The Pataphysics of the Book

Jarry introduced the term “pataphysics” in 1893. He presented it as a given—as if pataphysics was the mother of the invention of pataphysics. Another given, according to Jarry, was that opposites are equivalent. Later, he would write that pataphysics is “the science of imaginary solutions,” concerned with laws that govern exceptions (the particular, rather than the general); it explains the universe supplementary to this one—or, at least, it describes a universe that could and perhaps should be envisioned in place of our own. Unconstrained by time, pataphysics dwells in Eternity and in the imagination of the artist.“God—or myself—created all possible worlds,” wrote Jarry.

The imaginative universe of Jarry’s book and magazine design reflects these pataphysical notions as well as the unfettered nonconformity he brought to bear on all aspects of his life. As proponents of the art of the book attempted to recapture the past, Jarry renovated publishing as an artistic practice. In place of the unity of text, illustration, and type, he welcomed disjointedness and anachronisms, while co-opting existing words and images as his own.