In professional wrestling, the storylines are contrived and everyone knows it. But this is seen as part of the fun. Despite being in on the joke, audiences are eager to enjoy all the action as if it were fully genuine. This is kayfabe — knowing what you’re seeing is staged, but pretending it’s not.
Outside of wrestling, kayfabe exists in almost all spheres of modern life — fake celebrity feuds, inside-jokes between friends, and in many scenarios involving politicians. As former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura has observed, politicians “pretend to hate each other in public, then go out to dinner together.”
At a more fundamental level, our mental lives engage in kayfabe regularly. When our minds wander, or daydream, we often create fictional arguments or fantasies and live within them as if they were real. In some sense, everything in our heads is at least one step removed from base reality because our senses take in raw data which our brains immediately layer over with meaning and interpretation. Most of us know this, but we carry on as though the quasi-fictional world created by our minds were the full, true story. So, in other words, everything we experience is some kind of kayfabe.
This is where the concept of pataphysics becomes relevant. While kayfabe is a simple “fact,” or an observation of something that happens, pataphysics is a lens that can be applied to fictional or quasi-fictional situations. It helps with understanding or creating absurdity. It can be used as a tool for taking the kayfabe phenomenon into new dimensions.
Pataphysics is a literary trope and “science” that deals specifically with the realm of “reality” that exists beyond metaphysics. Thinking in terms of pataphysics helps to challenge the limits of the imagination, and it encourages creative people to appreciate nonsense worlds in much the same way that spiritual seekers will find wisdom in koans.
Consider the contrived storyline of a wrestling event. When you watch the storyline, you’re watching drama taking place in a metaphor within a metaphor. First there are real people interacting at a real event (base reality), then the real people embody fake characters at a real event (level 1), then the fake characters engage in fake…