La machine à explorer le temps

Jarry showcased his rhetorical virtuosity and irreverence later in life by publishing a book’s worth of speculative essays in magazines. Among many of the subjects Jarry addressed were cannibalism, a machine to beat women, and “killer pedestrians”; his review of a new postage stamp described it as a depiction of a blind prostitute (it was in fact the female personification of the French Republic). In one of his most famous vignettes, “The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race,” Jesus gets a flat tire after riding over a bed of thorns and has to carry his wooden cross-frame bike up a hill over his shoulder.

Soon after H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine was translated into French, an article on how to build a time machine appeared under the byline of Jarry’s fictional character, Doctor Faustroll. Jarry borrowed passages from writings by the physicist Lord Kelvin to conceive of a real machine that was a gyroscopic device, initially described as analogous to a bicycle. Most of the essay was devoted to the phenomenon of time itself. Jarry proposed an “imaginary present” and defined time travel in pataphysical terms: isolated in a machine within the luminiferous ether, past and present could be explored simultaneously. Jarry emphasized his definition of duration typographically: “Duration is the transformation of a succession into a reversion. In other words: THE BECOMING OF A MEMORY.”

Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), “Commentaire pour servir à la construction pratique de la machine à explorer le temps,” in Mercure de France, no. 110 (February 1899). The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Robert J. and Linda Klieger Stillman, 2017. PML 197152.