Monday, 17 June 2019

'Pataphysical Bloomsday

'16 June according to the vulgar calendar, is in reality 2 Gidouille in the Pataphysical Calendar, which is dedicated not only to St. Lucullus, amateur, but also to:  


Please join us for readings by Marcia Farquhar OGG and Tony White at the annexe to the annexe of the Rogation, namely: Bookartbookshop.'

That's an email I had last week from Alastair Brotchie, biographer of Alfred Jarry, inviting me to The London Institute of 'Pataphysics' Bloomsday celebration in the wonderful Bookartbookshop in Pitfield Street. 

The 'Pataphysical calendar was created in France in 1949, by the founders of Le Collège de ’Pataphysique. They chose to celebrate Bloomsday because they saw Joyce as one of their 'patacessors'writers and artists who were consciously or unconsciously pataphysical, though not directly influenced by Jarry

Joyce did know about Jarry.  In Paris, he became friends with his former lover, Léon-Paul Fargue, and Jarry appears at least twice in the Wake (as a model for the bohemian artist Shem the Penman):

greeze a jarry grim felon! Good bloke him! 278.F01

He has novel ideas I know and he’s a jarry queer fish betimes, I grant you, and cantanberous, the poisoner of his word, but lice and all and semicoloured stainedglasses, I’m enormously full of that foreigner, I’ll say I am!

Bookartbookshop is one of the world's great bookshops. Run by Tanya Peixoto, it specialises in artists' books and small press publications. It's the best place to go to find the key texts of the European avant garde, many from Alastair's Atlas Press, 'Publishers of the Anti-Tradition Since 1983'.

Some of my Atlas Press books

Walking from Farringdon Station to the bookshop, Lisa and I visited Bunhill Fields where two of Joyce's literary heroes - Daniel Defoe and William Blake lie buried. In Trieste, Joyce lectured on both writers, who represented his dual sides, Blake the mystic and myth creator, and Defoe the realist, obsessively recording street and shop names. We failed to find Blake's new gravestone, unveiled last year by Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden.

Arriving at the bookshop we were greeted by Tanya and Alastair, and given glasses of burgundy in honour of Bloom's lunch. About sixteen of us crowded into the tiny bookshop, where we listened to the writer Tony White's 'Portrait of the Author as a Young Postman: on reading Joyce in the Camden Town of the early 1990s.'

'Oyessoyess! I never dramped of prebeing a postman' FW 488.18

Tony wore his Royal Mail tie, in memory of his time as a Camden postman and in honour of Shaun the Post, one of the Wake's main characters. It was while he was working at the Post Office that Tony first read Finnegans Wake

One day on his rounds, an old lady saw what he was reading and said, 'If you're reading that (pointing to book) you shouldn't be wearing that (pointing to tie). You should be at University.' Tony told her that he'd already been to University, and got a first in Fine Art.

He later learned that she was the novelist Alice Thomas Ellis.

A fellow postman, also called Tony, had a very different reaction to the book.

'What's that you're reading Tone? Give us it here' 
'Ok Tony' (hands Finnegans Wake to fellow postman)
(Fellow postman looks at book, looks back at Tony, looks back at book and back at Tony): 'C•nt!'

Next Tony gave us his dynamic reading of the Museyroom, the Battle of Waterloo section from the Wake, which I've written about here.  I filmed the opening, in which he cast various audience members as museum exhibits.

Then we all went upstairs to Alastair's flat, where we had more burgundy and gorgonzola cheese.

'Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.'

Alastair toasted Leopold Bloom, rather than Joyce, because Bloom is imaginary, and 'Pataphysics is 'the science of imaginary solutions'.

Then Marcia Farquhar, our favourite performance artist, read the last section of Molly Bloom's soliloquy, from no ('no thats no way for him has he no manners nor no refinement nor no nothing in his nature') to the final yes ('first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes'). In previous years she's done the whole chapter.

Applause for Marcia

I loved the sleepy way she read the text. On his website, Tony describes her reading as 'generous, intimate and could have heard a pin drop.'

Marcia and Alastair after the reading
It was extraordinary to hear Molly Bloom straight after the Museyroom. Joyce wrote the Wake piece in 1926, just five years after writing Molly Bloom, yet they are worlds apart.

Here's a film by Tracy Drew of Marcia doing an earlier reading of the piece in the bookshop.


There's no evidence that Joyce read Jarry's books, but their writing shares many characteristics.  Both were revolutionary writers, who reinvented literary forms and who loved to create new words (such as 'pataphysics' itself). Yet they were also rooted in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance literature.  Influenced by Francois Rabelais, both loved writing long lists. Here's part of a Jarry list from Exploits & Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician.

 Here's part of a Joyce list, of the gifts of Anna Livia to her children, from the Wake:

Jarry shared Joyce's 'cloacal obsession', another feature of Rabelais, as well as an interest in alchemy. The Latin section of the Wake where Shem, using an alchemical process, makes ink out of his own excrement, would easily fit into Faustroll:

'First, the artist, the high first-sower, pulled himself towards the life-giving and all-powerful earth without any shame or pardon, and pulling up his raincoat and unbuttoning his trousers, his buttocks naked as they were born, crying and moaning, evacuated his bowels into his own hand, then, relieved of the black animal, he sounded the trumpet and placed his own dung, which he called "his dejections," into an urn once used as an honoured mark of sadness, and under the invocation of the twin brothers Medard and Godard pissed cheerfully and mellifluously therein, whilst singing with a great voice the psalm which begin, 'My tongue is the pen of a scribe writing swiftly.' Finally, from that foul dung mixed with the cheerfulness of the divine Orion, baked and then exposed to the cold, he made for himself an indelible ink.' 

FW 185 (translated from the Latin) 

Alchemists really did use dung in their experiments. See Agnieszka Rec's post 'Dung? Alchemy is full of it.'

'Alchemy is something of a hidden (or not so hidden) presence throughout pataphysics....providing an early example of a science of imaginary solutions.'

Andrew Hugill, 'Pataphysics: A Useless Guide, p204

Jarry and Joyce both use an obsessive scientific descriptive mode. Here's Bloom scratching a bee sting in 'Ithaca'.

And here's Faustroll getting dressed.

Jarry, like Joyce, accepted the simultaneous existence of opposite meanings.

'Jarry treated ambiguity as the stylistic manifestation of a universal principle of convertibility. Text means all things equivocally; anything may become its opposite; not literature but living is the supreme pun; writing is a slip of the tongue. Such total literary promiscuity is bound to yield the monstrous.'  

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years, 1968 p241

That could be a description of Finnegans Wake!  

There is also the Pataphysical principle of equivalence

'For the total Pataphysician, the most banal graffito equals in value the most consummate book, even Faustroll itself, and the humblest mass-produced saucepan equals the nativity of Altdorfer.

Doctor Sandomir, founder of the College, in his Testament

Joyce used this principle in gathering the material for Finnegans Wake, which he assembled out of every kind of literature, low and high.  Here's a description of items from newspaper stories he collected in his very first Wake notebook:

'Joyce took notes from the cooking sections for making apple pies and syllabubs, he made a list of London churches, took down quite a few golf terms scattered throughout the notebook, he noted words and phrases from ‘Our Ladies Letter’ section, facts about bats, expressions like ‘search me’, ‘pon my Sam’, ‘I bet you,’ and ‘holybones’, he took words from advertisements for per­sonnel (‘Youth wanted’), advertisements for Bird’s Egg Substitute cake-meal (‘a tin with a purpose’), for Hustler soap, for the Colgate Shaving Stick, for the Schoolgirl’s Weekly Magazine; one of his favourite pastimes is finding out of the way surnames from the births, marriages and deaths sections, possibly for his future characters.'  

Robbert-Jan Henkes 'Before King Roderick Became Publican in Chapelizod', Genetic Joyce Studies, Spring 2012

For more Jarry see my other blog The Jamboree Bag, where Lisa and I appear as Ma and Pa Ubu.

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