Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr

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Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr (Saint Genet, comédien et martyr) is a book by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre about the writer Jean Genet.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr trans. by Bernard Frechtman. New York: The New American Library, 1964.


“esse est percipi, and he recognizes himself as being only insofar as he is perceived” (46).

“such mad confidence within despair” (60).

“It was a constraint; he makes of it his mission” (61).

“But when they have realized that it [society] rejects them forever, they themselves assume the ostracism of which they are victims so as not to leave the initiative to their oppressors” (65-6).

“This inner revolution is realistic because it maintains itself deliberately within the framework of existing institutions; the oppressed reckon with the real situation” (66).

“His business is here, it is here that he is despised and vilified, it is here that he must carry out his undertaking” (67).

“Since he is unable to be the beloved, he will become the lover” (90).

“…inversion…is an outlet that a child discovers when he is suffocating” (91).

“In doing Good, I lose myself in Being, I abandon my particularity, I become a universal subject” (77).

“The strangest mores of the most of-the-way societies will, in spite of everything, be relatively comprehensible to the person who has a flesh-and-blood knowledge of man’s needs, anxieties, and hopes. If, on the other hand, this experience is lacking, he will not even be able to understand the customs of those about him” (139).

“The live dead-man is dead as a producer and alive insofar as he consumes” (139).

“Abjection is a methodological conversion, like Cartesian doubt and Husserlian epoche: it establishes the world as a closed system which consciousness regards from without, in the manner of divine understanding” (141).

“But since he has decided to have the impossibility of living, every misfortune is an opportunity which lays this importance of living before his eyes and obliges him to decide, once again, to die” (158).

“His obedience is real since he really and truly fulfills his mission, since he runs real risks in order to carry out the beloved’s orders. But, on the other hand, it is imaginary because he submits only to a creature of his mind” (152).

“He chooses the most feared, most hated man in order to worship him as a god, feeling sure that he is alone in perceiving the god’s secret virtues” (165).

“It is freedom, it is particularity, it is solitude that we are aiming at, and not Evil for its own sake” (179).

“Moral solipsism” (185).

“The consciousness of being betrayed is to the collective consciousness of a sacred group what a certain form of schizophrenia is to the individual…it is a form of madness” (193).

“Only a neutral, who is indifferent to the stake and perhaps to all stakes, can appreciate aesthetically the grandeur of a fine disaster” (212).

“Genet is a man-failure: he wills the impossible in order to derive from the tragic grandeur of this defeat the assurance that there is something other than the possible” (213).

“Similarly, individual acts of aristocratic generosity do not eliminate pauperism; they perpetuate it” (219).

“For man holds his ground only by surpassing himself, in the same sense in which it is said that one ceases to love if one does not love increasingly everyday” (238).

“The worst of misfortunes is still a stroke of luck, since one feels oneself living when one experiences it” (275).

“For Genet, reflective states of mind are the rule. And although they are of an unstable nature in everyone, in him…reflection is always contrary to the reflected feeling” (278).

“The world is sacred because it gives an inkling of a meaning that escapes us” (280).

“…for one cannot enter an image unless one makes oneself imaginary” (297).

“…the impossible must be supposed in order to explain the superdetermination of the event” (301).

“He wanted to assume his entire condition, to carry the world on his shoulders and to become, in defiance of all, what all have made of him” (384).

“The dreamer must contaminate the others by his dream, he must make them fall into it” (399).

“…the prisoner’s dreams is the guard’s spirituality” (400).

“Virtue is the death of conscience because it is the habit of Good, and yet the ethic of the honest man infinitely prefers virtue to the noblest agonies of conscience. Thus, being poses nonbeing and eliminates it. There is only being” (402).

“For Genet, Beauty will be the offensive weapon that will enable him to beat the just on their own ground: that of value” (405).

“Thus, Beauty is neither an appearance nor a being, but a relationship: the transformation of being into appearance” (408).

“…in order to change poverty into wealth, one must start by displaying it” (420).

“That is precisely what we should have expected, since Genet wants to live simultaneously creation, destruction, the impossibility of destroying and the impossibility of creating, since he wants both to show his rejection of the divine creation and to manifest, in the absolute, human impotence as man’s reproval of God and as the testimony of his grandeur” (424).


“I mistrust illuminations: what we take for a discovery is very often only a familiar thought that we have not recognized” (439).

“…the reality of society involves the socialization of certain unrealities” (455).

“I, for my part, do not conceive an act as having causes, and I consider myself satisfied when I have found in it not its ‘factors’ but the general themes which it organizes: for our decisions gather into new syntheses and on new occasions the leitmotif that governs our life” (461).

“…and if you are common, you can dress up as a woman, show you behind or write poems: there’s nothing offensive about a naked behind if it’s everybody’s; each person will be mirrored in it” (463).

“the martyr’s reflex” (463).

“in order to make himself thoroughly undesirable, he will speak” (463).

“For those who want ‘to change life”, ‘to reinvent love,’ God is nothing but a hindrance” (500).