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the Complete Review
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Andrew Hugill

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To purchase 'Pataphysics

Title: 'Pataphysics
Author: Andrew Hugill
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 230 pages
Availability: 'Pataphysics - US
'Pataphysics - UK
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'Pataphysics - India
  • A Useless Guide

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Our Assessment:

B : at times more of a catalogue than guide, but at least offers a broad overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 7/12/2012 Dennis Duncan

  From the Reviews:
  • "This notion of Pataphysics in its unapostrophized form opens the floodgates for Hugill to digress at length on a number of figures -- Joyce, Borges, Flann O'Brien -- who have only the most tenuous connection to 'Pataphysics proper, and the same unscrupling superfluity characterizes the book as a whole." - Dennis Duncan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Andrew Hugill's 'Pataphysics is billed as A Useless Guide, but given the subject matter and the author's status as a pataphysician (a Commandeur Requis de l'Ordre de la Grande Gidouille in the Collège de ’Pataphysique) one should presumably expect nothing less (or more).
       Definitions of 'Pataphysics remain elusive, even in this volume, but then that's part of the point, and part of what's meant to be the fun: 'Pataphysics generally refuses to take anything, even (or especially) itself, too seriously. What is it, even -- a literary or cultural movement ? A guiding philosophy ? A way of life ? An ideology ?
       Among the clues as to what it's all about is the claim that:

'Pataphysics is to metaphysics as metaphysics is to physics
       But even that comes with the reminder that: "metaphysics is a word which can mean exactly what one wants it to mean", which doesn't help specify what 'Pataphysics might be.
       Among its general principles is a focus on the particular: pataphysicians finds a validity to most everything, and exceptions are the norm in what is seen as a rule-less world (yes, 'Pataphysics would seem to shy away from anything resembling inductive reasoning); beyond that, too, 'Pataphysics regards all things as equal. 'Pataphysics is also: "the science of imaginary solutions" -- though here, as with much else, how exactly that's supposed to work is unclear.
       Obviously, 'Pataphysics lives nicely off the vagueness clouding it. The Collège de ’Pataphysique -- the original and leading pataphysical organization, though by now far from the only one -- was the precursor of Oulipo, but it also continued its own, essentially unconstrained existence, as it continues to flourish in its indeterminate state.
       Alfred Jarry was the guiding light behind the notion of 'Pataphysics, but it has since been taken up and embraced by an enormous range of authors and artists -- to varying degrees. And as, Hugill argues, many more are in fact, deep down, pataphysical -- and/or produce work that is --, even if they don't know it or officially subscribe to the philosophy. Hugill works, for the most part, by example -- which gets problematic as he ranges far beyond the traditionally pataphysical, finding elements of 'Pataphysics in all sorts of art and writing (and the occasional lifestyle).
       'Pataphysics is presented in reverse chronological order: after an introductory section Hugill tackles the period from 2000 onward, then 1975 to 2000, all the way back to two chapters covering the 1907 to 1948-span, and then back to where it all began, in closing with a chapter on Alfred Jarry. It seems an unlikely way to present any sort of movement -- movements, after all, tends to move chronologically -- but Hugill pulls this off reasonably well. Situating present-day 'Pataphysics first ties it most readily to what readers are likely to be most familiar with (or to what they can find most readily on the Internet), and is a pretty good starting-point.
       The year 2000 also marks a significant (re-)starting point for (French) 'Pataphysics: in 1975 the Collège de ’Pataphysique went dark, so to speak, its 'occultation' a stepping back into the shadows (that, among other things, as Hugill notes, fostered an international spread of pataphysical institutions to fill the apparent vacuum (a circumstance that already suggests there's something to this idea of 'Pataphysics being in the air, so to speak, and everywhere)); only in 2000 did the Collège get back on track, 'disocculting' and resuming public activities.
       A bit too much of 'Pataphysics is a veritable litany of examples, giving the book the feel of a documentary catalogue rather than any sort of real guide. It makes for a decent if occasionally labored history (even as the examples are often amusing and quite interesting), but rather limits the insight on offer. The nature of the subject-matter complicates things too: 'Pataphysics remains, by definition (whatever that might be ...) elusive, and so the head-spinning circularity on offer here can get a bit tiresome too. It doesn't help that Hugill heaps on examples from the farthest reaches -- including quite a few from far outside the pataphysical fold (i.e. who had no connection to it). Still, Jarry and his influence get their due, and there are certainly many intriguing titbits on offer her.
       A solid bibliography is also of good use, though there are some oversights, including Hugill's failure to notice that there's long been an English translation of Marcel Bénabou's Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books as well as a variety of minor errors (e.g. Harry Mathews' classic Singular Pleasures comprises 61, not "66 brief descriptions of people masturbating"; the great author's name is not spelt 'Stanislav Lem').
       Overall, 'Pataphysics is certainly more than just 'a useless guide', and there are many interesting snippets of literary history to be found here. But the quest for understanding 'Pataphysics remains, for all intents and purposes, self-defeating, and the reader is unlikely to finish the book much the wiser -- perhaps a bit better able to situate it, but still unable to articulate what the hell it's all about. Not that that should stop anyone from pataphyiscal enjoyment, since it presumably isn't meant to be readily graspable .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 July 2013

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'Pataphysics: Reviews: 'Pataphysics: Andrew Hugill: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Andrew Hugill teaches at Bath Spa University. He was born in 1957.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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