Jarry, Alfred (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Alfred Jarry 1873-1907
French playwright, novelist, essayist, and poet.
The following entry provides criticism on Jarry's works from 1984 through 2001. For criticism prior to 1984, see TCLC, Volumes 2 and 14.
A contemporary of the Symbolists and post-Impressionists, Jarry wrote plays, novels, and essays that anticipated the Theater of the Absurd, Dadaism, Surrealism and Futurism. His 1896 play, Ubu Roi (King Ubu), is credited with subverting the basic dramaturgical conventions of mimesis and with creating a new literary type, a buffoonish yet sinister anti-protagonist who possesses no redeeming qualities. Jarry also developed the aesthetic philosophy of 'pataphysics, a logic of the absurd that holds that reality consists of a series of accidents and exceptions, and that therefore we can draw no firm conclusions, which is the basis of absurdist aesthetics espoused by the Theater of the Absurd. Generally recognized as a driving force in Surrealism, Jarry's work, particularly King Ubu and Gestes et Opinions du Docteur Faustroll, Pataphysicien (1911; Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician), helped shape the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century.
Alfred Henri Jarry was born in Laval, France, on September 8, 1873. His mother, Caroline, left his father, Anselme, in 1878, taking her children to her father's house in Saint-Brieuc on the coast of Brittany. In 1888, the family moved to Rennes, where Jarry attended the lycée, or high school. Here Jarry's eccentricity, rebelliousness, and wit blossomed. Drawing on an existing body of schoolboy parodies, Jarry and two schoolmates collaborated on a play about the exploits of Père Héb, a monstrous figure based on Félix Hébert, their obese, ineffectual physics teacher. This play became King Ubu. In 1891, Jarry left for Paris to study at the Lycée Henri IV, where he read Nietzsche and Henri Bergson. He took—and failed—the entrance exam for L'Ecole Normale Supérieur three times. In 1893, Jarry began to publish and came to the attention of avant-garde artists. Alfred Vallette, the editor of Mercure de France, and his wife, the novelist Rachilde, who became a regular presence at literary salons hosted by the Vallettes and the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Jarry had a reputation for eccentricity, dressing in a black stovepipe hat, gauchos, and black cape that fell to his shoes. He would carry a green umbrella and two pistols at all times. In 1894, Jarry became briefly involved with the poet Léon-Paul Fargue and founded a literary review, L'Ymagier. On December 10, 1896, Jarry's savagely absurd masterpiece, King Ubu, was performed at the Théâtre de L'Oeuvre, where it incited a riot. Jarry's long-standing abuse of alcohol, absinthe, and ether took a toll on both his health and his literary output. Always eccentric, Jarry grew even more so, adopting the mannerisms of his grotesque anti-protagonist, Ubu. Although Jarry wrote several important works after 1896, notably Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician and Le Sûrmale (1902; The Supermale), his last years were spent struggling with ill health, poverty, and substance abuse. He died from tubercular meningitis on November 1, 1907, at the age of 34.
Like his Symbolist contemporaries, Jarry rebelled against Romanticism and Naturalism. Jarry's most important work, King Ubu, subverts the dramatic conventions of naturalism and mimesis by avoiding sympathetic characters, identifiable locations, and a logical, coherent narrative structure. Urged by his wife, Père Ubu uses his “debraining” device to assassinate the King of Poland and then his allies. He wanders around the countryside demanding double and triple taxes before cowardly retreating from the Tzar's army and surviving a bear's attack. The play, which increasingly loses any semblance of unified action or linear narrative, ends with Ubu and his wife sailing to France. At the premiere of King Ubu on December 10, 1896, at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in Paris, the audience booed when the actor who portrayed Ubu mimed unlocking a jail cell door that was represented by another actor. Additionally, King Ubu provoked the bourgeois audience with the first theatrical uttering of the neologism “merdre,” inciting riots each time “le mot d'Ubu” was uttered on stage. In the character of Père Ubu, Jarry had invented a new literary type—a simplified, archetypal anti-protagonist. In Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician, Messaline (1901), and The Supermale, Jarry adopts a mock-solemn vision informed by the contingency of the real world, asserting the equivalence of opposites, cultivating paradox and other deliberate challenges to common sense which underlie his notion of 'pataphysics. The antithesis of positivist or rational science, Jarry's 'pataphysics considered the universe as an accumulation of exceptions and accidents. In Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician, 'pataphysics enables Dr. Faustroll to build a time machine, sail in a sieve, and to calculate the surface of God. The farcical, fantastic novel, The Supermale, features a mechanical man who becomes a sex-machine, is fed by a food-machine, and bicycles faster than trains. Although Jarry occasionally wrote about relationships—his early play, Haldernablou (1894) is based partly on his relationship with Léon-Paul Fargue—human relationships are largely absent in Jarry's work, and the macabre, nihilistic undercurrent found in King Ubu's humor pervades all his writing.
Alfred Jarry's contemporaries were not sure what to make of him. “Everything in Jarry, that strange humbug, smelled of affectation,” sniffed André Gide. At the premiere of his 1896 play, King Ubu, the audience broke into riots on several occasions. One audience member, W. B. Yeats, mourned, “What more is possible? After us the Savage God.” But Stéphane Mallarmé called Jarry a “sure dramatic sculptor” who “enters into a repertoire of high taste and haunts me.” And audience member Laurent Tailhade called the play “a milestone in the history of symbolism.” Theater critic Claude Schumacher contends that “the birth of contemporary theatre … begins with the performance of King Ubu on 9/10 December 1896.” Michael Zelenak writes: “Few dramatic works have attained the iconographic status of Alfred Jarry's King Ubu.”
Many of Jarry's works were published posthumously, and Jarry's significance was not widely recognized until after his death. In 1926, Surrealists Antonin Artaud and Roger Vitrac founded the Théâtre Alfred Jarry, claiming Jarry as a major influence. Roger Shattuck credits Jarry with originating the avant-garde, and Harald Szeeman calls Jarry's 'pataphysics “the essential core of the last decade of the nineteenth century.” According to Bettina Knapp, Jarry's novel, The Supermale, with its fascination with technology and mechanization, “is far ahead of its time, a forerunner in many ways of the ideas proclaimed by the Futurists and the Cubists.” Art critic Jill Fell concludes that Jarry conceptualized Cubism. Maryrice Nadeau states that 'pataphysics, Jarry's aesthetics of the absurd, anticipates existentialism in a “remarkably clear line that connects the impish figure of Alfred Jarry in 1896, calmly saying merde (shit) to bourgeois culture, with Albert Camus.” John Richardson, Picasso's biographer, notes: “[Jarry] crashed the barrier between fantasy and reality, and established the parodic sense of 'pataphysics, which would detonate all traditional canons of beauty, good taste and propriety.” As Gene Van Dyke observes, “From Breton to Tzara to Beckett—the roads, more often than not, seem to lead back to the head of that madman from Laval.”
*Les minutes de sable memorial (play, prose, and poetry) 1894
César-Antechrist [Caesar Antichrist] (play) 1895
Ubu Roi [King Ubu] (play) 1896
Les jours et les nuits: roman d'un déserteur [Days and Nights: Novel of a Deserter] (novel) 1897
L'Amour en visites [Love Goes Visiting] (short stories) 1898
Almanach du Père Ubu (prose) 1899
L'amour absolu (novel) 1899
Ubu Enchaîné, précédé de Ubu Roi (play) 1900
Almanach Illustré du Père Ubu (XXe Siècle) (prose) 1901
Messaline, roman de l'ancienne Rome [The Garden of Priapus] (novel) 1901
Le Sûrmale, roman moderne [The Supermale] (novel) 1902
Par la taille: Un Acte comique et moral en prose et en vers, pour esjour grands et petits (play) 1906
Ubu sur la Butte (play) 1906
Albert Samain: Souvenirs (biographical sketch) 1907
La Moutardier du Pape (libretto) 1907
L'Object aimé (novel) 1907
La Papesse Jeanne (libretto) 1908
Pantagruel: Opéra bouffe en cinq actes et six tableaux (libretto) 1910
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SOURCE: Eruli, Brunella. “Jarry's Messaline: The Text and the Phoenix.” L'Esprit Créateur 24, no. 4 (winter 1984): 57-66.
[In the following essay, Eruli argues that although Jarry's novel, Messaline, may be set in ancient Rome, it resembles the symbolist Art Noveau of Mossa and Klimt in that it is concerned with representing a place outside of space and time; also the phoenix in Messaline serves as a symbol for the work itself, repeatedly dies and is reborn, one meaning killed off as another arises, always provisional.]
One might easily think that, in writing Messaline, Jarry was simply indulging in one of the commonest of male fantasies: the female at once insatiable and impenetrable, virgin and sinner, whore and mother.1 It was one which, sublimated as an artistic myth, ravaged all before it last century, from Mallarmé's Hérodiade to Moreau's Messaline, from the Salomé of Oscar Wilde or Strauss to Berg's Lulu. Had Jarry really been so directly influenced by a fashion which, with a few notable exceptions, mostly produced the second-rate? From Champsaur to Lorrain, from Anatole France to Nonce Casanova and Louis Dumont,2 Jarry's empress has for company a veritable procession of scantily-clad and heartless beauties straight out of a musical comedy of Ancient Rome. It is certainly hard to decide how much he was influenced...
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SOURCE: Hubert, Renée R. “Raw and Cooked: An Interpretation of Ubu Roi.” L'Esprit Créateur 24, no. 4 (winter 1984): 75-83.
[In the following essay, Hubert examines the significance of food and the act of eating in Ubu Roi, arguing that Ubu—and by extension, the petit-bougeoisie he represents—is the ultimate consumer in a world dominated by and reducible to food and human refuse.]
Alfred Jarry is one of the heroes in Roger Shattuck's Banquet Years, a lively evocation of “la belle époque” in which the barriers between literature and life are drastically diminished and where anecdotes are rapidly metamorphosed into criticism.1 Shattuck, who considered the banquet a supreme rite in these years, informs his readers that even the poverty-stricken Jarry contributed his share:
In these drafty dirt-floored premises he decided to repay his social obligations by throwing a banquet of his own … Jarry had caught a fish for every plate, and had laid in on credit enough wine and absinthe for a regiment … The banquet ran its intemperate course from general conversation to demonstrations of how mightily the guests could make the river resound with shouted commands of “forward march.”
Such eating conventions and culinary rituals, in parodied or satirized forms, found...
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SOURCE: Issacharoff, Michael. “Intertextual Interlude: Jarry's Léda.” L'Esprit Créateur 24, no. 4 (winter 1984): 67-74.
[In the following essay, Issacharoff examines the sources for one of Jarry's lesser-known plays, Léda.]
Intertextual signals in drama are necessarily distinct from those used in other literary texts. The oral mode of transmission inherent to the medium requires a far more explicit method of cueing than that used in instances where a reader is not obliged to decode instantaneously and can, if need be, turn back and reread. I have suggested elsewhere1 that oral (and specifically theatrical) intertextuality is, in consequence, more likely to entail simplified textual mechanisms and processing.
Two forms of intertextuality2 are commonly used by dramatists: quotation and transformation. Quotation is the placing in a new textual environment of a normally recognizable passage and thus, sometimes, the subversion (or reinterpretation) of famous lines—Hamlet's soliloquy and the récit de Théramène would be examples of likely candidates. Tom Stoppard, for instance, has taken such textual games to a provocative extreme by importing into Travesties, and placing cheek by jowl, a Shakespeare sonnet and excerpts from speeches and letters by Lenin! Transformation is the lexical or phonetic tampering with a necessarily well known...
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SOURCE: Stillman, Linda Klieger. “Machinations of Celibacy and Desire.” L'Esprit Créateur 24, no. 4 (winter 1984): 20-35.
[In the following historically-grounded essay, Stillman examines Jarry's work, especially Le Sûrmale, in the context of the rapidly developing technology at the turn of the century and discusses the ways in which Marcueil, the automaton-like bicycling hero of Le Sûrmale, is machine-like in both love-making and athletics, she notes that Jarry “invented” a “time machine” and a “machine to inspire love,” which caused a stir in the art world of the late nineteenth century.]
Machines, and technology in general, have been systematically associated with human progress and with predictions of life in the future. From the late eighteenth century, when the notion of progress as continual, rapid technological (and social) change captured the popular imagination, literature has concerned itself with coherent and comprehensive prophecies of over-achieving gadgets and utopian robotics. During the nineteenth century, writers such as Jules Verne (De la terre à la lune, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, Le Château des Carpathes, etc.) and H. G. Wells (The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The Time-Machine) invented a genre that wed forevermore science to fiction. A myriad of discoveries and theories, from Huyghen's pendulum and Papin's steam machine...
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SOURCE: Schumacher, Claude. “Jarry's Theatrical Ideas.” In Alfred Jarry and Guillaume Apollinaire, pp. 98-109. London, England: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1984.
[In the following essay, Schumacher builds upon Jarry's own writings to articulate Jarry's ideas about the theater as represented by his plays.]
Jarry is a subjective writer, who belongs in that stream of literary tradition which began in earnest with the Romantics. His personal obsession with a schoolmaster coincided with a whole attitude to life and became embodied in the Ubu fantasy. Jarry was essentially concerned with the expression of his personal ‘world within’. He was not solely, or even primarily, a man of the theatre, though he undoubtedly had a theatrical instinct of a highly individual kind. Nor was he, a priori, a theatrical reformer. He broke with naturalist theatrical conventions because such conventions could not possibly serve his personal vision. However, his ideas on the theatre have an independent validity which, as the twentieth century wore on, exerted an ever-increasing influence on dramatic writing and theatrical practice. ‘De l'inutilité du théâtre au théâtre’ was published in the Mercure de France in September 1896 and paved the way for the forthcoming production of Ubu roi, but the text also puts forward a number of far-reaching proposals which call for nothing less than a...
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SOURCE: Lobert, Patrick. “Ubu Roi, Jarry's Satire of Naturalism.” French Literature Series 14 (spring 1987): 124-32.
[In the following essay, Lobert argues that Jarry's Ubu Roi is a satirical reaction against the naturalism of nineteenth-century writers such as Emil Zola.]
The comic character is defined by a lack. He is chronically incapable of making meaning of his situation. This is certainly what Bergson implied in his celebrated definition of the comic:
Un homme, qui courait dans la rue, trébuche et tombe: les passants rient. (…) On rit de ce qu'il s'est assis involontairement. (…) Une pierre était peut-être sur le chemin. Il aurait fallu changer d'allure ou tourner l'obstacle. Mais par manque de souplesse, par distraction ou obstination du corps, par un effet de raideur ou de vitesse acquise, les muscles ont continué d'accomplir le même mouvement quand les circonstances demandaient autre chose. C'est pourquoi l'homme est tombé, et c'est de quoi les passants rient.1
The term “distraction” best explains the comic character's lack, since his deficiency is first and foremost a failure of reading. Simply stated the comic character holds an idea of action which conflicts with the material “circumstances” of his situation. Or to use a term favored by many modern critics, the comic character is...
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SOURCE: Zelenak, Michael. “Ubu Rides Again: The Irondale Project and the Politics of Clowning.” Theatre 18, no. 3 (summer-fall 1987): 43-5.
[In the following essay, Zelenak discusses a performance of an updated Ubu Roi to observe that clowning can create extremely pointed and compelling social commentary.]
Few dramatic works have attained the iconographic status of Alfred Jarry's Ubu roi. Its original two-performance production by Lugne-Poe in 1896 caused the greatest sensation in the French theater since Hugo's Hernani sixty years earlier. Jarry's play took only one word—the infamous merdre—to cause a near riot. Amidst the hysterical audience demonstrations, fist-fights and shower of missiles, the actors found themselves spectators to a theatrical event that dwarfed the one on stage. Although Ubu remains central to the avant-garde tradition, one might wonder: “Why revive Ubu?” And if one answers that question, a larger one looms: How to do Ubu ninety years later?
The Irondale Ensemble's New York production of Ubu roi (1984-87) put itself in an active relationship to the text, using it simply as a starting point, a “pre-text” for a performance. They approached Ubu as a comedy-parody of the bourgeois world spirit, an ironic celebration of its endless adaptability and will to survive. Furthermore, they had fun...
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SOURCE: Greenfield, Anne. “Jarry, Ubu and Humour Noir.” Romance Notes 28, no. 3 (spring 1988): 227-34.
[In the following essay, Greenfield uses Jarry's Ubu Roi to develop André Breton's theory of black humor and to argue that Jarry made a significant contribution to black humor.]
Although it is clear from André Breton's own frequent references to him that Alfred Jarry left an important legacy to humour noir, this legacy has received almost no critical notice. Any mention of Jarry's importance to black humor concerns either his inclusion in Breton's Anthologie de l'humour noir or the interpretation of his humor by Breton's friend, Jacques Vaché.1 However, neither the Anthologie nor Vaché's letters completely reveal Jarry's contribution to black humor. First of all, Breton's commentary in the Anthologie is not logically useful in determining Jarry's original legacy to humour noir, as Breton already had his own theory of black humor before compiling this collection. Anything Breton says in the Anthologie about Jarry's work involves a demonstration of his own theory, rather than an analysis of Jarry's contribution to this theory. Secondly, while Breton's understanding of Jarry's humor was facilitated by Vaché's interpretation, it was Breton who had first introduced the works of Jarry to Vaché, as Noël Arnaud pointed out in his talk...
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SOURCE: Cutshall, J. A. “‘Excuses Madame Rachilde’: The Failure of Alfred Jarry's Novels.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 24, no. 4 (October 1988): 359-74.
[In the following essay, Cutshall examines the critical and commercial failure of Alfred Jarry's novels, providing an overview of the works themselves and their historical context, and suggests that a radical reappraisal of Jarry's work as a novelist is long overdue.]
How, and why, did Alfred Jarry come to write his seven novels? To some, this question, which I will endeavour in this article to go some way towards answering, will no doubt appear banal. To others, in the light of these works' scant success and the fact that, as a corpus, they are little read even by scholars, it will probably just seem a matter of no great importance. It would be easy to claim that attitudes such as these which might reasonably, eighty years after Jarry's death, be described as the judgement of history, are based on ignorance. In many cases they undoubtedly are. Be this as it may, the failure of Jarry's novels is a phenomenon with fascinating implications.
Jarry began publishing novels in 1897 and had six completed by the end of 1901. A seventh, La Dragonne, remained unfinished at his death in 1907. Although Jarry was never solely a novelist, this genre was certainly his major form of expression during the second half of his career....
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SOURCE: Fisher, Ben. “Jarry and Florian: Ubu's Debt to Harlequin.” Nottingham French Studies 27, no. 2 (November 1988): 32-9.
[In the following essay, Fisher explores the significance of the eighteenth-century writer, Florian, whose harlequinades are “listed” in Dr. Faustroll's library, to the works of Jarry, especially Ubu Roi.]
In his little read and even less understood novel Gestes et opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (written in 1898 but not published until 1911, four years after its author's death), Alfred Jarry presents a list of twenty-seven livres pairs supposedly in the doctor's possession. They include a broad sweep of literature ranging from the Gospel of St. Luke to the latest novel by Rachilde, from Rabelais to Léon Bloy. The list includes five dramatic works: Ubu Roi is there, without any author's name attached to it, along with Grabbe's extraordinary Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung, a play that Jarry made efforts to promote, translating it as Les Silènes. Two plays reflect contemporary tastes that are to a greater or lesser degree lost to us today: Maeterlinck's Aglavaine et Sélysette (Pelléas et Mélisande in the primary state of the manuscript) and the Sâr Péladan's wagnérie Babylone, staged for the Salon de la Rose-Croix in 1893 and 1894, and the subject of a minor and self-generated...
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SOURCE: Cutshall, J. A. “‘Celui Qui Dreyfuse’: Alfred Jarry and the Dreyfus Case.” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Foreign Literatures 43, no. 1 (spring 1989): 20-36.
[In the following essay, Cutshall examines the ways in which Jarry's journalism, plays, and novels commented upon the Dreyfus Affair and the ensuing scandal.]
Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) reached his maturity as a writer during the 1890s, a time of considerable political polarization in France when authors, whether of fiction, journalism, or both, as was the case with Jarry, were accustomed to being embroiled in questions of society and politics. If this was most obviously true of Emile Zola and his imitators, the socially and often socialist-orientated naturalist authors on one hand, and on the other of ultra-rightwingers like Edouard Drumont and Maurice Barrès, then it was in certain respects no less true of the Belle Epoque's more avant-garde writers, although this fact often tends to be rather overlooked.
Perhaps the major problem in assessing the impact on contemporary affairs of the symbolist or decadent1 authors is that the “school” to which they belonged was so diffuse as to be very difficult to characterize. It was indeed a mixture of many, often contradictory ideas and influences. An author like Rémy de Gourmont could, for instance, be at the same time an enthusiast for...
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SOURCE: Vickroy, Laurie. “Ubu-en-procès: Jarry, Kristeva, and Semiotic Motility.” Modern Language Studies 20, no. 2 (spring 1990): 10-18.
[In the following essay, Vickroy demonstrates that Julia Kristeva's theory of “semiotic motility”—which does not presuppose that meaning preceding language—provides a useful methodology for reading Jarry's Ubu Roi, which creates neologisms with the effect of undercutting preconceptions about meaning and symbol.]
Père Ubu is, without a doubt, semiotic motility personified. Like Alfred Jarry, whose strange behavior has by now been well-documented, Ubu exemplifies Julia Kristeva's vision of the “semiotized body as place of permanent scission.”1 Her theory of the subject, with its emphasis on the sujet-en-procès (in process/on trial) and the continuing interplay between what she calls the semiotic and the symbolic, has already been applied to certain texts of avant-garde writers (i.e. Mallarmé, Joyce, Lautréamont), but nowhere have the conflicting forces manifested themselves more dramatically and more playfully than in Jarry's theater. Ubu emerges as a teeming mass of drives whose very language reveals his obsessions with eating, eliminating, and accumulating, and yet his instinctual energies constantly meet with the resistance of various forms and constraints—meaning, syntax, the demands of order, and even the structure of...
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SOURCE: Knapp, Bettina L. “Jarry's The Supermale: The Sex Machine, the Food Machine and the Bicycle Race: Is it a Question of Adaptation?” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 18, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 1990): 492-507.
[In the following essay, Knapp provides a close reading of Jarry's The Supermale, with particular focus on the frequent elision of mechanization, competition, and fornication. The author analyzes Jarry's use of caricature and humor, and places Jarry's concerns about mechanization and masculinity in the context of turn-of-the-century anxieties.]
Alfred Jarry's farcical and fantastic novel The Supermale (1900) focuses upon a sex machine, a food machine, and bicycles that outdo a speeding train. Satiric in intent, the novel uses these as metaphoric devices to further energize Jarry's already super-virile and priapic protagonist. “To survive,” the author noted, “man must become stronger than the machine, as happened when he gained dominion over wild beasts … It is simply a question of adapting to the environment.”1
Jarry's protagonist, André Marcueil, the Supermale, detached, unfeeling, and identityless, may in certain regards be viewed as the prototypal man of the future. Power-hungry, driven to perform outstanding acts, attempting to surpass all others in whatever domain he sets his mind to conquering, Jarry's dehumanized Supermale...
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SOURCE: Bridgeman, Teresa. “Innovation and Ambiguity: Sources of Confusion in Personal Identity in Les Jours et Les Nuits.” French Studies: A Quarterly Review 45, no. 3 (July 1991): 295-307.
[In the following essay, Bridgeman examines the linguistic ambiguity and innovation of Jarry's second novel, Les Jours et Les Nuits, and his contemporaries' mystified and unreceptive response to it.]
Alfred Jarry's Les Jours et les nuits: Roman d'un déserteur presents a challenge in ambiguity which few readers appear prepared to take up.1 Remy de Gourmont, in his review for Le Mercure de France of Jarry's early collection, Les Minutes de sable mémorial, defends obscurity which, as part of the process of literary innovation, represents the essence of the creative spirit; and blames the reader for any difficulties in reading: ‘L'obscurité en écriture, quoi? La préface de M. Jarry donne un système par lequel un anatomiste se guiderait,—mais avouons plutôt que l'obscurité n'est souvent que l'ombre même de notre ignorance ou de notre mauvais vouloir’.2 Is the innovation in Les Jours et les nuits so great that nearly a century after it was written it is still too new for the reader to grasp, whether through ignorance or ill will? Or does the obscurity of Les Jours et les nuits lie not in its undeniable innovative force but in the...
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SOURCE: Fisher, Ben. “The Companion and the Dream: Delirium in Rachilde and Jarry.” Romance Studies, no. 18 (summer 1991): 33-41.
[In the following essay, Fisher discusses the pre-Freudian significance of delirium in the novels of Jarry and of his close friend and biographer, the writer Rachilde.]
It is inevitable that discussion of the dream in literature, and particularly over the last hundred years, tends to focus on Freud and the relevance of Freudian interpretation. The mark of Freud upon twentieth-century thought is in fact so great that other reflections on the dream are often forgotten. This article discusses two French novels of the 1890s, Rachilde's La Princesse des ténèbres1 and Alfred Jarry's Les Jours et les nuits2, which belong to the period leading up to the publication of Die Traumdeutung (1900) and illustrate an approach to the literary dream which is distinct from Freudian attitudes, and has identifiable links with the native thought of the time. The novels also merit joint discussion on the grounds of the high level of intertextuality that exists between them. Jarry and Rachilde were close friends—indeed Jarry paid Rachilde the compliment of selecting her novel for the library of his Dr. Faustroll in the first manuscript version of Gestes et Opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (O.C. [Œuvres Complètes] I,...
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SOURCE: Fell, Jill. “Alfred Jarry's Alternative Cubists.” French Cultural Studies 6, Part 2, no. 17 (June 1995): 249-69.
[In the following essay, Fell suggests that Jarry was one of the first to use the word “cubisme” and that Jarry practiced a linguistic cubism in essays such as “Commentaire pour servir à la construction practique de la machine à explorer le temps” and plays such as César-Antechrist, as well as through his neologisms and textual acrobatics that emphasized multiple points of view.]
The emergence of the artistic movement of Cubism is officially put at about 1907-8.1 Given that its origins have been the subject of fierce debate, however,2 and that neither Apollinaire, who set himself up as the Cubists' theoretician, nor Picasso, ever accepted that Cubism was only a matter of translating the visual image into cubic form, it may be worth investigating an alternative usage of the word cubiste, coined in 1894 and in limited circulation in French avant-garde circles well before Cubist painting was defined and named. Given also that this early use of cubiste was a mischievous neologism based on the Greek words kubistitire (κυβιsτητηρε) and kubistontes (κυβιsτωντεs), both used to refer to acrobatic tumblers and that Picasso's work of 1904-5 focused intently on acrobats, the apparent fluke takes its...
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SOURCE: Perry, Curtis. “Vaulting Ambitions and Killing Machines: Shakespeare, Jarry, Ionesco, and the Senecan Absurd.” In Shakespeare Without Class: Misappropriations of Cultural Capital, edited by Donald Hedrick and Bryan Reynolds, pp. 85-106. New York: Palgrave, 2000.
[In the following essay, Perry traces the echoes of Shakespeare's Macbeth in Jarry's surreal Ubu Roi, and then examines the ways in which both Macbeth and Ubu inform Eugène Ionesco's absurdist Macbett.]
In an interview from 1966, Ionesco acknowledged Shakespeare's relevance to the theater of the absurd in such a way as to deny any more specific personal influence:
Didn't he say of the world that “it is a tale told by an idiot” and that everything is but “sound and fury”? He's the forefather of the theatre of the absurd. He said it all, and said it a long time ago. Beckett tries to repeat him. I don't even try: since he said do well what he had to say, what can we possibly add?
(Bonnefoy 1970, 49)
Disclaimers notwithstanding, Ionesco could not resist repeating Shakespeare. His Macbett, first produced in 1972, restages Shakespeare's Macbeth along lines sketched by Jan Kott and anticipated by Alfred Jarry's notorious farce Ubu Roi (1896): “My Macbeth is somewhere between Shakespeare...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Paul. “Introduction: Alfred Jarry, From Reading to Writing and Back Again.” In Collected Works of Alfred Jarry, Volume I: Adventures in Pataphysics, edited by Alastair Brotchie & Paul Edwards, translated by Paul Edwards & Antony Melville, pp. 11-18. London, England: Atlas Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Edwards provides an in-depth discussion of Jarry's early work and his literary influences.]
Clown? Practical joker? Nihilist? For many, Jarry has been the trickster of modern literary history. He is primarily remembered for creating Ubu, a monster often thought to be a force beyond his control, and in consequence Jarry is imagined as the victim of his creation, as a man made over into a puppet. In the face of this persistent attitude, revived at intervals by unscrupulous publishers, an increasing number of scholars, gravitating around the inspirational work of the College of 'Pataphysics, have been diligently editing the individual works, supplying a broader view, and painting the portrait of Jarry the writer. Despite the legendary anecdotes, which bring to mind Mozart's exuberant pranks following the completion of a work he knew to be great, Jarry spent his short life doing virtually nothing but reading and writing. Familiarity with Jarry's life and œuvre makes it easier to see what he was not. The time is long overdue to break another taboo and put forward the...
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SOURCE: Jannarone, Kimberly. “Puppetry and Pataphysics: Populism and the Ubu Cycle.” New Theater Quarterly 17, no. 3 (August 2001): 239-53.
[In the following essay, Jannarone argues that the 1896 production of Ubu Roi represents a complicated mixture of folk culture and highbrow art, and suggests that Jarry envisioned his audience in a more complex way than did other Symbolist artists.]
I expressed my astonishment at the attention he was paying this species of an art form intended for the masses.
—Kleist, ‘On the Marionette Theatre’
The biography of Alfred Jarry (his eccentric behaviour, his adoption of Père Ubu's name and persona, his alcoholism and early death) is as well known as the biography of Père Ubu (his evolution from the incompetent professor of physics in Rennes to the brilliant and worldly professor of pataphysics).1 This essay uncovers the biography of a third character equally essential to understanding the phenomenon of Ubu roi—that of the rural French puppet, the working-class guignol who found himself thrust upon the stage of the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in 1896.
The entry of the small-town puppet into the Parisian avant-garde scene of the fin de siècle will be discussed here as signifying a moment that has not been fully considered in its...
(The entire section is 9797 words.)
Anastasi, William, and Michael Seidel. “Jarry in Joyce: A Conversation.” Joyce Studies Annual 6 (1995): 39-58.
Interview with the artist William Anastasi, whose work draws upon that of Alfred Jarry and James Joyce and argues that Jarry was an influence on Joyce and that Shem, the Parisian twin in Finnegans Wake, is partially based on Alfred Jarry.
Bridgeman, Teresa. “On the Likeness of Similes and Metaphors (With Special Reference to Alfred Jarry's Les Jours et Les Nuits.” Modern Language Review 91, no. 1 (January 1996): 65-77.
Essay examines the slippage between simile and metaphor in Jarry's second novel.
Corcoran, Marlena. “Drawing Our Attention to Jarry, Duchamp, and Joyce: The Manuscript/Art of William Anastasi.” James Joyce Quarterly 32, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 1995): 659-71.
Examines the work of writer/graphic artist William Anastasi, who incorporates the ideas and works of Alfred Jarry, Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce in his art.
Fell, Jill. “The Deceptive Images of Alfred Jarry: Lost, Found, and Invented Portraits by Beardsley, Rousseau and Rippl-Ronaï.” Word & Image 15, no. 2 (April-June 1999): 190-98.
Interdisciplinary essay about how contemporaries in Jarry's artistic circle attempted to...
(The entire section is 651 words.)