The Requirements of Pata

...Pataphysics is the ultimate aporia....
...Pataphysics is the ultimate aporia....

Text by professor Timo Airaksinen

Julkaistaan kustantajan luvalla (Manfred Holler, Verlag Holler) Alkuperäisjulkaisu: Munich Social Science Review 7/2024

Munich Social Science Review, New Series, vol. 7, 2024, To the genius of Nicholas Rescher

"My article is an exercise in pataphysically understood psychology applied to literature. I develop its ideas towards the science of pataphysical reading of otherwise mystical narratives. The ultimate goal is, of course, to understand the riddles of the one true scientific novel, Jarry's The Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician, which, alas, will necessitate anothe project at another time."- professor Timo Airaksinen

1. The Requirements of Pata

Pataphysics means surrealism applied to science or surrealistic science, as
Alfred Jarry's The Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician
shows (Jarry, 1996). Its first, posthumous, edition's subtitle was A
Scientific Novel in 1911 (then removed).1 The book combines Odessey,
Alice in Wonderland, and Baron Münchausen's Adventures. We find
references to science at the end of the book, where Jarry's most
remarkable achievement is the mathematical proof of the nature of the
Christian God: "God is the tangential point between zero and infinity"
(Jarry, 1996: § 41) or perhaps between nothingness and the plenum.
Strictly speaking, this is not science but theology. We also find some play
with Lord Kelvin's classic textbook, Popular Lectures and Addresses
(1889-1894), but yet we can say that Jarry's scientific novel is not
scientific (Jarry, 1996: §§ 37, 38). But a careful reading may reveal what
the pataphysical method is like, even though it is far from obvious. The
current literature mainly consists of narrative explanations of pataphysics
(Clarke, 2018; Hugill, 2015). What we need are writings that show how it
is done and what its results are like. Pata is supposed to be as far from
metaphysic as metaphysics is from physics. This sounds good, but it
sucks. Metaphysics means "in the standard arrangement of Aristotle's
works, the next book after Physics is his Metaphysics." This is why it is
meta. The definition does not refer to those books' contents but their
ordering on the canonical bookshelf.

No one has ever been able to define metaphysics, although we have
been practicing it successfully for over two thousand years. You cannot
understand physics and metaphysics if you do not practice them, and even
then, the jump from knowing how to knowing that may be too long.
Paradoxically, when you do metaphysics, you may not know what you are
doing. Despite this, I dare to say that I am a trained and published
metaphysician now trying my hand at pataphysics. Like Father Ubu, I take
my physick-stick, which will do the work for me – or to imitate Ubu, by
my green candle, you fail to follow me, and I will debrain you by
removing your brain through your heels (Jarry, 2006). We need to see and
read treatises that do pataphysics. We want know-how.
1 I do not write 'pataphysics as Jarry does; see Airaksinen (2023).

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 7
I focus on the pataphysical psychology of waiting that leads us toward
ethernity in Kafka's The Trial, especially in its mad, mind-boggling
chapter "In the Cathedral" (Kafka, 2008). We will read it pataphysically
within the pseudo-scientific frame of waiting. This chapter is exceptional
even for Kafka because it contains such a surreal exchange between Josef
K. and the Priest. I treat this chapter as paradigmatic pataphysics. I will
show that Jarry's patamethod allows us to understand this curious chapter
in a new light, or we can understand why it cannot be understood and why
it is inconsistent with the end of the narrative, which looks like the death
of K. Such inconsistencies are food for pata-analysis. My article is an
exercise in pataphysically understood psychology applied to literature. I
develop its ideas towards the science of pataphysical reading of otherwise
mystical narratives. The ultimate goal is, of course, to understand the
riddles of the one true scientific novel, Jarry's The Exploits and Opinions
of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician, which, alas, will necessitate another
project at another time.

Pataphysically speaking, only the common sense of a nonsense thinker
tries to find and formulate an interpretation of The Trial. Absurd texts may
not allow a conventional report of their meaning – or what the author
wants to say. If one tries, the failure of the absurd quest is imminent. What
is absurd is absurd and not another thing. We can read and interpret its
symbols and metaphors, but The Trial reaches far beyond them.
Pataphysically, the devil lies in details, especially in textual ambiguities,
inconsistencies, anomalies, and antinomies – that make the text so
confusing and unpredictable. The Trial is not an unreadable text in the
same sense as M. de Sade's or Fourier's great works (Barthes, 1976) or, as
it is, Dr. Faustroll. The Trial is fully readable because of its pseudo-
realistic garb, yet it cannot be deciphered. It reads well, but it does not
make sense. Too few scholars have been honest enough to admit this.
Kafka is like Friedrich Nietzsche; you read them when you are young (15-
20 years old) and then again when you are old (over 65) – first when you
are self-confident and free to do whatever you want and then old enough
to understand its futility. Everything has its proper time: pheasant and
steak age, but salmon and oysters must be fresh. Otherwise, you abuse
these authors, or they will bore you to death. You make Nietzsche a Nazi
and Kafka a symbolist critic of European society, which is ridiculous.
Jarry's pataphysics introduces and utilizes some special terms: syzygy,
clinamen, physic-stick, and ethernity (Shattuck, 1996). Don't dismiss them
when you do patawork. Syzygy, in its proper narrow sense, means an

Munich Social Science Review, New Series, vol. 7, 20248
alignment of objects so that the middle one covers the outer one. This
happens in a solar eclipse. Then, the sun reemerges in all its glory. More
generally, the term means something like a shadow that covers and hides
the objects of attention and intention. These emerge serendipitously – or
catastrophically – from the deep shadows of syzygy. The idea is simple:
the random arrangements of words and worlds hide each other. Clinamen
is a term in Epicurean metaphysics that means, as explained by Lucretius
in his De rerum natura, an unpredictable swerve of atoms that fall through
space and form new material objects. Clinamen explains how random
processes, such as our material world, can produce non-random results.
The swerves of atoms and clinamen create surprising new things. Physick-
Stick is the magic wand and fetish of King Ubu. The stick works wonders
in the conceptual realm. It does whatever you want, harbors anomalies,
makes and clears ambiguities, and makes impossibilities possible. It
allows us to use words in their Pickwickian sense, which means an
obvious distortion of conventional meanings: What is injustice? It is
whatever I do not like. What is good? It is whatever I want to get. Ubu
does it all the time. He has other tools, too, but we don't need them here.
And he has his green candle as another fetish he swears by. Most
importantly, ethernity, Jarry's neologism, is the crux of the ultimate and
final conjunction of all the relevant and irrelevant ideas (Jarry, 1996: Book
Eight). It is the final combination of great syntheses of a world reborn.
Forget these concepts; you will miss pataphysics and look like an idiot.
Paska juttu – the first words uttered by King Ubu are "To shit or . . ." And
soon after, "By my green candle, I don't understand." Then he grabs his

To Heta Alexandra Gylling

2. From Here to Ethernity

Let me reach for and furiously wave my physick-stick to create the
required case-specific ethernity in Kafka's The Trial (2008). In the
beginning, the reader witnesses a blunt start; one morning at home, K. is
accused of an unspecified crime and arrested. Afterward, he panics, trying
to locate somebody who knows anything that would explain what is
happening, but he is unsuccessful. Most of all, he gets energized and busy
while impatiently waiting for the start of his court case. He never finds any
information about it. Alas, his punishment arrives in due course, not

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 9
unexpectedly for K. He awaited it that day and expected them to come for
him. He was ready, although the reader has no idea why.
Most of this novel sounds strange, even eerie, implausible, and yet
strangely convincing. It plays with a pseudo-realistic tone as if all this
happened – not in our world but in another possible world. An infinite
number of them exist. Some are accessible from our world, others are not.
If the possible word is accessible, we know how to change our own world
into that new one, and vice versa. For instance, take a world without
nuclear weapons; that is straightforward to create by destroying all the
bombs. But the world of eternal peace is impossible; we have no idea how
to alter our world accordingly. On these grounds, I would say K.'s reality
is an inaccessible and, therefore, implausible world. But only if it were
somehow self-contradictory would it be impossible. We do not know what
to expect, yet Kafka describes and illustrates the world of K. convincingly
enough to make it look plausible.

The Trial is a deceitful text in all its weird seductiveness. What it is not,
an allegory or an extended metaphor. It carries no message to its readers,
as I will show below. All patareaders, relax! Pata rules over allegories and
conventional meaning ascriptions. The good reader understands that the
reported events occur in an alternative reality and a different kind of
possible world – the main point is that this world is possible, meaning it is
not self-contradictory but logically consistent. (This concludes our
metaphysical section.) Pataphysics is the science of alternate worlds.
Pataphysics is fictional, as the pataphysical novel Dr. Faustroll proves. It
tolerates everything. It is limitless. It combines the creativity of Faust and
the fierce independence of trolls in the old Norsk folklore.


The two last chapters of The Trial differ from the rest. Finally, in the
end, the mysteries and paradoxes pile up until the reader is ready to
surrender. The Prince of Darkness himself enters, and the snake starts
eating its own tail. We must face the ultimate aporias of K.'s destiny in the
hands of the law. The final chapter, "The End," is K.'s dream and
nightmare. I repeat, it is a dream. Otherwise, it does not fit the book's
narrative ploy. We must admit it raises the plot's absurdity to a new level.
In an absurd book, we find a meta-absurd story of an execution scene,
which is easy to see. We find a narrative gap between the last two
chapters. Notice how K. expects his executioners to arrive, although
nothing in the earlier chapters justifies this. Why is he expecting them?

Munich Social Science Review, New Series, vol. 7, 202410
The reader does not know. The solution: The last chapter is K.'s bad
dream, which results from the horror of meeting the dark priest in the
cathedral. His two executioners are comic characters and the whole
narrative is ridiculous.

K.'s random search for justice is a clinamen that, in the very end, gets
him executed in an old quarry and creates a syzygy: K. and the two
executioners line up in the quarry so that they cover the truth. All that K.
can see when he dies are their fat faces. He will never learn the name of
his crime or the legal justification of the sentencing. He does not ask why.
The fat pair swings and plays with their physicks-sticks, in this case, long
butcher's knives, looking for a while like King Ubu in double. K. realizes
the syzygy in the quarry covers the truth so that he will never know. Yet, it
all is serendipitous; they all may now take their own predetermined places:
the condemned man, the two Ubuesque executioners, and a man in the
distant window with its flickering light. The stage is set "In the End," and
the rest is a puppet play à la Jarry, the master puppeteer:

"Some ancient, unimportant actors—that's what they've sent for me,"
said K. to himself, and looked round once again to confirm this to
himself. "They want to sort me out as cheaply as they can." K.
suddenly turned round to face the two men and asked, "What theatre
do you play in?" "Theatre?" asked one of the gentlemen, turning to
the other for assistance and pulling in the corners of his mouth. The
other made a gesture like someone who was dumb, as if he were
struggling with some organism causing him trouble. "You're not
properly prepared to answer questions," said K. and went to fetch his
hat. […] "Maybe they're tenors," he thought as he saw their big
double chins.

The clinamen comes close to turning the tragedy into a comedy that is
no comedy, of course, but the staging cannot support a tragedy either. The
case remains deeply ambiguous and, as such, unruly and unrealistic. It
depicts a legal execution that is actually a ritualistic murder committed by
some fetishist sect. And K. realizes this when he imagines he got killed
like some sacrificial animal. "Like a dog," he thinks. His ritually bled
blood sanctifies the law – or some archaic idea of cosmic justice. A
sacrificial offer must be innocent and pure, corroborating the idea that K.
really "had not done anything," as the story's opening lines put it. This
also explains why K. fails to ask the name of his crime but says,

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 11
ridiculously enough, "What theatre do you play in?" In his dream, he
knows he must be innocent. That is why he represents a blood offering –
but to whom, in which operatic ceremony? But all this is irrelevant if he is
a sacrificial animal in an atavistic ritual that, in today´s world, is as sacred
as an operatic performance's ethernity. No doubt K.'s execution is an
ethernity regardless of how ironic it is, and in the end, ridiculous.
K.'s destiny may fail to shock us because it is another man's nightmare.
We do not share and sympathize with others' nightmares. They knife him
through the heart and turn the blade in the wound. This is overkill and a
ritual humiliation: to turn the knife in the wound is a way of saying one
wants to create extra pain and harm to the victim. K. dies: "But the hands
of one of the gentlemen were laid on K.'s throat, while the other pushed
the knife deep into his heart and twisted it there, twice. As his eyesight
failed, "'Like a dog!' he said; it was as if the shame of it should outlive
him." Theatrical comedy enters the picture when we read: "[T]he two
gentlemen cheek by cheek, close in front of his face, watching the result."
You cannot picture this without laughing; such is the bizarre scene of an
execution we find here. Moreover, shame can outlive a person; it often
does. If fame can, why not shame? They were born together, shame and
fame; thus, they must live together.

Would anyone help? Were there objections that had been forgotten?
There must have been some. The logic cannot be refuted, but
someone who wants to live will not resist it. Where was the judge
he'd never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached?
He raised both hands and spread out all his fingers.

The main anomaly is, here and elsewhere, that K. never wants to know
the name of his crime. He wants to see the law court and be pardoned, but
this is extraordinary; he is not interested in his alleged crime. The main
syzygy of the narrative is that it hides from the reader the main question:
what is his crime? At the novel's beginning, we read, in one translation,
"he knew he had done nothing wrong" (Kafka, 2003). In another, they
arrested K., who had not "done anything wrong" (Kafka, 2008). The
German original reads: "Jemand muβte Josef K. verleumdet haben, denn
ohne daβ er etwas Böses getan hätte, wurde er eines Morgens verhaftet."
The second, more blunt English formulation is correct: he is de facto
innocent, as the omniscient narrator makes clear. Regardless of what K., or
anyone else thinks, he has done nothing wrong or bad. He is innocent.

Munich Social Science Review, New Series, vol. 7, 202412
Nevertheless, he is arrested, so his alleged crime must have a name. Kafka
plays a cool trick with an anomaly here: K. is innocent; therefore, his
crime has no name, and because it has no name, no one is interested in it.
If you committed no crime, your crime has no name. And because the
name fails to exist, you cannot ask for it. Here is an example of patalogic
ridiculing the traditional syllogistic that plays illegitimately with a syzygy.
But this creates a key mystery: Why does the law insist on paying
attention to K.? The reader faces another syzygy where the narrative's
action hides and eliminates all explanations. The result is an endless
clinamen of words and events that rush headlong towards ethernity in the
old, empty quarry of K.'s nightmare. Of course, only if the narrative of
The Trial concerned our world, which it does not, could we say it was a
stupid mistake. "Mistag är möjliga, sade igelkotten och klev av

To the memory of Manu Vuorio, a petaperson

3. The Twilight Zone

In the second last chapter of The Trial, "In the Cathedral," the narrative
clinamen teasingly crosses all its logical borders before its abrupt stop.
The text becomes an incomprehensibly surrealist aporia and syzygy,
leading to the disturbingly mysterious ethernity of the dream-death of K.
The final and ultimate anomalies destroy the narrative's motivation and
disallow its continuity. The two final chapters lack continuity because the
second last chapter is the end, which is not the end. There, the author's
physick-stick showed its powers. I am certain that honest and perceptive
readers share this feeling with me. What the priest in the cathedral says
initially sounds like good advice; however, he does not make sense. His
parable of "Before the Law" is the culmination point, which seems to
contain a wise but mysterious message that should illustrate K.'s errors
and the resulting plight (also Kafka, 1988). However, a pataphysical
reading reveals a novel possibility to make sense of everything. In the last
chapter, the theme is, again, waiting, just like in the main narrative of The
Trial, which focuses and depends on K's wait. He waits for the end of his
ordeal, which is death – don't we all?

However, let us start from the key ethernity of the plot. Here, the
various clinamen of the story fall together as the final explanation of it all.
But before this happens, the syzygy must move aside. The physick-stick

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 13
swings, and we meet the monster of the cave, who is the priest of the dark
and vast church:

"You're the prison chaplain," said K., and went closer to the priest, it
was not so important for him to go straight back to the bank as he
had made out, he could very well stay where he was. "So that means
I belong to the court," said the priest. "So why would I want
anything from you?

Then he continues, and this same sentence ends the chapter. Here, we
have a syzygy that hides what is narrated in The Trial or, alternatively, the
ultimate ethernity that shows all that we need to know. We see a narrative
impasse because we cannot choose between these two readings. K. peeks
into a dark abyss when he hears this last prophecy in the vast cathedral.
This must feel like a butcher's knife through the heart. He and his destiny
are nothing; his case does not count in the eyes of the perfectly indifferent
court. He must face an anomaly: his de jure case is nothing, and yet he is
to die because of it. As the ultimate anomaly, it represents the defining
patamoment and the ethernity of the story

The court doesn't want anything from you. It accepts you when you come
and it lets you go when you leave.

(My italics)

In German: "Warum sollte ich also etwas von dir wollen. Das Gericht will
nichts von dir. Es nimmt dich auf, wenn du kommst, und es entläβt dich,
wenn du gehst." Here, "It lets you go" seems to mean" it frees you when
you go, or, perhaps, it renounces or dismisses you. I don't think "lets you
go" means anything in the context. More meaningfully, the court
dismisses you when you leave, which means they do not want to keep
your case open. That is why you are free to go. Regardless of these
problems, the priest's words are stupendously allusive and mystifying. He
sounds perfectly enigmatic. What can "It accepts you when you come"
mean? I cannot interpret this sentence. A sick man is accepted in a
hospital, but an arrested criminal cannot expect a similar treatment. When
appropriate, the law brings you in regardless of your reaction. This is often
a forced event, with the accused in chains. In K.'s case, he tried to access
the law but did not find the way. Hence, he was not accepted in any sense
of the term. The priest's statement does not apply to K.'s present alternate reality. It is irrelevant. Instead, it introduces a third possible world, where

the law and its courts work on a different planet.

In a true pataphysical manner, the priest's statement is a riddle devoid

of an answer. It is allusive but, at the same time, nonsensical. The court is

supposed to dismiss the case, and then the executioners come to fetch K.,

which does not surprise him. At the same time, the priestly sentence

expresses the whole, decisive ethernity of the tale. It is the kingpin. The

priest in the cathedral implicitly defines the trial as a waiting game, which

should explain the ethernity, as described above. He tells K. a parable of

the peasant. All this is pure pata. It is detailed, suggestive, and

nonsensical. Its syzygies are plentiful, and its clinamen swerve in the

darkness of verbal space only to gather to form the fantastic ethernity,

which refuses to illuminate the plot of The Trial. The law and its courts

are, ultimately, totally indifferent regarding K. and K.'s criminal case:

when he comes, they admit him; when he leaves, they dismiss him – he

can come and go as he likes. But he does not know how. They are

indifferent, unlike any true law courts. Indifference looks like a divine

predicate, as the priest must know. However, even gods need and care for

the rites and sacrifices that honor them. They insist on and lust for them;

thus, they are not indifferent. Who or what, then, is indifferent?


We can extend this to provide a cosmic view of the world. But as we

know, the cosmos is fully indifferent and uninterested in what happens to

human individuals, those lugubrious atoms that clinamen toss and turn in

the infinite dark space. What happens to us is not only a random process

but also indifferent from the big picture's point of view. H. P. Lovecraft's

poem "Nemesis" (1918) shows the true meaning of such cosmicism:

I have whirl'd with the earth at the dawning,

When the sky was a vaporous flame;

I have seen the dark universe yawning,

Where the black planets roll without aim;

Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or

lustre or name.

In the priest's tale of the man who wanted to enter the law, his vision of

the series of gates of law and what they may hide is a truly cosmic vision,

which extends its appeal to K.'s case, too.

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 15

We can read K.'s unnamed crime in terms of universal cosmic guilt.

Guilt and shame indeed allow their cosmic reading, as K. now knows.

Lovecraft continues:

Oh, great was the sin of my spirit,

And great is the reach of its doom;

Not the pity of Heaven can cheer it,

Nor can respite be found in the tomb:

Down the infinite aeons come beating the wings of

unmerciful gloom.

K. no doubt would assent to the final line of the poem. No longer are our

worries and sufferings purely subjective because the cosmos does not

recognize such subjectivity. Millions of stars go their way; what would

K.'s feelings matter? He may come and go as he likes, and nobody cares,

yet he is guilty. If he comes, he will also leave; he is dismissed because the

cosmos does not recognize him. He is in the hands of clinamen. From this

pataperspective, the law is like the cosmos' essential element that syzygy

does not allow us to see. The elements of the law are so lined up that we

cannot see what is on the other side. We need a physick-stick to make all

this visible and provide us with a glance beyond it. This is what Jarry's

pataphysics allows us to do.

Kafka had already hinted at cosmicism in his Amerika (2008a: Ch. 3)

when Karl Rossmann, in the hands of a clinamen in New York State,

wandered around in his uncle Mr. Pollunder's dark and vast house. Here is

another cave metaphor and a symbol of the threatening cosmos that is, as

such, devoid of ethernity:

Suddenly the wall on one side of the corridor came to an end, and

was replaced by an ice-cold marble balustrade. Karl put the candle

down on it and carefully leaned forward. Empty darkness blew

towards him. If this was the entrance hall of the house – by the light

of the candle he saw what seemed to be a bit of vaulted ceiling –

why hadn't they come in through it? What was this large and lofty

room for? It was like standing in the gallery of a church up here.

Here, the big house parallels the cathedral in its dark emptiness, where

K. and Karl cannot find their way. Karl faces the dark, yawning universe,

unable to find his way. K. cannot find his way out: "'We're now near the

main entrance, are we?' 'No,' said the priest, 'we're a long way from it.'"

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K. is not where he thinks he is, both literally and metaphorically. He

wanders in the darkness that is a syzygy, just like Karl. Both of them are



The priest tells K. about the man before the law. It is a parable of a

peasant who wants to enter the law:

In front of the law, there is a doorkeeper. A man from the

countryside comes up to the door and asks for entry. But the

doorkeeper says he can't let him into the law right now. The man

thinks about this, and then he asks if he'll be able to go in later on.

"That's possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not now." The gateway

to the law is open as it always is, and the doorkeeper has stepped to

one side, so the man bends over to try and see in. When the

doorkeeper notices this he laughs and says, "If you're tempted give it

a try, try and go in even though I say you can't. Careful, though: I'm

powerful. And I'm only the lowliest of all the doormen."

The story develops:

The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down to one side

of the gate. He sits there for days and years. He tries to be allowed in

time and again and tires the doorkeeper with his requests. The

doorkeeper often questions him, asking about where he's from and

many other things, but these are disinterested questions such as great

men ask, and he always ends up by telling him he still can't let him

in. The man had come well equipped for his journey, and uses

everything, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. He accepts

everything, but as he does so he says, "I'll only accept this so that

you don't think there's anything you've failed to do." Over many

years, the man watches the doorkeeper almost without a break.

And it ends as follows:

Just before he [the man] dies, he brings together all his experience

from all this time into one question which he has still never put to

the doorkeeper. He beckons to him, as he's no longer able to raise his

stiff body. The doorkeeper has to bend over deeply as the difference

in their sizes has changed very much to the disadvantage of the man.

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 17

"What is it you want to know now?" asks the doorkeeper, "You're

insatiable." "Everyone wants access to the law," says the man, "how

come, over all these years, no-one but me has asked to be let in?"

The doorkeeper can see the man's come to his end, his hearing has

faded, and so, so that he can be heard, he shouts to him: "Nobody

else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for

you. Now I'll go and close it."

As the priest says, his story promises a key to the puzzles that torture K.

This is a vain hope. The narrative is syzygy, as we will see. K. and the

priest start a long but ultimately nonsensical debate about the logic of the

parable. For instance, K. remarks that the gate was supposed to be always

open, but now it closes. Did the Doorkeeper cheat the Man when he said

he may be able to enter the law? In this way, they go on for a long time

until their ethernity arrives – and then silence. Everything is now said and

done, and the end looms in the future. The court will dismiss K. by killing

him; they confuse dismissal and disposal, which K. will realize. In their

cosmic indifference, they do not care. K. realizes he will never enter the

Gates of Law, and his nightmarish dream follows. His bad dream is K.'s

reading of the meaning of his cosmic dismissal.

K., a bank clerk, was supposed to escort a visiting bank client to see the

sights of Prague. He waits outside the cathedral, but the visitor never

arrives. K. enters the church alone and wanders aimlessly around. It is

getting late, and soon the empty church turns dark, but K. continues his

random explorations as if he were searching for something – typical of

clinamen. Suddenly, a deux ex machina emerges. Two wandering atoms

form a conjunction and thus clinch to each other. Everything is ready for

K.: he discovers a strange pulpit lit by a small light, a mysterious priest

emerges, he calls his name, and he says he summoned for him; the priest

comes down from the pulpit, and they talk. The same scene we can find in

Amerika when a servant emerges from the empty darkness of Mr.

Pollunder's mansion with a small light to show Karl the way out. Both

episodes repeat the theme of a savior carrying a small light in the

darkness. Both Karl and K. ask, where am I? The yawning darkness is too

much for them.

The cosmic theme is obvious:

And K. would certainly not have noticed this little pulpit if there had

not been a lamp fastened above it, which usually meant there was a

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sermon about to be given. / K. looked down at the steps which,

pressed close against the column, led up to the pulpit. They were so

narrow they seemed to be there as decoration on the column rather

than for anyone to use. But under the pulpit—K. grinned in

astonishment—there really was a priest standing with his hand on

the handrail ready to climb the steps and looking at K. Then he

nodded very slightly, so that K. crossed himself and genuflected as

he should have done earlier.

The Priest, suddenly emerging from nothing, turns towards K.: "But the

priest was not calling out to the congregation, his cry was quite

unambiguous and there was no escape from it, he called "'Josef K.!'"A

conversation ensues:

You are Josef K.," said the priest, […] "Yes," said K. […] "You

have been accused," said the priest, especially gently. "Yes," said K.,

"so I have been informed." "Then you are the one I am looking for,"

said the priest. "I am the prison chaplain." "I see," said K. "I had you

summoned here," said the priest, "because I wanted to speak to you."

"I knew nothing of that," said K. "I came here to show the cathedral

to a gentleman from Italy." "That is beside the point," said the priest.

"What are you holding in your hand? Is it a prayer book?" "No,"

answered K., "it's an album of the city's tourist sights." "Put it

down," said the priest. K. threw it away with such force that it

flapped open and rolled across the floor, tearing its pages. "Do you

know your case is going badly?" asked the priest. "That's how it

seems to me too," said K.

K. throws the tourist guidebook, his impotent physick-stick, away, and

now he is naked and unarmed before the dark appearance of the priest,

who is, ambiguously, a lowly prison chaplain but at the same time an all-

powerful representative of the court and the law. K. has nothing to use

against him. He must listen, and the news is not good: his case is not

developing well – whatever this may mean. Mysteriously, the priest says,

"I had you summoned here." What does that mean? This was supposed to

be clinamen: a random swerve of two atoms, K. and the priest, not an

orchestrated event. This is a typical pathological contradiction because

nobody summoned K. to come to the church; on the contrary, he randomly

wandered into the church after the bank client failed to arrive, not knowing

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 19

what to do next. But the priest knew better and was waiting for him, and

when the stars were right, he popped up from the dark shadows, holding a

light and having a message to deliver. This same light returns in The End:

As he [K.] looked around, he saw the top floor of the building next

to the quarry. He saw how a light flickered on, and the two halves of

a window opened out. Somebody, made weak and thin by the height

and the distance, leaned suddenly far out from it and stretched his

arms out even further. Who was that?

The priest re-emerges behind his tiny light, which is so small it cannot

overpower the grim syzygy hiding in the deep darkness. In his final dream

moment of ethernity, K. needs the priest before he dies, so he brings him

about. The priest at the faraway window stretches his arms as if to hug K.

and carry him away, and K. raises his hands to join them. Light in

darkness is a powerful, if not too original, metaphor.

A radical patareading of the cathedral chapter is possible. By my green

candle, in a true patamanner, my physick-stick ambiguates the essence of

the priest so that he may as well emanate from hell as from heaven; he

may serve the Prince of Darkness as well as the Lamb. He operates in

darkness, which covers the church and the truth; he emerges from

nowhere, carries a little light, and misreads and misleads K. The priest is a

fatefully indefinite figure who is there to defame the church with his

nonsense talk. He is the servant in Mr. Pollunder's house and the man in

the window, just like the cathedral is Mr. Pollunder's grand house

revisited. Both are cosmic incarnations whose darkness means cosmic

guilt and shame that will last forever.

If the Priest is a priest and not the Lord of the Flies, Deceiver, and

Tempter, in Finnish, Vanha Vihtahousu, his final truth and statement, the

ultimate ethernity, is ambiguous in the same way he is. This is pure pata

that tolerates and even invites textual anomalies, ambiguities,

inconsistencies, and especially the identity of opposites. The result is

aporia or truth we cannot comprehend or find. Pataphysics is the science

of implausible worlds.

Think of the priest, who is a prison chaplain. Considering his position,

why is he delivering such an important message to K.? Why does that

happen in the cathedral? Why is it so dark there? How did he summon K.?

Was it telepathic communication? Why is the parable of the Peasant at the

Gates of Law so important? What does it say and how does it apply to K.?

Munich Social Science Review, New Series, vol. 7, 202420

They spend time and effort discussing the story's petty details. Their

debate is absurd. It works as a syzygy that hides the truth: the two men,

their debate, and the priest's final statement are all in conjunction and

eclipse, so their discussion blocks the truth concerning K.'s legal case. The

priest comes from the Archfiend, who rules the Abyss and the Nine Hells.

The priest's final statement, the ultimate ethernity, is the decisive

expression of nonsense. The law that harasses K. will dismiss his case

whenever he likes. And what is even worse, the priest says K. himself

approached the law. Was he like the peasant at the gates who wanted to

enter the law? Why would K. do that? He did not because the law came to

him early that fateful morning. His situation grows so complicated that K.

comes to imagine and dream of his own death, which is a ritual murder

that should have been a suicide. The final anomaly is here:

Then one of the gentlemen opened his frock coat and from a sheath

hanging on a belt stretched across his waistcoat he withdrew a long,

thin, double-edged butcher's knife which he held up in the light to

test its sharpness. The repulsive courtesies began once again, one of

them passed the knife over K. to the other, who then passed it back

over K. to the first. K. now knew it would be his duty to take the

knife as it passed from hand to hand above him and thrust it into

himself. But he did not do it, […]

The executioners play a theatrical game that masks a sacrificial ritual in

which K. should participate. He should kill himself, which is an echo from

the olden times when fallen heroes and failed aristocrats had the privilege

of committing suicide instead of a humiliating public execution. The High

Gate sent a black silk rope to a failed civil servant in Ottoman Turkey. K.

does not take the offered knife, which indicates his final failure at the

Gates of Law.

To Panu Akokas

4. The Simple Inherit the Folly

The priest is there to explain to K., not his crime and the court case but the

truth about the law from the point of view of the relationship between man

and law while focusing on K.'s errors. However, this is illusory. The priest

has no message to K. On the contrary, all he says confuses K. Everything

T. Airaksinen: PataKafka, Probing the Ethernity in The Trial 21

he says is as if meant to be confusing. K. wants to know, but the priest

fights against this wish. He, as a syzygy, covers the truth. His grand

allegory is nonsense. The man at the gates of the law wants to enter the

law – why, we do not know. We realize he is determined but has no

courage to rush through the first gate, come what may. He trusts the guard,

who boasts of being capable and powerful. Perhaps he is? Hence, the man

sits on a stool beside the gate for the rest of his life until he dies,

disappointed. He waits, and therefore, this parable is about waiting. He

waits passively and, as it is, hopelessly. He believes entering is possible,

but this is all.

K. refuses such a passive role. He also waits for a message from the law

court, but he is hysterically active. He enters every possible building and

talks to everyone he can reach. He gets one preliminary court meeting, but

he blows it by attacking the court and the law in the meanest manner,

forgetting to ask any pertinent questions that trouble him so much. In this

way, the two cases are not parallel. However, the priest's tale tells K.

something he did not know before: the law cannot be deciphered or

understood. K.'s final standpoint is an aporia, an idea that must be central

to pataphysics. Pataphysics is the ultimate aporia.

Could an omnipotent God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?

Heaven does not exist because the blessed witness the suffering of their

evil friends in Hell; therefore, they are not infinitely happy. They are

ignorant and imperfect if they do not witness those in hell. If they do not

care, they are callous, a deadly vice, and Heaven does not cater to the

wicked. When you wait, what do you do? If you do something, you do not

wait; if you wait, you wait, which is an action (Airaksinen, forthcoming).

The priest in the cathedral is a high priest of aporetic. Does he not appear

and sound like he came from the Lord of the Flies in Hell?

Conclusion: A patareading retains all the anomalies of the text of The

Trial. In this way, we may have something interesting and illuminating to

say. At the same time, our reading avoids a deadly trap, an attempt at a

fixed interpretation. Let us admit we cannot find a deeper meaning under

the textual surface. Why would there be one? Instead, we recognize that a

naively innocent bank clerk, Josef K., wakes up one morning only to learn

that he has been arrested for an unspecified crime. The wheels of the law

turn ever so slowly, but K. worries about his case and panics. He is too

impatient to wait. He starts exploring and finds a social reality he had no

idea of. The deeper he digs, the stranger it all gets. Gradually, the reader

realizes that K. has switched worlds, from the ordinary to an extraordinary

Munich Social Science Review, New Series, vol. 7, 202422

alternate reality. Yet, the text proceeds as if nothing happened, ignoring

the world switch. K. meets the black priest, King Ubu, in disguise in the

dark church, and this confrontation induces his final and alarming

nightmare. He dreams of getting ritually killed in, as he sees it, an

absurdly theatrical setting. We do not know whether K. could ever return,

after his nightmare, to his normal world. We lost track of him as if the

yawning cosmos swallowed him. Clinamen carried him away, his potential

ethernity covered by a positional syzygy – from here to ethernity, this is

the way of all flesh.


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