The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist, so named because its first documented appearance is in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”). The engraving has often, but erroneously, been referred to as a woodcut. It has been used to represent a supposedly medieval cosmology, including a flat earth bounded by a solid and opaque sky, or firmament, and also as a metaphorical illustration of either the scientific or the mystical quests for knowledge.
After us the Savage God.”
— William Butler Yeats, after seeing
the first performance of “Ubu Roi”
WE’RE FINALLY STARTING TO get somewhere. What the turn-of-the-century avant-garde began, contemporary physicists may finish by the turn-of-the-millennium.
Unfortunately the man who would probably be most gratified in 1907. I’m referring to the recent breakthrough in creating atoms of anti-matter, and also to the late
playwright, poet, artist and Alfred Jarry
who, among other accomplishments, was Pablo Picasso’s weapon supplier. (Picasso used the pistol to shoot away bores, but we’ll get to that later.) Anti-matter, is the opposite of matter when referring to close encounters between atoms of matter and anti-matter they’ll use a phrase like “instantly annihilate each other, releasing a burst of energy” (Associated Press, 5 January 1996
At CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland an international team of physicists created atoms of anti-matter for the first time;
The world, as Aristotle long ago determined, is made of matter.The antiworld, as the physicists seem to have confirmed, is made of anti-matter. At the time of the anti-matter materialisation, CERN’s spokesman remarked that “This discovery opens the
door into a completely new anti-world.” It may be a “tiny Alice in Wonderland door,” he added, that will forever change physicists’ understanding of reality once they gaze
through it. a portal to a parallel universe, Alfred Jarry, whose work prefigured theater of the absurd,Dada, Surrealism and Futurism also may have anticipated certain modern physics theories. Jarry is most famous for his satire/farce Ubu Roi (King Ubu), which ignited a scandal when it was first performed in 1896, and hasn’t exactly been
embraced by the mainstream in the century since. He is also known as the founder of ‘pataphysics. “‘Pataphysics,” Jarry wrote, “is the science of imaginary solutions…extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics.” In attempting to explain, Picasso biographer John Richardson observed: “[Jarry] crashed the barrier between fantasy and reality, and established the parodic sense of ‘pataphysics, which would detonate all traditional canons of beauty, good taste and propriety.” (In other words, turn the world upside down and inside out; take reality and snap it like a magician’s cloak — abracadabra: anti-matter!)
CERN physicists are working the same side of the street as Jarry, they’re just using different equipment and jargon. But it’s always interesting — isn’t it? — when art, science and even religion disclose similar information.‘Pataphysics, Jarry wrote, “will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to
this one; or, less ambitiously, will describe a universe which can be — and perhaps should be — envisaged in the place of the traditional one.” While CERN’s anti-matter press release states, “Newton’s historic work on gravity was supposedly prompted by watching an apple fall to earth, but would an ‘anti-apple’ fall in the same way? It is believed that antimatter ‘works’ under gravity in the same way as matter, but if
nature has chosen otherwise, we must find out how and why.” To which Jarry replied, ninety-odd years before CERN asked the question, “Instead of formulating the law of the fall of a body toward a center, how far more apposite would be the law of the ascension of a vacuum toward a periphery…” Yes, and contrary to Einstein’s assertion, perhaps we’ll find that in the anti-world God not only plays dice, he spells his name backwards. Or maybe he spells it P-i-c-a-s-s-o. After all, it would seem Jarry, Picasso (who happily pitched a rock through the stained glass window of reality), and a handful of
others beat CERN to the punch by nearly a century. It may
turn out that nothing’s what it seems So, in the absence of a butler, where does the gun fit in? Apparently Jarry sent it to Picasso and on more than one occasion the cubist deity fired it into the air when he found the conversation monotonous. It sounds like a brutal act, but in the anti-world guns give life, they don’t take it away.“Truth,” Picasso was fond of saying, “is a lie.” And now the physicists are proving it.
Edited from an article by Douglas Cruickshank
In order to understand Alfred Jarry’s views on his work, it is necessary to first look at his thoughts related to the theatre as a whole, as well as his theory of pataphysics.
“Three main aims can in fact be distinguished in his writings on the theatre, and can be seen to be exemplified in his detailed suggestions for the staging of Ubu Roi : the desire for a theatre based on the principles of extreme simplification, and even of ‘abstraction’; the need for the theatre to concern itself not with merely contemporary (and therefore ephemeral) but with eternal and universal themes and preoccupations; and the need for an overwhelmingly visual, as opposed to narrative and psychological, theatre.” (Beaumont )
Actors in Jarry’s theatre are to shed their humanity. Jarry was very fond of masque and preferred that actors wore extremely restrictive costumes, which he thought were in themselves elements of storytelling. He may not have been formally involved in the Symbolist movement, but many of his theories are related, and he certainly borrows frequently from their work. For example, Ubu Roi’s distinctive costume features a large spiral and a cone-shaped hat, which Jarry would have seen as symbolic of the anti-hero’s pomp. Additionally, he wanted the actors to perform in a monotone voice, avoiding psychological acting where scenes do not require it.
Pataphysics can be understood as taking all things to be true, even though they may be wrong or end in contradictions. It is hard to define pataphysics because in doing so you are confronted with the idea that “correct definitions are equivalent to wrong ones; all religions are on a par as imaginary and equally important; chalk really is cheese. It’s an escape from reality–reminding us of just how idiotic the rules that dog our everyday existence are” (Corbyn). This concept is essential in Jarry’s construction of the play, as the idiosyncrasies and messy theories it implies are, in fact, Jarry’s way of commenting on the state of modern thought.
This theory of pataphysics has been extremely influential in the work of artists who came after Jarry. Its threads can be seen in various mediums and artistic arenas. While not directly influenced by Jarry’s work on the pataphysical.
“Why should anyone claim that the shape of a watch is round?…Perhaps under the pretext of utility.” (Alfred Jarry, Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician)
By Andrew Lindvall
“It is because the public are a mass — inert, obtuse, and passive — that they need to be shaken up from time to time so that we can tell from their bear-like grunts where they are — and also where they stand. they are pretty harmless, in spite of their numbers, because they are fighting against intelligence.”Alfred Jarry 1888.