Inspiration: Soap Bubbles

Soap Bubbles and the Forces Which Mould Them by C.V. Boys first published in 1896 caused quit a stir. In fact, its ripples of influence spread to writers and artists far and wide and helped tip the scales of the rational toward the absurdist. Amen.

Pears’ Soap ad with Bubbles painting by Sir John Everett Millais
(one of C.V. Boys’ fav’s (the painting not the ad)

The book was developed from a series of lectures for children:

I do not suppose there is anyone in this room who has not occasionally blown a common soap bubble, and while admiring the perfection of its form and the marvelous brilliancy of its colours, wondered how it is that such a magnificent object can be so easily produced.

Joseph Cornell Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) 1936

Among those imaginations tickled by Boys’ bubbles was Joseph Cornell’s who read Soap Bubbles as a boy…

But the bigger splash was made by Alfred Jarry (8 September 1873 – 1 November 1907) who ran or more appropriately cycled with his Soap Bubbles inspiration to found a new pseudoscience – ‘Pataphysics.

‘Pataphysics according to Jarry “will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one; or, less ambitiously, will describe a universe which can be—and perhaps should be—envisaged in the place of the traditional one.”  Best known for his teenage prank play Ubu Roi (1896), Jarry introduced us to ‘Pataphysics through his work The Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, pataphysician published posthumously in 1911 wherein he incorporates parts of C.V. Boys’ Soap Bubbles treatise.

Simplicity does not need to be simple. Instead it should be forged of complexity that has been compressed and synthesized. —Alfred Jarry

Jarry was a tiny man, under 5′ and lived in Paris in an apartment that was made by splitting one apartment in half horizontally leaving Jarry’s half with 5′ ceilings. He was enamored with and wore pistols, bicycled everywhere (he called his bicycle “that which rolls”), consumed copious amounts of drugs and was ‘perpetually intoxicated’ referring to absinthe as the “green goddess”.

It is one of the great joys of home ownership to fire a pistol in one’s own bedroom — Alfred Jarry

Jarry also illustrated many of his works with woodblock prints which rank among my favorites. Back in my book buying days I unexpectedly ran into one of Jarry’s better known prints from (1894) for sale as a single print – the book had been water damaged so the owner sold off the prints. Through tragedy comes good fortune…

In ‘pataphysics, every event in the universe is accepted as an extraordinary event. Alfred Jarry

You can say, many have and I would agree, that Jarry was one of the important forefathers of the Dada and Surrealist movements as well as Artaud’s Theater of the Absurd. His influence trickles farther down (up?) to more recent times.

The work of art is a stuffed crocodile. — Alfred Jarry

Among Jarry’s fans were Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud and his Theater of the Absurd, Paul McCartney who references pataphysics in “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (Joan was quizzical; Studied pataphysical /Science in the home) to the International Space Station – “We have a copy of C. V. Boys’ book Soap Bubbles here on the ISS. It was published in 1911 and it’s still a wonderful treatise on thin films. Every space station should have a copy”. And last but not last Picasso…

Jarry by Picasso

After Jarry’s death, Picasso bought many of Jarry’s unpublished manuscripts and his pistol which he wore during his late night strolls around Paris. Picasso would on occasion load his Browning revolver with blanks and fire at patrons asking about the meaning of his work.

Do you think Picasso owned a Browning Astra 300? I like to think so.

Blind and unwavering undisciplined at all times constitutes the real strength of all free men. Alfred Jarry

Jarry also wrote The Crucifixion As An Uphill Bicycle Race which is worth the short read. J.G. Ballard was also a fan and he wrote The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy As A Downhill Motor Race.

Dawn was breaking, like the light from another world. — Alfred Jarry (The Supermale)

The original College of Pataphysics founded in 1948 in Paris is going strong once again after 25 years of “occultation” and you can even become a member of the Institute of Pataphysics located in Great Britain.

Soap Bubbles, Jean Siméon Chardin (1734)

But I think today or tomorrow or yesterday is the perfect day to go outside, blow some bubbles and wonder.