Beautiful Like Literature

In the fiction and journalism Jarry published in the twentieth century, his engagement with printed matter expanded from innovations in book designs to ideations of the medium in writing. Documents, imaginary libraries, and the literature of visionary science play central roles in his tour de force, Docteur Faustroll. Subtitled “a neo-scientific novel,” the work elaborated on pataphysics for the first time and, in its sheer experimentation, forecast landmarks of literary modernism.

Faustroll and his 1902 novel, Le surmâle, also manifested Jarry’s conceptions of technology in artistic practice. His cultivation of hybrid personae throughout his life, unifying puppet and puppeteer in theater and Alfred and Ubu in real life, persisted in his exploration of the creative assimilation of man and machine. On one occasion when he casually fired a gun at another man, Jarry described the act as “beautiful like literature.” This lack of separation between artistic gestures and their presumed opposition in extreme pastimes and play suggests an equivalence between performance and life, between art and non-art—what André Breton would later characterize as a paradigmatic shift. After Jarry, the differentiation between art and life was annihilated.

© RMN-Grand Palais / Erich Lessing/ Art Resource, N.Y.