If at first you don’t succeed, fry onions.
i am trying not to let my personal life interfere, not to say overwhelm, my intellectual life, but it has become increasingly difficult. it was an incident in my ongoing personal soap opera that triggered my memory of pataphysics. I’ve had numerous forms and questionnaires to fill out, both for my son and me, in relation to our accidents - his ankle,my wrist. It made me think of one description of a pataphysical person, that she could fill out a questionnaire in triplicate without making carbon copies (in other eras) or print-outs, and make the answers on each page detailed and totally different - and absolutely accurate.
You’ll understand why when I tell you that one definition of pataphysics is “the science of the laws governing particulars”. You’ll also have noticed that in my example of the form-filler, the pataphysicsl person is female.
Pataphysivcs was invented by the French playwright Alfred Jarry (1803-1907) as a schoolboy joke, and iit became an elaborate - -I want to say jape rather than hoax. You decide:
jape noun: a practical joke. the childish jape of depositing a stink bomb in her locker. verb [ no obj. ]say or do something in jest or mockery. DERIVATIVES japery noun ORIGIN Middle English: apparently combining the form of Old French japer ‘to yelp, yap’ with the sense of Old French gaber ‘to mock’.
hoax noun: a humorous or malicious deception: the evidence had been planted as part of an elaborate hoax | [ as modifier ] : a hoax 999 call. verb [ with obj. trick or deceive (someone). ORIGIN late 18th cent. (as a verb): probably a contraction of hocus.
The French playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd (like Ionesco and Boris Vian and others I am too tired to look up for you now) latched onto the idea and played with it. Jarry made them Pataphysicians and Satraps in the Order and they seemed to feel justified in their absurdity. Subsequently other writers -all men, I have noticed - have written grandiloquent essays and formed societies and things like that and…they’re all schoolboys. They’re all smartass.
grandiloquent adjective, pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, especially in a way that is intended to impress: a grandiloquent celebration of Spanish glory. DERIVATIVES grandiloquence noun, grandiloquently adverb. ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Latin grandiloquus, literally ‘grand-speaking’, from grandis ‘grand’ + loqui ‘speak’. The ending was altered in English by association with eloquent. [I have never used the word!]
I wrote an essay about pataphysics, published in Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told (2001), a collection of essays conceived of and edited by Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson. They asked me for something I had written that previously no one would read, i.e.publish. I had been giving speeches about it for some time with good response.
I came across pataphysics initially in a science fiction story. People were enabled to experience the boredom and fear of the interminable journey in outer space by pataphysicians who projected instead the tedium and boredom of a familiar commuter train. I looked up pataphysics and found a special series about it in Evergreen Review. I had recently bought an anthology - which I can’t find now but I know i have it. It’s a keeper.
[Evergreen Review is a U.S.-based literary magazine directed by editor-in-chief Dale Peck. The Evergreen Review was founded by Barney Rosset, publisher of Grove Press. It existed in print from 1957 until 1973, and was re-launched online in 1998, and again in 2017. Wikipedia]
Anyway, it got me hooked.
Everyone was so serious, perpetuating the schoolboy humour in a smug supercilious way. They missed the point, So did my editors of Dropped Threads . They cut 8 pages from my original copy, opting to give more time to more familiar ignored or censored themes at that time:
“Subjects include work, menopause, childbirth, a husband’s terminal illness, the loss of a child, getting old, the substance of women’s friendships, the power of sexual feelings, the power of power, and that nagging question, “How do I look?” (Goog
All very serious, except for one delightful piece by June Callwood ruefully accepting the ageing process, sagging breasts and all.i Even the women - -most of them - didn’t get my humour, didn’t get pataphysics.
i tried to write a book about it because I found it everywhere, unrecognized. My reading at the time was studded with notes, e.g. P; pat; B, or simply, ! !
No one got it. I sent an essay to Lear’s magazine and the reader made the mistake of sending her reaction along with the rejection letter. “Simplistic,” she wrote, in response to my introduction about a young mother discovering a little turtle on her living room floor. The family didn’t own a turtle. Her little boy explained, “That’s Henry”. Of course.
Women deal with a pataphysical world every day. The poor Lear’s reader was too young to know this.
[Lear's was a monthly women's magazine, intended for women over 50. It covered celebrity interviews, women's issues, and many progressive issues. Its slogan was "For The Woman Who Wasn't Born Yesterday". It was published from 1988 until early 1994. The magazine was based in New York City. Wikipedia]
I rejected the rejection and cancelled my subscription.
Well, I do go on. And I must, now. I don’t think I’m through with this yet,