Alfred Jarry

from Exploits and Opinions
of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician

8: Definition

An epiphenomenon is that which is superinduced upon a phenomenon.

Pataphysics, whose etymological spelling should be έπι (μετà τà φυσικά) and actual orthography ‘pataphysics, preceded by an apostrophe so as to avoid a simple pun, [1] is the science of that which is superinduced upon metaphysics, whether within or beyond the latter’s limitations, extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics. Ex: an epiphenomenon being often accidental, pataphysics will be, above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of general. Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one; or, less ambitiously, will describe a universe which can be—and perhaps should be—envisaged in the place of the traditional one, since the laws that are supposed to have been discovered in the traditional universe are also correlations of exceptions, albeit more frequent ones, but in any case accidental data which, reduced to the status of unexceptional exceptions, possess no longer even the virtue of originality.

DEFINITION. Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.

Contemporary science is founded upon the principle of induction: most people have seen a certain phenomenon precede or follow some other phenomenon most often, and conclude therefrom that it will ever be thus. Apart from other considerations, this is true only in the majority of cases, depends upon the point of view, and is codified only for convenience—if that! Instead of formulating the law of the fall of a body toward a center, how far more apposite would be the law of the ascension of a vacuum toward a periphery, a vacuum being considered a unit of non‑density, a hypothesis far less arbitrary than the choice of a concrete unit of positive density such as water?

For even this body is a postulate and an average man’s point of view, and in order that its qualities, if not its nature, should remain fairly constant, it would be necessary to postulate that the height of human beings should remain more or less constant and mutually equivalent. Universal assent is already a quite miraculous and incomprehensible prejudice. Why should anyone claim that the shape of a watch is round—a manifestly false proposition—since it appears in profile as a narrow rectangular construction, elliptic on three sides; and why the devil should one only have noticed its shape at the moment of looking at the time? —Perhaps under the pretext of utility. But a child who draws a watch as a circle will also draw a house as a square, as a façade, without any justification, of course; because, except perhaps in the country, he will rarely see an isolated building, and even in a street the façades have the appearance of very oblique trapezoids.

We must, in fact, inevitably admit that the common herd (including small children and women) is too dimwitted to comprehend elliptic equations, and that its members are at one in a so‑called universal assent because they are capable of perceiving only those curves having a single focal point, since it is easier to coincide with one point rather than with two. These people communicate and achieve equilib­rium by the outer edge of their bellies, tangentially. But even the common herd has learned that the real universe is composed of ellipses, and tradesmen keep their wine in barrels rather than cylinders.

So that we may not abandon, through digression, our usual example of water, let us reflect, in this connection, upon the irreverence of the common herd whose instinct sums up the adepts of the science of pataphysics in the following phrase:

1 A simple pun in French, e.g., “patte à physique.”

SOURCE: Jarry, Alfred. Definition [of ’Pataphysics, from Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician, chap. 8], in Evergreen Review Reader 1957-1967: A Ten-Year Anthology (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1968), pp. 310-311. Illustrations from original publication omitted here. The entire text can also be found in the book Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician: A Neo-Scoentific Novel, translated & annotated by Simon Watson Taylor, introduction by Roger Shattuck (Boston: Exact Change, 1996), pp. 21-24; originally published in Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, edited by Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (New York: Grove Press, 1965), pp. 192-194.

On this site:

Patalogic in the Garden of Sidamo by R. Dumain

Formal Logic of Pataphysics by René Daumal

Laughter by Marcel Schwob

Magritte, la Pataphysique et son Collège

Alfred Jarry’s “How to Construct a Time Machine”: A Web Guide

Humor & Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Irony, Humor, & Cynicism Study Guide

Ars Combinatoria Study Guide

Irony, Paradox, & Reductio ad Absurdum: Selected Online Sources

Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Study Materials on the Web

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress

Surrealism: Selected Links


’Pataphysics @ Ĝirafo (blog)

The Crucifixion Considered As An Uphill Bicycle Race” by Alfred Jarry

Read by miette on November 28, 2007 (with sound file)

Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being (exhibition, The Morgan Library & Museum, January 24 - August 16, 2020)

Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being (video, exhibition, The Morgan Library & Museum, July 22, 2020)

The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race” by J.G. Ballard

Read by miette on December 4, 2007 (with sound file)

Contributors - The Evergreen Review, Issue 102 (1999): James G. Ballard & Alfred Jarry

Functions of Science in French Fiction
by Arthur B. Evans

Maxwell's Silver Hammer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Beatles - Maxwell's Silver Hammer Lyrics | Rock Genius

Pataphysics and Fictive Art

Illposed Software | Philosophy

The Principals of 'Pataphysical Programming by Darko Svitek, Chief Philosopher at Illposed Software

PRASCAL: a pataphysical programming language by Andrew Hugill and Hongji Yang

Andrew Hugill: Pataphysics

’Pataphysics and Computing by Andrew Hugill

Words Made Flesh: Code, Culture, Imagination (2005)
by Florian Cramer

Pataphors (Paul Avion)

Atlas Press

Adventures In ’Pataphysics by Alfred Jarry

The Journal of Pataphysical Reviews, volume 3
1. Issue 1
2. Issue 2
3. Issue 3

Patakosmos (Facebook)


SAAJ – Société des Amis d’Alfred Jarry

The London Institute of 'Pataphysics - Introduction (<—defunct, but accessible here)

The London Institute of 'Pataphysics (Facebook)

Dead Links

Andrew Jaffe

King Ubu: Director's Notes by Anthony Black

INTERVIEW: Marc Lowenthal of Wakefield Press, 7 July 2010

Pataphysical Discourse in the German Bildungsroman by Christian Anderson (Northeastern Modern Language Association Conference, 2008)

Symbolism and Beyond. An Introduction to Jarry’s Life, Work and Poetics

The Pataphysical Calendar of Alfred Jarry

Definitely Maybe ('Pataphysics Resources)

Novum Organum du Collège de ’Pataphysique

Pataphysique de Nautia

Additional Bibliography

Beaumont, Keith. Alfred Jarry: A Critical and Biographical Study. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1984.

Bök, Christian. 'Pataphysics: the Poetics of an Imaginary Science. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002.

Brotchie, Alastair. Alfred Jarry: a Pataphysical Life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

Fisher, Ben. The Pataphysician's Library: an Exploration of Alfred Jarry's Livres Pairs. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000.

Hugill, Andrew. 'Pataphysics: a Useless Guide. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Jarry, Alfred. Adventures in ’Pataphysics, edited by Alastair Brotchie & Paul Edwards, translated by Paul Edwards & Antony Melville. London: Atlas Press, 2001. (Atlas Anti-classic; 8. Collected Works of Alfred Jarry; I)

Jarry, Alfred. "Elements of Pataphysics" [from Exploits and Opinions...], translated by Gio Clairval, in The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection, edited and with an introduction by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (New York: Vintage Books, 2016), pp. 30-36.

Noonan, Will. "From Shandyism to Pataphysics: Sternean influence in Alfred Jarry’s Gestes et opinions du Docteur Faustroll, Pataphysicien," in Shandean Humour in English and German Literature and Philosophy, edited by Klaus Vieweg, James Vigus, and Kathleen M. Wheeler (London: Legenda, Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2013), pp. 143-161.

Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature, translated and edited by Warren F. Motte, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

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