It is claimed by some that the twentieth century truly began in 1896, with the first production of Alfred Jarry's first and finest play, Ubu Roi. The first word of this play, "Merdre" (a slightly mis-pronounced version of the french word for shit, merde), caused rioting to break out amongst the play's audience. The irreverence, stylistic disunity and hallucinatory imagery of this, and its two sequels, Ubu Enchaine and Ubu Cocu, were to set the tone for the dominant artistic forms of twentieth century Europe, most markedly Dada, Surrealism and Futurism

Jarry became increasingly convinced over the course of his brief literary life, that alcohol functioned as his muse, an essential aid to his creative process. He compared himself to De Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater, in this manner. It was this proclavity that was, perhaps even more so than the content of Jarry's work, inspirational for the early excesses of Breton's surrealists. Jarry believed that hallucination was the purest form of inspiration, and claimed to use alcohol as a device to bring on such visions. Jarry did, in time develop a crippling addiction to alcohol, one that ompoverished and almost certainly killed him. By the time that Jarry's small trust fund no longer stretched far enough to cover his preferred tipple, absinthe, Jarry was reduced to drinking ether (see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for Hunter S Thompson's eloquent description of this rather base vice). Jarry defended his muse consistently up to his death, impoverished, at the age of 34.

Without the inspiration of Alfred Jarry, the twentieth century may well have looked very different. The trickle down effects of that "merdre" may well be seen to include such inescapable cultural phenomenon as Picasso, Salvador Dali, Monty Python, punk... the list could go on.

Not bad for a stumpy, big nosed alcoholic.

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