So far my forays into the world of nonsense have dealt with works directed at an audience of children. I selected Edward Lear‘s Book of Nonsense as a starting point although I think I tried to make clear that there were antecedents. Now I should like to glance at a different approach to Nonsense Literature – where the premise begins with a childish slant but which is led to dark, adult and inherently profound themes. Again it’s impossible to draw a line and say that one thing is the absolute starting point, but there is one event that seems to stand out.
In 1895 at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre Alfred Jarry‘s play Ubu le Roi was presented to an audience. In terms of theatrical success it was a disaster, but its influence was enormous.
The play grew from the imaginations of a bunch of schoolboys in Rennes who sought amusement at the expense of a vulnerably inept schoolmaster by rendering him as a grotesque caricature with no redeeming characteristics. But there is more to Jarry than adolescent scatological anarchy and he was to construct a science of Nonsense, ‘Pataphysics, which ineffably defines itself on the plane where the rational and the irrational meet. It is principally a construct of language and anticipates many of the concerns of the 20th century such as psychology and semantics.
Perhaps more than anyone before (or even since) his life became an artwork. In fact it is not difficult to trace just about anything in art and culture since Jarry back to him.
Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the images.