Alfred Jarry had a profound, incalculable effect on most every art and literary movement of the 20th century movements influencing Dadaism, Surrealism, Futurism, Expressionism, Cubism, and especially the Theatre of the Absurd. You can start with Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton and keep right on swerving through the better names of the century; poets Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Tristan Tzara, artists like Picasso, entertainers such as The Marx Brothers, the Goons, Spike Jones, the Bonzo Dog Band, Monty Python, even Mad magazine.
Playwrights Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee all owe much to Jarry, as do other literary greats like Jean Genet, Antonin Artaud, Douglas Adams, Robert Anton Wilson, Boris Vian, George Perec, and J.G. Ballard. In fact, I swear even George Bush and his entire administration have been heavily influenced by the absurdities of Alfred Jarry and his masterpiece, Ubu Roi featuring the bloated, thick and stupid future king, Pere Ubu.
Well, One hundred years ago today Alfred Jarry died of alcoholism and tuberculosis in Paris at the age of thirty-four. Every aspect of his life was a performance of self. More than just writing about Ubu, he lived as Ubu. He blew through a small fortune he inherited from his parents, served in the military, developed a taste for absinthe, and took to wandering around Paris inebriated; alcohol, he said, was his “holy water.” He costumed himself in black biking gear, often in a long hooded cape carrying a green umbrella and two pistols. He also assumed many of the characteristics he wrote for his fictional Pere Ubu: talking in a high falsetto, adopting a mechanical / monotone speaking style, enunciating every single syllable with no inflection or nuance, and Jarry always spoke of himself in the royal "we.”