Saturday, 6 June 2009

An old letter

The following letter was affixed to my (as yet unpublished) essay Toward A Nagean Pataphysics in late A.Da. 89 (2005), when it was submitted for marking at Dartington College of Arts (R.I.P.). The essay (according to base Bourgeois standards of mathematics) was nearly 60% over the maximum allowed word-count of 5000 words. This note was determined to prove that the word-count was, when looked at in the proper 'Pataphysical light, in fact nearly perfect. To his credit (I think), Mark Leahy approved of the calculations--one more bit of proof as to Dartington's pedagogical value before it had its throat cut by its own treacherous administration.

The essay itself will be published in the course of time; the context of that publication is still being decided upon.

To whom it may concern:

I am attaching this prefacexplanationlettermissiveappendix to the body of my essay, Toward (and away from) A (potential) Nagean Pataphysics for two main purposes (in addition to a few supplementary ones). One is to introduce some critical background to the piece itself, for Pataphysics (as you will find) is by its nature fiercely inward-turning, potentially hermetic, patantially occult; and for those not familiar with certain terms, sources, and areas of Pataphysical concern, these carefully constructed Anti-symmetries and Anti-logical arguments might appear as meaningless chaos, rather than meaningless structure.

1.} This essay contains a number of references to various definitions of the Anti-discipline known as Pataphysics, given by Alfred Jarry, its (Anti-)founder. Many of these (taken from Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician) are so thoroughly ingrained in its practitioners as to be commonly invoked in their texts merely by a single word or phrase without being made explicit. I have appended a list of these canonical definitions; pay particular attention to the wording and metaphorical themes themselves. Some additional definitions will come into play in the piece itself.

2.} Two terms have come to be traditionally invoked in Pataphysical discourse in a particular way: the clinamen as a swerve, on some register, that disrupts a given order or circuit of transmission; and the syzygy as a coming together, or superinduction, of two disparate elements.

3.} Most engagements with Pataphysics have involved as their principle (though not exclusive) strategy the bringing together in some way of a literary/poetic/imaginative model with either a mathematical model (Oulipo), or a scientific model (Canadian “Pataphysics).

The second (main) goal of this letter (which, might I stress, is to be regarded simply as a helpful supplement of the piece itself) is to explain, in the most straightforward way possible, the number of words contained in this essay, both the apparent number and the actual.

According to Microsoft Word, this piece of criticism includes exactly 8,375 words. However, I must stress that (Microsoft Word being, when approached as a word-counting tool, nearer to the metaphor of a club than that of a stiletto) this is merely the apparent number of words; but after a short explanation of several factors involved in this revelation, I shall proceed systematically to demonstrate that I have, in fact, when looked at in a more judicious light, approached the paradigmatic goal of 5,000 quite closely.

First, let me point out that if we designate the ideal number of words in the essay as x, and the ideal amount of intellectual capital, or “meaning” as y, the equation that most perfectly expresses the ideal state of the projected essay is:

x = y.

However, upon closer inspection, we realize that y is not in fact a number, and that in the present situation (i.e. algebraic rather than phonetic) it can in fact signify any number- for instance 6, or 5000, or 93, or 385,430 –6.
x however, has been fixed in its signification, thus:

5,000 = y

It has, however, been conclusively shown, in different ways, that x (the word) can never be charged with a strict one-to-one (or x to x, or y to y) correspondence with intellectual capital, i.e. “meaning.” (see McCaffery, “Writing as a General Economy” [McCaffery 2000, pp 201-221 or Derrida, “Speech and Phenomenon.” [Derrida 1991, pp 6-30.]) As a result, if 5,000 is taken as a constant, then y, which we now realize can never equal x, must always have a certain amount of “capital” or “meaning” either added to or subtracted from it in order to restore an equilibrium. This can be expressed mathematically in one of two ways, depending on the value of y relative to x:

y = y - z
y = y + z

Therefore, in order to equate y with x, we are always faced with one of two equations (or, potentially, a point of tangency between them which is nonetheless not a mere neutrality). Thus:

5,000 = y – z
5,000 = y + z

The former might represent Lautreamont, Derrida, Jarry, or Stein; the latter Hemingway or Kostelanetz. In my case, the former is most certainly the case, since the very confusion bred by syntactic complexity, and the added subtlety for grammatical and semantic manipulation that it allows, is vital to the working of any potential Nagean Pataphysics, which must operate as much on the level of literary technique, rhetoric, and structure as on argumentation. Thus I am faced with one of two possibilities:

5,000 = y – z
5,000 < z =" 5,000" 000 =" y" z =" 5,000" z =" 5,000" 5 =" 4,989.5" y =" 4,989.5">

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