Subtle Bonds of the Encounter: Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) / bpNichol (1944-1988) / Ibn Arabi (1165-1240)

What if metaphysics was a branch of cinéma fantastique? The playwright, like all artists, seeks the truth—of which there are many. Take a florid helvetian (St. Gria). The idea that there could be other apples from other gardens, and consequently other towns, made him burst out laughing. His quill split in two and the symbol cymbal screeched. But let’s leave aside that which causes acidity, and begin by turning the page. After all I’d almost prefer that it be fake, if it’s futile: f + utile, beyond the utile. Facetiousness makes fun of function. Remedy: ’pataphysic unction. Ubiquitous e-xcess embodied ironic in the fifth-letter-of-the-first-word-of-the-first-act.

h     arrh           pshit
         ——— = ———            : the marchand du sel’s phynancial consideration of a letter in excress
h     art               shit


’Pataphysics beats science at its own game. It goes beyond physics and even metaphysics. Jarry studied Nietzsche in high school at Rennes before Nietzsche had been translated. As for Darwin, he is a tautologist: the survivor survived. Instead of expounding the law of falling bodies towards a center, why not the void’s ascent toward a periphery? Evolution is a Sisyphean task. Not for the species but for the divinity which submits it to ever more difficult tests. And the object always triumphs. The lab rat conditions the researcher to feed him each time he carries off an experiment. “Programmed” by Penelope’s waiting, Odysseus cannot not return. The target determines the arrow’s path. The crystal ball takes its revenge on the will to know. To each her clinamen.

Doctor Faustroll was born in Circassia, in 1898 (the 20th century was [-2] years old), and at the age of 63. I know a poet born of excellent humour, in Paris, in April 1973, at the age of 33. So begins his bio-bibliography. In fact, and it’s little known, he is the age of fire since there’s a fire his age

There’s ’pataphysics and ’’pataphysics. The first has one inventor, the second has two. Jarry’s ’pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions. The ’’pataphysics of McCaffery and Nichol is the literature of all imaginary sciences. Doubling the elision opens a perpetual quote. ’’Pataphysics is the science of generalized inversion, the transcendental law of the ’’patadox, the non-art of the absent. For a long time in the land of maples it made prestigious institutions flourish en masse:

The Toronto Research Group, the Institute for Linguistic Ontogenetics, the ’’Pataphysical Hardware Company, the Institute for Creative Misunderstanding, the Institute for Applied Fiction, the non-College of Epistemological Myopia, Writers in Support of Alphabet Archaeology.

It’s from within one of these that bpNichol measures the attributes of discourse (weight of a thought, circumference of words, square root of a sentence) in the half-scientific, half-kabbalistic tones of his probable systems. Letters have numerical equivalents and combine with each other to form words just like digits form numbers. Our 26-letter alphabet is nothing but a calculation base. The series of letters, like that of numbers, is infinite. Every letter beyond Z can be written as a combination of letters between A and Z. In a given base, a word is nothing but the complex expression of a simple letter situated a certain distance from A. bp shows, with supporting equations, that in base V the word sun is in fact the 124,645,213th letter after A. Armed with this discovery, he announces an unprecedented project: to calculate, in a base to be defined, the letter corresponding to the whole of Proust’s Recherche. Death cut him down, alas, in front of his still-warm madeleine.

The alphabet is a narrative—a movement along the abc. Every written word is a displacement of this primary narrative, every sign the precarious site of a disarticulation. Every text deconstructs a given even as it writes out a new one.


Plato          post

Socrates    scriptum

For bpNichol letters are tied to an image of childhood. “In Wildwood Park in Winnipeg the streets and/or sections were named after the letters of the alphabet. So in learning the alphabet, I was also learning my way home.” In 1950 a natural catastrophe forced the Nichols to move (Saskatoon, then Calgary). “but something happened to me after that flood. when the water receded i had changed. i had become H obsessed.” In the alphabetic section of Winnipeg, bp and his family lived in section H.

Nothing distinguishes memories from other moments. It’s only later that they make themselves known, by their scars.

For bp letters are at the center of language’s activity, which is sacred activity. While young, he came across the word “stranglehold.” What he saw: st. ranglehold. From then, all words beginning ST are saints, and there are many saints. They live in Cloudville whose houses and streets change, dissolve and reform without end. bp frees words from their function. Who would dare to sit upon St. Rap-on?

bp is a consistent man. He marries Ellie, an ex-nun, and names his master work The Martyrology (9 volumes). A martyrology is a history of the lives of saints. The Martyrology is the history of an encounter with language.

Among other minor works, bp composes The Martyrology of Saint And, The Sorrows of Saint Orm, Saint Reat and the Four Winds of the World. Le Petit Robert on CD-Rom, version 1.3 [1997], lists 448 St. words in French. One day someone will have to write The Martyrs of Saint Alin, The Passion of Saint Akhanov, or Saint Ring and the Dance of the Seven Veils.


Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer. bp confesses a curiosity in the Orient. Arabic and its calligraphic dances spark his unfulfilled desire for a comparative alphabetics. Islamic esoterism abounds in texts on the science of letters which Ibn Arabi, seal of the saints, named the science of Jesus. Semitic wisdom sees in letters a mediating principle (which joins in separating, separates in joining) between the creator and his creatures.

The production of the physical world and the production of language are one.

Rotation of the spheres

The primary Elements mingle

Heat frigidity dryness humidity

Engendering superior letters

A being of limits – حرف

Negation of all form

of relation     (eternity)

Letters are the limit of the physical world.

No vocalization =__inert body_______ أوْ

___________________unfigured breath-أوْ


dead language

Not signs of sounds but soundless signs.

I go beyond duality: I take off both sandals

I invent an order to match my infirmity

Strides forth the truthful foot

Archangel Israfel blows his trumpet

َ ahhhhhhh ُ uhhhhhhh ِ i


Makes an image

position of the lips     shadings of the exhale

Three vowels in the world

of consonants among two

planes subtle bonds

of the encounter with djinn or angel

ascending     descending


The vowels حَرَکَات are the body’s movement.

Within writing the solitary alif

aerial letter     vertical absolute

holds itself straight up

“Every thing attaches itself to it

and it attaches itself to nothing”

So the origin of all letters

is not one of them

“The alif supporting the hamza

is a half-letter

and the hamza the other half”

For that which joins also separates.

Fusion without confusion is only show of science.


(Translated from the French by Stephen Ross)