"Pataphysics is the science of the particular."
There, that's a start. It began as a schoolboy joke by the French playwright, Alfred Jarry, best known for his unproduceable play (but people keep trying to do it), Ubu Roi, and arguably the father of Theatre of the Absurd. I first came across pataphysics in a science fiction story about a long trip in outer space occupied by passengers enlisted to keep the crew from going insane as they travelled through the "ether". These ordinary people sat calmly projecting the matter-of-fact behaviour of passengers on a subway train, thereby keeping fear at bay. They had a talent for banality and focused on it, rather than contemplating the endless, terrifying trip they were taking in the universe. They were called pataphysicians. After that I found several articles about pataphysics in a big collection of Evergreen Review, with rules and definitions, one of them being the one I launched this blog with. As I read on, I became convinced that Jarry didn't know what he had. It wasn't a joke at all, at least not in his short-sighted, so-called funny description. He didn't know it but he was describing women and their very particular skills. What a discovery! I wanted to tell the world.
No one wanted to listen. I pitched it as a book and my editor, with whom I had published five or six books by that time, said she didn't understand it. Few people did. Finally, I got it into print in the first volume (who knew there would be others?) of Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told. The editors, Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson, invited us to write something we hadn't been allowed to say, or that was misunderstood, or ignored. Well, they took my piece, but shortened it drastically from the allowed word count, failing, as many do, to see the profound humour of it.
Pataphysics surfaces sometimes, most recently in the last year or so in essays in The Times Literary Supplement, all by men, and in a book I couldn't resist buying, Pataphysics: A Useless Guide, by Andrew Hugill. In everything I have read that has been written about pataphysics, I have encountered only one woman. I think I have to take up my battle again. "Beyond pataphysics lies nothing; pataphysics is the ultimate defence."