A friend’s comment last week surfaced my old appreciation for the work of Alfred Jarry, author of the wild and astonishing farce, Ubu Roi, father of the science of Pataphysics. Ubu Roi (King Ubu), a satire about greed, power, and delusion that gave birth to the French avant-garde, opened and closed in Paris on December 10, 1896. Its theatrical run of a single night was marked by the contention of outraged shouts and delighted cheers.
The South African writer Jane Taylor describes Ubu as “notorious for his infantile engagement with his world. Ubu inhabits a domain of greedy self-gratification.” Wikipedia pulls no punches. Ubu is “fat, ugly, vulgar, gluttonous, grandiose, dishonest, stupid, jejune, voracious, greedy, cruel, cowardly and evil.” In Donald Trump we have actually chosen Ubu as our next President.Let me give you a taste of Jarry’s Ubu:
…I’ve changed the government and had it put in the paper that all the existing taxes must be paid twice, and those that I shall impose later must be paid three times. With this system I shall soon have made my fortune, then I’ll kill everybody and go away
—Ubu Roi, Act III, Scene 4
What excited and amused me as a boy of eighteen—the nihilistic excitement of pure id—depresses and frightens me as a man in my seventieth year. Farce has become reality. Rejoicing cockroaches see their ascendant future. Soon enough we may all wish we were Gregor Samsa.