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The 1947 “Failure” of Jean Genet’s The Maids

By A Noise Within
September 9, 2016

Genet is on record describing The Maids as a “failure.” Why? Christopher Lane, in his article “The Voided Role: On Genet”, supposes that the “failure” of the play is encoded in its message, or we might say, in its poetics…. Lane writes that “Genet’s interest in his characters’ fantasies and identifications interrupts what might seem an obvious oscillation between master and slave.” Hegelian sublation of the master-slave dialectic fails because the triumph of one character/role comes at the expense and depletion of the other. As Solange says in the play, “[Madame’s] joy feeds on our shame. Her carnation is the red of our shame.”

Although Genet was an activist in real life, he rejected any socially edifying readings of The Maids as supportive of workers or the rights of the oppressed. He was more interested in the dramatic moment.

Perhaps then it makes most sense to view the play and “failure” as a comment on inevitable failure of theatrical embodiment itself, especially in the theater of personal intimacy.

As Jeanette Savona cogently writes, The Maids “is based not so much on ‘normal’ human interactions as on the very impossibility of establishing any form of positive interrelations except in the world of fantasy and dreams.”

If all the world’s a stage, Genet says, what of the maids who merely wash the boards?

Read the full article on Genet and The Maids here.

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