In my novel (in progress), Housebreaking the Muse, a reformed, erudite, and chatty Père Ubu plays a central role and handles the lion’s share of the narrative. The following excerpt is from the second chapter, in which Ubu introduces himself and explains his role. The entire chapter appears in the 2009 issue of Stolen Island Review under the title “Ubu Explains Himself.”
Blowhard no more, I repose in the dimension of grade-B deities, biding my time and educating myself in the ways of the multiverse. Born of the written word, I suppose it’s no surprise I’ve become a bit bookish. I even traded in my shabby costume, which was not entirely unlike that that of the Klan’s Grand Wizard, for a rather more stylish getup. These days, I consider myself resplendent in purple academic regalia complete with mortar board and gold tassel. Though I claim no sheepskin, I have graduated. But my quest for knowledge and understanding, which continues to this day, was not the end of my transformation. I’ve lost weight, cleaned myself up, cultivated a taste for El Rey del Mundo Gran Coronas and Courvoisier VSOP, devoured self-help manuals whole. My nose I no longer pick. My nails I no longer chew. I brush my teeth. I eat my greens. I vibrate sympathetically and lever the power of the seven Planck-Scale dimensions. Alfie—you may know him as Monsieur Alfred Jarry—would hardly recognize me, mannered and erudite as I’ve become. I suppose you could say I’ve potty trained my character. Only now and then does the lout bubble up, but only in the most innocent ways. Fear not, citizens of Poland: the worst you’ll get from me now is a scatological wisecrack or the Tourettes-like tics and barks I’ve always suffered but which seem to have worsened as my education has progressed. Inveterate note taker and cataloguist, I eschew the intellectual dungeon that produces the monks you catch lurking in twilight quadrangles or shamelessly playing the role of “expert” on boob-tube gab programs. Rather, I’ve taken full advantage of my godlike status to dip into the frothy moraine of human experience. One must temper erudition with the lessons of a life taken in full stride. One needs a bit of what the hip hoppers call “street cred.” No small feat for deities—even cut-rate ones—always and ever at a necessary remove. Still, I feel compelled to try. I carry, after all, intern status. Time being no object, I drop in on eras and epochs at will, sampling the ugly, the bad, and the good; I even watched the Leone spaghetti western to see how it compares to my notes. By my reckoning, and I should know, the Good’s candle throws precious little light in the Theatre of the Bad—the mousy sweetness of one Topo Gigot held up against the aggregated malevolence of, say, a one-thousand-plane aerial bombardment. Perhaps I’ve seen too much of the world. And, so, the tics, the profane burps of conscience.
One thing you should know is this: we’re all here, all of us so-called characters, major and minor, assuming our stations in the hierarchy of literature’s pantheon, ever rising and falling at the whim of the flesh-and-bloods who still read and write and discuss literature. We’re not unlike the English football league pyramid, in which teams are promoted and relegated among a series of organizations ranging from the lowly Bristol Downs Football League, in which teams like Sneyd Park and Clifton Rockets Reserves scuffle, to the mighty Premiership, in which titans like Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool vie for supremacy. Unlike the footballers, we have no say in our promotion and relegation. It matters not how well we play. As I said, it’s all up to the flesh-and-bloods. But at the moment, I would generously put myself somewhere below the middle of the pack–say, in the Middlesex County Football Association, which is why I like to refer to myself as the Staines Town Swans of dramatis personae, a proper name I prefer to the team’s nicks: “Wheatsheafers,” “Linos,” and “Massive.” (Look it up.) Of course, this places me several levels below Monsieur Proust’s Swann, though one never knows how the fickle wind of the ever-diminishing literati will blow. Today’s limousine Hottentots may be but one skillfully orchestrated political correctness campaign away from near obscurity. But I’m glad of the company I presently keep, having recently enjoyed some compelling–if disturbing–conversations with Thomas Bernhard’s Konrad on the subject of the sense of hearing. Here, too, I run into the likes of Paul West’s Stauffenburg, beset by harangues not only from the flesh-and-blood version’s spirit, lugubrious and far too enamored with the anodyne-if-Prussian dignity of the rendering, but also the pixilated and distorted third-generation version wafting in the brain farts of J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello (she herself in constant flux between The Football League and The Premiership, Father Time the only mediator in her inevitable descent to MCFA status wherein she might play Boreham Wood to my Swans). Of course, I frequently rendezvous with my “brother” of sorts, Dr. Faustroll, he and I both offspring of Alfie’s nut. I serve as diversion from the all-consuming obsession he indulges for arcane experiments and dense pataphysical research papers detailing his astonishing results. As a side project, he’s working up an eleven-dimensional chess board requiring players to engage each other from multiple and overlapping universes. The mind reels. And, natch, we’re all on the lookout for the narrator of Robbe-Grillet’s Jalousie, a shadowy figure without name whom none of us has glimpsed but who, from parts unknown, instills in us the paranoia of the surveillance state. I’ve also bumped into a certain Lord Patchogue who owns the curious distinction of being both a character and an alias. His cuff links, curiously, bear the monogram “JR.” To fill the slack time, those of us down at MCFA level–and really, that’s where the cream settles–tune into the doings of the Premiership to find out who’s cock of the walk this hour. It’s a rollicking show rife with chills and spills and tumbling the likes of which the traveling Chinese acrobatic troupes never dreamed. All of this is but a snapshot of the bumptious corner of the multiverse I inhabit.
Largely ignored, I cheer myself with the notion that one day the words “Notre Père” might come to mean something quite different to the flesh-and-bloods. It seems a long shot, but I have no trouble imagining a day when, bored and rummaging in the sock drawer of dogma, the New Age Moonie Hare Krishnas swap one iconoclastic belief system for another and choose me, an argyle among the rayon blacks and white polyester tubes, as the object of their worship. Pourquois pas? The Dadas did, in their way. They smelled what I was stepping in, what Alfie was getting at, through me. They had what has become rare: a sensibility finely tuned to the satiric, the ironic, the absurd. But theirs was a short-lived operation. I had no sooner ascended their throne than was swept away to make room for something new.
Things have changed since then. Certainly, the world has become flush with Ubu wannabes, crazier now than I ever was—full-blown bat-shit crazy. And they want neither for followers nor admirers. The roster is familiar enough to render a role call unnecessary: you know who they are (see also, Dictators, Monstrous). I suppose part of me should be flattered by the imitation. The larger part of me, however, is embarrassed that I could once have been such a model of infamy. Not that I knew any better, puppet as I was to Alfie’s vision. Still, even then, I knew my reckless and cowardly acts of violence were the stuff of parody and satire. Today, well, what can you say about a civilization that, in too many instances, holds up an Ubu Roi as its ideal? Or, if not ideal, at least a condition it can put up with? What can you say about the brutality? the mass graves? All of which is to say the penny ante Ubus you find these days, while superficially Ubuesque, are no imitators at all. They’ve taken the most absurd targets of Alfie’s invective, that bellicose me of a former incarnation, and turned them into a program.