The pleasures of the ’Pataphysical novel: The Supermale

In a previous post, I considered what makes fiction a page-turner and how a page-turner often is richer in plot than language.  But there is another factor I want to mention: the value of a novel creating its own system of reality.  In other words, its own metaphysics.  In still more other words, perhaps its own ’pataphysics.

The two ’pataphysical novels I have read so far, The Supermale and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician, both by Alfred Jarry, do have a plot propelling them forward—The Supermale moreso than Dr Faustroll.  In The Supermale, Andre Marcueil sets out to prove and defend his statement that “The act of love is of no importance, since it can be performed indefinitely.”  While this novel does not overtly discuss ’pataphysics as Dr Faustroll does, this is a world in which theorems become reality.  This is also a world that mocks its own scenarios, indulging in stereotype to the point of satire.  Consider the tone of the narrator in this passage:

A “chilled silence” fell, and someone was about to change the subject when Marcueil continued:

“I am quite serious, gentlemen.”

“I thought,” minced the no longer youthful Pusice-Euprepie de Saint-Jurieu, “that love was a sentiment.”

“Perhaps so, madam,” replied Marcueil.  “All we need is to agree on…what we mean by…a sentiment.”

“It is an impression upon the soul,” the cardinal hastened to say.

“I read something of the sort in my youth, in the spiritual philosophers,” added the senator.

(I love how the quotations around “chilled silence” undermine its content, etc.!)  And:

“Human capabilities have no limits, madam,” asserted Andre Marcueil calmly.

All the smiles had vanished, despite this new opportunity the orator was affording for them.  Such a theorem revealed that Marcueil was driving at something.  But what?  Everything about his appearance proclaimed that he was less capable than anyone of launching himself upon the perilous path of personal example.

Regarding Andre’s youth, being fitted for trousers:

And what was more, the tailor also considered that the suit he made him didn’t fit very well.  Something, below the belt, was making an unsightly bulge.


“On the right,” the tailor was saying mysteriously, like someone trying not to alarm a sick person.  He no doubt thought that Andre’s heart was on the right side.

But how could the heart be below the belt, even in a grownup?

The similes and metaphors throughout the novel are rich/reflect a sort of process (“someone trying not to alarm a sick person” brings in another scenario of action; the metaphor does not focus on a noun or verb, but a whole other context/occurrence).

At another point, late at night at the zoo:

The dynameter’s slot glistened vertically.

“It’s a female,” said Marcueil gravely, “…but a very strong one.”

The coin went in with a click; it was as if the massive machine were cunningly putting itself on guard.

Andre Marcueil seized the sort of iron armchair by both its arms and, with no apparent effort, pulled:

“Come, madam,” he said.

I hope by now you get the idea that The Supermale is cleverly hilarious.  In addition to the plot, this humor and description propelled me through the book.  But it is beyond mere comedy; the metaphors become ’pataphors.  ’Pataphysics knowingly uses the ridiculous, and the fantastic becomes a type of knowledge.  I recommend you see/read for yourself.

Have you read The Supermale?  If so, what did you think of it?