Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alfred Jarry

Today is the birthday of Alfred Jarry, born September 8 1873.

Jarry was a novelist, playwright and philosopher whose work prefigured Dada, Surrealism, Futurism and the Theater of the Absurd. He is best known for his anti-authoritarian satire Ubu Roi, which premiered in 1896 and immediately ignited a scandal with its scatology and it's relentless absurdity. It has been a theatrical cult classic ever since.

Jarry was vehemently eccentric, riding a bicycle everywhere - into restaurants, the theatre and his apartment - always armed with pistols, and perpetually intoxicated. He ate his meals backwards, dessert first, and adopted the nasal, monotone speaking style he invented for Ubu, enunciating every syllable equally and referring to himself in the royal "we."

His work veered from the bizarre to the disturbing. His book Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician describes the exploits and teachings of a sort of philosopher who, born at age 63, travels through Paris in a sieve and teaches all who will listen about "pataphysics" - a science invented by Jarry in which "every event in the universe is accepted as an extraordinary event." Jarry also wrote what is often called "the first cyborg sex novel," Le Surmâle. Jarry was also very involved in the world of printed images, making woodcuts and drawings to ornament his own books.

In his final years, he was a legendary and heroic figure to some of the young writers and artists in Paris, including Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, and Max Jacob. After his death, Pablo Picasso acquired his pistol, and later owned many of his manuscripts.

Jarry lived in Paris until his death at 34 years old from tuberculosis aggravated by drug and alcohol use. Per his request, he was buried upright, bestride a bicycle.

Right here you can read Jarry's prose poem The Passion Considered As An Uphill Bicycle Race alongside J.G. Ballard's parody/homage The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race .

From the poem:

Jesus, though carrying nothing, perspired heavily. It is not certain whether a female spectator wiped his brow, but we know that Veronica, a girl reporter, got a good shot of him with her Kodak.

The second spill came at the seventh turn on some slippery pavement. Jesus went down for the third time at the eleventh turn, skidding on a rail.


The deplorable accident familiar to us all took place at the twelfth turn. Jesus was in a dead heat at the time with the thieves. We know that he continued the race airborne -- but that is another story.

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