The novel, Jarry's last, revolves around a race between a train and a team of cyclists fuelled by perpetual-motion food and the exploits of a "supermale" capable of prodigious feats of endurance and sexual athleticism. Supermale was translated into English by Barbara Wright in A large part of the novel takes place on Andre Marcueil's estate, Chateau de Lurance. It is set in the s, the near future when it was written.
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May 8, by caindevera. I read The Supermale in a language I was still shaky in at the time, despite ten years of immersion. So I read it again this year, in English, and then passed it off to my girlfriend. It was a disquieting reminder both of the failures of memory and the difficulties of translation, even if the translation is occurring instantaneously, almost subliminally, in my head. The action takes places in only a few scenes, a diner, a short conversation, a transcontinental bicycle race, a stupendously long and ultimately fatal display of sexual prowess the likes of which Ron Jeremy, I am certain, would be envious.
I had forgotten the sheer lewdness and bawdiness of the book, including its climax, all puns intended, what with the marathon sex scene, 82 goes and all. Most disappointing for me, and yet pleasant in re-acquaintance, was the sheer poetry of the thing: an exuberance of langauge and stunning metaphors at least to me, perhaps they seem overblown in an age that has read Hemingway and Updike and all that, but still, exuberant is the best possible word and world , such as this:.
It seemed like a lewd and fabulous god carrying off the girl. But with a sort of crown, she turned the head of the docile monster, wherever she willed, to left and to right.
The dragons of legend are all crowned. The metallic beast, like a huge beetle, fluttered its wing-sheaths, scratched the ground, trembled, agitated its feelers, and departed. Ellen, in her pale green dress, seemed like a tiny alga clinging to a gigantic coral trunk being carried away by a rushing torrent. Both inhabit abysses of night and hazy red, in the midst of streams — our blood — which bear globules spaced apart like planets.
They penetrate and govern worlds with their glance. They are perfect goddesses. For them, no physical laws obtain — they disobey the law of gravitation.
To the universal attraction of the scientists they oppose affinities proper unto themselves. Nothing exists for them but what they wish. In other, equally formidable, chasms they are there, the millions of Gods whom reside the Power, and who created Adam on the first day. Likewise, the opening of the book, a dinner conversation led by Andre Marceuil, a balding bourgeois nobody again the Ron Jeremy image emerges leading his dignified, proper scientific and military friends in conversation, is brilliant: their language is dignified and reserved, in that middle class intellectual fashion, subtle and intelligent and very learned, making the most of a reverence to a complex of Greek philosophers, geographers and historians much more obscure then I could have imagined…and yet the conversation turns around how many times and how long a man can have sex.
The trans-continental bicycle race, dreamy and eerie, is the high-point of the novel, with roses blooming on the high speed locomotive and the dead pedaling tandem across Russia.
Bound by rods to their machines, the crew of the five man bicycle hurtle race against an express train. The riders, paced by jet cars and flying machines, reach speeds of kilometres an hour thanks to their diet of Perpetual Motion Food, a volatile mixture of alcohol and strychnine. It is against them that Marceuil pits himself, shadowing them in such a way that the bicylists blame his appearance on hallucinations.
Jarry was a genius. And not just in his references, his poetics or his imagery. The Supermale practically invented the superman or superhuman as we understand it, not as a product of scientific tinkering or magic serums, though certainly Jarry, in the constant references to the mystical Indian, is consciously evoking that fantastic past, but as a product of human evolution.
More importantly, as Lundwall argues, Jarry captures, despite the bawdiness and absurdity, the grim and melancholy aloneness of Andre Marceuil, of a superman, a theme that has become stock in American, European and Japanese treatments of superhumans. The moment of greatest pathos comes at the end of The Supermale , when Marceuil realizes that his heart, formally unmoved by his own murder of a young woman in the act of coitus, and by any other human suffering, and even unimpressed by his own accomplishment, realizes he has actually fallen in love, a necessary step for the outlandish and deeply sad ending.
He is strangled, in one of the most famous scenes, or so I say, in science fiction, by a machine, designed to give him love, but so overwhelmed by Marceuil that it falls in love with him. But The Supermale is also satire on supermen, as they had become something of a philosophical vogue at the time, not just Nietzsche obviously and obvious in this book but George Bernard Shaw and H.
Wells, making Jarry an unwitting and probably unwanted fellow traveller with G. The mixture of organic and mechanical is pervasive throughout the book; the tandem bicylers racing across Siberia are described as being one with their machine, and Marceuil himself opens the novel with the famous quote reproduced below, that is, human reproduction is no stranger or harder then a simple piston, pumping mechanically with no care for why it should care about the cylinder.
Posted in Literature 5 Comments. Your blog, on the other hand, is a bloody treasure. Brilliant stuff, especially that Paul Eluard and Benjamin Peret pamphlet. Noxious swimming haliburtons executioners, chap. Thanks for the kind words. I think I agree that Jarry is a genius — it sucks that he was so self-destructive. Poor guy! I thought Jarry looked like Ron, too.
Ron was HAWT back in the day, btw, huh. Comments RSS. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Home About.
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Simon on Stanislaw Lem…or Steven….
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Alfred Jarry – The Supermale