World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0001724733
Reproduction Date:

Title: Pataphysics  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Occam's razor, Boris Vian, Pseudophilosophy, Jean Baudrillard, List of French novelists, Jean Dubuffet, Fernando Arrabal, Barbara Wright (translator), Ouxpo, Ihab Hassan
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


'Pataphysics (French: 'pataphysique) is a philosophy or media theory dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics. The concept was coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), who defined 'pataphysics as "the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments".[1]

A practitioner of 'pataphysics is a pataphysician or a pataphysicist.


There are over one hundred differing definitions of pataphysics.[2] Some examples are shown below.

"Pataphysics is the science of that which is superinduced upon metaphysics, whether within or beyond the latter’s limitations, extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics. … Pataphysics will be, above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of the general. Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one.”[1]
"'Pataphysics is patient; 'Pataphysics is benign; 'Pataphysics envies nothing, is never distracted, never puffed up, it has neither aspirations nor seeks not its own, it is even-tempered, and thinks not evil; it mocks not iniquity: it is enraptured with scientific truth; it supports everything, believes everything, has faith in everything and upholds everything that is.”[3] as cited in[2]
"Pataphysics passes easily from one state of apparent definition to another. Thus it can present itself under the aspect of a gas, a liquid or a solid.”[4] as cited in[2]
"Pataphysics "the science of the particular", does not, therefore, study the rules governing the general recurrence of a periodic incident (the expected case) so much as study the games governing the special occurrence of a sporadic accident (the excepted case). … Jarry performs humorously on behalf of literature what Nietzsche performs seriously on behalf of philosophy. Both thinkers in effect attempt to dream up a “gay science”, whose joie de vivre thrives wherever the tyranny of truth has increased our esteem for the lie and wherever the tyranny of reason has increased our esteem for the mad.”[5]


The word pataphysics is a contracted formation, derived from the Greek, ἔπι (μετὰ τὰ φυσικά) (epi meta ta physika);[1] this phrase or expression means "that which is above metaphysics", and is itself a sly variation on the title of Aristotle's Metaphysics, which in Greek is "τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά" (ta meta ta physika).

Jarry mandated the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, 'pataphysique and 'pataphysics, "to avoid a simple pun".[1] The words pataphysician or pataphysicist and the adjective pataphysical should not include the apostrophe. Only when consciously referring to Jarry's science itself should the word pataphysics carry the apostrophe.[6] The term pataphysics is a paronym (considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a sly notation, to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns that listeners may hear, or be aware of. These puns include patte à physique ("physics paw"), as interpreted by Jarry scholars Keith Beaumont and Roger Shattuck, pas ta physique ("not your physics"), and pâte à physique ("physics pastry dough").


The term first appeared in print in the text of Alfred Jarry's play Guignol in the 28 April 1893, issue of L'Écho de Paris littéraire illustré, but it has been suggested that the word has its origins in the same schoolpranks at the lycée in Rennes that led Jarry to write Ubu Roi.[7] Jarry considered Ibicrates and Sophrotatos the Armenian as the fathers of this "science".[8]

The Collège de 'Pataphysique

The Collège de 'Pataphysique, founded in 1948 in Paris, France,[9] is a "society committed to learned and inutilious research".[10] (The word 'inutilious' is synonymous with 'useless'.) The motto of the college is Latin: Eadem mutata resurgo ("I arise again the same though changed"), and its current Vice-Curator is Her Magnificence Lutembi - a crocodile.[11] The permanent head of the college is the fictional Dr. Faustroll (Inamovable Curator), with assistance of the equally fictional Bosse-de-Nage (Starosta).[12] The Vice-Curator is as such the "first and most senior living entity" in the college's hierarchy.[13] Publications of the college, generally called Latin: Viridis Candela ("green candle"),[14] include the Cahiers, Dossiers and the Subsidia Pataphysica.[15][16] The college stopped its public activities between 1975 and 2000, referred to as its occultation.[17][18] Notable members have included Noël Arnaud, Luc Étienne, Latis, François Le Lionnais, Jean Lescure, Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, Eugène Ionesco, Jacques Carelman, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, Baron Jean Mollet, Irénée Louis Sandomir, Opach and Marcel Duchamp.[19] The Oulipo began as a subcommittee of the college.[20][21]

Offshoots of the Collège de 'Pataphysique

Although France had been always the centre of the pataphysical globe, there are followers up in different cities around the world. In 1966 Juan Esteban Fassio was commissioned to draw the map of the Collège de 'Pataphysique and its institutes abroad. In the 1950s, Buenos Aires in the Western Hemisphere and Milan in Europe were the first cities to have pataphysical institutes. London, Edinburgh, Budapest, and Liège, as well as many other European cities, caught up in the sixties. In the 1970s, when the Collège de 'Pataphysique occulted, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, The Netherlands, and many other countries showed that the internationalization of pataphysics was irreversible. During the Communist Era, a small group of pataphysicists in Czechoslovakia started a journal called PAKO, or Pataphysical Collegium.[22] Alfred Jarry's plays had a lasting impression on the country's underground philosophical scene. A Pataphysics Institute opened in Vilnius, Lithuania in May 2013: Patafizikos instituto atidarymas Vilniuje.

London Institute of 'Pataphysics

The London Institute of 'Pataphysics was established in September 2000 to promote pataphysics in the English-speaking world. The institute has various publications, including a journal and has six departments:[23]

  • Bureau for the Investigation of Subliminal Images
  • Committee for Hirsutism and Pogonotrophy
  • Department of Dogma and Theory
  • Department of Potassons
  • Department of Reconstructive Archaeology
  • The Office of Patentry

The institute also contains a pataphysical museum and archive and organised the Anthony Hancock Paintings and Sculptures exhibition in 2002.[24]


A clinamen is the unpredictable swerve of atoms that Bök calls “the smallest possible aberration that can make the greatest possible difference”.[25] An example is Jarry’s merdre, a swerve of French: merde ("shit").[26]
An antinomy is the mutually incompatible. It represents the duality of things, the echo or symmetry, the good and the evil at the same time. Hugill mentions various examples including the plus minus, the faust-troll, the haldern-ablou, the yes-but, the ha-ha and the paradox.[27]
The syzygy originally comes from astronomy and denotes the alignment of three celestial bodies in a straight line. In a pataphysical context it is the pun. It usually describes a conjunction of things, something unexpected and surprising. Serendipity is a simple chance encounter but the syzygy has a more scientific purpose. Bök mentions Jarry suggesting that the fall of a body towards a centre might not be preferable to the ascension of a vacuum towards a periphery.[28][29]
The absolute is the idea of a transcended reality.[30]
An anomaly represents the exception. Jarry said that "pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one".[1] Bök calls it “the repressed part of a rule which ensures that the rule does not work”.[31][32]
A pataphor is an unusually extended metaphor based on 'pataphysics. As Jarry claimed that pataphysics exists "as far from metaphysics as metaphysics extends from regular reality", a pataphor attempts to create a figure of speech that exists as far from metaphor as metaphor exists from non-figurative language.[33]

Pataphysical calendar

The pataphysical calendar[34] is a variation of the Gregorian calendar. The Collège de 'Pataphysique created the calendar[35] in 1949.[36] The pataphysical era (E.P.) started on 8 September 1873 (Jarry's birthday). When converting pataphysical dates to Gregorian dates, the appendage (vulg.) for vulgate is added.[36]

The week starts on a Sunday. Every 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd is a Sunday and every 13th day of a month falls on a Friday (see Friday the 13th). Each day is assigned a specific name or saint. For example, the 27 Haha (1 November vulg.) is called French: Occultation d'Alfred Jarry or the 14 Sable (14 December vulg.) is the day of French: Don Quichote, champion du monde.[37]

The year has a total of 13 months each with 29 days. The 29th day of each month is imaginary with two exceptions:[37]

  • the 29 Gidouille (13 July vulg.) is always non-imaginary
  • the 29 Gueules (23 February vulg.) is non-imaginary during leap years

The table below shows the names and order of months in a pataphysical year with their corresponding Gregorian dates and approximate translations or meanings by Hugill.[36]

Pataphysical year
Month Starts Ends Translation
Absolu 8 September 5 October Absolute
Haha 6 October 2 November Ha Ha
As 3 November 30 November Skiff
Sable 1 December 28 December Sand or heraldic black
Décervelage 29 December 25 January Debraining
Gueules 26 January 22/23 February Heraldic red or gob
Pédale 23/24 February 22 March Bicycle pedal
Clinamen 23 March 19 April Swerve
Palotin 20 April 17 May Ubu's henchmen
Merdre 18 May 14 June Pshit
Gidouille 15 June 13 July Spiral
Tatane 14 July 10 August Shoe or being worn out
Phalle 11 August 7 September Phallus

For example:

  • 8 September 1873 (vulg.) = 1 Absolu 1
  • 1 January 2000 (vulg.) = 4 Décervelage 127
  • 10 November 2012 (vulg.)(Saturday) = 8 As 140 (Sunday)

See also Bob Richmond's comments on the calendar and the French World Heritage Encyclopedia article.


In the 1960s pataphysics was used as a conceptual principle within various fine art forms, especially pop art and popular culture. Works within the pataphysical tradition tend to focus on the processes of their creation, and elements of chance or arbitrary choices are frequently key in those processes. Select pieces from the artist Marcel Duchamp[38] and the composer John Cage[39] characterize this. At around this time, Asger Jorn, a pataphysician and member of the Situationist International, referred to pataphysics as a new religion.[40] Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson were artists who contrived machines of a pataphysical bent.

In literature

In music

  • The debut album by Ron 'Pate's Debonairs, featuring Reverend Fred Lane (his first appearance on vinyl), is titled Raudelunas 'Pataphysical Revue (1977), a live theatrical performance. A review in The Wire magazine said, "No other record has ever come as close to realising Alfred Jarry's desire 'to make the soul monstrous' – or even had the vision or invention to try".[42] 'Pate (note the 'pataphysical apostrophe) and Lane were central members in the Raudelunas art collective in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
  • Professor Andrew Hugill, of De Montfort University, is a practitioner of pataphysical music. He curated Pataphysics, for the Sonic Arts Network's CD series, which includes Pataphysical Piano; the sounds and silences of Andrew Hugill.[43]
  • British progressive rock band Soft Machine were self described at "the Official Orchestra of the College of Pataphysics", and featured the two songs "Pataphysical Introduction" parts I and II on their 1969 album Volume Two.
  • Japanese psychedelic rock band Acid Mothers Temple refer to the topic on their 1999 release Pataphisical Freak Out MU!!.
  • Autolux, LA based noise pop band, have a song "Science Of Imaginary Solutions" in their second album Transit Transit.
  • "'Pataphysical science" is mentioned as a course of study for Maxwell Edison's first victim, "Joan", in the song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" on the Beatles album, Abbey Road.

In visual art

  • American artist Thomas Chimes developed an interest in Jarry's pataphysics, which became a lifelong passion, inspiring much of the painter's creative work.
  • In 2010 the artist "SpektrumMEK: a pataphysical gestation to the birth of Lil' t"
  • The League of Imaginary Scientists, a Los Angeles-based art collective specializing in pataphysics-based interactive experiments. In 2011 they exhibited a series of projects at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.


The pataphor (

Like pataphysics itself, pataphors essentially describe two degrees of separation from reality (rather than merely one degree of separation, which is the world of metaphors and metaphysics). The pataphor may also be said to function as a critical tool, describing the world of "assumptions based on assumptions", such as belief systems or rhetoric run amok. The following is an example.


Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line.


Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line; two pieces positioned on a chessboard.


Tom took a step closer to Alice and made a date for Friday night, checkmating. Rudy was furious at losing to Margaret so easily and dumped the board on the rose-colored quilt, stomping downstairs."[46]

Thus, the pataphor has created a world where the chessboard exists, including the characters who live in that world, entirely abandoning the original context.[46]

The pataphor has been subject to commercial interpretations,[47] usage in speculative computer applications,[48] applied to highly imaginative problem solving methods[49] and even politics on the international level[50] or theatre The Firesign Theatre (a comedy troupe whose jokes often rely on pataphors). There is a band called Pataphor[51] and an interactive fiction in the Interactive Fiction Database called "PataNoir," based on pataphors.[52][53]

Pataphors have been the subject of art exhibits, as in Tara Strickstein's 2010 "Pataphor" exhibit at Next Art Fair/Art Chicago.[54]

There is also a book of pataphorical art called Pataphor by Dutch artist Hidde von Schie.[55]

See also



  • Jones, Andrew. Plunderphonics,Pataphysics & Pop Mechanics: An Introduction to Musique Actuelle. SAF Publishing Ltd, 1995.
  • Morton, Donald. "Pataphysics of the Closet." Transformation: Marxist Boundary Work in Theory, Economics, *Politics and Culture (2001): 1-69.
  • Powrie, Phil. "René Daumal and the pataphysics of liberation." Neophilologus 73.4 (1989): 532-540.

External links

  • (French) Collège de ’Pataphysique
  • London Institute of 'Pataphysics
  • Patakosmos, the complete ‘Pataphysics Institute map of the world
  • (Italian) Autoclave di Estrazioni Patafisiche
  • (Dutch) De Nederlandse Academie voor 'Patafysica
  • (German) Institut für 'Pataphysik
  • 'Marcel Duchamp and 'Pataphysics'
  • Jean Baudrillard (translated by Drew Burk)
  • (Spanish) Alfred Jarry y el Collége de Pataphysique; la Ciencia de las soluciones imaginarias - Adolfo Vásquez Rocca
  • (Italian) Ubuland, information on Italian pataphysics.
  • UbuWeb, resource of pataphysical, avant-garde, ethnopoetic and outsider’Patafizikai Társaság
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.