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What is 'Pataphysics?

"A self contradictory definition in non 'Pataphysical terms"  - by Roger Shattuck (apostrophe included as per original text)

Excerpted from The Innocent Eye, "What is ‘Pataphysics?" MFA Publications, 1960-2003, p. 103-107

[1] 'Pataphysics is the science of the realm beyond metaphysics; or. 'Pataphysics lies as far beyond metaphysics as metaphysics lies beyond physics - in one direction or another.

Metaphysics is a word which can mean exactly what one wants it to mean, whence its continuing popularity. To Aristotle it meant merely the field of speculation he took up after physics. The Pataphysician beholds the entire created universe, and all others with it, and sees that they are neither good nor bad but Pataphysical. René Daumal, one of the great practitioners, stated that in Mount Analogue he proposed to do for metaphysics what Jules Vern had done for physics. 'Pataphysics, then, posses a great voyage of discovery and adventure into what Jarry called "ethernity." That, in case anyone didn’t know, is where we all live.


[2] 'Pataphysics is the science of the particular, of laws governing exceptions. 

The realm beyond metaphysics will not be reached by vaster and vaster generalities; this has been the error of contemporary thought. A return to the particular shows that every event determines a law, a particular law. 'Pataphysics relates each thing and each event not to any generality (a mere plastering over of exceptions) but to the singularity that makes it an exception. Thus the science of 'Pataphysics attempts no cures, envisages no progress, distrusts all claims of "improvement" in the state of things, and remains innocent of any message. Indeterminacy and complementarity, black holes and antimatter are merely entries in its file. 'Pataphysics is pure science, lawless and therefore impossible to outlaw.


[3] 'Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions.

In the realm of the particular, every event arises from an infinite number of causes. All solutions, therefore, to particular problems, all attributions of cause and effect, are based on reduction by arbitrary choice. Gravity as curvature of space or as electro-magnetic attraction -- does it make any difference which solution we accept? Understanding either of them entails a large exercise of poetic imagination. Science must elect the solution that fits the facts -- travel of light or fall of an apple. 'Pataphysics welcomes all scientific theories (they are getting better and better) and treats each one not as a generality but as an attempt, sometimes heroic and sometimes pathetic, to pin down one point of view as "real." Students of philosophy may remember the German Hans Vaihinger with his Philosophie des Als Ob (Philosophy of "As If"). Ponderously yet persistently he declared that we construct our own system of thought and value, and then live "as if" reality conformed to it. Truth is an imaginary solution, or rather all of them.


[4] For in 'Pataphysics, all things are equal.

The pataphysician not only accepts no final scientific explanation of the universe, he also suspends all values, moral, esthetic, and otherwise. The principle of universal equivalence and the conversion of opposites reduces the world in its pataphysical reality to particular cases only. Yet there is no reason why the pataphysician should not  work for a living and sleep with his own wife, why he should not behave with considerateness toward his neighbor and fill a responsible roll in society, why he should not enjoy particular situations  and particular works of art. Pataphysics preaches no rebellion and no new morality, no political reform and no promise of happiness. What would be the use, all things being equal?


[5] 'Pataphysics is, in aspect, imperturbable.

Jarry was regarded by most of his contemporaries as a joker or a lunatic. Here lie the first errors of incomprehension. 'Pataphysics has nothing to do with humor or with the kind of tame insanity psychoanalysis has drummed into fashion. Life is, of course, absurd, and it is ludicrous to take it seriously. The pataphysicain, therefore, remains serious in appearance, attentive, imperturbable. He does not burst out laughing or curse when asked to fill out in quadruplicate a questionnaire on his sex life, any more than he raves at the police officer who gives him a ticket for not crossing the intersection. His imperturbability affords him a secure anonymity in which he can savor and the marvelous contradictions of life. Jarry’s musical contemporary and survivor, Eric Satie, perfected the etiquette of ‘Pataphysics: ironic conformity


[6] All things are pataphysical; yet few men practice 'Pataphysics consciously.

No difference in value, only in state, exists between ordinary men and those who are consciously aware of the pataphysical nature of the world, including themselves. The College of 'Pataphysics is no better and no worse than the French Academy or than the Hilldale Garden Club Men's Auxiliary Committee on Poison Ivy Extermination. The College, however, being aware of its own nature, can enjoy the spectacle of its own pataphysical behavior. And what science but "pataphysics can cope with consciousness? No science or philosophy, clearly, has ever been able to look long in the mirror, to catch its own tail. Pere Ubu's monstrous gidouille, or belly, is represented by a spiral, which Dr. Faustroll's 'Pataphysics transposes into a symbol of consciousness circling forever around itself. Symbol? By now all words are pataphysical, being equal.


[7] Beyond 'Patapysics lies nothing; 'Pataphysics is the ultimate defense.

Like the sorcerer's apprentice, we have become victims of our own knowledge - principally of our scientific and technological knowledge. In 'Pataphysics resides our only weapon, our only defense against ourselves. Not that 'Pataphysics will change history: it has no such pretensions. But it allows a few individuals, beneath their imperturbability, to live up to their particular selves: Ubu or Faustroll, you or I. Outwardly one may conform meticulously to the rituals and conventions of civilized life, but inwardly one watches this conformity with the care and enjoyment of a painter choosing his colors - or perhaps of a chameleon. 'Pataphysics, then, is an inner attitude, a discipline, a science, and an art, which allows each man to live his life as an exception, proving no law but his own, remaining loyal to the precarious condition of his species. Dr. Faustroll’s attendant ape, Bosse-de-Nage, celebrates that condition with his all-purpose, tautological, and monosyllabic ejaculation: “Ha! Ha!” 


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