I arise again the same though changed

July 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am thinking about pataphysics lately and in particular its relationship to Harry Mathews’ novel, Tlooth.  I’m interested in its driving force for the Oulipo and the 1960s in general as a dramatic performance.

The term is coined by Alfred Jarry, author of the play Ubu Roi,  to mean the science of imaginary solutions. Here is a picture of Jarry drawn by Picasso.

In the resurgence of interest in pataphysics by artists forming the Collège de ‘pataphysique in Paris in 1948, I see in addition to Jarry the influence of Walter Benjamin’s Origin of German Tragic Drama.  Benjamin’s book was originally published in the late 1920s but became unavailable during National Socialism.  It was then republished in 1955.  I do not know when or if the Collège de ‘pataphysique actually read Benjamin, but it seems likely that by the time the Oulipo formed in 1960 they may have been familiar with his work.  In particular, I believe Benjamin’s attention to the allegorical and its relationship to messianic time, a time when historical consciousness overcomes intention, introduces a way of interpreting / making that presents the kind of pataphysical solutions Oulipo members seek in constraint-based writing.

In Harry Mathews’ novels, the plots often work as games.  Both critics and Mathews himself have attested to this.  If plot is a game, then in a way fate is a game.  In Aristotle’s Poetics, the word for plot is muthos, from which we get mythos and myth.  The time of the myth transcends historical time.  In tragedy, fate and fortune are revealed through the plot.  In the classical sense the events of the plot and the actions of the characters present a situation which “must be” or cannot have been otherwise.  However, in Benjamin’s study of the German baroque Trauerspiel, which he sees roots for in Hamlet, the tragic element is lost as the plays take on timeless abundances, often in courts without sovereigns.

It is easy enough to see how such plays might be of interest to Jarry as he begins to parody symbolism and as he turns his own life into an image of pataphysical character.  He arises again the same though changed.  What is the significance of such a parousia?

Baudrillard, influenced by the pataphysical uses the term simulacrum.  In Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century,  Marjorie Perloff calls the Oulipo precursors to the new poetics.  The tradition continues in writers like Christian Bok (whom Perloff discusses) and Harryette Mullen.  It is true that I’m interested in these contemporary writers, but I’m more interested right now in the ways that conceptions of drama, fate and chance work their way into aesthetic ideas in the 1960s.



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