Alfred Jarry

Last updated

Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry.jpg
Born(1873-09-08)8 September 1873
Laval, Mayenne, France
Died1 November 1907(1907-11-01) (aged 34)
Paris, France
OccupationWriter and dramatist
NationalityFrench
Genre pataphysics

Alfred Jarry (French:  [al.fʁɛd ʒa.ʁi] ; 8 September 1873 – 1 November 1907) was a French symbolist writer who is best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896). [1] He also coined the term and philosophical concept of 'pataphysics. [2]

Contents

Jarry was born in Laval, Mayenne, France, and his mother was from Brittany. [3] He was associated with the Symbolist movement. His play Ubu Roi is often cited as a forerunner of Dada and the Surrealist and Futurist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. [4] He wrote in a variety of hybrid genres and styles, prefiguring the postmodern, including novels, poems, short plays and opéras bouffes, absurdist essays and speculative journalism. His texts are considered examples of absurdist literature and postmodern philosophy.

Biography and works

Alfred Jarry, Deux aspects de la marionnette original d'Ubu Roi, premiered at the Theatre de l'OEuvre on 10 December 1896. Alfred Jarry, Deux aspects de la marionnette originale d'Ubu Roi.jpg
Alfred Jarry, Deux aspects de la marionnette original d'Ubu Roi, premiered at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre on 10 December 1896.

His father Anselme Jarry (1837–1895) was a salesman who descended into alcoholism; his mother Caroline, née Quernest (1842–1893), was interested in music and literature, but her family had a streak of insanity, and her mother and brother were institutionalized. The couple had two surviving children, a daughter Caroline-Marie, called Charlotte (1865–1925), and Alfred. In 1879 Caroline left Anselme and took the children to Saint-Brieuc in Brittany. [5]

In 1888 the family moved to Rennes, where Jarry entered the lycée at 15. There he led a group of boys who enjoyed poking fun at their well-meaning, but obese and incompetent physics teacher, a man named Hébert. Jarry and his classmate, Henri Morin, wrote a play they called Les Polonais and performed it with marionettes in the home of one of their friends. The main character, Père Heb, was a blunderer with a huge belly, three teeth (one of stone, one of iron and one of wood), a single, retractable ear and a misshapen body. In Jarry's later work Ubu Roi, Père Heb would develop into Ubu, one of the most monstrous and astonishing characters in French literature.

At 17 Jarry passed his baccalauréat and moved to Paris to prepare for admission to the École Normale Supérieure. Though he was not admitted, he soon gained attention for his original poems and prose-poems. A collection of his work, Les minutes de sable mémorial, was published in 1893.

That same year, Jarry contracted influenza. His mother and sister tended him, but once he recovered his mother fell ill of the disease and died; two years later his father perished from influenza as well, leaving Jarry a small inheritance which he quickly spent. [6]

Jarry had meantime discovered the pleasures of alcohol, which he called "my sacred herb" or, when referring to absinthe, the "green goddess". A story is told that he once painted his face green and rode through town on his bicycle in its honour (and possibly under its influence).

When he was drafted into the army in 1894, his gift for turning notions upside down defeated attempts to instill military discipline. The sight of the small man in a uniform much too large for his less than 5-foot frame – the army did not issue uniforms small enough – was so disruptively funny that he was excused from parades and marching drills. Eventually the army discharged him for medical reasons. His military experience eventually inspired his novel Days and Nights.

In his youth, Jarry was homosexually inclined, [7] although like many bohemians he disavowed sexual categorization. A brief but passionate relationship with future poet Léon-Paul Fargue inspired his semi-autobiographical play Haldernablou (1894). [8]

Pere Ubu (later: Ubu Roi), from a woodcut by Alfred Jarry. Veritable portrait de Monsieur Ubu.png
Père Ubu (later: Ubu Roi), from a woodcut by Alfred Jarry.

Jarry returned to Paris and applied himself to writing, drinking and the company of friends who appreciated his witty, sweet-tempered and unpredictable conversation. This period is marked by his intense involvement with Remy de Gourmont in the publication of L'Ymagier , a luxuriously produced "art" magazine devoted to the symbolic analysis of medieval and popular prints. Symbolism as an art movement was in full swing at this time, and L'Ymagier provided a nexus for many of its key contributors. Jarry's play Caesar Antichrist (1895) drew on this movement for material. This is a work that bridges the gap between serious symbolic meaning and the type of critical absurdity with which Jarry would soon become associated. Using the biblical Book of Revelation as a point of departure, Caesar Antichrist presents a parallel world of extreme formal symbolism in which Christ is resurrected not as an agent of spirituality but as an agent of the Roman Empire that seeks to dominate spirituality. It is a unique narrative that effectively links the domination of the soul to contemporaneous advances in the field of Egyptology such as the 1894 excavation of the Narmer Palette, an ancient artifact used for situating the rebus within hermeneutics. The character Ubu Roi first appears in this play. [9]

Jarry (left) and Alfred Vallette, editor of the literary magazine, Mercure de France. Vallette hosted a presentation of Ubu Roi in Vallette's home in 1894. Alfred Jarry - Alfred Vallette Corbeil.png
Jarry (left) and Alfred Vallette, editor of the literary magazine, Mercure de France. Vallette hosted a presentation of Ubu Roi in Vallette's home in 1894.

The spring of 1896 saw the publication, in Paul Fort's review Le Livre d'art, of Jarry's 5-act play Ubu Roi, the rewritten and expanded Les Polonais of his school days. Ubu Roi's savage humour and monstrous absurdity, unlike anything thus far performed in French theatre, seemed unlikely to ever actually be performed on stage. However, impetuous theatre director Aurélien-Marie Lugné-Poe took the risk, producing the play at his Théâtre de l'Œuvre.

On opening night (10 December 1896), with traditionalists and the avant-garde in the audience, King Ubu (played by Firmin Gémier) stepped forward and intoned the opening word, "Merdre!" (often translated as "Pshit" or "Shittr!" in English). A quarter of an hour of pandemonium ensued: outraged cries, booing, and whistling by the offended parties, countered by cheers and applause by the more bohemian contingent. Such interruptions continued through the evening. At the time, only the dress rehearsal and opening night performance were held, and the play was not revived until after Jarry's death.

The play brought fame to the 23-year-old Jarry, and he immersed himself in the fiction he had created. Gémier had modelled his portrayal of Ubu on Jarry's own staccato, nasal vocal delivery, which emphasized each syllable (even the silent ones). From then on, Jarry would always speak in this style. He adopted Ubu's ridiculous and pedantic figures of speech; for example, he referred to himself using the royal we, and called the wind "that which blows" and the bicycle he rode everywhere "that which rolls."

Jarry moved into a flat which the landlord had created through the unusual expedient of subdividing a larger flat by means of a horizontal rather than a vertical partition. The diminutive Jarry could just manage to stand up in the place, but guests had to bend or crouch. Jarry also took to carrying a loaded revolver. In response to a neighbour's complaint that his target shooting endangered her children, he replied, "If that should ever happen, ma-da-me, we should ourselves be happy to get new ones with you."

Jarry in Corbeil in 1898 on that which rolls. Jarry velo.jpg
Jarry in Corbeil in 1898 on that which rolls.

With Franc-Nohain and Claude Terrasse he co-founded the Théâtre des Pantins, which in 1898 was the site of marionette performances of Ubu Roi. [10]

Living in worsening poverty, neglecting his health and drinking excessively, Jarry went on to write the novel Le Surmâle ( The Supermale ), which is partly a satire on the Symbolist ideal of self-transcendence.

Unpublished until after his death, his fiction Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien) describes the exploits and teachings of a sort of antiphilosopher who, born at age 63, travels through a hallucinatory Paris in a sieve and subscribes to the tenets of 'pataphysics . 'Pataphysics deals with "the laws which govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one." In 'pataphysics, every event in the universe is accepted as an extraordinary event.

Jarry once wrote, expressing some of the bizarre logic of 'pataphysics, "If you let a coin fall and it falls, the next time it is just by an infinite coincidence that it will fall again the same way; hundreds of other coins on other hands will follow this pattern in an infinitely unimaginable fashion."

In his final years, he was a legendary and heroic figure to some of the young writers and artists in Paris. Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon and Max Jacob sought him out in his truncated apartment. Pablo Picasso was fascinated with Jarry. [11] After Jarry's death Picasso acquired his revolver and wore it on his nocturnal expeditions in Paris. He later bought many of his manuscripts as well as executing a fine drawing of him.

Jarry died in Paris on 1 November 1907 of tuberculosis, aggravated by drug and alcohol misuse. When he could not afford alcohol, he drank ether. [12] It is recorded that his last request was for a toothpick. He was interred in the Cimetière de Bagneux, near Paris.

The complete works of Alfred Jarry are published in three volumes by Gallimard in the collection Bibliothèque de la Pléiade .

Selected Jarry works

Plays

Novels

Other notable works

Related Research Articles

Pere Ubu is an experimental rock music group from Cleveland, Ohio.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">'Pataphysics</span> Philosophy or pseudophilosophy that concerns what lies beyond metaphysics

'Pataphysics is a "philosophy" of science invented by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) intended to be a parody of science. Difficult to be simply defined or pinned down, it has been described as the "science of imaginary solutions".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francisque Sarcey</span> French journalist and drama critic (1827-1899)

Francisque Sarcey was a French journalist and dramatic critic.

<i>Ubu Roi</i> 1896 play by Alfred Jarry

Ubu Roi is a play by French writer Alfred Jarry, then 23 years old. It was first performed in Paris in 1896, by Aurélien Lugné-Poe's Théâtre de l'Œuvre at the Nouveau-Théâtre. The production's single public performance baffled and offended audiences with its unruliness and obscenity. Considered to be a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns cultural rules, norms and conventions, it is seen by 20th- and 21st-century scholars to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the 20th century, and as a precursor to Dadaism, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pere Ubu</span> American rock band

Pere Ubu is an American rock group formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1975. The band had a variety of long-term and recurring band members, with singer David Thomas being the only member staying throughout the band's lifetime. They released their debut album The Modern Dance in 1978 and followed with several more LPs before disbanding in 1982. Thomas reformed the group in 1987, continuing to record and tour.

Ubu may refer to:

Barbara Winifred Wright was an English translator of modern French literature.

<i>Le piège de Méduse</i>

Le piège de Méduse is a short play of which Erik Satie wrote both the text and the incidental music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Ranson</span> French painter and writer (1861–1909)

Paul-Élie Ranson was a French painter and writer associated with Les Nabis.

Clinamen is the Latin name Lucretius gave to the unpredictable swerve of atoms, in order to defend the atomistic doctrine of Epicurus. In modern English it has come more generally to mean an inclination or a bias.

Simon Watson Taylor was an English actor and translator, often associated with the Surrealist movement. He was born in Wallingford, Oxfordshire and died in London.

<i>Ubu Rex</i> Opera by Krzysztof Penderecki

Ubu Rex is a satirical opera by Krzysztof Penderecki, on a libretto in German by the composer and Jerzy Jarocki, based on Alfred Jarry's 1896 play Ubu Roi. It uses models by Offenbach, Rossini, Shostakovich and Schnittke. The opera was premiered by the Bavarian State Opera on 8 July 1991 for the opening of the Munich Opera Festival, conducted by Michael Boder. The Polish premiere was 1993 in Grand Theatre, Łódź, conducted by Antoni Wicherek and directed by Lech Majewski.

Ubu and the Great Gidouille is a 1979 French animated film directed by Jan Lenica. It is based on Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi. The film was re-released on 11 November 1987 in France. Michel Poujade and Janine Grillon were the main actors. Les Films Armorial was the production company of the film.

Oakley "Tad" Hall III was an American playwright, director, and author. In 1978, after a very promising beginning to his career, he suffered massive head injuries in a fall from a bridge, and spent decades in recovery and in the process of creating a new life.

<i>LYmagier</i>

L'Ymagier, subtitled "A Magazine of Engravings", was a French symbolist art magazine edited by Alfred Jarry and Remy de Gourmont between 1894 and 1895. It ran for five issues and disbanded one year after its first printing, but in that time it published many prints and engravings by influential artists of the time, including Henri Rousseau.

<i>Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician</i>

Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician is a novel by French Symbolist author Alfred Jarry which influenced Surrealism. It features Doctor Faustroll, a scientist who is born in 1898 in Circassia at the age of 63, and who dies the same year at the same age.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Théâtre de Paris</span>

The Théâtre de Paris is a theatre located at 15, rue Blanche in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It includes a second smaller venue, the Petit Théâtre de Paris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Théâtre de l'Œuvre</span> Theatre and concert hall in Paris, France

The Théâtre de l'Œuvre is a Paris theatre on the Right Bank, located at 3, Cité Monthiers, entrance 55, rue de Clichy, in the 9° arrondissement. It is commonly conflated and confused with the late-nineteenth-century theater company named Théâtre de l'Œuvre, founded by actor-director-producer Aurélien Lugné-Poe, who would not take control of this performance space until 1919. His company is best known for its earlier phase of existence, before it acquired this theatre venue. From 1893 to 1899, in various Parisian theatres, Lugné-Poe premiered modernist plays by foreign dramatists, as well as new work by French Symbolists, most notoriously Alfred Jarry’s nihilistic farce Ubu Roi, which opened in 1896 at Nouveau-Théâtre.

<i>Caesar Antichrist</i>

Caesar Antichrist is a short 1895 play by the French writer Alfred Jarry. The third act is an early version of Jarry's next play, Ubu Roi; the main character of which, Père Ubu, appears here as the Antichrist. This play begins with a startling sequence of images of garbled Christianity from which Ubu emerges as the new Messiah. Scholar Kimberly Jannarone argues the play was 'not intended for the stage' and is Jarry's own form of 'the theatre of the book'. While not a closet drama, Jannarone argues this might be its closest lineage, and can be considered within a tradition of works ranging from the 'Platonic dialogues and Senecan tragedies through Milton’s Samson Agonistes, Byron’s Manfred, and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Axewhich'.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Firmin Gémier</span>

Firmin Gémier (1869-1933) was a French actor and director. Internationally, he is most famous for originating the role of Père Ubu in Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. He is known as the principle architect of the popular theatre movement in France.

References

  1. Jarry, Alfred. "Ubu Roi". Dover (2003).
  2. ""Pataphysics - 01 edition"".
  3. Brotchie, Alastair. Alfred Jarry, a Pataphysical Life. MIT Press (2013). ISBN   978 0 262 01619 3.
  4. "The Twisted Legacy of Alfred Jarry's Monsters".
  5. Lennon, Nigey. Alfred Jarry: The Man with the Axe. San Francisco: Last Gasp, 1984, pp. 16–18. ISBN   0-86719-382-4.
  6. Lennon, Nigey. Alfred Jarry: The Man with the Axe, pp. 34, 61.
  7. Alastair Brotchie Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life MIT Press, 2015, p. 117.
  8. Gabriele Griffin Who's Who in Lesbian and Gay Writing Routledge, London 2002.
  9. Cody, Gabriele. Sprinchorn, Everet. The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, Volume 1. Columbia University Press (2007) ISBN   9780231144223 page 53.
  10. "PADA, Schubertiade Music Online".
  11. "5 Things You Didn't Know About Pablo Picasso". HuffPost. 8 April 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  12. Ford, Mark (10 May 2012). "The King of Charisma". The New York Review of Books.

Further reading