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Jarry, Alfred

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1873-1907) French author who carried the fruits of his scientific education into his surreal avant-garde writing, particularly the influence of the French evolutionary philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Jarry's famous play Ubu roi [for subtitle see Checklist] (performed 1896; 1896; trans 1951) and its several sequels including "Ubu enchaîné" (1900 Revue Blanche; trans B Keith and G Legman as King Turd 1953) – helped found the Theatre of the Absurd, and he created the mock-science of 'pataphysics (see Imaginary Science), which purports to study exceptions to scientific laws rather than the laws themselves, and aspires to provide imaginary solutions to practical problems. There are minor fantastic elements in his hallucinatory first novel, Les jours et les nuits (1897; trans Alexis Lykiard as Days and Nights: Novel of a Deserter coll 1989 UK [edition includes the mythological extravaganza L'autre Alceste (1896 Revue Blanche; 1947 chap) trans Simon Watson-Taylor as "The Other Alcestis: a Drama in Five Narratives"]) and in his bawdy historical romance Messaline, roman de l'ancienne Rome (1900 Revue Blanche; 1901; trans Louis Colman as The Garden of Priapus 1936; new trans John Harman as Messalina: A Novel of Imperial Rome 1985). H G Wells's The Time Machine (1895) inspired Jarry to write the speculative essay "Commentair pour servir à la construction pratique de la machine à explorer le temps" (February 1899 Mercure de France; trans Roger Shattuck in Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, coll 1965, edited by Shattuck and Simon Watson-Taylor, as "How to Construct a Time Machine") (see Time Travel); J G Ballard's "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race" (Autumn 1966 Ambit) reflects both this story and "La passion considérée comme course de côte" ["The Crucifixion of Christ Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race"] (in Le Canard sauvage, coll 1903).

Jarry's most science-fictional work is Le surmâle: Roman Moderne (1901; trans Barbara Wright as The Supermale: A Modern Tale 1964; rev 1968), a comic fantasy featuring a Superman who, nourished on superfood, wins an extraordinary bicycle race against a six-man team and performs astonishing feats of erotic endurance before perishing in the passionate embrace of an amorous Machine which has been constructed – in the shape of an electric chair – to organize his Sex life. Also of interest is the disorganized and extravagant "neoscientific romance", Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien: Roman néo-scientifique suivi de spéculations (some early parts first appeared May 1898 Mercure de Fance; 1911; trans as "Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician" in Selected Works of Alfred Jarry ed Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson-Taylor, coll 1965); the life of the Rabelaisian Faustroll, born at the age of sixty-three, climaxes with his posthumous examination, in "ethernity", of "God's surface", as inspired by his invention of pataphysics, the "science of imaginary solutions". Jarry's influence on modern sf writers (see Absurdist SF; Fabulation) is not perhaps wide, but – as in the case of Ballard (see above) or Guy Davenport or Howard Waldrop – it has been intense. He is the protagonist of Waldrop's "Fin de Cyclé" (in Night of the Cooters, coll 1990). [BS/JC]

Alfred Henri Jarry

born Laval, France: 8 September 1873

died Paris: 1 November 1907

works (selected)


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