Pataphors

Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 was a name intended for a Swedish child who was born in 1991. Parents Elisabeth Hallin and Lasse Diding had planned to never legally name their child as a protest against the naming law of Sweden which reads, “First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.”

Because the parents failed to register a name by the boy’s fifth birthday, a district court in Halmstad, southern Sweden, fined them 5,000 kronor. Responding to the fine, the parents submitted the 43 character name in May 1996, claiming that it was “a pregnant, expressionistic development that we see as an artistic creation.” The parents suggested the name be understood in the spirit of pataphysics. The court rejected the name and upheld the fine.

Pataphysics is a philosophy dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics. It is a parody of the theory and methods of modern science and is often expressed in nonsensical language. It is the science of imaginary solutions, as defined by Alfred Jarry, the first thinker to explore its foundations. It is an extension of metaphysics, the same way metaphysics is an extension of physics. The central concept is to take an idea, assume its veracity, and see where that gets you.

In essense, pataphysics is a degree of separation from reality. So, for example, if we see someone we know on the street and believe they are ignoring us even if it is not true, and then begin to imagine a reason they are doing so, we are essentially thinking pataphorically. So pataphors and pataphysics may also be said to describe the world of our fears, mistaken assumptions and belief systems run amok. They are worlds built of assumptions based on assumptions.

As an example, the neutral interpretation of an event might be “Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line.” A metaphorical interpretation would be “Tom and Alice stood side by side in the lunch line, two pieces on a chessboard.” A pataphorical interpretation would “Tom took a step closer to Alice and made a date for Friday night, checkmating. Rudy was furious at losing to Margaret so easily and dumped the board on the rose colored quilt, stomping downstairs.” Thus, the pataphor has created a world where the chessboard exists, including the characters who live in that world, entirely abandoning the original context.

A pataphor attempts to create a figure of speech that exists as far from metaphor as metaphor exists from non figurative language. Whereas a metaphor is the comparison of a real object or event with a seemingly unrelated subject in order to emphasize the similarities between the two, the pataphor uses the newly created metaphorical similarity as a reality with which to base itself. In going beyond mere ornamentation of the original idea, the pataphor seeks to describe a new and separate world, in which an idea or aspect of a concept has taken on a life of its own.

Like pataphysics itself, pataphors essentially describe two degrees of separation from reality, rather than merely one degree of separation, which is the world of metaphors and metaphysics. The pataphor may also be said to function as a critical tool, describing the world of assumptions based on assumptions, such as belief systems or rhetoric run amok.

In the 1960s pataphysics was used as a conceptual principle within various fine art forms, especially pop art and popular culture. Actual works within the pataphysical tradition tend to focus on the processes of their creation, and elements of chance or arbitrary choices are frequently key in those processes. Select pieces from Marcel Duchamp and John Cage characterize this.

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