‘PATAPHYSICS FESTIVAL: Films, Art, Talks, The Savage God

Joan was quizzical, studied ‘Pataphysical science in the home. Late nights all alone with a test tube, Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Image from a 1964 production of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi
Image from a 1964 production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi

Do you have problems you don’t know how to solve? Marriage getting you down? Work? Family? Kids? Politics? Crushing existential self-doubt?

You won’t find the solutions to these problems in any book. So why not plumb the universe for IMAGINARY SOLUTIONS?


Thus begins the pataphysical journey. 30 x 4 years ago Alfred Jarry wrote Ubu Roi, in which fat, dissolute king Ubu (based on one of Jarry’s school instructors and repulsive in every detail down to the spiral design on his distended gut) and his royal family make a mess of themselves and the world.

The first line is “Merdre!” a made-up word based on “merde” and translated loosely as “Shitter!”

In quieter, gentler times, the play caused a riot, and was subsequently closed and banned. William Butler Yeats, though he joined in the riots like every good citizen, later said:

“After Stephane Mallarme, after Paul Verlaine, After Gustave Moreau, after Puvis de Chavannes, after our own verse, after all our subtle colour and nervous rhythm, after the faint mixed tints of Conder, what more is possible? After us the Savage God.”

The Savage God, Jarry, later went on to inspire the great artists of surrealism, dadaism, modernism, and postmodernism: Picasso, Joyce, Artaud, Ionesco, Foucault, Stoppard, Duchamp, Chimes, to name a few; this is not to pop culture and comedy icons like The Marx Brothers, The Beatles, and Monty Python.

Indeed, Jarry and ‘Pataphysics are now considered the oft-overlooked, quiet point at the start of a great artistic revolution.

As he lived, however, Jarry was a diminutive, mustachioed alcoholic biking around Paris in his pork-pie hat, penning poetic filth, and never expecting to be taken seriously. He died before he ever was.

What is ‘pataphysics? Jarry defined it variously, but some popular descriptions are “[T]he science of imaginary solutions,” which goes “as far beyond metaphysics as metaphysics goes beyond physics.”


On March 18th begins PHILADELPHIA A LA PATAPHYSIQUE, a series of events celebrating and elaborating on the artists who were inspired by Jarry, all the way up to the current day and Philadelphia’s living and dead pataphysicians.

The festival is taking place all over the city: Slought, International House, Kelly Writers House, The Kislak Center, and UPenn. A full calendar of events can be found here, but below are some of the highlights:

‘Pataphysics, Then and Now, at Slought and The Kislak Center, represents the core of the festival, and is a two-day conference organized by scholars, poets, collectors, curators, architects, musicians and visual artists and which endeavors to present an overview of pataphysical art ranging from its invention to its uses today. “Engaging the work of contemporary artists and thinkers as well, the presenters will explore a variety of systems of knowledge and power and debate why so many avant-garde artists and thinkers have seen it as an ideal ludic tool for creative production and socio-political change.” You can see a full schedule of events hereMarch 21 + 22, 2014. Slought.org.

Cinema Pataphysique is a series of films being shown at the International House. While Ubu Roi, Jean Christophe Averty’s television adaptation of Jarry’s seminal ‘Pataphysical play is the most obvious attraction, the series also includes a screening of Louis Malle’s audacious, New Wave Zazie dans le Metro, and a night of ‘Pataphysical shorts (including Ubu Tells the Truth, William Kentridge’s exploration of apartheid through the Ubu lens). March 18-29, 2014. ihousephilly.org.

Pataphysical Arts Night at the Kelly Writers House is “a night of music, poetry, and video that explores the world beyond metaphysics,” including performances by Craig Dworkin, Judith Goldman and DJ Spooky. March 20. http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/.

2 Replies to “‘PATAPHYSICS FESTIVAL: Films, Art, Talks, The Savage God”
  1. Great, informative synopsis. Reading this, I do not know how anybody can resist going to some or all of this program. Mari

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