Faustroll, Jarry’s most imaginative and absurd novel, is a textual collage comprising the art, science, and people who shaped his aesthetic life. Treatises on pataphysics, legal documents, equations measuring the surface of God, and letters from another dimension are folded into a travel narrative about Faustroll, a bailiff, and a monkey whose sole utterance is “Ha Ha.” They set sail from Paris to Paris by sea on Faustroll’s copper mesh bed. Other beings on their voyage are three-dimensional elements conjured from an inventory of books Jarry calls the livres pairs (coequal or equivalent books). Twenty-fourth on that list is an anonymous play titled Ubu roi. Across “foliated space,” Faustroll draws from it “the 5th letter of the first word in the first act”—in other words, the second r in Jarry’s linguistic distortion merdre—synthesizing in one letterform (one piece of type) his radical transformation of artistic practice.
Henri Rousseau also makes an appearance in the novel: he defaces banal art with a painting machine, which eventually projects its own works on the walls of a “Palace of Machines.” Rejected by publishers, Jarry added a note to the Faustroll manuscript predicting that it would not appear in print “until the author has acquired enough experience to savor all its beauties.” The book was published four years after his death at age thirty-four.
Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien: Roman néo-scientifique, suivi de Spéculations (Paris: Eugène Fasquelle, 1911). The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Robert J. and Linda Klieger Stillman, 2017. PML 197152.