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'pataphysics


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French author Alfred Jarry's playful concept defined in Gestes et opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (1911), translated as Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician (1965), as the science of imaginary solutions. More than that, in contrast to so-called general science, it is meant to be a science of the particular, a science of exceptions, and a science of alternative or supplementary universes. In 1948 a group of writers, basically the core of the group that would later call themselves OULIPO (Raymond Queneau, Jean Genet, and Eugene Ionesco, among others), founded a Collège de 'pataphysique and produced a periodical devoted to absurdist writing. The college and journal folded suddenly and without explanation in 1975. In an appropriately playful essay included in his final work, Critique et Clinique (1993), translated as Essays Critical and Clinical (1997), Gilles Deleuze suggests that Jarry is an unrecognized precursor to Heidegger because they are both engaged in the task of going beyond metaphysics. In no less playful fashion, though to perhaps more serious purpose, in Fatal Strategies (1983) Jean Baudrillard describes nuclear arms as a 'pataphysical weapons system because it is intended not to be used, indeed it is intended to eliminate the very need for weapons. It is perhaps worth adding that Don Delillo's early novel Great Jones Street (1973) contains a hilarious pastiche of this concept: in a scene about a third of the way into the novel there is a character who describes himself as a Professor of Latent History whose work deals with events that almost took place. Jarry is generally credited as a vital precursor to so-called absurdist writing, while 'pataphysics seems to become prominent anywhere politics starts to seem absurd.

Further Reading:

C. Bök ’Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (2001).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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