The Reflecting Realities in Genet's Theatre (The Balcony)Jean Genet was a French playwright, novelist etc but he is still most widely remembered as a homosexual thief. He lived the life of a social outcast and it reflects greatly in his plays and other works of art. Perhaps this position of an outcast only allowed him to look at the established order so differently that he could force his audiences to question their social standing and society as a whole.
The image of a man stuck in a maze of reflecting mirrors could easily be taken as a representation of Genet's plays. His plays are concerned with expressing his own feeling of helplessness and solitude when confronted with the despair and loneliness of a man caught in the hall of mirrors of the human condition, unalterably trapped by an endless progression of images that are merely his own distorted reflections.
Genet's theatre can be seen as a Dance of Death. Contrary to the Omni-presence of Death in Ionesco's theatre, in the sense that fear of extinction always prevails in almost all his plays (Rhinoceros can be read in this light), in Genet's theatre the world exists only as a nostalgic memory of life in a sphere of dream and fantasy. Sarte observes that "Genet is a dead men; if he still seems to live, he does so only in that larval existence that certain people ascribe to the dead in their tombs. All his heroes have died at least once in their life."Genet plays with mirrors as a device in which each apparent reality is revealed as an appearance, an illusion, which in turn reveals itself as a part of a dream or an illusion and this uncovering of realities go on till infinity. These reflective realities uncover the fundamental absurdity of being, its nothingness.
The focal point from which we witness the world, made up of deceptive appearances, but always reducible to an ultimate reality, is itself shown as a mere reflection in Genet's theatre, and the whole structure collapses.
The BalconyThe Judge: Exactly, my child: and get beaten. You must first deny, then admit and repent. I want to see hot tears gush from your lovely eyes. Oh! I want to be drenched in them. The power of tears... Where's my statue book?....
The Judge: What's that? What's that you say? You'd refuse? Tell me where. And tell me what you've stolenThe Thief (curtly and getting up): I won't.
The Judge: Tell me where. Don't be cruel.
The Thief: Your tone is getting familiar. I won't have it!The Judge: Miss.... Madame. I beg of you (he falls to his knees.) Look, I beseech you. Don't leave me in this position, waiting to be a judge. If there were no judge what would become of us, but what if there were no thieves?(Scene two)These lines from the play 'The Balcony' can be read in the light of the above mentioned argument. The image of a judge and the thief is reflected in the mirrors of reality to the extent of making their very existence absurd.
The role of a judge can be played only in the presence of a thief. Genet makes the audience realise that a power structure as mighty as the judge and the court would itself cease to exist in the absence of a thief around which the whole play of the courtroom revolves.
This scene and other scenes in the beginning of the play establish the reflection of the real power structures in Madame Irma's House of Illusions. These reflections forces the reader or the spectator to question the very reality in which they exist as its absurdity is brought out in Genet's hall of mirrors.
We are hardly able to adjust ourselves to the idea that we are watching a Bishop in the first scene, when it becomes brutally clear that we are not in a Bishop's palace but in a Brothel and the man concerned is not a Bishop but a labourer who has paid Irma for the satisfaction of indulging himself in his fantasies of sex and power.
Madame Irma's establishment itself becomes a kind of a theatre with mirrors everywhere which not only metaphorically but also actually multiply the images of self-heroization. The actors are the people who are thirsty for in acting the roles of the power centres of the society and see themselves in the attire of a Bishop, Judge or a General.
The play manages to take away ground from under the feet of the audience in scene nine, when the actors of the theatre of Madame Irma's house of illusions, assume their respective roles in earnest.
The Bishop, Judge and General who used to satiate themselves in Irma's Brothel have now become the 'Real' propagators of the society and Madame Irma is the new Queen who shall assume the highest seat in the country.
Now the play really unfolds and hammers the last bit of respect that we have left for these people who supposedly run the society and allow us to live in a civilized world.
Genet brings forth the play of power: that power is the only measure of people in the society. And that if a person wears the crown then she shall be respected as the queen even if she was the proprietor of a brothel yesterday.
The play also incorporates the other side of the power structure as the chief of police is dying to see himself reflected in the house of illusions and Roger fulfils his wish as he pays to immortalize the role of the chief of police.
The chief realises that power does not lie in the physical force but in the mental sphere of the people, so he wishes to see himself dominating the minds of the people to the extent that they would wish to step in to his shoes to feel the power which he posses.
The OutcastThe Balcony quite clearly comes out as a play which represents fantasy: Genet's dream about the nature of power and sex, which to him, has the same root. It portrays the world from the viewpoint of an outcast who saw the apparatus of the society from the outside and weaved a fantasy about the motives of the men who have acted as the instruments of the state. The outcast comes to the conclusion that these men are expressing their sadistic drive for domination, and they are using the awful symbolism with which they are surrounded, the ritual and ceremonials of the courtroom, army and church in order to secure their domination.
A feeling of helplessness prevails in the man confronted with the vast intricacies of the modern world, and his impotence to leave his mark on the mysterious machinery. A world that functions outside the conscious control of men must appear absurd to them.
Genet's theatre can be best seen as the world would appear to a prisoner who is separated from the outside world, he has been literally deprived of any chances to make his presence felt, to make an impact on reality; in that sense the prisoner experiences the human condition in our time more intensely and more directly that any of the civilized men. He can therefore become the spokesperson for the subconscious malaise, the unspoken thoughts of the modern man.
This absurdity of being is the very crux of Genet's plays and he has been able to bring it out to the face of his audiences through his mirrors which reflect nothing but alternate realities making their reality as pity as any other.
Sartre has distinctly pointed out the fabric of this outcast,"Genet, confined as he is in a world of fantasy by the pitiless order of things (i.e. an outcast who have no impact on the real world), renounced his attempt to scandalize the by the action of a thief? .... If he made...the imaginary sphere a permanent source of scandal? If he could bring it about that his dreams of impotence tapped, in their very impotence, an infinite power and, in defiance of all the police forces of the world, but society as a whole in question? Would he not, in that case, have found a point of junction for the imaginary and the real, the ineffective and the effective, the false and the true, the right to act and the action?"Bibliography:Theatre of the Absurd: A hall of mirrors