'Pataphysics or pataphysics (French: pataphysique) is an absurdist, pseudo-scientific literary trope invented by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), that enigmatically resists being pinned down by a simple definition. One attempt at a definition might be to say that ‘pataphysics is a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions. It is a concept expressed by Jarry in a mock-scientific manner with undertones of spoofing and quackery, in his fictional book Exploits & Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician, in which Jarry riddles and toys with conventional concepts and interpretations of reality. Another attempt at a definition interprets ‘pataphysics as an idea that "the virtual or imaginary nature of things as glimpsed by the heightened vision of poetry or science or love can be seized and lived as real." Jarry defines 'pataphysics in a number of statements and examples, including that it is "the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments".
- The Collge de Pataphysique
- Offshoots of the Collge de Pataphysique
- London Institute of Pataphysics
- Muse Patamcanique
- Patafizikos instituto atidarymas Vilniuje
- Pataphysical calendar
- In literature
- In music
- In visual art
- In architecture
A practitioner of 'pataphysics is a pataphysician or a pataphysicist.
There are over one hundred differing definitions of ‘pataphysics. Some examples are shown below."Pataphysics is the science of that which is superinduced upon metaphysics, whether within or beyond the latter’s limitations, extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics. … ‘Pataphysics will be, above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of the general. ‘Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one." "'Pataphysics is patient; 'Pataphysics is benign; 'Pataphysics envies nothing, is never distracted, never puffed up, it has neither aspirations nor seeks not its own, it is even-tempered, and thinks not evil; it mocks not iniquity: it is enraptured with scientific truth; it supports everything, believes everything, has faith in everything and upholds everything that is." as cited in "Pataphysics passes easily from one state of apparent definition to another. Thus it can present itself under the aspect of a gas, a liquid or a solid." as cited in "Pataphysics "the science of the particular", does not, therefore, study the rules governing the general recurrence of a periodic incident (the expected case) so much as study the games governing the special occurrence of a sporadic accident (the excepted case). … Jarry performs humorously on behalf of literature what Nietzsche performs seriously on behalf of philosophy. Both thinkers in effect attempt to dream up a "gay science", whose joie de vivre thrives wherever the tyranny of truth has increased our esteem for the lie and wherever the tyranny of reason has increased our esteem for the mad."
The word 'pataphysics is a contracted formation, derived from the Greek, (τὰ ἐπὶ τὰ μεταφυσικά) (tà epì tà metàphusiká), a phrase or expression meaning "that which is above metaphysics," and is itself a sly variation on the title of Aristotle's Metaphysics, which in Greek is "τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά" (ta meta ta physika).
Jarry mandated the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, 'pataphysique and 'pataphysics, "to avoid a simple pun". The words pataphysician or pataphysicist and the adjective pataphysical should not include the apostrophe. Only when consciously referring to Jarry's science itself should the word 'pataphysics carry the apostrophe. The term pataphysics is a paronym (considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a sly notation, to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns that listeners may hear, or be aware of. These puns include patte à physique ("physics paw"), as interpreted by Jarry scholars Keith Beaumont and Roger Shattuck, pas ta physique ("not your physics"), and pâte à physique ("physics pastry dough").
The term first appeared in print in the text of Alfred Jarry's play Guignol in the 28 April 1893 issue of L'Écho de Paris littéraire illustré, but it has been suggested that the word has its origins in the same school pranks at the lycée in Rennes that led Jarry to write Ubu Roi. Jarry considered Ibicrates and Sophrotatos the Armenian as the fathers of this "science".
The Collège de 'Pataphysique
The Collège de 'Pataphysique, founded in 1948 in Paris, France, is a "society committed to learned and inutilious research". (The word 'inutilious' is synonymous with 'useless'.) The motto of the college is Latin: Eadem mutata resurgo ("I arise again the same though changed").
The permanent head of the college is the Inamovable Curator, Dr. Faustroll, assisted by Bosse-de-Nage (Starosta): both are fictional.
The Vice-Curator is the "first and most senior living entity" in the college's hierarchy. The current Vice-Curatrice is Tanya Peixoto of the London Institute of 'Pataphysics and Bookartbookshop . She was elected in 2014 to succeed Her Magnificence Lutembi - a crocodile.
Jean-Christophe Averty was appointed Satrap in 1990.
Publications of the college, generally called Latin: Viridis Candela ("green candle"), include the Cahiers, Dossiers and the Subsidia Pataphysica.
Notable members have included Noël Arnaud, Jean-Christophe Averty, Luc Étienne, Latis, François Le Lionnais, Jean Lescure, Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, Eugène Ionesco, Jacques Carelman, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, Baron Jean Mollet, Philippe de Chérisey, Irénée Louis Sandomir, Opach, Marcel Duchamp, and Gavin Bryars. The Oulipo began as a subcommittee of the college.
Offshoots of the Collège de 'Pataphysique
Although France had been always the centre of the pataphysical globe, there are followers up in different cities around the world. In 1966 Juan Esteban Fassio was commissioned to draw the map of the Collège de 'Pataphysique and its institutes abroad.
The college stopped its public activities between 1975 and 2000, referred to as its occultation. However through that time, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, The Netherlands, and many other countries showed that the internationalization of ‘pataphysics was irreversible.
In the 1950s, Buenos Aires in the Western Hemisphere and Milan in Europe were the first cities to have pataphysical institutes. London, Edinburgh, Budapest, and Liège, as well as many other European cities, caught up in the sixties.
During the Communist Era, a small group of 'pataphysicists in Czechoslovakia started a journal called PAKO, or Pataphysical Collegium. Alfred Jarry's plays had a lasting impression on the country's underground philosophical scene.
London Institute of 'Pataphysics
The London Institute of 'Pataphysics was established in September 2000 to promote ‘pataphysics in the English-speaking world. The institute has various publications, including a journal, and has six departments: Bureau for the Investigation of Subliminal Images, Committee for Hirsutism and Pogonotrophy, Department of Dogma and Theory, Department of Potassons, Department of Reconstructive Archaeology, and The Office of Patentry.
The Institute also contains a pataphysical museum and archive and organised the Anthony Hancock Paintings and Sculptures exhibition in 2002.
The official orchestra of the London Institute of 'Pataphysics is the London Snorkelling Team.
Musée Patamécanique is a private museum located in Bristol, Rhode Island. Founded in 2006, it is open by appointment only to friends, colleagues, and occasionally to outside observers. The museum is presented as a hybrid between an automaton theater and a cabinet of curiosities and contains works representing the field of Patamechanics, an artistic practice and area of study chiefly inspired by 'Pataphysics.
Examples of exhibits include a troupe of singing animatronic Chipmunks, A Time Machine which the museum claims to be the world’s largest automated Phenakistoscope, an olfactory Clock, a chandelier of singing animatronic nightingales, an Undigestulator (a device that purportedly reconstitutes digested foods), A Peanuts Enlarger, A Syzygistic Oracle, The Earolin (a 24 inch tall holographic ear that plays the violin), and a machine for capturing the dreams of bumble bees.
Patafizikos instituto atidarymas Vilniuje
A ‘Pataphysics Institute opened in Vilnius, Lithuania in May 2013: .
The pataphysical calendar is a variation of the Gregorian calendar. The Collège de 'Pataphysique created the calendar in 1949. The pataphysical era (E.P.) started on 8 September 1873 (Jarry's birthday). When converting pataphysical dates to Gregorian dates, the appendage (vulg.) for vulgate is added.
The week starts on a Sunday. Every 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd is a Sunday and every 13th day of a month falls on a Friday (see Friday the 13th). Each day is assigned a specific name or saint. For example, the 27 Haha (1 November vulg.) is called French: Occultation d'Alfred Jarry or the 14 Sable (14 December vulg.) is the day of French: Don Quichote, champion du monde.
The year has a total of 13 months each with 29 days. The 29th day of each month is imaginary with two exceptions:
The table below shows the names and order of months in a pataphysical year with their corresponding Gregorian dates and approximate translations or meanings by Hugill.
See also Bob Richmond's comments on the calendar and the French Wikipedia article.
In the 1960s 'pataphysics was used as a conceptual principle within various fine art forms, especially pop art and popular culture. Works within the pataphysical tradition tend to focus on the processes of their creation, and elements of chance or arbitrary choices are frequently key in those processes. Select pieces from the artist Marcel Duchamp and the composer John Cage characterize this. At around this time, Asger Jorn, a pataphysician and member of the Situationist International, referred to 'pataphysics as a new religion.
In visual art
The pataphor (Spanish: patáfora, French: pataphore), is a term coined by writer and musician Pablo Lopez, for an unusually extended metaphor based on Alfred Jarry's "science" of 'pataphysics.
As Jarry claimed that ‘pataphysics existed "as far from metaphysics as metaphysics extends from regular reality", a pataphor attempts to create a figure of speech that exists as far from metaphor as metaphor exists from non-figurative language. Whereas a metaphor is the comparison of a real object or event with a seemingly unrelated subject in order to emphasize the similarities between the two, the pataphor uses the newly created metaphorical similarity as a reality on which to base itself. In going beyond mere ornamentation of the original idea, the pataphor seeks to describe a new and separate world, in which an idea or aspect has taken on a life of its own.
Like ‘pataphysics itself, pataphors essentially describe two degrees of separation from reality (rather than merely one degree of separation, which is the world of metaphors and metaphysics). The pataphor may also be said to function as a critical tool, describing the world of "assumptions based on assumptions", such as belief systems or rhetoric run amok. The following is an example.
"Non-figurative:Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line.
MetaphorTom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line; two pieces positioned on a chessboard.
PataphorTom took a step closer to Alice and made a date for Friday night, checkmating. Rudy was furious at losing to Margaret so easily and dumped the board on the rose-colored quilt, stomping downstairs."
Thus, the pataphor has created a world where the chessboard exists, including the characters who live in that world, entirely abandoning the original context.
The pataphor has been subject to commercial interpretations, usage in speculative computer applications, applied to highly imaginative problem solving methods and even politics on the international level or theatre The Firesign Theatre (a comedy troupe whose jokes often rely on pataphors). There is a band called Pataphor and an interactive fiction in the Interactive Fiction Database called "PataNoir," based on pataphors. Pataphor is used by the Writer's Program at the University of North Florida. and has appeared in works affiliated with the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University.
Pataphors have been the subject of art exhibits, as in Tara Strickstein's 2010 "Pataphor" exhibit at Next Art Fair/Art Chicago, other artworks, and architectural works. Pataphors have also been used in literary criticism, and mentioned in Art in America.
There is also a book of pataphorical art called Pataphor by Dutch artist Hidde van Schie.
It is worth noting that a pataphor is not the traditional metaphorical conceit but rather a set of metaphors built upon an initial metaphor, obscuring its own origin rather than reiterating the same analogy in myriad ways.
In The Disappearance of Literature: Blanchot, Agamben, and the Writers of the No, Aaron Hillyer writes: "While metaphysics and metaphors attain one degree of separation from reality, pataphors and pataphysics move beyond by two degrees. This allows an idea to assume its own life, a sort of plasticity freed from the harness of rigid representation. Metaphors, in other words, operate on the level of the same; they juxtapose apparently unrelated material in order to draw out subtle identities. Pataphors unsettle this mechanism; they use the facade of metaphorical similarity as a basis for establishing an entirely new range of references and outlandish articulations: a new world in the midst of the old, the novel taking to the streets. Just as Kafka sought to forge a new form of life on the basis of absolute separation from historical progress, on cultural "intransmissibility," and just as Blanchot pursued the "pure novel" that exists in a relationship of absolute refusal of the established world, so the pataphysician seeks to initiate a new world on the grounds of a tenuous unreality."