“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”….
I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.
—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby
… American Scholar‘s list of the “Ten Best Sentences” (a list that includes the quote that titles this post, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). The list is offered unadorned, with no explanation of purview nor criteria (no “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” from Marquez?). Indeed, the site’s picture editor clearly had her own opinion, expressed via her illustration of the article with the photo above– a picture of the typewriter used by William Faulkner, also absent from the list…
But then, that’s the point of any list of this sort: it’s usefully provocative. And as Roy Peter Clark argues at Poynter, the examples can be instructive.
As we flirt with our inner Flaubert, we might recall that it was on this date in 1893, in the text of Alfred Jarry’s play Guignol in L’Écho de Paris littéraire illustré, that the term– and the concept of– ‘pataphysics first appeared. Jarry defined ‘pataphysics (derived from a contracted Greek formation that means “that which is above metaphysics”) as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.” Jarry insisted on the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, ‘pataphysique and ‘pataphysics, “to avoid a simple pun”… indeed Jarry’s aim was to compound the puns: The term pataphysics is a paronym (considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a signal–a sly notation– to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns, among them patte à physique (“physics paw”), pas ta physique (“not your physics”), and pâte à physique (“physics pastry dough”).
Jarry’s concept was resurrected after World War II with the foundation (in 1948) of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”). Its members have included Raymond Queneau, Eugène Ionesco, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, and Marcel Duchamp.