No, I don’t mean Übermensch, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “superman,” I mean Ubu, the eponymous star of “Ubu Roi.” the French playwright Alfred Jarry’s absurdist farce. I think of these fictional personages, dreamt up over a century ago, as two side of the same coin. Let me explain.
First Nietzsche’s term Übermensch. Über means superior—or excessive—and mensch means person. I think he used the term to describe a person who knew what he or she wanted and could get it without help from anyone or thing, human or deity. This “superman” is an “ethical” egoist, better than mere mortals, and is unfettered by their judgments—beyond good and evil.
“And just so shall a man be to the Übermensch: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.”
Then there is Jarry’s Ubu. Pere Ubu was created about the same time as Das Übermensch. He is the main character in Jarry’s play “Ubu Roi.” Ubu is not a superman, someone to be exalted or emulated, but a vulgar, pretentious, dishonest, greedy and vindictive narcissist. William Butler Yeats was at the disastrous premiere about which he said, “…what more is possible? After us the Savage God.”
“Blind and unwavering undisciplined at all times constitutes the real strength of all free men.”
Regardless of their different back stories, Das Übermensch and Pere Ubu play the same narcissistic egoist roles. Both are free from third-party moral restraints—Nietzsche’s god is dead and society irrelevant to Jarry. Sad that these days that our leaders, those who lead the leaders as well as those who want to be leaders and leaders of leaders via money and talk, see themselves as Übermenschen. But observed objectively they are really Pere Ubus, toddlers in designer suits wielding weapons of mass destruction. “Merdre.”
So let’s go back to the picture and look at “Liberty Leaving the People” in Emma Lazarus’ “air-bridged harbor.” It’s not an Übermensch but an “Ubu-mensch” that Miss Liberty, always a sucker for “conquering limbs astride from land to land,” is leaving the “tired, poor, huddled [and now disillusioned] masses” for. She’s dropped her lamp—and gown—and is wading off to that ünmenschlich “brazen giant” and his “golden door.”