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Arnold M. Herr
Book Culture Inc.
When Alfred Jarry died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, he was alegendary figure in Paris--but this had more to do with his bohemian lifestyle andscandalous behavior than his literary achievements. A century later, Jarry is firmlyestablished as one of the leading figures of the artistic avant-garde. ItaloCalvino, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, Philip K. Dick, PaulMcCartney, DJ Spooky, Peter Greenaway, and J. G. Ballard are among his manyadmirers. A community of scholars and artists maintain a posthumous dialogue withJarry's ideas through the Coll?ge de 'Pataphysique in Paris (named after the"science of imaginary solutions" he conceived), while a steady stream ofbooks on twentieth-century drama pay tribute to his absurd and grotesque play, UbuRoi. Even so, most people today tend to think of Jarry only as the author of thatplay, and of his life as a string of outlandish "ubuesque" anecdotes, often recounted with wild inaccuracy. In this first full-length critical biographyof Jarry in English, Alastair Brotchie reconstructs the life of a man intent oninventing (and destroying) himself, not to mention his world, and the"philosophy" that defined their relation. In short, Brotchie gives us thenarrative version of what Jarry himself produced--a pataphysical life. Drawing on awealth of new material, Brotchie alternates chapters of biographical narrative withchapters 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 ofdrinking. But Brotchie distinguishes between Jarry's purposely playing the fool anddeeper nonconformities that appear essential to his writing and his thought, both ofwhich remain a vital subterranean influence to this day.
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