Alfred Jarry’s Pataphysics



Jarry presented his private fantasy1 of the Science of Pataphysics within a nonsense novel.2,3 Consequently, his notion was generally, and falsely, assumed to have been a parody of science, an absurd excrescence of comic endeavour that seeks to spoil for a laugh.4


The individuals who followed Jarry’s lead appeared to have been primarily second-rate artists seeking the freedom of ‘anything goes’ in art and thereby gradually emerging ‘modern art’.5 And they had little brains and less imagination, for they failed to appreciate the serendipity of Jarry’s awesome fantasy.


The essential features of Jarry’s renormalised6 fantasy of pataphysics are:


Pataphysics is related to metaphysics as metaphysics is related to physics.7,8

Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions.9 

Imaginary solutions give rise to supplementary universes.10

Pataphysics the science of the particular.11,12

Consequently, pataphysics is the science of the adaptation means of the individual and who was formerly called the exception.13

All individuals are equivalent.14




In short, Jarry’s pataphysical science fantasy is best described as: ‘The science of (private) imagination’ and its (n) (adaptive) applications (as supplemental universes).












1.    i.e., as notion, idea, thought experiment and so on.

2.    He chose to cloak his fantasy in ambiguity, thereby avoiding direct critique. Using highly selective and apodictic dialogue admixed with nonsense has been an age-old rhetorical trick much used by ancient Greek fantasists like Plato and Aristotle and, later on, by European (like Aquinas) and Indian (like Adi Shankara) scholiasts.

3.    Had he been forced to explain and/or defend his pataphysics (to wit: epi-meta-physical) fantasy he and others might have understood what an extraordinary advancement his name giving (i.e., neologism) made. In this regard note the similarity of development from the private responses to physics to the private notions of metaphysics of genetics to the private observations of epigenetics.

4.    Jarry was apparently a borderline exhibitionist and self-professed buffoon with an irrepressible Geltungsdrang (German, obsessed with the need for recognition or valuation). He appeared to have been an idiot-savant with infantile tendencies and the adolescent propensity to act as spoiler who, like many teenagers, didn’t give a shit (French: merde or, in his elaboration, merdre) but needed to make an impact or shock at any price. Hence his use of the absurd, ik.e., his reversion to disorder to achieve his goal. He eventually applied his pataphysics procedure to himself and became a sorry caricature (i.e. as supplementary world) of one of his literary characters.

5.    Elsewhere named by those traditionalists unwilling to follow their lead as ‘Entartete Kunst’ = ‘Degenerate Art.’ After Jarry every private doodle qualified as ART.

6.    Once Jarry’s fantasy of Pataphysics is removed from the context of the absurd in which it was embedded it can be examined as a stand-alone (i.e., individual, private) idea complex pertaining to the survival mode of reversing ‘art follows nature’ to ‘nature follows art’ whereby the concept/word ART serves as the abbreviation of concept/words human artifice.

7.    The relationship is asymmetrical, non-logic, a quantum leap of imagination, i.e., of private seeing, thus knowing. Metaphysics consists of fantasies (i.e., as notions or ideas (i.e., as private responses) that seek to understand (the how, why and possibly wherefore) about (of) physics (i.e., nature). Pataphysics consists of fantasies (that seek to understand the how, why and wherefore) about (of) the uses and applications for personal survival of the fantasies of metaphysics and therefore of physics.

8.    Metaphysics fantasises (i.e., sees, imagines) about the contacts it responds to, hence to what is there. Pataphysics fantasises (i.e., sees, imagines) about what is not there (yet).

9.    An imaginary solution is an intentional fantasy, such as a mental (i.e., in private analogue) image, representation or thought as potential or possibility.

10.    i.e., to realistic (rather than real) worlds, private niches (i.e., selves), eco-systems, rebirths. A supplementary universe is an elaborated (rather than transcendent) state emerging as creative/adaptive response to a decaying initial state. The (dynamic) elaborated state serves as sine qua non of survival since the initial state, being dynamic, is decaying unto the final goal/outcome, namely death. It is the cognition of this latter goal that reduces life to meaninglessness that fired the (sub specie aeternitatis) imagination of the absurdist Samuel Beckett.

11.    For ‘the particular’ read: any quantum or monad; an individual; a singularity, an original or unique autonomous system and so on. After Jarry the unique, autonomous individual (to wit, the idiot) was no longer the exception to the rule but the rule maker.

12.    Before Jarry ART (i.e., human artifice) was regulated/ruled craft, trade, artisanship. Jarry deregulated (i.e., as ‘laissez-faire’, free-for-all) craft-as-art and thereby made possible the doodle-(i.e. the unregulated absurd)-as-art, hence ‘modern art’ as ‘anything that affects goes’, the latter’s ‘quality’ (or significance as affect that changes and so differentiates) determined thereafter by its market price. On December 11th, 1896 Jarry legitimised modern, indeed absurd ART with the word ‘merdre’ (i.e. merde = shit) in the opening act of his play Ubu Roi. Finally, ART had realised the ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité proclaimed during the French Revolution. 

13.    By and large, rules are derived via statistical probabilities arising from the responses of large numbers of (unruled, eccentric, solipsistic, anarchic) individuals. Those rules are politically useful fantasies. Lastly, all individuals, because unique, thus original, are exceptions to the rules of the many. Indeed, Jarry mocked the rules of the man as exceptions. The individual (as particular, such as the artist/inventor) is (indeed must be) a law unto him/herself. That was Jarry’s point.

14.    (Initially) All quanta (i.e., as singularities, solutions, particulars deriving from one and the same identifiable reality emergence procedure) are equivalent until proven non-equivalent curtesy of reality testing. Much like at the beginning of a marathon race all the runners are equivalent, i.e., as potential winners. Thus, after reality (hence survival capability) testing, one can observe, with G. Orwell (1984): “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”




Jarry’s original text, taken from ‘Exploits and opinions of Dotor Faustroll, Pataphysician.’