Ubu en vente partout

Père Ubu is more than just the star of a few plays; he’s a character. The Hello Kitty of early absurdist theatre, say. There is an Ubu for all seasons, all circumstances, every purpose under heaven. And just as Ms. Kitty brings her…sweet…personality wherever she goes, so does Ubu.

Angel Kitty, not so much

Jarry makes more Ubu available to us in the Almanachs du Père Ubu, which are, totally, almanacs. I mean they start out giving the times of high tides and the dates of elipses of the sun, the moon, and the Père Ubu. Lists of important holidays, like February 8, copulation day. Helpful instructions for turning bronze into gold by way of a salamander (nine salamanders, actually).

There are also lots more sketches of Ubu, here holding an umbrella, there researching alchemy. And he makes his appearance in several short plays or skits. In “L’Ile du Diable,” he takes some Ubuesque shots at Catholicism (“il s’est confessé de son crime à notre Chanoine, il en a été absous, il n’est plus coupable, il ne l’a jamais commis”—“he confessed his crime to our canon, he was granted absolution, he is no longer guilty, he never committed it”*). He is interrogated, or at least interviewed, by his conscience on the event of the turn of the twentieth century. Here he is given a chance to explain himself—almost an Inside the Actor’s Studio for a crazed, obese marionette come to life. “Monsieur ma Conscience, nous n’avons jamais honte, d’abord, c’est un principe.”—”Sir Conscience, we are never ashamed, first of all, that’s on principle.” No kidding!

My consumption partner, smartypants that he is, thought to ask how the Jarry/Ubu timeline fit in with the Paris World’s Fair. I, of course, was so ignorant I didn’t realize quite how many expositions universelles Paris hosted in the latter half of the nineteenth century (five). The interview between Ubu and his conscience appears in the 1901 almanac, and one of the conscience’s questions is whether Ubu attended the one, presumably, the previous year. This gives him a chance to talk about art:

Tandis que le plus bel objet d’art se banalise dès qu’il est mis à la portée de plusieurs. Je n’ai pas regardé l’Exposition pour la même raison que je n’ai pas l’habitude de lire des manuels vulgarisateurs, vêtir ma gidouille sinon sur mesure, ni de prendre l’omnibus!

Just as the most beautiful work of art becomes common once it’s put within reach of the masses. I didn’t go to the Exposition for the same reason I am not in the habit of reading popularizations, clothing my strumpot off the rack, or taking the bus!

Ubu, is that you? Oh, it is you!

Also, Ubu on language—now this is really good. His conscience asks him whether he isn’t a fan of the latest spelling reform, what with his contrariness, especially in the verbal department:

Ceci est tout différent. Les bougres qui veulent changer l’orthographe ne savent pas et mois je sais. Ils bousculent toute la structure des mots et sous prétexte de simplification les estropient. Moi je les perfectionne et embellis à mon image et à ma ressemblance. J’écris phynance et oneille parce que je pronounce phynance et oneille et surtout pour bien marquer qu’il s’agit de phynance et d’oneilles, spéciales, personnelles, en quantité et qualité telles que personne n’en a, sinon moi; et si l’on n’est pas content, je me mettrai à rédiger nouneilles et pfuinance, et ceux qui réclameront encore ji lon fous à lon pôche!!!

That’s completely different. The guys that want to change the spelling don’t know, and I know. They’re knocking the whole structure of words about, and under the pretext of simplifying things, they’re mangling them. I perfect them and embellish them in my image, to look like me. I write phynance and near [meaning “ear”] because I say phynance and near and above all to show that I’m talking about special, personal phynance and nears, of just such a quantity and quality that only I have; and if people don’t like it, I’ll start writing nouears and pfynance, and anyone who still won’t shut up, I’ll stuffeminmypocket!!!

Rise talked about “construct[ing] an edifice of references in the texts and work[ing] from there to create [an] enchained reality.” The almanacs can only follow from that reality, and their complete reliance on the edifice of Ubuesque references—“his neologisms and set of references (e.g., the pschitt-prefix, his uniquely named weapons, his Palcontents) that he constantly used throughout his fantastical adventures”—is what makes them great, at least from a fan’s perspective. Ubu will not be confined to Poland, or France, or a Turkish galley! His strumpot is larger than the earth, and it sprawls to encompass every last piece of trivia imaginable.

*Sorry, folks, translations all mine this post.

3 comments to Ubu en vente partout

  • Ooh the Ubu© merchandise was really well conceived! Thank you for describing this play tie-in. My omnibus edition doesn’t have this handy spin-off of the Ubu cosmology. Looks like the miscellany are wonderful supplements to the plays. They feed the Ubu-mania. (Someone ought to get the idea for manufacturing Pa and Ma coloring books, stuffed toys, pillowcases, T-shirts, caps, lunch boxes, puzzles, playing cards, pens, posters, and limited edition pschittahooks.) :p

  • The Spencer Museum at the University of Kansas had a 1998 exhibition on or of Ubu’s alamnacs. The frankly exhausting site is full of Ubuish images, including pages from the almanacs. July 14 is the “Fête du Père Ubu” – coming up soon!

  • Rise—Yes, I really want an Ubu action figure! And feeding the Ubu-mania is very important for enjoying this kind of thing—because that’s exactly what this kind of thing is. It’s not nearly as much fun if it’s just a play. We need Ubu-world!

    AR—Ha, I was hanging out there the other night, it’s pretty great. I forgot about July 14; I had noticed that one. Do you think Ubu broke out of the Bastille, or into it?