Monday, May 21, 2007
Of Poppies and Wild Roses
On the RER train from Châtelet to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, I thought: there's no intrinsic value, no special beauty, colour and so on, not even in these poppies and wild roses. It's just a human construction. The rail-side rubbish, any blade of grass, is just as real, no more nor less a part of the universe blah blah blah. And of course while this should make one happy, uplifted, in awe of the oneness of all things, it actually is… depressing.
But the reflective Zombie part of me wants there to be the possibility of a slip sideways into, you know, something a bit more vivid.
Here's where 'Pataphysics comes in. The science of imaginary solutions. You know, don't you, about imaginary numbers. For any number, along the line of real numbers, you can construct a "complex number" by combining the number with a multiple of i, the square root of minus one. This new number then lies on a complex plane whose horizontal axis is the real numbers …-2, -1, 0, 1, 2… and whose vertical axis the imaginary numbers.
Although it all sounds a bit silly, it has been of immense practical use for many, many years.
The point now is that 'Pataphysics is a lot like i. If the mundane lies along a (railway) line then 'Pataphysically to put into question, to vivify, all that we see we merely have to consider this new (not spatial) "dimension" of the world as, at least temporarily, real. Then a rose is not a rose is not a rose, and this arose from a consideration of the fact that we are not just finding a new way of looking at things, which would be all too facile and fleeting, but rather rendering the rose (and poppy, and everything) more complex… at which point, it can be seen to be more simple, essentially in (and this is the new bit, not facile, not provisional) a new way.
√−5, in words the square root of minus five, which would be banal even if not "impossible", is to be avoided and i√5 used instead. The one is "trying not to be bored or world-weary". The other is both "complex" and simpler, hence more beautiful; and in passing, we can use it, practically.
Now the "poppies and wild roses" sound like a song, their beauty seen from the train not a metaphor but… a 'pataphor, this latter not my invention. I don't know how all this seems to you, but to me it was, just when I needed it, therapeutic. The recognition (via 'Pataphysics, and its manifestation in the Paris-based College of 'Pataphysics) that there are processes, ways of making sense (even if via what some might call "nonsense") of the world, that are transformatory, is a revolution. That is to say, one turns around once, sees the whole, arrives back where one was before but nothing will ever be the same again. Do it once, and be happy; twice, and…
…and if you have been: thanks for looking.