metaphysical & metaphorical musings : art, architecture, and arithmetic

Thursday, March 31, 2011

'As if' al Azif

One thing that play and ‘pataphysics have in common is the ‘as if’; in play, this is the creative paithia, play without formal rules but organized by the principles of an imaginary world.  ‘Pataphysics is founded on this principle, creating an imaginary science of the world constituted by ‘as if’.  Both paithia and ‘pataphysics willfully forget history and experience in favor of constructing their own reality.  ‘pataphysics has certain rules, making it more ludic in nature, but ‘pataphysics maintains its playful character by developing the rules of its own methodology, granting greater freedom and creative latitude than in normal science.

I return to Danielewski’s House of Leaves as a point of intersection for a variety of themes I’ve been following.  The book, as noted before, uses the trope of recursion, and it does so in two ways.  First, the book represents itself as a diegetic object, as a book that the protagonist finds and reads.  Moreover, the impossible architecture of the house (unbound by space and time—an impossible physics, an imaginary physics, a ‘pataphysics—see also Turlington Hall) is reflected in the impossible architecture of the book itself (the house of leaves).  The book is the house that is the book.

Moreover, House of Leaves presents itself as a found manuscript, like Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. (The book also contains various other found manuscripts en abyme.)  This seems significant in light of Todd’s enlightening lecture, wherein he suggested the possibility of the hoax, pure simulation, as a route for our projects.  We want the realer than real to expose its own constructed-ness as well as that of the cultural doctrines we take for granted.

One example is The Blair Witch Project, another ‘found manuscript’, that needs no introduction.  An important, but little-known, paratext is the Sci-Fi Channel special “Curse of the Blair Witch”, presented as a documentary about the making of, and events surrounding, the found documentary (and aired in advance of the release of the film itself).  This was in the days before Sci-Fi switched to all-camp-all-the-time and still ran shows like “Sightings” which took a very serious approach to parascience.  A documentary about the weird circumstances surrounding a group of missing students, complete with dated news segments and interviews with Burkittsville locals, was indistinguishable from an actual documentary report.

Another example of the found manuscript is the Canadian “pataphysicians’ approach to reading the natural features of the landscape as interpretable signs—similar to reading accidents as signs, reading natural history as an accidental text—or perhaps accidentally reading it as a text.

Which brings me to the point that started me thinking about found manuscripts.  HP Lovecraft is famous for his universe of impossible physics (like non-Euclidean architecture and forms), and a key component of this world is the Necronomicon, adapted from the original title al Azif.  A popular prank amongst Lovecraft aficionado, back in the days of analog libraries, was to sneak cards for the book into official catalogues.  Several versions of the Necronomincon have actually been printed, among them a version edited by a man called Simon, which also presents itself as a found manuscript.  Despite the fact that Lovecraft himself averred that the book was pure invention, there are readers who legitimately practice magik with the book’s symbols and spells.

‘As if’, a la al Azif.

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