Pataphysics - A Religion In The Making

Asger Jorn

The history of religion falls into three stages. Materialist, or natural religion, completed the final phase of its development in the Bronze Age. Metaphysical religion emerged with Zoroastrianism and advanced through Judaism, Christianity and Islam, before maturing in the Reformation. Pataphyslcs, the third religious stage - set to galvanise human thought and action in about two hundred years time - emanates from Alfred Jarry's visionary system.

It is only recently that the religious content of Pataphysics has become apparent. Prior to this development, Jarry's invention remained largely unknown beyond the small circle who published the esoteric Cahiers du College de Pataphysique. But all this changed when a special Pataphysical number of the Evergreen Review was published in New York.

Although the Americans have now claimed the honour of presenting Pataphysics to the world, they didn't dare mention the word religion in their journal. Nevertheless, the enormous success Pataphysics enjoyed last year among the New World intelligentsia has inaugurated an epoch in which the essentially religious nature of this phenomena will be carefully analysed. You'd have to have a cold to miss the stink its causing! Natural religion is the spiritual confirmation of material existence. Metaphysical religion represents the establishment of an ever deepening rift between material and spiritual life. The various metaphysical religions indicate the degree to which such a polarisation has already taken place. The process by which this rift advances is complicated, and often retarded, by an attachment to natural rites - which are transformed, with varying degrees of success, into metaphysical ceremonies and myths. The stupidity of maintaining a metaphysical culture in an age already overtaken by a scientific paradigm is illustrated by [the] dictum Kierkegaard chose as confirmation of the Christian system of knowledge - that is, that it is necessary to have faith in the face of absurdity. The question that naturally follows from this is: 'Why?' The answer is immediately apparent: the secularised authorities require a spiritual justification of their power. This materialist argument dates from the period in which the critique of all ancient mythologies was beginning.

Simultaneously to the development of this materialist critique, a mythology capable of answering the new social exigencies was fashioned from spare parts. Surrealism, existentialism and lettrism all disappeared up this metaphysical back alley.

Indeed, the classical lettristes persevered so nobly in their effort to reunite all those elements which had become irreconcilable in the modern world, that - by working backwards - they ended up reviving the ideas of the messiah and the resurrection of the dead; anything and everything that guarantied the unilateral character of faith! Now that politicians possess the means of total destruction, anyone who concerns themself with the end of the world takes on the perspective of the state.

Completely secularised, Metaphysical opposition to the physical world is definitively destroyed. The struggle terminated by total default.

The scientific paradigm is the only victor in any such debate.

A religion cannot be considered objectively true if its truth conflicts with what is known as scientific truth; and a religion which fails to represent the truth is no longer a religion. It will soon be generally recognised that this conflict has been resolved by Pataphysics. Jarry and his followers have placed on the level of the absolute a basic idea of modern science: that is to say, the concept of the constancy of equivalents.

The ground was prepared for the theory of equivalence by the Christian concept of man's equality before God. But it was only with scientific and industrial development that this principle was imposed on all sectors of life; and finally arrived, via scientific socialism, at universal social equality.

The fact that the principle of equality could no longer be limited to the spiritual world led to plans for scientific surrealism - as sketched out in Alfred Jarry's theories. Here, the Kierkegaardian principle of the absurd has been supplemented by the axiom of the equivalence of absurdities (equivalence of gods among themselves; and between gods, men and things). In this way a future religion is founded, one which is indestructible on its own ground: pataphysical religion encompasses equally all the possible and impossible religions of the past, present and future.

If Pataphysics had been taught anonymously, and avoided criticism, it might have slipped unnoticed into the world. Had this had happened, the apparently insoluble problem of Pataphysical authority - the consecration of the inconsecratable - would not have occurred.

But, alas, we are only too aware that Pataphysics appeared in the wake of other religions to fulfil an identical function. And so, Pataphysics can't be materialised into a social authority without recourse to an antiPataphysical praxis; because to become socially recognisable it would have to be invested with a social power. Consequently, Pataphysical religion is an unconscious victim of its own superiority over all prevalent metaphysical systems. It should not be necessary to emphasise that no reconciliation is possible between the principles of superiority and equivalence.

The great merit of pataphysics is to have confirmed that there is no metaphysical justification for forcing everybody to believe in the same absurdity, possibilities for the absurd and in art are legion. The only logical deduction that can be made from this principle is the anarchist thesis: to each his own absurdities. The negation of this principle is expressed in the legal power of the state, which forces all citizens to submit to an identical set of political absurdities.

It must by now be apparent that once a Pataphysical authority is accepted, it becomes a demagogic weapon against the Pataphysical spirit. Thus the Pataphysical programme itself, prevents the existence of any Pataphysical organisation; and from this fact we can deduce that it is impossible to form a Pataphysical church. The impossibility of creating a pataphysical situation in social life also prevents the creation of a social situation in the name of Pataphysics. The reasons for this have already been outlined. Equivalence entails the complete elimination of any concept we might have of situations or events.

Now that Pataphysics finds itself placed in an objective cultural situation, the inevitable consequence of the preceding definition is a split in the body of Pataphysical believers; between pure antisituationists and those who - holding to the pataphysical premise of equivalents - still favour the development of organised absurdities. Such absurdities maybe referred to as games.

The game is the Pataphysical overture to the world. The realisation of such games is the creation of situations. A crisis therefore exists, caused by the crucial problem which each Pataphysical adept must resolve: s/he must either apply the situlogic method and attack the conditions of the reigning society, or else simply refuse to do anything whatsoever about the situation. It is in the latter resolution to this problem that Pataphysics becomes the religion best adapted to life in the society of the spectacle: a religion of passivity and pure absence.

The Situationist International, the organisation of antiorganisers, faces an equally serious choice. Whether or not it should adopt the Pataphysical principle as an antimetaphysical weapon: one that is forever reinvented in the creation of new games. The absurdity of superiority and absurd superiority are the key elements of these games. Authority is their essential goal. If the game is liberation, it is best to begin by applying the principle of equivalents: the situation can then be constructed with an appearance of superiority. On the other hand, if a metaphysical base is used as the starting point, the situlogic will be dragged down to the level of the spectacle: a modernised servitude.

After a long process of fermentation the basic elements for a new game are now emerging from their previously obscure existence.

Time alone will tell whether these elements are compatible or antagonistic.

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