Alfred Jarry
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Radium Age SF

In 1900, ALFRED JARRY (1873-1907) published what remains the only convincing plan ever devised for the construction of a time machine. So it’s stupid to pretend that the pioneering French sci-fi author/playwright was not himself a visitor from a future in which religion, politics, violence, and other Ubu-esque social ills have been vanquished thanks to a widespread, passionate faith in absurdism; and ’pataphysics, “the science of imaginary solutions,” which takes for granted the truth of contradictions and exceptions, has triumphed over the vulgar positivism under which we suffer today. (We can also infer that the bicycle is the primary means of urban transportation, and bicycling costumes are worn everywhere; and that people are shorter — Jarry was five feet tall.) Those whom Jarry has influenced — e.g., Apollinaire, Picasso, Ionesco, Duchamp, Philip K. Dick, Boris Vian, the Situationists, Oulipo, Baudrillard, Charlie Kaufman — ought not to be regarded as artists, but activists determined to realize the noncoercive-utopian vision of their martyred hero. Yes, martyred! Why did Jarry insist upon speaking in a robotic voice, and die at the (Christ-like) age of 34? The ’pataphysician Geezer Butler informs us: “He was turned to steel/In the great magnetic field/When he traveled time/For the future of mankind.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Peter Sellers.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Anarcho-Symbolist (1864-73) and Psychonaut (1874-83) generations. (Of course, Jarry was actually born in the far future.)


In 2012–2013, HiLoBooks serialized and republished (in gorgeous paperback editions, with new Introductions) 10 forgotten Radium Age science fiction classics! For more info: HiLoBooks.

MORE RADIUM AGE SCI FI ON HILOBROW: HiLoBooks homepage! | What is Radium Age science fiction? | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin



Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.