Excerpts from ‘Pataphysics, The Poetics of An Imaginary Science - by Christian Bök.
‘Pataphysics represents a supplement to metaphysics, accenting it, then replacing it, in order to create a philosophic alternative to rationalism. What is so often performed today, Jarry once predicted: the disappearance of scientificity itself when reason is pushed to its own logical extreme. Such a ‘pataphysical qualification of rational validity is symptomatic of a postmodern transition in science from absolutism to relativism.
Pataphysics is speculative, waiting for its chance to happen, as if by accident, in a theme park of scientific conception.
The capricious philosophy of pataphysics is itself an oneiric science aware of its own status as a dream.
Each sentence herein develops a chiastic symmetry as balanced as the contrast in physics between meta and pata.
Truth is the best ornament because it has the least ornament—which is to say that science is the best poetry because it has the least poetry.
While science ascends to a state of greater complexity, becoming more abstract, theoretic, and autocratic, poetry descends through science to a state of greater simplicity, becoming more concrete, pragmatic, and democratic.
Nietzsche reveals that “the problems of science cannot be recognized on the ground of science” since to do so requires then that science be used to prove that it cannot be used to prove. Nietzsche thus evokes the now classic paradox that has come to define deconstructive ratiocination, making claim that science cannot admit: that the absurdity of tautology is a condition of knowledge. As Daumal avers, “pataphysical arguments do not necessarily setup systems designed to demonstrate the truth of this or that proposition;” instead, “they generally develop as vicious circles and bring the human spirit to a limit-state of stupor & scandal.”
Derrida, for example, does not simply oppose a thesis with its antithesis, nor does he even equate them to a third term of synthesis—nor does Derrida simply invert this system of value between thesis & antithesis but both affirms & denies both sides of this dialectic, revealing the undecidable contradiction that always appears to make such a relation both possible & impossible at the same time: “the break with this structure of belonging can be announced only through…a certain strategic arrangement which, within the field of metaphysical opposition, uses the strengths of the field to turn its own stratagems against it, producing a force of dislocation that spreads itself throughout an entire system, fissuring it in every direction & thoroughly delimiting it.”
Jarry, Nietzsche, & Derrida do not defend the truth of their own sophism so much as flout the truisms of truth itself—its self-evidence, its self-awareness. Daumal even observes that “whatever is self-evident cloaks itself in absurdity as its only means of perceptibility”—or as Torma observes: “put metaphysics behind pataphysics and you make it merely the facade for a belief” when in fact “the essence of pataphysics is that it is the facade of a facade, behind which there is nothing“—only the black abyss of total doubt.
“Ethernity” expresses a reality built out of thought alone—a realm whose fantastic substance, “ether,” refers not only to the hypothetical medium that can transport light in a vacuum (Kelvin) but also for the anesthetic vapor that can transform sight in an addict. Whether scientific or mythopoeic, both kinds of ether provide an imaginary solution to the problem of illumination. Even light itself must express the ontological expediency of an imagined paradigm. Just as quantum physics has shown that measuring a perception converts a potential into an existence by collapsing a wave function, realizing reality rather than reporting it, so also does ‘pataphysics reveal that “the function of navigators was to make land”—not to find it.
Ethernity is simply the milieu for all such imaginary perception, be it a scientific model or a novel literature.
Daumal writes that “pataphysical laughter…is the one human expression of the identity of opposites.” Bosse-de-Nage (the hydrocephalus ape in Jarry’s Dr. Faustroll), the laughing subhuman, is a voice for such a syzygy. His “tautological monosyllable,” ha ha, is a laugh track for the sophistry of différance, the limit between differing & deferring: “the two A’s differ in space, when we write them, in not indeed in time, just as two twins are never born together.” Not simply “A juxtaposed to A,” but “A = A,” the syzygy of such a guffaw is paradoxically both different & equivalent: “pronounced slowly, it is the idea of duality,” but pronounced quickly, it is the idea of unity.”
Bosse-de-Nage responds to the absurdity of ambiguity, dramatizing the syzygia of physics in a universe of undecidable uncertainty. Quantum theories of symmetricality & reversibility almost seem to suggest that such a reality tests our mundane wits with its quantum puns. Each photon might be a point or a field. Each electron traveling forward through time might also be a positron traveling backward through time. Does not Faustroll propose a theory of gravity in which “the fall of a body toward a center” is the same as “the ascension of a vacuum towards a periphery”? Does not Sengle suggest that an infinitely smooth surface is indistinguishable from an infinite rough surface? Syzygy simply ensures that such ambiguity is preserved in a world where we can no longer distinguish between reality & illusion.
Pataphysics implies that all problems threaten to operate at the infinite disposal of a futile inquest.
Baudrillard goes so far as to suggest that the object (with its fatal strategies of fascination) may pose a problem without solution for the subject (& its banal strategies of explanation) since attempts by science to render reality more explicable & controllable always threaten to render reality even more inexplicable & uncontrollable. The subject tries to solve the object, but meanwhile the object tries to dissolve the subject, & ultimately the object always triumphs.
Pataphysics suggests that “speed itself is doubtless only this: throughout & beyond all technology, the temptation for things & people to go faster than their cause, to thereby catch up to their beginning & annul it.”
Futurism almost begins to propose for poetry the same kind of molecular revolution that Deleuze & Guattari later propose for science. Futurism ultimately postulates an applied science of poetic theories, in which poetry itself is an accidental instrument for a scientific experiment. Such an avantgarde psuedoscience reveals that the ‘Future’ is nothing more than a poetic notion that provides an absurd domain for the epistemic fantasies of ‘pataphysics: the as if of its own science fiction.
The meta of physics must be invalid if it cannot reveal to itself the pata of its own madness.
Clinamen: The rule is that, for every rule whose structure is reflexive (including this rule), the swerve of an exception must intervene.
Oulipo derives its own exceptional formalities from the methema of “combinatorics”—a discipline that studies “configurations: “a configuration arises every time objects are distributed according to constraints.” Such a science pertains to the optimization of arrangements within determined parameters.
Oulipo argues that a poetry of the future must absorb, not avoid, what is paradoxical & paralogical in the science of the present, since to reject the sedition of the new is simply to adopt the tradition of the old, maintaining unconscious constraints without an appraisal of constraint itself. The distinction between poiesis & mathema is a constraint that has outlived its potential, & thus the pataphysician must disrupt this constraint by adopting, as a new constraint, mathema itself.
To appeal to an aesthetics of constraint is to reveal a hidden agenda, the secret power, in the pragmatics of all constraint: “to the extent that constraint goes beyond rules which seem natural, it forces the system out of its routine functioning, thereby compelling it to reveal its hidden resources.” And “inspiration which consists in blind obedience to every impulse is in reality a sort of mental slavery” because “the poet who writes that which comes into his head…is the slave of other rules of which he remains ignorant.” To explore the rule is to be emancipated from it by becoming the master of its potential for surprise, whereas to ignore the rule is to be imprisoned in it becoming the slave to the reprise of its intention.
Oulipo “reconciles rigor with the incertitude that must necessarily accompany potentiality.” Oulipo does so by evoking the syzygy as a trope for the ambivalent relativity between the alea & the fata. The alea is the aporiaof the fata, revealing the paradox of a so-called random order.
Baudrillard suggest that, for science there exist two hypotheses about chance itself, the first metaphysical (suggesting that all things are disconnected & divergent, & only by chance do they meet each other) & the second ‘pataphysical (suggesting that all things are connected and convergent, & only by chance do they miss each other).
Oulipo proposes the as if of such a constraint in order to swerve away from through the potential of a mandatory exception.
“The formula of the anagram destroys the keyword, disecting it, dispersing it, in order to obliterate the remains of an original meaning.”
Oulipo imagines a cybernetic literature of anagrammatic permutations that might realize the dream of Borges & create a garden of forking paths–an interactive experience of rhizomatic potentials, in which the machine expects the reader to behave like a writer who must deflect the course of the narrative though an ensemble of crucial options—the as if of multiple if thens. What Queneau calls “tree literature” has come to represent some of the first texts to discuss the potential for interactive innovations (particularly hypertexts). Cybernetic literature begins to dramatize a philosophy of ‘pataphysical perspectivism, insofar as they attempt to imagine a multitude of divergent realities created simultaneously from the same text.
Queneau in A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems perhaps offers the first such case study in his attempt to produce a book that is not so much a volume for storing poetry as a machine for creating poetry: ten sonnets are written on ten pages with cut lines so that a line from any sonnet can be supplanted by its cognate from any of the other sonnets (while still preserving all their rules of rhythm & syntax). Since the Cartesian product of ten sonnets with fourteen lines (1014) permits trillions of different cases, a single reader, reading one a second, must survive for more than a thousand millennia in order to read every poem. Such a book remains inscrutable not because of it illegibility but because of its potentiality. Such a book is ‘pataphysical, insofar as it deals with the as if of what is possible in the virtuality but impossible in actuality.
Oulipo designed algorithms to make a reader become a writer.
Calvino argues that “the aid of the computer, far from replacing the creative act of the artist, permits the latter rather to liberate himself from the slavery of a combinatory search, allowing the author the best chance of concentrating on the ‘clinamen’ which, alone, can make of the text a true work of art.”
Canadian ”Pataphysics suggests that its dual but open quote signifies a “portmanteau confluence” of the meta (beyond) and the para (beside), situating itself within a place both external & supernal—a place that, like Canada, is defined paradoxically by its placelessness: the interzone of Ethernity. The open quote for such a science marks the openness of a site that must cite its own openness.
Science suggests that what is probable coincides with what is most provable, and indeed probable systems are staged as “proofs,” but in terms that call to mind the idea of a “rough draft.” Such “rough drafts” are probable (in a ”pataphysical sense) not because they can be proven but because they can be probed. There are “probable” systems.
“Language can be regarded as a psychic parasite which has genetically earmarked a section of the cortex for its own accommodation,” and that “the intact survival of language is threatened by one thing only: the discovery & subsequent exploration of its plane of existence by ourselves, its human host.” This ‘pataphysical hypothesis is complicated by the fact that just as there is a parasite in us, there is also a parasite in language, because language feeds upon itself: “it is the mind / eating itself.”
“The first sentence [of a text] carries within it the blueprint for the whole subsequent work, much as an embryo contains the code for an adult,” but “unlike an uncovered law, the progeny of the original sentence can mutate & return to the site of the inception to alter it.”