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a pataphor for what?

Some more on Oulipo (see previous post), many of whose members were also 'pataphysicians. A pseudo-philosophy devised by French playwright and surrealist avant la lettre Alfred Jarry, 'pataphysics (note the mysterious non-omissive apostrophe) was defined as "the science of imaginary solutions". Or in another definition:

Pataphysics is the science of the realm beyond metaphysics; or, Pataphysics lies as far beyond metaphysics as metaphysics lies beyond physics -- in one direction or another.

The idea didn't catch on until after Jarry's death (as happened with 'Ubu Roi' and his other plays), but after WWII many prominent French writers, including Raymond Queneau, have professed themselves 'pataphysicians. Oulipo was in fact founded as a subcommittee of the Parisian Collège de 'Pataphysique.

Pataphysics is a science which begs and defies definition. Here's yet another one, by Jean Boudrillard, from his essay 'Pataphysics':

Pataphysics is the highest temptation of the spirit. The horror of ridicule and necessity lead to an enormous infatuation, the enormous flatulence of Ubu.

However, perhaps 'pataphysics' most concrete application lies in a figure of speech which was inspired by it: the pataphor. Invented by Pablo Lopez, who defined it as:

  1. An extended metaphor that creates its own context.
  2. That which occurs when a lizard's tail has grown so long it breaks off and grows a new lizard.

In other words, it is a metaphor that spawns its own world, an image that spins out of control to become a kind of nested reality. An example would be:

All the world's a stage. The director had to raise the curtain himself that night because the stage hand was sick. He lay in bed feverishly trying to catch the pattern of the streetlight and the passing cars on his bedroom wall.

Thus this blog post is a pataphor too: defining a made-up science (metaphor for the absurdity of life, the universe and science) and taking it seriously to the point of discussing its real-world applications (pataphor).


100,000,000,000,000 sonnets

'100,000,000,000,000 Sonnets' is a nice online version of Raymond Queneau's 'Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes' ('Hundred Thousand Billion Poems'). Composed of fourteen sets of ten lines, where each line can be combined with thirteen from the other sets, the work contains a total of 1014, or one hundred thousand billion possible sonnets. Each of these follows the same rhyme scheme and uses the same rhyme sounds - a feat which compensates for the apparent nonsensical nature of the sonnets.

Queneau's work on 'Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes' famously led to the foundation of the Oulipo group, short for 'Ouvroir de littérature potentielle' ('Workshop of potential literature') - a kind of modernist version of the old chambers of rhetoric (in Dutch: rederijkers).

To throw some more big numbers at you: reading all Queneau's sonnets would take about 200 million years - of 24/7 reading, that is. At the time of its publication in 1961, the work was described as containing "a quantity of text far greater than everything man has written since the invention of writing". (Since the advent of the internet, this is no longer the case. According to one estimate, the total volume of information generated worldwide every year is now about two exabyte, or 1018 bytes. You can do the math on how many sonnets we could have created instead...)

The only way to render Queneau's poems on paper has always been in the form of pages sliced into strips for every line - like those children's books where you can combine different heads with different bodies and legs. On a computer screen, however, it becomes quite easy to present an interactive version of the poem, where each line can be selected independently. It's a rare example of 'analogue' literature being better suited for digital presentation...

See also this version, which has an English translation.

Another of Oulipo's generative methods is also online: the N+7 Machine.

Via de Contrabas.

the religious experience of philip k. dick

In 1974, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick experienced a series of mystical visions. They would greatly influence his writing, most explicitly in 'Valis', a philosophical exploration of gnostic, christian and other religious themes. They also inspired comic book artist Robert Crumb to adapt Dick's experiences, as recounted in interviews, into a short story: 'The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick' (online in reasonable quality images).

Robert Crumb - The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick - 1

The ancient Greek word for what Dick experienced was 'enthusiasmos' (enthusiasm), literally: possessed or inspired by a god. The term is often associated with the Dionysian Mysteries, in which trance-inducing rituals would bring participants to a state of 'ekstasis' (ecstasy). Other 'symptoms', which Dick also experienced, include 'anamnesis' (literally: loss of forgetfulness, or recollection of events outside one's own life) and 'xenoglossia' (speaking in languages unknown to the speaker).

Robert Crumb - The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick - 2

In Dick's case, his prolonged drug use may have been a cause for his visions. He, however, interpreted them in terms of divine inspiration, believing at first that he was a persecuted Christian in Rome in the first century AD, and later that the spirit of the prophet Elijah had entered him.

Whatever one's verdict on the 'truth' of these experiences, it is no wonder his novels all deal with the fragile nature of reality - or the philosophical implications of the fact that we humans think too much. The question in Crumb's story sums it up in typical Dick style:

Was it the onset of acute schizophrenia, or was it a genuine mystical revelation, and then again, is there any difference?


Closure has been described as an online Flash game "about being and nothingness". The game indeed takes a very original approach to the worn-out genre of platform games, taking what you see is what you get to a philosophical level.

Spoiler ahead! It's more interesting to discover the game's concept by yourself before reading on.

Closure - screenshot

Lacking any instructions, Closure is the kind of game where figuring out what to do is (part of) the gameplay. In a kind of radical subjectivism, the sparsely lit black and white game world only exists insofar as it is illuminated. In other words, what you can't see isn't there, and if you tread there your character dies in the void.

The first aim of the game, therefore, is to stay in the light. Beyond this the gameplay is quite simple (getting from A to B), and the challenge lies mostly in learning how to harness the game's peculiar logic of light and dark, being and nothingness.

In philosophy, the notion of reality limited to subjective perception is rather confusingly called idealism. It is best illustrated by George Berkeley's motto, "To be is to be perceived or to perceive" ("Esse est aut percipi aut percipere"). In other words, reality doesn't exist outside our own perception. For Berkeley, the reason most of us still experience the same reality is God, who constantly labors to create a consistent world for all of us.

In Closure this stagehand God is clearly absent, and reality instantly disintegrates outside the fragile circle of light/perception. Combined with a creepy soundtrack and very, uhm, darkish graphics, it makes for a haunting, claustrophobic experience.

See also the Glaiel Games blog, which talks about developing the game, the origin of the title, (which was inspired by the Gestalt Law of Closure), the role of story and how to communicate fear.