Digital solipsism and the paradox of the great ‘Forgetting
‘Pataphysics and Exceptions
While a second-order cybernetic understanding of our worlds is useful, we should also consider design conversations that use the errant poetics of Alfred Jarry’s ‘pataphysics (apostrophe deliberate). It is my opinion that these two paradigms are not mutually exclusive as both deal in the particular and the exceptional.
Along with the creation of Pere Ubu, Jarry is remembered for his creation of Doctor Faustroll and the ‘science’ of ‘pataphysics:
“‘Pataphysics had appeared in Jarry’s most early work, but in 1898 he wrote the Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, ‘Pataphysician (not published until 1911). This book set out the sketchy outlines of the poetic affrontery that is ‘pataphysics. ‘Pataphysics is the science of the realm beyond metaphysics…It will study the laws which govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one; or less ambitiously it will describe a universe which one can see—must see perhaps—instead of the traditional one…Definition: ‘Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”
All of Jarry’s prose and poetics are predicated on what Christian Bok has called the ‘Three Declensions of ‘Pataphysics.’ These are the algorithm of Jarry’s art: Anamalos (the principle of variance), Syzygia (the principle of Alliance), and Cinamen (the principle of Deviance). Jarry named the ability of a system to swerve, the Cinamen, in reference to Lucretius’ poem De rerum natura (the minimal swerve of an atom).
In Subliminal Note (1960) Roger Shattuck attempts to define ‘pataphysics, a task he calls ‘self-contradictory:’
“’Pataphysics relates each thing and each event not to any generality (a mere plastering over of exceptions) but to a singularity that makes it an exception….In the realm of the particular, every event arises from an infinite number of causes….Students of philosophy may remember the German Hans Vaihinger with his philosophy of ‘al ob.’ Ponderously yet persistently he declared that we construct our own system of thought and value, and then live ‘as if’ reality conformed to it.”
The importance of both ‘pataphysics and the radical Constructivism of some second-order cyberneticists has a common philosophical precedent. The notion that by being in, observing and operating in the world we construct personal epistemologies is a trait of both paradigms. It is a way of thinking that is connected to the world and yet beyond it, which is a precedent an architecture would benefit from remembering. Bok writes, “As to understand on behalf of truth is to be reactive, accepting of the world ‘as is,’ but to misunderstand on behalf of error is to be creative, inventing the world of the ‘what if.’”