Sunday, February 28, 2010
Peripheral visions: Zombie-'Pataphysical Prehistory, the Extraordinary Ordinary
Image: Jean Collins
A recent article in New Scientist discusses the 'ephemeral' marks and symbols in cave paintings. They are now being considered as very early manifestations of prehistorical abstract thought. Some 26 symbols have been found, many of them occurring in different parts of the world, in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australasia.
What were previously seen as insignificant might be even more important than the stunning images they accompany.
The current interest in these symbolic utterances parallels the attention given by 'Pataphysics to the outlying, the marginal, the exceptional, the singularity, the 'unimportant'.
This is by no means relativism (of which Post-Modernism is so often wrongly accused). 'Pataphysics is the very science of such peripheral phenomena.
If a 'Pataphysician bought an IKEA chair, it would be the instructions and the left-over bits that seem to fit nowhere upon which he or she would try sitting, with success. Chopin's music might be robbed of all its notes save the accidentals.
Literary analysis of texts by computer programs more often used to detect the central points of interest in legal or government documents tends in novels to highlight the banal, the everyday that the reader scarcely registers. The main themes of a novel might be identified as 'walking' and 'sitting'. And why not? This is presently seen as a failure, but in fact it is a wild success. 'The Road': a novel of walking; 'On the Road': a novel of walking and train journeys; 'The Importance of being Earnest', a play about furniture…
The program will miss multiple layers of meaning. So what? The reader constructs her own, now enhanced or even replaced by new universes of the 'ordinary', which really is quite extraordinary.
This image shows a word-cloud of the International Declaration of Human Rights, which centralised and magnified the central concepts, turned inside out.