Tag Archives: jean cocteau

‘Pataphysics part two


So, as I’ve been inspired by ‘Pataphysics, have I ever tried to write ‘Pataphysical material? Yes and no is the answer.

I am not yet confident enough as a writer to move too far away from standard narrative, although I have tried a story that is purely dialogue and features a police interview of a suspect who is either a pathological liar or a sociopath. I tried very hard to write the character’s dialogue so that you could interpret it as either. The fact that it is a police interview means you have no other clues about events outside of the suspect’s version of the story.

What I did do was write some stories with a lot of ‘Pataphysical ideas. I chose the “club story” milieu as (a) I love that genre particularly the Englebrecht stories of Maurice Richardson and (b) it gave me the opportunity to include my fellow members of the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics as background characters (under assumed names of course). I was honoured to have the first one published as a Christmas edition of the LIP Bulletin.

The joy of the club story is that they¬†generally have an unreliable narrator who you are not expected to believe. That is why some of my favourite PG Woodhouse stories feature Mr Mulliner who is a member of an angling club and is therefore prone to exaggeration naturally. This meant I could throw in lots of ideas as jokes without having to develop them logically. This is enormously liberating – you still need to have a plot or it isn’t a story anymore. The plot still needs to work but the details can be as crazy as you can manage to make them so that you and (hopefully) the reader has lots of fun.

The core characters came from an earlier idea about writing a series of bids to funding organisations from two rival scientists where the ideas were unworkable – to see how far they would get. Most funders have a two stage assessment process where the first part is a technical check to make sure you’ve filled it out properly and it hits the criteria identified in the bidding guidance. The second stage is an assessment of the merits of the project – normally by experts in the field. My hope was to get past the first checks. The bids (which would form a sort of narrative) and the correspondence from the funders would then be assembled together. However I bottled it as at the time I was submitting lots of real bids and I didn’t want to prejudice my chances for those.

The two scientists РAndrew Limbus and John Orpheus Рwere sort of  based on Andre Breton and Jean Cocteau who were both inspired by Guillame Apollinaire Рa close friend and sponsor of Alfred Jarry. Both in their own ways carried on the experimental work of Apollinaire.

There are lots of other in jokes – Limbus has had a sort of Jekyll and Hyde accident where his unconscious has become a separate person – De Riyah. This mirrors Dr Faustroll and his pet Bosse de Nage (arse face) in Jarry’s posthumously published novel. It also references some of the physical¬†characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and Doc Savage’s companion Monk Lewis as I wanted to include them in Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton family. I also threw in all sorts of fringe science including having the pre and post Einstein theories of the propagation of light being true simultaneously.

If you want to read the story – called Life as it is the first of three Non Trivial Pursuits with the others being Liberty and Happiness – click on the link “Life” at the top of this post. Enjoy.