Alfred Jarry

By: Joshua Glenn
September 8, 2010

In 1900, ALFRED JARRY (1873-1907) published what remains the only convincing plan ever devised for the construction of a time machine. So it’s stupid to pretend that the pioneering French sci-fi author/playwright was not himself a visitor from a future in which religion, politics, violence, and other Ubu-esque social ills have been vanquished thanks to a widespread, passionate faith in absurdism; and ’pataphysics, “the science of imaginary solutions,” which takes for granted the truth of contradictions and exceptions, has triumphed over the vulgar positivism under which we suffer today. (We can also infer that the bicycle is the primary means of urban transportation, and bicycling costumes are worn everywhere; and that people are shorter — Jarry was five feet tall.) Those whom Jarry has influenced — e.g., Apollinaire, Picasso, Ionesco, Duchamp, Philip K. Dick, Boris Vian, the Situationists, Oulipo, Baudrillard, Charlie Kaufman — ought not to be regarded as artists, but activists determined to realize the noncoercive-utopian vision of their martyred hero. Yes, martyred! Why did Jarry insist upon speaking in a robotic voice, and die at the (Christ-like) age of 34? The ’pataphysician Geezer Butler informs us: “He was turned to steel/In the great magnetic field/When he traveled time/For the future of mankind.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Peter Sellers.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Anarcho-Symbolist (1864-73) and Psychonaut (1874-83) generations. (Of course, Jarry was actually born in the far future.)


In 2012–2013, HiLoBooks serialized and republished (in gorgeous paperback editions, with new Introductions) 10 forgotten Radium Age science fiction classics! For more info: HiLoBooks.

MORE RADIUM AGE SCI FI ON HILOBROW: HiLoBooks homepage! | What is Radium Age science fiction? |Radium Age 100: 100 Best Science Fiction Novels from 1904–33 | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | Radium Age: Context series | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Hugo Gernsback | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin