Trubu Redux

Recognizing Trump as pure Père Ubu, this blog in 2016 featured some posts imagining a new American version of Jarry’s great play whose main character is Trubu. Trump’s Grand Victory silenced UD‘s parodic energy, but the powerful reemergence – under impeachment pressure – of the man’s ubuesque character has me, if not penning an additional scene or two of Trubu Roi, at least turning to one of Ubu’s greatest perceivers, Roger Shattuck.

(A comment of Timothy Snyder’s on the Rachel Maddow Show had me thinking Trubu thoughts again; he described Trump’s “scorn for the idea of law… [For him,] there isn’t really law. It’s just a joke.” Instantly I pictured vile, hilarious, obscene Ubu rolling around the stage slashing and burning because everything except his power over other people is a joke.)

Shattuck:

[Ubu is] the representative of primitive earthy conduct, unrelieved by any insight into his own monstrosity, uncontrollable as an elephant on the rampage… [M]ankind in the shape of Ubu dredges the depths of its nature…


Can we really laugh at Ubu, at his character?  It is doubtful, for he lacks the necessary vulnerability,  the vestiges of original sin.  Not without dread, we mock, rather, his childish innocence and primitive soul and cannot harm him.  He remains a threat because he can destroy at will, and the political horrors of the twentieth century make the lesson disturbingly real… Jarry’s humor [in the play] may be regarded as a psychological refusal to repress distasteful images.  He laughed and invited us to laugh at Ubu’s most monstrous behavior, not because we are immune – we are, in fact, deathly afraid of the ‘truth’ of Ubu  – but because it is a means of domesticating fear and pain… [Humor] demands that we reckon with the realities of human nature and the world without falling into grimness and despair.

In other words:

Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

But what if tens of millions of people want precisely this?

I mean, they do, don’t they? They voted for it. They will vote for it.

Donald Trump has been the worst president this country has ever had. And I don’t say that hyperbolically. He is. But he is a consequential president. And he has brought this country in three short years to a place of weakness that is simply unimaginable if you were pondering where we are today from the day where Barack Obama left office. And there were a lot of us on that day who were deeply skeptical and very worried about what a Trump presidency would be. But this is a moment of unparalleled national humiliation, of weakness.

When you listen to the President, these are the musings of an imbecile. An idiot. And I don’t use those words to name call. I use them because they are the precise words of the English language to describe his behavior. His comportment. His actions. We’ve never seen a level of incompetence, a level of ineptitude so staggering on a daily basis by anybody in the history of the country who [has] ever been charged with substantial responsibilities.

It’s just astonishing that this man is president of the United States. The man, the con man, from New York City. Many bankruptcies, failed businesses, a reality show, that branded him as something that he never was. A successful businessman. Well, he’s the President of the United States now, and the man who said he would make the country great again. And he’s brought death, suffering, and economic collapse on truly an epic scale. And let’s be clear. This isn’t happening in every country around the world. This place. Our place. Our home. Our country. The United States. We are the epicenter. We are the place where you’re the most likely to die from this disease. We’re the ones with the most shattered economy. And we are because of the fool that sits in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk.

******************

Why do people want barbarians? Read Cavafy’s Waiting for the Barbarians.

… night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

This man is a solution. Like all primitive ideologues he shushes our anxiety about enlightenment and tucks us in to the dark. Around him, in our new America, range viciously authoritarian Harvard law professors and whorishly indifferent attorneys general – a whole pack of barbarians at the very highest levels to take us where we want to go. These people are a kind of solution.

**************

Recall Roger Shattuck’s words about Trump’s dada, Ubu the king.

[Ubu is] the representative of primitive earthy conduct, unrelieved by any insight into his own monstrosity, uncontrollable as an elephant on the rampage… [M]ankind in the shape of Ubu dredges the depths of its nature…


Can we really laugh at Ubu, at his character?  It is doubtful, for he lacks the necessary vulnerability,  the vestiges of original sin.  Not without dread, we mock, rather, his childish innocence and primitive soul and cannot harm him.  He remains a threat because he can destroy at will, and the political horrors of the twentieth century make the lesson disturbingly real… [Alfred] Jarry’s humor [in the play] may be regarded as a psychological refusal to repress distasteful images.  He laughed and invited us to laugh at Ubu’s most monstrous behavior, not because we are immune – we are, in fact, deathly afraid of the ‘truth’ of Ubu  – but because it is a means of domesticating fear and pain… [Humor] demands that we reckon with the realities of human nature and the world without falling into grimness and despair.

The sleep of reason produces monsters, doncha know. Donald Trump is the specifically American monster that happened while we were sleeping.

UD is related, by thirty years of friendship with his parents…

… to Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the Academy Award nominated documentary, The Act of Killing. (You know how your friends say My kid makes films. and you nod vaguely and move on to something else? UD isn’t going to do that anymore.)

Les UDs will probably not watch the awards show tonight, even though they’d maybe get glimpses of their friends the Oppenheimers in the audience. Both UDs are too distracted to watch (UD‘s under a deadline: A press approached her about publishing something UD‘s got cooking – The Electronic Burqa: Women, the Internet, and the Public Realm – and she promised a sample chapter by tomorrow morning; Mr UD is riveted to the news out of Ukraine), but UD will follow events online.

The jolting – perhaps ultimately morally awakening – surreality of Josh’s film (in which mass murderers gleefully, meticulously, theatrically, re-enact their killings) was the perfect backdrop for UD‘s discussion, in her Modernism class last week, of Dada and surreality. The blithe amusing infantile conscienceless bestiality on view in Josh’s film has its aesthetic origins, for UD at least, in Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic farce Ubu Roi (1896).

“We are all Ubu,” writes Roger Shattuck, “still blissfully ignorant of our destructiveness and systematically practicing the soul-devouring ‘reversal’ of flushing our conscience down the john. Ubu, unruffled king of tyrants and cuckolds, is more terrifying than tragedy.”

The shock, hilarity, and unsettledness that violent surrealistic art can sometimes provoke does seem to have its political purposes (Josh’s film has apparently provoked a national conversation in Indonesia.)

Ubu Roi was the basis for Jan Lenica’s animated film Ubu et la grande gidouille (1976) and was later adapted into Jane Taylor’s “Ubu and the Truth Commission” (1998), a play critical of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in response to the atrocities committed during Apartheid. Ubu Roi was also adapted for the film Ubu Król 2003 by Piotr Szulkin, highlighting the grotesque nature of political life in Poland immediately after the fall of communism.

Inspired by the black comedy of corruption within Ubu Roi, the Puerto Rican absurdist narrative “United States of Banana” by Giannina Braschi, dramatizes, with over-the-top grotesque flourishes … the fall of the American Empire and the liberation of Puerto Rico.







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