Recovery Project (1): Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911) by Alfred Jarry

“This dead body,” said the doctor, “from whose carcass you can see old fogies trembling in senility and young men with red hair, equally cretinous in their speech and their silence, giving beaks full of flesh to speckled, handwriting-colored birds, like ichneumon flies boring into flesh to lay their eggs — this dead body is not only an island but a man: he is pleased to call himself Baron Hildebrand of the Squitty Sea.” (pg. 32-33, translated by Simon Watson Taylor)

Behold the brilliant insanity of Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician, written by the diminutive alcoholic Frenchman Alfred Jarry between 1893-95, but not published until four years after his death in 1907.

It seems fitting to begin my Recovery Project with this text because so much of my current scholarly research involves theorizing the ‘pataphysical underpinnings of many (if not all) other avant-garde movements. Don’t worry, I won’t get all dissertationy on you — suffice to say: this book is like the butterfly that flapped its wings and caused the elephants of Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, et. al. to stampede across the history books of literature.

‘Pataphysics is defined in this book as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, describes by their virtuality, to their lineaments.” (pg. 22) But it is also described as the science of the realm beyond metaphysics, of the particular rather than the general, of laws governing exceptions rather than rules.

The book itself is certifiably unclassifiable. At times it reads like a fantasy adventure a la Gulliver’s Travels, while at other times it reads like a discursive math equation, a catalog of inventions, a philosophical treatise, a cultural critique, a mystery, a dream, a mix between Jules Verne and Lewis Carroll, and at times a slapstick comedy. To say that it encompasses all of these attributes is an understatement: it is even bigger, even more complex and certainly more entertaining.

Forgive me…I don’t yet know what form these Recovery Projects should take…should they be critical?…should they be reviews?…should they simply offer the text and a representative sample? I don’t yet know. I’m learning as I go.

My goal for now is simply to get started — and with this text especially, I hope I have introduced folks to a book that may have slipped under their radar, but which I believe deserves more attention.

6 thoughts on “Recovery Project (1): Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911) by Alfred Jarry

  1. I like Jarry’s zaniness and his audacity, and how disruptive his pseudoscience was, and how inspiring it was to other artists and writers. Your post set me to ask what the contemporary parallels to this kind of carnivalesque free-fall free-for-all are. Thoughts?

    As for the form of your Recovery Projects, I think this post is great. Kind of a teaser, with some concise glosses. Representative samples sounds like fun too. Your jottings and musings (like what you did as you read Light Boxes) would be interesting to read as well. And I’d love to see you continue to explore Jarry even as you continue with other recoveries. Like the next Jarry post could be titled Recovery Project (1A) or something.

  2. I like your Recovery Project.

    For an American corollary to Alfred Jarry’s historic role, as in authors who were a bit wild but had a significant influence on the writers that followed them, check George Horatio Derby and Charles Farrar Browne. They were both direct influences on Mark Twain.

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