In the late nineteenth century Alfred Jarry created a prototype of the modern wannabe in his pot-bellied Père Ubu, a figure that raises entitlement to a high art. Ubu doesn’t want to be king; others urge him to it. But he is also the others. And when he does become king, CEO, or US president, he doesn’t know what it means, or if it means anything at all. He just states his claim. And so he shimmies from statement to power. And having obtained power, Ubu decerebrates the world, exposing the grounds for groundlessness, to paraphrase Ortega y Gasset. Ubu is a tautomaniac, that is, he can be explained in his own terms and is thus always in the right (being in the right is all he is). He needs no proof, but on the contrary wants “to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought” (Deleuze & Guattari). This impulse fuels the autopoiesis of a power that no longer needs to decide between the sign and what it designates. Its paradise is literal. When resistance stirs against Ubu’s law of value, he whines under the table, blows his brains out, or flees to his private island. As much as he gives himself airs, Ubu is still just a windbag. And even though his character is based on Jarry’s old schoolmaster, on stage the figure mutates into the typical “new man,” whose self-referentiality is reflected in the l’art pour l’art of the avant-gardes, who celebrate the tautomaniac as a savior, “licking the twilight and floating in the huge mouth filled with honey and excrement” (Tristan Tzara). In Jarry’s line of succession the Dadaists call for the “installation of the idiot,” that is, the dialectic of wisdom and stupidity, which is supposed to result in an “active simplicity.” Related ideas can be found in the Zenitists’ concept of the barbarogenius. Even in clean clandestine crystalline sublime futurism-suprematism Ubu’s “pshit” pops to the surface: after the discovery of an overpainted inscription on the Black Square (1915), researchers recently established that Kasimir Malevič’s modern icon apparently traces back to Alphonse Allais’s racist caricature Combat des Nègres dans une cave, pendant la nuit, from 1897, which in turn goes back to a painting by Paul Bilhaud. A running gag. Allais’s picture shows a black square. Malevich paraphrases its blackness as “sense of abstraction.” This will have come as no surprise to anyone...
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