Noun: ‘A philosophy dealing with an imaginary realm in addition to metaphysics; a science invented by French writer of the Absurd Alfred Jarry, intended to be a parody of science (1873–1907). Difficult to be defined or pinned down, it has been described as the ‘science of imaginary solutions’.
Etymology: 1940s from Greek ta epi ta metaphusika, literally ‘the (works) imposed on the Metaphysics’.
The Last Tuesday Society: A Pataphysical Cocktail Bar & Museum
A cabinet of curiosities, replete with Absurdist Absinthe, zoom lectures and workshops, The Last Tuesday Society is the only place in London where you’ll find a two-headed kitten dining with a goat, next to Pablo Escobar’s gold plated hippopotamus skull and a few shrunken heads – if you’re looking for that kind of thing.
Reportedly founded and funded by William James, a philosopher, psychologist and historian from Harvard (demonstrating that we can trust this triple threat), and more recently hijacked and run by artist, author and lecturer Viktor Wynd (because it’s always the artists doing the dirty work), this unique society has been putting on literary and artistic events since 1873.
An institution for the institutionalised, the Last Tuesday is today still active in many fields, from expeditions to Papua New Guinea (which as we know, only houses cannibals and not much else), alongside seances, taxidermy academies, Halloween parties, ‘Animal Parties’, occult artefacts and other appetisers of the Belle Époque.
The society has a long-standing association with Hendrick’s Gin, as you’d have to be blind drunk to either attend or fund such a thing, hence their quarterly ‘Hendrick’s Seance’ events within the walls of the Viktor Wynd Curiosity Museum / Little Shop of Horrors in the basement.
Curated for communicating with the dead, it’s now conveniently located in a former call centre on Mare Street in Hackney. The contents of the museum are ensured for around £1 million, and includes valuables such as: Fiji mermaids, dodo bones, tribal skulls, ‘parts of pickled prostitutes’, celebrity faecal matter, erotica, ectoplasm, condoms used by the Rolling Stones and other things that make you thirsty.
But far from being a trivial freak show – the society seeks meaning in the meaningless, and describes itself as being ‘dedicated to subverting life, the universe and everything, seeking to create a new world filled with beauty and wonder at the imagination’, alongside festivals, parties, debauchery and dead-ly decadence.
A clay mould that started to take shape somewhere between theatre and sculpture, this Frankenstein metamorphosed into a living, breathing hybrid suffering from an identity crisis – in flux between a museum, ‘academic institution’, art gallery, bar, installation and performance.
As a sculptural piece the shop lacked a coherent meta-narrative, a project perpetually in flux, a sculptural piece like a garden – it grew and changed, needed constant attention and seems to have somehow developed it’s own personality and momentum. In the beginning it was to be a bogus curiosity shop, an attack on shops from one who hates shops and shopping, stuffed with incredibly useless and revolting things, an updated version of Reggie Perrin’s Grot Shop from The Rise & Fall, somehow crossed with a curiosity shop, staffed by actors who would perform a script on unsuspecting customers, a script that would evolve and change according to the audience, but leave them leaving and revolted, or charmed. But as the project took longer, it grew and attracted a growing band of supporters so that when it opened it was in fact a bona fide Wunderkabinett replete with Shrunken Heads, gleaming mortuary tables, two headed lambs and more. In the meantime Viktor Wynd’s passing interest in the absurd, beautiful, uncanny, macabre & erotic became an obsession and he actively began buying, stealing, borrowing & begging after an ever larger amount of objects.
Gone With The Wynd
Viktor Wynd artfully labels himself as a label-less ‘pataphysicist, writer, curator, collector, dilettante, naturalist and antiquarian’ working in the field of relational aesthetics. The museum is his best known art work – ‘a Gesamtkunstwerk exploring the inside of his head, his innermost thoughts, dreams and demons’.
Viktor first gained notoriety with ‘Loss; an evening of Exquisite Misery’, which was a reinterpretation of Gunter Grass’ Onion Cellar Nightclub from The Tin Drum; Guests were invited to dress in Decaying Beauty, chop onions and cry. He next re-invented The Masquerade Ball for the twenty first century – to which he wore a custom red sequinned suit, red python skin shoes and red body paint while introducing a classical orchestra, as naked men and women, painted gold, dropped living oysters down waltzing revellers throats…
If you are wondering what it takes to be perpetually lost in Wynderland, Viktor spent his teenage years in Paris (self-explanatory), and attended lectures at the Sorbonne by day and Le Queen by night. He moved to London to read Medieval Islamic History at The School of Oriental and African Studies, before returning to Paris to work as a gardener at the English Catholic Church.
One novel and three volumes of poetry later, Viktor volley-balled back to London to study ceramics at The John Cass, where he was awarded The Rosenquist Fellowship in Fine arts at The University of South Florida. Historically his work has always examined narrative structures and sought a way to examine the cracks in the pavement, where meaning disappears. Swiftly becoming frustrated with the art world, he has recently returned to the studio to deal with clay over critics – and mainly works in porcelain and ceramics.
The Varieties Of Religious Experience
A leading thinker of the 19th century, William James is considered the ‘Father of American Psychology’ and was the first educator to offer a psychology course in the US. He established the philosophical school known as pragmatism, is widely regarded as the founder of experimental psychology and also developed radical empiricism.
Raised with a silver spoon, James was the son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James Sr, and originally trained as a physician, teaching anatomy at Harvard but never practicing medicine. Pursuing his interest in philosophy and psychology, the roots of science, he wrote widely on epistemology, metaphysics, religion and mysticism. His most influential works were The Principles of Psychology, Essays in Radical Empiricism, and The Varieties of Religious Experience, which included theories on mind-cure.
In his early adulthood, he suffered from a variety of mystery illnesses, involving his eyes, back, stomach and skin. He was also tone deaf, suffered from neurasthenia, and struggled with periods of depression and suicidal thoughts. His afflictions often interrupted his studies, leading him to eventually move to Germany in search of a cure at the age of 26. He was also forced to abort a scientific expedition up the Amazon River due to severe bouts of seasickness and an episode of smallpox.
What he called his ‘soul-sickness’ would only be resolved in 1872, after an extended period of philosophical searching. He also joined the Theosophical Society, shortly after marrying his wife Alice Gibbens. ‘Alice in Jamesland‘ is a biography of their courtship – unsurprisingly featuring seances, psychedelic mushrooms, death, disaster, love and war.
Although both his brothers had fought in the civil war, James was an advocate of peace, and suggested that instead of youth serving in the military, they should serve the public in a term of service, ‘to get the childishness knocked out of them.’
In his essay, ‘The Moral Equivalent of War’, he considered one of the classic problems of politics: ‘how to sustain political unity and civic virtue in the absence of war or a credible threat …[and which]… sounds a rallying cry for service in the interests of the individual and the nation’.
James drew inspiration from a wide-array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bertrand Russell, Walter Lippman, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Drawn to the study of the human mind at a time when psychology was constituting itself as a science, he had a pragmatic theory of truth that focused on the utility of belief.
He also held the view that the world is a mosaic of diverse experiences that can only be properly interpreted and understood through applying radical empiricism, as opposed to the everyday scientific empiricism. This asserted that the world and experience can never be halted for an entirely objective analysis; the mind of the observer and the act of observation affect any empirical approach to truth. The mind, its experiences, and nature are inseparable – the modern day observer effect.
In this context, his criteria for a ‘mystical experience’, as opposed to the everyday mystical experience, included:
- Passivity – a feeling of being grasped and held by a superior power not under your own control
- Ineffability – no adequate way to use human language to describe the experience
- Noetic – universal truths revealed that are unable to be acquired anywhere else
- Transient – the mystical experience is only a temporary experience
James’ preference was to focus on the human experience, leading to his research on the subconscious, the peak of religious experiences, and his inner process of self-discovery. Made manifest in this little corner of the East where the past meets the present, The Last Tuesday Society is well worth a visit, housing all that’s weird and wonderful in the West.