When Alfred Jarry died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, he was a legendary figure in Paris--but this had more to do with his bohemian lifestyle and scandalous behavior than his literary achievements. A century later, Jarry is firmly established as one of the leading figures of the artistic avant-garde. Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, Philip K. Dick, Paul McCartney, DJ Spooky, Peter Greenaway, and J. G. Ballard are among his many admirers. A community of scholars and artists maintain a posthumous dialogue with Jarry’s ideas through the Collège de ‘Pataphysique in Paris (named after the “science of imaginary solutions” he conceived), while a steady stream of books on twentieth-century drama pay tribute to his absurd and grotesque play, Ubu Roi.
Even so, most people today tend to think of Jarry only as the author of that play, and of his life as a string of outlandish “ubuesque” anecdotes, often recounted with wild inaccuracy. In this first full-length critical biography of Jarry in English, Alastair Brotchie reconstructs the life of a man intent on inventing (and destroying) himself, not to mention his world, and the "philosophy" that defined their relation. In short, Brotchie gives us the narrative version of what Jarry himself produced--a pataphysical life.
Drawing on a wealth of new material, Brotchie alternates chapters of biographical narrative with chapters that connect themes, obsessions, and undercurrents that relate to the life. The anecdotes remain, and are even augmented: Jarry’s assumption of the "ubuesque," his inversions of everyday behavior (such as eating backwards, from cheese to soup), his exploits with gun and bicycle, and his herculean feats of drinking. But Brotchie distinguishes between Jarry's purposely playing the fool and deeper nonconformities that appear essential to his writing and his thought, both of which remain a vital subterranean influence to this day.
About the Author
Alastair Brotchie is a founder of the London publishing house Atlas Press, a Regent of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique in Paris, and the editor of books and anthologies on Surrealism, Dada, and the Oulipo.
"Who was Alfred Jarry really? And how did this angry young man from the provinces come to invent pataphysics and to write the revolutionary drama Ubu Roi? In this, the first full-length biography of Jarry in English, Alastair Brotchie, himself a central figure in the 'Coll'ge de 'Pataphysique' and scholar of the avant-garde, gives us a richly documented, beautifully illustrated, and intimate portrait of the complex personality behind the Ubu masks. I found it a real page-turner."
Marjorie Perloff, author of The Futurist Moment and Unoriginal Genius
"Alastair Brotchie has achieved something very rare. In giving us the first detailed account of Jarry's life, he shares a lot of discoveries and unknown documents but avoids reducing the life to a collection of biographical or archival facts. Indeed, he makes us feel, think, act, see, and almost speak in connivance with this delicate and strange monster, Alfred Jarry."
Thieri Foulc, cofounder of the Oupeinpo and Prov
"Aficionados of Alfred Jarry's writings will welcome this urgently necessary life of the inventor of 'Pataphysics, that mad and minor science of imaginary solutions. Alastair Brotchie's biography fills an enormous gap in our understanding not only of Jarry's complex life but of the tangled sociocultural networks of tastes and antipathies that constructed the Banquet Years. Impeccably researched, masterfully written, and profusely illustrated, Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life is guaranteed to broaden and deepen Anglophone interest in Jarry (whom Cyril Connolly dubbed the Santa Claus of the atomic age) and 'Pataphysics alike."
Steve McCaffery, David Gray Chair Professor of Poetry and Letters, University at Buffalo, coeditor of Imagining Language: An Anthology