Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Squeals for Père Ubu!

Just woke up, and feel like an army of baby pigs are checking my brain for truffles. It's because I've been working so hard on these two simultaneous projects: a long written thesis on theatrical modernism, and a long(ish) solo for a dance performance, which I might write about (and upload footage of) later on.

This morning the pigs celebrate because chapter 2 found its first-draft completion last night. Thought I'd include some highlights, because (as anyone familiar with the work of absurdist precursor Alfred Jarry knows) his is a wild and wooly world.

The Argument:

"For centuries, the function of the theater was to manipulate the fortunes of the characters on stage. Tragedy invariably brought its heroes lower; comedy promised to wrap all their struggles up in colorful streamers and weddings. Plays were written and rehearsed for this product – the manipulation of fictional lives in the spectacle on the stage. Then, at the start of the twentieth century, the purpose of certain productions changed. Where the mechanism of theater had been the script, and the spectacle its product, the function changed: Now, the spectacle as a whole became the mechanism, and the experience of the audience became its product. From the manipulation of fictional lives, the theater had moved to manipulations of audience reaction. "

And I've got the Jarry to prove it:

"Jarry was able with only two productions of his outrageous play Ubu Roi to rip into theatrical tradition more thoroughly than perhaps anyone before or since, and to stage the first assault on the new victim of theater – the audience."

Fun, Fun, Fun:

"Assaulting or insulting an audience could hardly be called a new theatrical phenomenon. Performers had shouted obscenities or poked fun at audience members’ expenses since the dawn of the clown, deep in pre-history. Yet before Ubu Roi, such intentionally provocative perceptual violence had never been worked into the structure of a play – into its language, arc, and staging, as well as its content. La Belle Epoque, from which Jarry and the symbolists emerged, had begun to draw the insults of clownish cabaret closer to the artistic theater, as the two merged in Paris’ bohemian subculture. At the later legendary cabaret Le Chat Noir, for example, owner Rodolphe Salis tried to insult each customer as he or she entered."


"It was the language of Ubu Roi that famously attacked the audience first. “Merdre,” exclaimed the actor playing Ubu in a harsh monotone voice. The audience had a fifteen-minute fit. It was not enough that Jarry had opened his much-hyped production with an obscenity; he had created an obscenity of obscenity, by corrupting the mot de Cambronne, the French word for shit, “merde”."

Tyranical Despotism!

Père Ubu: Eh bien, cornegidouille, écoute-moi bien, sinon ces messieurs te couperont les oneilles. Mais, vas-tu m’écouter enfin?
Stanislas: Mais Votre Excellence n’a encore rien dit.
Père Ubu: Comment, je parle depuis une heure. Crois-tu que je vienne ici pur prêcher dans le désert ?

"This frightening picture of King Ubu’s cruel despotism shows him threatening to cut off a peasant’s ears for not listening to him, claiming he has already been speaking for an hour when in fact he has only just entered the man’s home. The word for ears, in French “oreilles,” features the same nonsense corruption as the earlier “merdre,” and again repeats throughout the play. The lack of comprehension between King and subjects takes on dire consequences when Ubu’s smallest whim or displeasure can lead to their violent execution. The play presents a kingdom in which all around Ubu try hopelessly to understand, predict, and reason with their despot, who follows no rules but his own whims, including his either real or feigned ignorance of linguistic conventions."

King Ubu's weird torture devices! In French!

Père Ubu: Ceux qui seront condamnés à mort, je les passerai dans la trappe, ils tomberont dans les sou-sols du Pince-Porc et de la Chambre-à-Sous, où on les décervèlera.

Père Ubu: Je tuerai tout le monde. Gare à qui ne marchera pas droit. Je lon mets dans ma poche avec torsion du nez et des dents et extraction de la langue…et enforcement du petit bout de bois dans les oneilles.

Paris' two warring critics, one of whom loses his job defending the play:

"Bauer praises it as an aggressive and truculent fantasy, crashing in the face of the chimeras of tradition. Fouquier calls all sincere friends of progress to defend it against the play’s creators, and the violence of their stupidities. On no account do the critics disagree that the play has monumental and destructive impact. Both describe it with language of the greatest violence. Only with respect to the benefits of this violence do Bauer and Fouquier disagree."

To close, a quote from Shattuck, from his detailed book The Banquet Years:

We cannot mock Ubu. “…Not without dread, we mock, rather, his childish innocence and primitive soul and cannot harm him. He remains a threat because he can destroy at will, and the political horrors of the twentieth century make the lesson disturbingly real.” - The Banquet Years, 235


Huzzah! Atrocities! Stage! Ubu! Good morning, world. Perhaps some of that interests you. I think it's essential to our way of perceiving ourselves today. But that's just me.

- I apologize, by the way, both for not including the whole arc of the chapter, rendering what's above piecemeal and confusing, and also for making the post too long. But on this blog, my will is King. Obese, gluttonous, cowardly King.

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