Friday, August 01, 2003

Faustroll, Bigger than Faustroll

Number 8 of my ten books left off the 100 best of the 20th century lists:

The Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician by Alfred Jarry

OK, technically, this book belongs on the list of 10 books left off the 100 best of the 19th century list, as it was written in 1898. But it wasnít published until three years after Alfred Jarryís death in 1907. A minor technicality. Faustroll is the essence of the modern novel. Itís so modern itís post-modern and so far ahead of that, even that it circles back on itself and becomes pre-modern. Yeah, itís that weird.

Building a boat, which is also a sieve, Dr. Faustroll shanghais a bailiff named Panmuphle, come to levy a fine and together with a hydrocephalic, sail through a series of imaginary islands that are complex prose poems, many of them referencing the Parisian artistic scene of the late 19th century. Along the way, Dr. Faustroll illustrates the basic tenets of ëPataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions. Jarry spent most of his life developing this strange branch of epistemological monkey business and Faustroll is its culmination. Any further explanation of Pataphysics I will leave to Jarry,

ìPataphysicsÖ is the science of that which is superinduced upon metaphysics, whether within or beyond the latterís limitations, extending a sfar beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physicsÖ Pataphysics will be, above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of the general. Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this oneÖ Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutionsÖ pataphysics is the scienceÖî

Think of it as the Odyssey, if Homer were an Absinth fiend and Odysseus, a combination of Captain Ahab and Dr. Frankenstein, who succeeds in smiting the sun and sailing away on the carcass of the White Whale to engage in a telepathic discourse with Lord Kelvin on the dimensions of God.

I can understand why most people would pass over Faustroll. A lot of people dismiss experimental literature as weird for the sake of weird, utter balderdash passed off as Literature with a capitol L. But Faustroll is the greatest sort of balderdash, being both profound and nonsensical. To dismiss Jarry is a literary crime and to not read Faustroll is to live an incomplete life.


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