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Alfred Jarry

Alfred Jarry (September 8, 1873November 1, 1907) was a French writer born in Laval, Mayenne, France, not far from the border of Brittany; he was of Breton descent on his mother's side, a fact which would have a profound impact on some of his writings.

Best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), which is often cited as a forerunner to the theatre of the absurd, Jarry in fact wrote in a bewildering variety of genres and styles: he was at one and the same time a playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, and speculative journalist. His texts present some pioneering work on the general theme of the "absurdity of existence". Sometimes grotesque or misunderstood (remember the famous "Merdre!", ably translated by Barbara Wright as "Shittr!"), he is the inventor of a science called "Pataphysics".

Pataphysics is the acceptance of every event in the universe as an extraordinary event.

Jarry wrote:

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.

French authors Raymond Queneau, Jean Genet, Boris Vian and Jean Ferry have described themselves as following the Pataphysical tradition.

He died of alcoholism and tuberculosis in Paris on November 1, 1907 and was interred in the Cimetière de Bagneux, near Paris.

Plays include:

  • Ubu Roi (English: Ubu The King, King Turd) written at age 14 as a puppet play
  • Ubu cocu (Ubu Cuckolded), Ubu enchaíné (Ubu Bound)


  • Le Sûrmale (English: The Supermale)
  • Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (English: Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, pataphysician)
  • (others)

Other notable works:

  • Short story, "The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race", has been widely circulated and imitated, notably by J.G. Ballard

External links


The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck (1958) ISBN 0394704150

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