The Science of Imaginary Solutions

HEREIN IS A paradox of sleep: the couch is so much easier to fall asleep on, while the bed is so much better for actual sleep. Sleep is a bonus of relaxation on the couch but becomes an impotent promise on the more serious bed.

It seems to me while unable to sleep that most life tasks are easier and more enjoyable if one does them while pretending to do something else – snoozing while pretending to watch baseball, beginning a story or poem in an email addressed to a friend, all these little tricks to take the pressure off, to avoid the disservice one does himself with Focus.

There’s a term that relates to this. A term bandied about from time to time by the MFA crowd, a term I’ve discussed a few times with Mike and Gabe, with others, eating pizza after class, drinking PBR at Hugo’s, our local dive. It’s a term that intrigued me in the Emerging Adult phases, and that I’ve scoffed at more recently, grown increasingly annoyed by as the Actual Adulthood has taken hold. The term is pataphysics; it comes from the French playwright Alfred Jarry and means “the science of imaginary solutions.” This is the extent of my understanding. What I formerly found exciting about pataphysics was that it seemed to promise a tangible way to navigate life guided by the imagination, a way in which the imagination might affect real change in everyday life. Like, it might provide some sense-making mechanism for parsing the Graduate School Void – Attack the void with imaginary solutions! Like, it might make creative writing seem suddenly really worthwhile in a way one could stumble over or bump against. Like, it might make something productive out of my inability to sleep.

But, pataphysics I’ve decided is just another ideology of creative writing grad school, meant to keep us all searching, all striving, all paying tuition and TA-ing comp courses in a way not dissimilar to how a fry cook dreams of owning the franchise and a street dealer imagines running the gang. Pataphysics is just my own subjective entry point for coming to that more cynical understanding. What irks me actually doesn’t have that much to do with pataphysics, whatever it actually is, however it actually works or doesn’t. What irks me is the ideology of imagination. The imagination like some savior or juggernaut, as if it might lift us as in a hot air balloon to some more creative cloud, as if to suggest we MFA-ers could assert our stature amongst each other through the fervor of our belief. Something a little puritanical about the MFA; us bunch of little tadpole writers proclaiming our own predestination amongst ourselves on Facebook. Like maybe I could start calling Gabe, “Goodman Gabe,” and Mike, “Goodman Mike,” and they could call me “Goodman Jack.”

And, wouldn’t it have been funny if the whole thing with fedoras had really stuck? Had they not trended so quickly from wherever their brief renaissance started (GQ? Maxim?) to The Limited and Pac Sun, and then immediately to Target where they were aimed squarely at high-school boys reading On the Road and just on the edge of their Vintage Confusion — if not for that, then Mike and Gabe and I could’ve all been wearing fedoras while calling each other Goodman and chugging PBRs at Hugos. Don’t think it couldn’t happen. No one is too cool for the coolest things.

I Can’t Sleep! is my point about imaginary solutions. My imagination is none too good at solving problems. In fact, it seems diametrically opposed to solutions. If I were to look at things realistically, if I were to gauge my daydreams, fantasies, anxieties, panics, and depressions then I could only conclude my imagination is at times a pleasant source of diversion, and mostly a problem-causing force. At its best it’s a sitcom I enjoy; at its worst it holds the ruminative power to make me crumble around my socks, or wonder idly if I might be gay and never realized it – if my lack of sexual attraction for men is the extent to which I’m repressed…wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that paradigm shift maybe usefully, erroneously explain all my psychic misgivings at the universe?

Of course, the Actual Adulthood is also marked by a calming down, a de-radical-ization, a coming to the center in most things, including love, fucking, religion, and politics. What it seems like to me is that pataphysics is really just a fancy, MFA-way of describing the process of doing something while not focusing on it. Pataphysics is the equivalent of thinking about baseball during sex. It’s another high-sounding idea that in essence is a platitude: The Forest for the Trees. There’s no reason, really, to be troubling pataphysics like this at 12:43 am while the trees cast eerie cool shadows behind and beside me. My troubling of pataphysics is another case of wanting insight in a life averse to insight, of projecting a world that can be unlocked and finding actually it to be a place that can only be managed – trying to manage it with other MFAs, trying to manage in lieu of sleep.

The Emerging Adult seeks insight; the Actual Adult works for management.


Alfred Jarry4DPict


About Jack Christian

Jack Christian is the author of the poetry collection Family System, which won the 2012 Colorado Prize. His prose writing has appeared recently on The Good Men Project and in Carolina Quarterly.
This entry was posted in Popular Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *