 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-11-12

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12A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, November 12, 1998

Bio explores man behind madness

Arena gives Eliot reading

genet: A Biography
dmund White
Random House
*
It is easy to understand why someone would
swish to tell the story of Jean Genet, one of the
towering literary figures of the 20th Century.
But it is difficult to sympathize with the plight
of someone who knew what he was getting
himself into.
Certainly, novelist Edmund White, the author
of "Genet: A Biography," is someone who
could have been expected to know the territory.
Oe is no slouch as a literary figure himself, pro-
Iducing highly acclaimed works such as "The
Beautiful Room is Empty" while invigorating
the moribund tradition of the expatriate
American writer in Paris.
In 1993, White's adopted country bestowed
upon him the honor of becoming a Chevalier in
the Order of Arts and Letters, even today a
noteworthy experience for a foreigner. Perhaps
it was this encomium that helped make White
brave enough - or reckless enough - to tack-
le the thickets of the life of Jean Genet, a quin-
tessential Parisian (not that the label would
thrill Paris).
Part of the problem, and a big part it is, with
becoming Genet's biographer is wading
through the enjambments of reality and
mythology -most of the mythology being

Genet's own creation. Genet's most noteworthy
literary achievements, his five novels of the
1940's, were designed to blur the line between
fiction and autobiography. Blutry is indeed the
choice word for White's use of the novels as
biographical sources.
Repeatedly, White tortuously hems and haws
over the validity of a biographical conclusion
drawn from a scene or character in one of
Genet's novels. He also seizes at tiny granules,
such as a name shared by one of Genet's
kindergarten playmates as well as one of his
characters, to include in his larger edifice. But
as a representation of Genet's life, it doesn't
even make that great of a sand castle.
What was already confirmed knowledge
about Genet's life is enough to demand belief.
For starters, this brilliant creative artist seems,
relative to his accomplishments, to have read
scarcely a book in his life. He had only an ele-
mentary education before spending most of
two-and-a-half decades in (and on the run
from) various juvenile detention facilities,
army brigades, and prisons. During this time,
he worked on and off as a prostitute; after he
established his career as a writer, he was a
devoted procurer of prostitutes.
Genet never touched alcohol and rarely
smoked, but was addicted to barbiturates and
other drugs much of his life. He loved to talk
with great expertise of art and politics, but
found Kafka and Dostoyevsky (and just about.

every other writer) tedious. He was a kleptoma-
niac at 10-years-old, and was arrested for theft
and possession of stolen goods over a dozen
times, not to mention the charges he faced for
army desertion and failures to appear in court.
As a writer, Genet experienced two major
periods of productivity: on the brink of emerg-
ing from his life as a habitual fugitive and
prison inmate, when he wrote his novels; and at
the end of his next decade of freedom, the '50s,
when he wrote most of his plays.
After the suicide of his long-term lover, a
Moroccan acrobat, Genet disappeared from the
landscape into depression. He reemerged as
Genet the political activist. For most of his final
two decades, he was most visible as an ardent
partisan of the Black Panthers and the Palestine
Liberation Organization.
This later part of White's work, at least, is
quite well founded in verifiable fact, so that it
is much more coherent than the first half. It is
the maddening frivolities of the opening chap-
ters, however, that set the tone for White's work,
which is admittedly exhaustive in its breadth
and research; It checks in at almost 650 pages,
plus another 100 of notes and introduction.
Indeed, in view of this book's sheer bulk, and
the obstacles the well-meaning reader meets
from the very beginning, one wonders who
would be possessed to finish the thing. Don't
bother thanking me; that's my job.
-Jeff Druchniak

By Garth Houtal
Daily Arts Writer
Expect a bang, not a whimper, this weekend
in the Frieze Building when Basement Arts
unveils a theatrical presentation of T.S. Eliot's
masterpiece."The Waste Land," adapted and
directed by Music sophomore Andrew Bielski.
Probably the most critically acclaimed poem
of the 20th Century, "The Waste Land" has
been molded to fit on the stage, although none
of the original text has
been removed or altered.
Bielski has separated the
work into distinct voices,
T which will be read by an
Wasteland ensemble of nine actors.
Arena Theater This interpretation of
Tonight at 8 p.m. and the poem will be an
Tomorrow at 8 11 p.m. exploration in a wholly
unacademic way. While
reams of criticism on the
piece are available in the
library, Bielski inten-
tionally hasn't read any
of it. His only inspira-
tion was the poem itself.
"I first read the poem two years ago and it
struck me. It resonated within me on a spiritu-
al level," Bielski said. In an attempt to make
the poem more accessible, Bielski created a
stimulating experience for himself, the ensem-

ble and the audience.
Bielski views the poem asbeing primarily
about connection and perceptan very rich in
theme and symbolism. The proagonist, whom
Bielski created from the text, i a man full of
contempt who isolates himself tom the world.
The other characters each repraent a facet of
his being and their interactions mplore how we
separate ourselves from our owl experiences.
For his directorial debut, Bidski wanted to
do something exciting and expbratory. He has
allowed his actors complete fredom to create
their own roles by using improisation games
to make for a collaborative rehrarsal process.
"Eliot's writing style is very theatrical and,
hence, conducive to what welbe doing,'he
explained. Though he saw no nred to alter the
text in any way for this preseitation, Bielski
added some elements for the stage. "The piece
is full of allusions to other liteary works, so
we've incorporated these other vorks into our
play." Music has been added to hdghten the text
and the play will be performed inthe round.
Bielski claims no pretense at realism for
this work. "It is solely a piece of perfor-
mance," he says. Although there have been
other attempts at converting Eliot's work to the
stage, Bielski insists that tlis production is
unique.
"You'll never see anything ike this again,"he
said.

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