Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life

Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life

by Alastair Brotchie
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Brotchie's archival work and translations are meticulous…Highly recommended. --
M. Gaddis Rose

From the Publisher
"[Brotchie] gives us an unmatched and vivid picture of the belle epoque's avant-garde, of which Jarry was an important, original part." — MichaelMoorcock, The Guardian

"…[Brotchie's] tone is clear and informed, rooted in a familiarity with Jarry that has something quite personal about it, which is all for the good." — AllanGraubard, Leonardo On-Line

"Brotchie's archival work and translations are meticulous…Highly recommended."— M. Gaddis Rose, Choice

"[Brotchie] skilfully moves between providing a relatively straightforward and sympathetic account of the writer's life and critically sorting through the narratives that have sustained and shaped the long-standing image of Jarry…Brotchie's refusal to mythologise stands as the book's greatest strength, and as a fitting testament to the manifold complexity of AlfredJarry." — Karl Whitney, 3:AM Magazine

"How a schoolboy caricature evolved into Jarry's best-known creation, his monstrous'every-man', Père Ubu, is a fascinating story which Brotchie tells with impressive scholarship,sympathy and wit." — Peter Blegvad, The Spectator

"Brotchie's painstaking and drily funny biography is now the most ample account ofJarry and his importance that is available in our language; it is unlikely ever to be bettered." —Kevin Jackson, The Literary Review

"That Jarry comes across as both more and less than we might expect from his reputation and his writings is a result of Brotchie so resolutely and expertly keeping his eye on the available facts and not allowing himself to wander into speculation and hero-worship." —William Bamberger, Rain Taxi

The New York Review of Books - Mark Ford

An enthralling, scrupulously researched, and elegantly written biography.

Bookforum - Mark Polizzotti
Alfred Jarry provides many new facts, some pertinent analyses, and a clutch of outrageously amusing yarns.

Times Literary Supplement -- (Book of the Year 2011)

Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life by Alastair
Brotchie is a superb chronicle of the life and times of the fin-de-siècle French writer.

The Guardian - Michael Moorcock
[Brotchie] gives us an unmatched and vivid picture of the belle epoque's avant-garde, of which Jarry was an important, original part.

Leonardo On-Line - Allan Graubard
...[Brotchie's] tone is clear and informed, rooted in a familiarity with Jarry that has something quite personal about it, which is all for the good.

3:AM Magazine - Karl Whitney
[Brotchie] skilfully moves between providing a relatively straightforward and sympathetic account of the writer's life and critically sorting through the narratives that have sustained and shaped the long-standing image of Jarry...

Brotchie's refusal to mythologise stands as the book's greatest strength, and as a fitting testament to the manifold complexity of Alfred Jarry.

The Spectator - Peter Blegvad
How a schoolboy caricature evolved into Jarry's best-known creation, his monstrous 'every-man', Père Ubu, is a fascinating story which Brotchie tells with impressive scholarship, sympathy and wit.

The Literary Review - Kevin Jackson
Brotchie's painstaking and drily funny biography is now the most ample account of Jarry and his importance that is available in our language; it is unlikely ever to be bettered.

Rain Taxi - William Bamberger
That Jarry comes across as both more and less than we might expect from his reputation and his writings is a result of Brotchie so resolutely and expertly keeping his eye on the available facts and not allowing himself to wander into speculation and hero-worship.

Times Literary Supplement — (Book of the Year 2011)
Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life by Alastair Brotchie is a superb chronicle of the life and times of the fin-de-siècle French writer.

The New York Review of Books - Mark Ford
An enthralling, scrupulously researched, and elegantly written biography.

Varsity - Charlotte Keith
Alastair Brotchie brilliantly evokes the avant-garde artistic movements of fin-de-siecle Paris in all their glittering grubbiness.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262016193
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
09/30/2011
Pages:
424
Sales rank:
1,399,426
Product dimensions:
7.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Mark Ford
An "enthralling, scrupulously researched, and elegantly written biography." —Mark Ford, The New York Review of Books
From the Publisher
"[Brotchie] gives us an unmatched and vivid picture of the belle epoque's avant-garde, of which Jarry was an important, original part." — Michael Moorcock, The Guardian

The MIT Press

"…[Brotchie's] tone is clear and informed, rooted in a familiarity with Jarry that has something quite personal about it, which is all for the good." — Allan Graubard, Leonardo On-Line

The MIT Press

"Brotchie's archival work and translations are meticulous…Highly recommended."— M. Gaddis Rose, Choice

The MIT Press

"[Brotchie] skilfully moves between providing a relatively straightforward and sympathetic account of the writer's life and critically sorting through the narratives that have sustained and shaped the long-standing image of Jarry…Brotchie's refusal to mythologise stands as the book's greatest strength, and as a fitting testament to the manifold complexity of Alfred Jarry." — Karl Whitney, 3:AM Magazine

The MIT Press

"How a schoolboy caricature evolved into Jarry's best-known creation, his monstrous'every-man', Père Ubu, is a fascinating story which Brotchie tells with impressive scholarship,sympathy and wit." — Peter Blegvad, The Spectator

The MIT Press

"Brotchie's painstaking and drily funny biography is now the most ample account of Jarry and his importance that is available in our language; it is unlikely ever to be bettered." —Kevin Jackson, The Literary Review

The MIT Press

"That Jarry comes across as both more and less than we might expect from his reputation and his writings is a result of Brotchie so resolutely and expertly keeping his eye on the available facts and not allowing himself to wander into speculation and hero-worship." —William Bamberger, Rain Taxi

The MIT Press

Steve McCaffery
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.

Marjorie Perloff
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 ège 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.

Thieri Foulc
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.

Charlotte Keith
"Alastair Brotchie brilliantly evokes the avant-garde artistic movements of fin-de-siecle Paris in all their glittering grubbiness." — Charlotte Keith,Varsity

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