A Useless Guide
296 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: August 31, 2012
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: January 30, 2015
- Publisher: The MIT Press
The first complete account in English of the evolution of 'pataphysics from its French origins, with explications of key ideas and excerpts from primary sources, presented in reverse chronological order.
Of all the French cultural exports over the last 150 years or so, 'pataphysics—the science of imaginary solutions and the laws governing exceptions—has proven to be one of the most durable. Originating in the wild imagination of French poet and playwright Alfred Jarry and his schoolmates, resisting clear definition, purposefully useless, and almost impossible to understand, 'pataphysics nevertheless lies around the roots of Absurdism, Dada, futurism, surrealism, situationism, and other key cultural developments of the twentieth century. In this account of the evolution and influence of 'pataphysics, Andrew Hugill offers an informed exposition of a rich and difficult territory, staying aloft on a tightrope stretched between the twin dangers of oversimplifying a serious subject and taking a joke too seriously.
Drawing on more than twenty-five years' research, Hugill maps the 'pataphysical presence (partly conscious and acknowledged but largely unconscious and unacknowledged) in literature, theater, music, the visual arts, and the culture at large, and even detects 'pataphysical influence in the social sciences and the sciences. He offers many substantial excerpts (in English translation) from primary sources, intercalated with a thorough explication of key themes and events of 'pataphysical history. In a Jarryesque touch, he provides these in reverse chronological order, beginning with a survey of 'pataphysics in the digital age and working backward to Jarry and beyond. He looks specifically at the work of Jean Baudrillard, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, J. G. Ballard, Asger Jorn, Gilles Deleuze, Roger Shattuck, Jacques Prévert, Antonin Artaud, René Clair, the Marx Brothers, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Raymond Roussel, Jean-Pierre Brisset, and many others.
This book is a past and future history of 'pataphysics, and should give great comfort to those conflicted souls (everybody) who still believe in anything.
Andrei Codrescu, author of The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess.
Andrew Hugill masterfully manages the apparent impossibility of writing seriously about a subject that makes unseriousness its core. I discovered 'pataphysics at age 16 and was immediately drawn to its irreverence and the impossibility of determining whether it was deep or pretending to be deep or something else entirely. Now that Hugill, himself a composer of pataphysical music, has explicated the intricacies, subtleties, and slapstick of 'pataphysics, I'm beginning to understand how much more there is to the practice than meets the mind.
Howard Rheingold, critic and author of Net Smart, Tools for Thought, The Virtual Community, and Smart Mobs
'Pataphysics: A Useless Guide is a richly informative critical overview of the wide-ranging influence of (and influences on) 'pataphysics, from Groucho to Deleuze, OuLiPo, Borges, Bõk, Situationisism, SciFi, Raymond Roussel, and a wildly creative crew of fellow travelers, diviners, alchemists, and literary and theatrical pioneers. Andrew Hugill's encyclopedic tribute shows how, for more than a century, Alfred Jarry's precocious mind theater has remained exhilaratingly exceptional and exceptionally exhilarating.
Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania; author of Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions
Hugill has written an essential, sharp book on this vital subject. He has a brisk style that gives the book pace and punch. It is authoritative and full of wonders. He gives the geography of the movement and maps out the exhilaration of uselessness.
Andrew Hugill, professor at De Montfort University and, equally important, Commandeur Requis of the Ordre de la Grand Gidouille in the Collège de 'Pataphysique, has in well under three hundred pages traced the lineaments of a science which, like a particle in quantum mechanics, fundamentally resists accurate measurement. He describes a field known for its wordplay and willful obfuscation with clear language, an admirable breadth of reference, and an abiding respect for the complexity and, well, willfull obfuscation of his subject.
From the Theatre of the Absurd through to modern art, literature, music, even postmodern philosophy, pataphysics has been one of the driving forces of the avant-garde for more than a century. Hugill's self-deprecating study provides us with not only an intellectual history of this fascinating but elusive community but also, and no less importantly, proffers valuable clues as to the nature of the creativity of the attitudes and tenets of its members.
Times Higher Education