Pataphysical Letters

by Φ

between Rene Daumal & Julien Torma

11 December 1925

My Dear Torma,

I have been thinking over what you said yesterday. There’s a lot that needs clarification. But that shouldn’t deter us from trying to see a way through. Or should that be the other way round? That chap at H. IV you’d heard of isn’t called Borne by any chance? Ho fits the description you gave pretty well & he isn’t very bright. Not that that matters very much. I don’t think there’s anything brewing in that direction. He’s the sort of fellow who always make two & two add up to four. I’m sure he was perfectly sincere when he gave me a nought for the freshers’ essay which, as an experiment, I have composed in the manner of the Surrealists. Rest assured that I am conscious of your respectability as during the first words we exchanged about the quays. Joking apart, would you like me to do something about that next Thursday? Or can it wait until January?

See you soon in any case, Rene Daumal.

[Undated] 1926

…intentions. You know what Lecomte & I think of you & the ascendancy which your culturelessness has given you. We undertake nothing without you. The very fact that you turned Rogerdown flat bestows upon you personally the principal weight of the void. There is a force about you which is bewildering because it rests on nothing. It is this nothing which is precious. You are quite right to dissociate yourself from La Lampe obscure [Torma’s first book of poems], its dark lucidity flared up once & for all in the midst of colourless fog. And in disowning it, you also affirm it, just as in creating it you exceeded what you were writing or were exceeded by it. You maintain that even as a gilded youth you smiled at the incredibly farcical & distracted language. Others have experienced that. But do you know if you were the master of your instrument? Who was speaking? What if the irony which you thought you had secreted within was not a sign added to all the others, leading to the denunciation of the unintelligable ballast of the soul? The Lamp no longer belongs to you & its shine reflects a World in my eyes which I know only too well. We have other friends who also know the work. But they know nothing about you yet. We do not wish to appear to have pledged you to their way of thinking even by simple presumption. And if you “persist” in this, neither Roger nor myself will do you a “wrong”. Make no mistake. We need neither a leader nor a prophet. What we need is this ballast. One can never have too great a void inside oneself. If you keep your distance, at least act as a myth: that could not displease you. I cannot help wondering why you refuse to see Breton. Roger, like everyone else, does not stand up to him as he should. I can guess what will happen. What we need from you first is an answer.

Best wishes, Rene.

7 April 1927

My dear Rene,

Is it worth the struggle again of toiling again in order once again to put myself through the pain again of hurting you again? Now, now — you know full well that the fruit of my loins is not blessed. Your mystical unity is impenetrable to me; the lamplighter too–I wouldn’t’ve illuminated or extinguished that lamp with you. You are intoxicating yourself on nothing. But you have faith. Why haven’t you told your friends about me? Why not admit that it is becuase you sense, quite reasonably, that we are incompatible. Till now–for the last three months, you have tried to make me believe that I believe what I don’t & you do! You claim that the individual is not a reality. That’s fine with me. But your Oneness of the World is no more real. There is no definitive reality, except for the gullible. Your void has the air of a gleaming department store about it, a refuge. The real void is something we don’t even think about, & we don’t celebrate it. You still rely on a crutch. I don’t reproach anyone for drugs; but they are a prop. My sacred lampisterie leaks smoke from all its vents. I have made you inhale it. And my void is a bit light-footed to be used as ballast. Lecomte know very well, too well, what he wants to do. He wants to be a prophet. Me, I know know what I want, & I hope I never know. I stick to playing the game: but I would like to call it great. We’re not playing the same way. There’s something there for all tastes & distastes. Your good health. And not even the merest more nor milligramme the less in friendship.

J. Torme


My Dear Julien,

After many a summer, I wanted to resurface for you, sure that you would welcome these pages of pataphysical apocalypse. I got your address from JM, not without twisting his arm (I mention this sot hat you won’t be too hard on him), for he only gave in after I told him what it was about. He led me to understand that you no longer write poetry, or rather, because I can imagine the shock these insane thoughts will cause you, that, without ever having given the time of day to these colonizers, you used to give the impression of playing with them when the song appealed to you but that now the music’s over. Is that the best way of putting it? Forgive me for having sent you Bifur? I have no idea what your reactions are. Bad? Or will you dash through it snapping the pages? You will laugh if I speak of your severity & say purely & simply that you couldn’t care less. Purity & simplicity. I will run the risk, however, not for the sake of Bifur, nor even for that of Pataphysics ,but for you whom I sill miss & who I would liked to have accompanied further along the roads of this planet:

What cruel arm restrains me here, Fugitives of the World, while North you flee.

With Roger we invoke you from time to time from behind the veil. You know that we are getting on more than ever with La Grand Jeu & facing up to all the unavoidable problems. More recently, we recalled the years when your presence meant so much for us — & something different from what you would have wished. These enterprises beyond measure which we urge on with all our strength & which you perhaps do not approve of fill our entire lives & occasionally make us dream of what we had hoped of you. Write back to me & tell me what you are doing & what you are writing.

Best wishes, Rene.

20 October 1929

Dy Dear Daumal,

No apologies needed for sending me the issue of BifurBifur is Bifur, & you may daub things on walls if you have a mind to. You were right to send a copy as I would not have got to hear of your article otherwise — & discovered that pataphysics could be married to mysticism. I am still intrigued by that. Of all the reading matter that chance has thrown my way — & that worthy deity has always done well by me — the various pieces that I have come across by Jarry have always seemed the least tedious. I see by way of them. There are those who see by way of Bourdeaux or Gide. Is there anything wrong with that? As for me, I see through the eyes of Sengle or Emmanuel Dieu. Question of taste & pretensions. Indeed, it is even what makes some books still possible, because I am no longer — despite your past remonstrances — interested in either culture or gnosis. So I am pleased to find you seeing via the same bodies of smoke.
Once again I shirk the issue.
It will come as no surprise to learn that I do not much care for your slaps of the absolute, having little faith in any other kind of absolute except that which slaps. Is there any other? I found your article upsetting because everything in it is true. Except the tone. The word true means precisely nothing here & succumbs to a pataphysical paw-swipe. You are right to speak of chaos. But one gets the feeling that you believe in it as if it were some sort of God. In spite of your subtlety, my dear Rene, you have too much of the graciousness-of-god about you. Leave me to be wicked. You are working at the absolute.
I do not see Faustroll laugh. I do not have the book at hand. But I would swear blind — don’t you see? How can you write: “Faustroll grins.” You are horribly behind the times. We are no longer at the Mephisto stage. At evil & guilty consciences, or even consciences at all. If Faustroll turns Mephistophelian it can only be part of a pataphysical game. Because Mephistophelianism is something they cooked up, as we were saying. Faustroll is imperturbable. Or not at all. He has the appearance of being natural & of not being natural. Because nature is just one more farce neither more nor less interesting that any other. He does not choose, he no longer distinguishes, he no longer prefers. He voyages wrong side up. But his voyage does not even exist. This is clearly seen in the death & resurrection of Bosse-de-Nage. But neither are they imaginary in the sense of the heroes of novels & stories in the fantastic genre. One supposes, provisionally at least, however extravagant the hypothesis, that it is not totally implausible that those heroes exist. But it is pretty rich of you to say that “all defined existence is a scandal.” With the One & suchlike. But why not say that undefined existence is a scandal, though the word scandal is superfluous. Faustroll says: “I am God,” & he surely has as much right to say that as does God himself. All the same it is a bit much — or not much enough — to take him seriously.
No writing — either holy or impeeous. No time to. I am doing nothing, just boring jobs, & jobbing boredom. It will go on like zat… (or sade) probably till our dying day. So be it. Do not take that as an alluvion [sic].

All the usual… best

Did R.D. (the other one) tell you I almost spoke ill of you to him six months ago? He wrote to say he was not among the tortillionnaires.*

* Reference to Robert Desnos’s split with the surrealists.

2 November 1929

My Dear Toto,

Clearly D. & myself are both right. Don’t let it gall you that we don’t — & can’t — agree. This business about Faustroll is not important. For my part, I’m not trying to convince anyone. You know my quirks: I separate off rather than defend myself. But since you want a taste of the matter: I believe that the original problem with that article is in the ß on “Pataphysics in General,” D. summarizes Jarry very quickly in his own words without paying attention to the conjunction of terms. That doens’t shock me, you know, he is free to do so. But, I say, but…
When he says that pata. is the opposite of physics — I’m already suspicious. When he clarifies the first summary by putting forward “the knowledge of the particular is irreducible,” as soon as I see the word “knowledge” I know that what’s coming is going to be nonsense.
If you still believe that anything whatsoever can be known, that is not pataphysics. This is just naivety. For me, if the opaque remains opaque, that doesn’t bother me. Ignorance doesn’t trouble me, it doesn’t make me nervous. I find it amusing, satisfying. People who make themselves groan with their searching seem to me to have an air of stuffiness about them.
D. wants to make an equivalence between the individual & the whole world. Sure, sure. And this is what anybody sees & lives at each instant, since at each instant they prefer their soup or their cramp to all the rest, or rather we prefer ourselves before all others, as the phrase goes. But where I get suspicious is when it puts me in mind of something cooked up by Caspal* (Pascal). So I think to myself: for him to have written it, it must be true and therefor: antipataphysical. This equation between the individual & the whole world becomes a symbol of knowledge. Such a pata. would be nothing more than a rehash of science & philosophy [sic] — & Jarry wouldn’t even have gotten out of bed.
He does not set out to complement science, but rather to derail it. The universe supplementary to this one is not at all a world of mysticism. If Jarry sees it at times as a world of dreamers & the dead, that is because death is a mystification — the finest of macabre jokes — & dreams are deranged stories. So essentially there is no difference, because there is no essence, because there is no difference. These devices are only petty inventions & ontological cosmetics for the feeble-minded who need hope, something to lean on. Death is a good old gold farce which stops us taking life too seriously. It pardons us. This is why people want, at any cost, not to die, to be immortal, to be even more alive afterwards than before: so that they can remain serious. Death liberates us from that.
You are going to tell me that I’m talking about liberation — like D. It is curious to see that we both have a desire to say the same thing, but in different keys. I fear that, for him, all of this just papers over a few games of hope & despair. I fear that Pata. is just a nice trompe-l’œil to dress up his mysticism so it doesn’t look old-fashioned — like those priests who make out that they are modern. In one sense, he is right to trompe his œil, but he deceives either too much or not enough. If pataphysics is just a veil or a symbol, then it is no longer anything. It is a symbol only of itself. And that’s an end of it. And thus the end of my letter too. It is five o’clock — in the morning. Imagine where I’m writing to you from. Almost a supplementary universe. But when?

J. Torma