I attended a London Institute of ‘Pataphysics event last weekend (Sunday 6th) to celebrate the birthday of British Avant garde composer John White (for a programme on John go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03y3bx0). The event – at Charlie Wright’s bar in Hoxton – was a bit more structured than many LIP events as it featured a lot of performances and not quite as much chance to chat to fellow members. Image

I haven’t been to many events over the past three years or so as I’ve been busy running the hotel. However it was great to get to see old friends again and see ‘Pataphysics in action.

John is the official Composer of the LIP. Although everyone is a ‘Pataphysician not everyone is a knowing one, and still fewer are members of the College de ‘Pataphysique or any of its official and unofficial branches. For an excellent over view see Andrew Hughill’s ‘Pataphysics: a useless guide.

As I’m sure you all know, ‘Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, invented by Pere Ubu who was in turn created by Alfred Jarry. The College was founded in Paris after the second world war and which, like Ambrose Bierce’s  definition of the freemasons has been joined successively by the dead of past generations in unbroken retrogression (see Adam Dant’ wonderful Chronological Pantheon of ‘Pataphysics for details).

There are many definitions and references to ‘Pataphysics – the most commonly known reference being in the Beatles Maxwell’s Silver hammer – but my own view is that it is the singular place where art and science become equivalent. Take a circular piece of card and write art on one side and science on the other. Sellotape a piece of looped string so the two strands are close to the centre. Rotate the card until the string is tightly looped and then pull the two ends so the card spins in a ‘Pataphysical Gidoule. You will see the words art and science superimposed on each other.

In the field of literature the main College has been somewhat overshadowed in recent years by one of its departments – the Oulipo. High profile writers inspired by Oulipo – Italo Calvino, Georges Perec and founding member Raymond Queneau – helped bring this use of constraints such as lipograms as a way of freeing creativity to wide attention. There are many more Oulipo inspired works than there are formal members of the group. However ‘Pataphysics itself has always been a source of inspiration to me and Jarry himself, Queneau, and Boris Vian are wonderful writers. Atlas Press have most of Jarry’s oevre in print along with the LIP publications and a host of other wonderful works and recently Tam Tam books have been publishing translations of Vian which -if not up to the standard of Stanley Chapman’s work in the 60s – do a decent job of introducing Vian to the English speaking public.

Remember, even if you do not know it, you are a ‘Pataphysician.


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