The Pataphysical Calendar of Alfred Jarry
Le Calendrier Pataphysique
History of the Pataphysical Calendar
The Pataphysical Calendar begins as a French student joke first perpetrated by Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), author of the infamous Ubu-Roi (King Ooboo), a mad drama whose first word Merdre! (Pschitt!) started a 15 minute riot at its opening in 1896. (Everybody who was anybody in literature was in the audience, even William Butler Yeats, who was clueless.) Jarry (zha-REE) went on to invent the imaginary discipline of 'Pataphysics (from an imaginary Greek word Hypataphysics, higher than physics, in analogy to Metaphysics). The joke has been perpetrated by generations of French students and intellectuals, most of whom write like Jacques Derrida only worse. Jarry went on to invent the Pataphysical Calendar. He died young, of tuberculous meningitis. The best account of him in English is in Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant Garde in France, 1885 to World War I. New York: Vintage, 1968 (still in print in 2004).
I was first introduced to Jarry, Pataphysics, and the Pataphysical calendar by Jacques Elis, a graduate student at Harvard who tutored me in French in 1957 so I could pass the undergraduate language requirement (which I actually did). I asked him about an odd calendar on his desk, and he initiated me into the cult, so to speak. (In 2004 he is an attorney in private practice in Paris.)
The June 2000 number of
Magazine littéraire featured a series of articles
"La Pataphysique: histoire d'une société très secrète" with an explanation of the calendar. Since there seemed to be no satisfactory explanation of the Pataphysical Calendar on the Web, I decided to write one.
I hasten to add that I don't read French very well, much less the obscure humor of the pataphysical tradition. I've tried to avoid that sort of writing here. You may write to me in French, but I'll reply in English.
How the Pataphysical Calendar works
The Pataphysical Calendar is a rearrangement of the Gregorian year calendar. The Pataphysical Era begins on September 8th, 1873, Jarry's birthday, and that date begins the Pataphysical year. The year is divided into thirteen months of 28 or 29 days each. Each day has a name (like a traditional French calendar of saints), always obscure and usually indecent. Each month begins with a Sunday, and has a Friday the 13th. Of course, the only way to do this is to intercalate days into the week, so that days of the Pataphysical week do NOT correspond to the days of the week in the Gregorian calendar. Since 13 x 28 is 364, there must be an intercalary day (two in a leap year) which is NOT a day of the Pataphysical week.
Each month has a 29th day, called a Hunyadi (ün-ya-DEE) - the name of a Hungarian patriot or a Hungarian laxative, depending on who you read. The Hunyadis are IMAGINARY days, with one exception (two in leap years). The non-imaginary Hunyadis are called "Hunyadi gras", Fat Hunyadi, like Mardi Gras I guess. The 29th of the month of Gidouille (= 13 July) is the annual intercalary day, with leap year day being the 29th of the month of Gueueles (= 23 February).
As befits pataphysics, its Web sites are evanescent. Google it.
The Pataphysical Calendar is a spoof, in the French tradition of anti-clerical humor, of the complex
French Catholic calendar with which Jarry's readers would have been very familiar.
Le Collège de 'Pataphysique
The calendar is allegedly controlled by the Pataphysical College, which issues occasional revisions (perhaps most recently in 1971), replacing some saints' days with commemorations of more recent contributors to the pataphysical cause. Thus Isaac Asimov is remembered on 12 Pédale (=6 March) as "Saint Hari Seldon, psychohistorien galactique".
Represented by the pataphysical spiral (la Gidouille [zhee-DWEE]), the Pataphysical College has recently made the decision to emerge from 25 years of obscurity.
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posted to the Web July 14th, 2000
updated July 7th, 2006