Jimmy's Reviews > Pataphysical Essays

Pataphysical Essays by René Daumal
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Jul 06, 12

bookshelves: and-a-half-stars, male, france, non-fiction, year-1930s, wakefield-press
Read from July 02 to 05, 2012

"Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments" Daumal quotes Alfred Jarry as saying. This means nothing to me. However, Daumal goes on to quote him saying this:

"It will study the laws governing exceptions," and that made so much more sense to me. Science in general is trying to come up with rules for the generalizing of everything. Pataphysics is the opposite. As a computer scientist (aka programmer), I have come up against this very conflict within myself. The scientist in me wants everything to be the same, homogenous, one big picture that works in every case. This is a dream for a programmer because it makes the job so much easier.

The hardest problems I've ever had to tackle as a programmer have always been those where exceptions creep in. And always there are exceptions! Why? Because computers do not work with computers alone, computers interact with human beings, who are prone to act irrationally and inconsistently.

But the other non-scientist/artist/writer part of me understands this and even celebrates the exceptions! The computer program should not define human behavior, it should yield to human behavior. It should become invisible in the face of the human. And exceptions make the human, because none of us are alike, i.e. each human being is irreducible ("The particular is absurd [...] The particular is revolting"). I think this may be why I'm attracted to writers who struggle with similar issues, writers like Musil and philosophers like Wittgenstein. And now René Daumal.

Speaking of Wittgenstein, Daumal's version of pataphysics reminds me a lot of Wittgenstein's language games (but with a more scientific and literary edge to it, rather than a math and logical edge):
"pataphysical sophism is a proposition which brings into play syllogisms in a nonconclusive mode, but which become conclusive as soon as certain terms are changed in a manner that the mind grasps as quite obvious [...] the object of pataphysical knowledge is none other than the very law governing these changes [...] The reality of thought moves along a string of absurdities, which is true to the great principle that evidence cloaks itself in absurdity as its only means of being perceived. [...] Just as pataphysics as knowledge is the reverse and exact mirror opposite of physics, it probably can also have a powerful effect against attempts to streamline work when applied to the flow of production." (italics Daumal's).
Ultimately pataphysics comes down to a game of language that twists perception beyond its limits. And when I say game, I mean it in the very consequential Cortázarian sense of play, or the serious almost spiritual element that Wittgenstein brings to his language games. Even the pataphysical laughter that Daumal mentions as a key component is a way of transcending an individual's consciousness: "The revelation of laughter will come to every man, but there will be nothing joyful about it [...] the obvious becomes absurd, light is a black veil and a dazzling sun slumbers, whereas my eyes do not."

I find this opening essay very intriguing because it wrestles head on with the forward dash of science. And instead of rejecting it outright or adopting it fully, it creates a third reality, one that assimilates science through a field of laughter into a parallel universe that makes us more human instead of less.

Not to give you the wrong impression, the essay on pataphysics is only a small portion of this book. The rest is filled with glorious pun-ridden prose-poem-like pataphysical particulars. It is almost impossible to explain or review this portion, but it is a pleasure to read:
2. ON INTELLECTUAL GELOIDS, PLUMS EXCEPTED

A projection on a horizontal plane of psychic activity, represented, for example, by A HUMAN FACE PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE PRECISE MOMENT OF PARAMNESIA, furnishes on a protoplasmic mass sensitized by potassium bichromate, after its solution and digestion by the aqueous medium of non-insolubilized salts, a sufficiently approximate image of the static intellect, in the best conditions of visibility. The odor, thanks to the idea of God, is pestilential.
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Reading Progress

07/02/2012 page 8
7.0% "Evidence cloaks itself in absurdity as its only means of being perceived."
07/04/2012 page 64
55.0% "Doctor R. Corinth, who brings the dead back to life, fox terriers in particular."
07/05/2012 page 91
78.0% "A hole is an absence surrounded by a presence."

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff this is out now?


Jimmy I think it is... on the Press's website there is an add to cart option. Also, if you haven't already, check out all the other books in this series, Geoff!!! http://wakefieldpress.com/series.html they all seem so amazing, I want to read them all, weird that I've never heard of this press before.


message 3: by Geoff (last edited Apr 23, 2012 03:54PM) (new) - added it

Geoff Holy crap! This publisher is incredible.

I'd heard of the Perec but not much else they're putting out. I'ma order me some of these... Jimmy, once again, thanks for the heads up! You enrich Goodreads!


Jimmy I know! So exciting...


message 6: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff I ordered the Daumal and the Scheerbart. Good find!


message 7: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff So I just got my package from Wakefield Press with this and the Perpetual Motion Machine! Oh man, they wrapped the books in this adorable classy tissue paper and folded it all nicely like a gift, and placed two Wakefield press stickers to adhere it, and provided a lovely bookmark, and the books are beautifully made, and the paper stock and everything is lovely high quality. Bravo to a newly found great publisher!


Jimmy mmm... thank god for small presses.


message 9: by Megha (last edited Aug 01, 2012 04:32PM) (new) - added it

Megha Geoff wrote: "So I just got my package from Wakefield Press with this and the Perpetual Motion Machine! Oh man, they wrapped the books in this adorable classy tissue paper and folded it all nicely like a gift, ..."

So exciting! Now I wish I had bought it directly from the publishers, instead of ordering from amazon.


message 10: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff The publishers probably wish you did too! (Just kidding) These guys are top notch. They put so much care into making and even shipping their books. Lovely small press.


message 11: by Nate D (new)

Nate D I will be excited to join you both in the material and intellectual pleasures of Wakefield once the Schwob and Scheerbart novels are out this fall!


message 12: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff Nate wrote: "I will be excited to join you both in the material and intellectual pleasures of Wakefield once the Schwob and Scheerbart novels are out this fall!"

Just took a look at these, they both look incredible! I think I'll pick up copies myself.


message 13: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff "an intergalactic utopian novel that describes life on the planetoid Pallas, where rubbery suction-footed life forms with telescopic eyes smoke bubble-weed in mushroom meadows under violet skies and green stars."

???


message 14: by Nate D (new)

Nate D I know! And illustrated by symbolist weirdo Alfred Kubin, even!


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