MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI
For you without imagination, who can matter-of-factly claim that you’re not the creative type—mind you, not proudly claim; for an imagination of ruin must burn beneath defiances against personal invention—then best put this book down and seek out instead some almanac of entertainment free from all such catalytic risks to a mind just mad enough to make out of one world another world.
Gaston Bachelard’s book—published originally in 1957 by Presses Universitaires de France as La poétique de l’espace—has as little to do with the House, Cellar and Garret, the Hut, Drawers, Chests and Wardrobes, not to mention Nests, Shells and even Roundness (these from chapter titles), as it has everything to do with how our comprehension of space, however confined or expansive, still affords an opportunity to encounter the boundaries of the self just as they are about to give way.
“The lock doesn’t exist that could resist absolute violence, and all locks are an invitation to thieves. A lock is a psychological threshold.” Yet despite saying so, Bachelard does not turn to violence nor does he keep the company of thieves. There aren’t even many locks. In fact it’s hard, over the course of even one reading, not to detect the warmth of that rare personality who unmakes a thief simply by making every article of interest available. Sit down. Stay awhile. Something to nibble on? Generosity of spirit abounds. Doors swing open. Thresholds offer little impediment. All are welcome. And in return, Bachelard asks of us only to dream. Or rather he gives us the chance to dream. For a chamber is no more a cage than reverie is an escape. Improbable discoveries wait at every border. As when Bachelard extends René Char’s invitation regarding
Discovery—not “hostile space”—concerns Bachelard. In the same way that Steve Erickson’s Days Between Stations and Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day revive the sands of time as a medium intent on voyage, Bachelard gently addresses those settings we live in, and finally die in, with the lightness of why we live in the first place. Suddenly a chapter on miniatures offers a reflection on a hermit who while “watching his hour-glass without praying . . . heard the catastrophe of time.” The matter of prayer seems incidental to the anecdote, and yet throughout these pages there arises something meditative. Call it a calculus of emotional continuity or a music that only the grieving can know because they chose to carry on: what warms the hearth long after catastrophe has razed both hearth and home.
The Poetics of Space is one of those books in the tradition of Edmond Jabès’s The Book of Questions, Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence, Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet, and Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. Whether portraiture of Sarah and Yukel; the designs poets inscribe upon each other; Sappho; the Kula exchange of necklaces and armshells, each of these aforementioned books becomes so much more: an indispensable guide for anyone set on becoming an artist.
Over the years I have discovered that it is not uncommon to mention Bachelard and hear in return a sigh of happy recognition. I have sat at tables crowded with journalists, graphic artists, urban planners, therapists, sculptors, and architects, all of whom carry some fond memory of their first encounter with The Poetics of Space.
The approval of architects seems the most obvious and at the same time the most odd. Despite the mention here of everything from floorboards to molding, names such as Isidore & Anthemius, Ictinus & Callicrates, da Vinci, Mansart, Gabriel, Soufflot, Garnier, Bartholdi, let alone Eiffel, Van Alen, Wright, Gaudí, Le Corbusier, or Pei, never appear. Instead the authorities vitalizing this work are Desbordes-Valmore, Caubère, Wahl, Caroutch, Poe, Barucoa, Morange, Clancier, Éluard, Milosz, Sand, Lafon, Duthil, Bosco, Monteiro, Proust, Spyridaki, Cazelles, Hartmann, Thoreau, Laroche, Guillaume, Bourdeillette, Richaud, Seghers, Supervielle, Wartz, Péguy, Rouffange, Vigée, Mallarmé, Bousquet, Goll, Ganzo, Shedrow, Valéry, Alexandre, Puel, Rouquier, Blanchard, Albert-Birot, de Boissy, Breton, Hugo, Bureau, Cadou, Patocchi, Rimbaud, Masson, Daumal, Vallès, Jouve, Guéguen, Baudelaire, Tardieu, Michaux, Pellerin, Barrault, Tzara, Rilke. Poets one and all. And why not? Just as stanza means “verse,” it also means “room.”
Though architecture prompted the recommendation, my own introduction to Bachelard came by way of poetry. A young woman I’d met one night in a roomy loft on Varick Street responded to my sonnets with news that in Italian her name meant “death”—A Non-Name Admittedly. Not that my interest was put off by this a.m. warning. Eventually I came to give her more than poems, including an early draft of my first novel. The seduction still failed and her stern advice to read Bachelard hardly seemed to make up for bruised desire. But what did I know? Thanks to love’s failure—and here, really, is a belated thanks to her decades due—a necessary revision was set in motion thanks to a young woman whose name meant nothing more.
Of course, sometimes nothing more can mean so much more. And these pages offer just that. After all, here is a thinker who urges the reader to discover an excess of association: “And how should one receive an exaggerated image, if not by exaggerating it a little more, by personalizing the exaggeration? . . . in prolonging exaggeration, we may have the good fortune to avoid the habits of reduction.” At every turn Bachelard encourages personal engagement: “A house that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.” Or here: “Sometimes the house grows and spreads so that, in order to live in it, greater elasticity of daydreaming, a daydream that is less clearly outlined, are needed.” What would that have been like? To have had such a teacher who applauded you for letting your thoughts run wild? Encouraged you to live beyond gutters and margins, frames and apps, the limits of map and page? Well, this is that education.
Note how Bachelard’s Buddhistlike invocation creates out of the trap-of-the-corner a place to escape into the open of all that is not. Whether being there (être-là) or not there—or quoting Michaux, “en dedans-en dehors” (inside-outside)—by way of the house Bachelard grants access to the vastness of place while at the same time admitting within a vast inverse. Doors—ajar, in-between, mostly open—wait for us. Windows, however, seem less important, likely because of the way walls thin and nearly vanish. And I say “nearly” only because one senses that Bachelard believes that the invention of structure results in the transparency through which we need to view the world.
Above and beyond dwellings or even the inspirations of water and fire (see his Water and Dreams; The Psychoanalysis of Fire), image and language are central to Bachelard. He reveres image for its impact and the ecstasy it provokes just as he believes it is “the property of a naïve consciousness; in its expression, it is youthful language.” (We can only imagine with what reservation he would observe our present-day addictions to jpegs and gifs.) Language, on the other hand, recalls time just as it suspends the ordination of time:
We find ourselves experiencing in words, on the inside of words, secret movements of our own. Like friendship, words sometimes swell, at the dreamer’s will, in the loop of a syllable. While in other words, everything is calm, tight . . . Words—I often imagine this—are little houses, each with its cellar and garret . . . To go upstairs in the word house is to withdraw, step by step; while to go down to the cellar is to dream, it is losing oneself in the distant corridors of an obscure etymology, looking for treasures that cannot be found in words.
For language is both image and text. The one tool we have capable of transcending both. Or as Bachelard so succinctly puts it, evoking childish delight over a discovery at the beach set against the immensity of ocean:
Perhaps the more clamor the better. That which we don’t know provokes what we just might conjure. Or as Bachelard writes it: “A lost symbolism begins to collect dreams again.”
What an inspiring pleasure then—with all this attention to paths and interiors leading to greater intimacies—to at the same time be reintroduced again and again to the outside. To suddenly discover D’Annunzio’s hares awake at dawn, running across “silvery frost” only to pause, ears alert, and by gaze alone “confer peace upon the entire universe.” And along with our own dreams of peace, ever beside such “animal peace,” to discover soon enough trees, many trees, beautiful trees.
Make no mistake: for all this dreaminess and natural calm, Bachelard is not without bite. From the outset he shows little patience for psychologists or psychiatrists. Though a philosopher himself, he calls the philosophy of his day a “cancerization of the linguistic tissue.” And yet in the final chapters he lets slip (a confession really) how if he “were a psychiatrist,” he would recommend a poem by Baudelaire to treat “anguish.” His squabble then is not with the purpose but rather the approach of a still-young profession. And of course, why not treat the power of great poems as something akin to “virtual ‘drugs’”? Many today would not disagree.
Regardless though of correct protocols, it is this enduring desire to heal that is the heart of The Poetics of Space and it makes of these pages something far beyond pages. As comfortable as Bachelard might be at a table of chemists and physicists, he could just as easily join a conversation between the ghosts of Carl Jung and James Hillman. His distaste is for what impedes in the name of dogma. He values the imagination because he recognizes that understanding without imagination is doctrine without growth. And without growth, what chance is there to engage the complexity that bounds us?
Culture gives us our collective dreams—on stage, on screen, online—but daydreams grant us each the collective possibility of oneself. Bachelard wants his readers to find the courage to pursue that private and very personal becoming no matter how strange and unfamiliar the outcome may prove—if only because he recognizes that what must allways deny us in the end must forever remain strange and unfamiliar, too. And so, as I see it, Bachelard extends to anyone with even a flicker of desire to fashion something beyond the pettiness of themselves this wish:
Bachelard often praised imagination for its power of metamorphosis. One could hardly think of someone more open to constant transformation than the author of The Poetics of Space. Born into a family of shoemakers, Bachelard began his career as a postman in the Champagne-Ardennes region of France before working his way to a professorship at the Sorbonne. Far from remaining satisfied as a philosopher of science, when he got there he went on to embrace the life of the imaginary in all its forms: poetic, visual, psychological and elemental. There were many mansions in Bachelard’s mind and he occupied them all magnificently.
The house in which he took up ultimate residency was The Poetics of Space. This is a book that talks at length about homes. Or more precisely, their imaginary dimensions as underground cellars and dusty garrets, unlocked drawers and secret wardrobes, winding stairways and shadowy thresholds. For many years now, readers of all stripes have been attracted to Bachelard’s poetic haunts: artists and architects, philosophers and analysts, writers and scholars, each finding what resonates with his or her own professional and personal interests. For some it is the phenomenology of roundness, for others the experience of insideness and outsideness, for others again the dream power of childhood or the collective unconscious: the way, for example, his favorite image—the tree—amplifies from root and bole to leaf and branch, offering nests to all sorts of imaginary dwellers. Bachelard paints a vast canvas, his sense of perspective ranging from the most intimate interior to the most vital expanse, moving easily—as only poetic imagination can—between the micro- and macro-cosmos. Nothing is alien to the Bachelardian home, be it elemental, human or sacred. His imagination is endlessly hospitable. In reverie the “not” no longer functions. All are welcome.
• • •
This Penguin edition of The Poetics of Space is timely and commendable. Its republication fifty years after the first English edition in 1964 comes at a moment when contemporary society needs imagination more than ever. So much of our experience today is processed by digital communication networks and social media, leaving little room for inner spaces of reverie and meditation—the sorts of places that Bachelard cherishes and celebrates in his poetic revisiting of basements and attics, nests and shelters, closets and stairwells, cupboards and chests. The Poetics of Space is about hide-and-seek places where the mind can go on holiday for a while and think about nothing—which means everything. Havens where the soul can pause, in silence, and free itself to dream. And let things be. Now more than ever we have need for intimacy, secrets, sites of interiority and contemplation where we can practice what Baudelaire—one of Bachelard’s favorite poets—called the art of “fertile laziness” (la paresse féconde). Without such nooks and crannies to muse and mope, to linger and loiter, there is nowhere to begin anew. No place for rapt attention.
Amidst our culture of broadcast and bigness, Bachelard recommends that we rediscover the immense in the most intimate of things. In a world where Facebook and Twitter expose our most private thoughts to public view, and where so many places of work and habitation are featureless, climate-controlled and quarantined against surprise, Bachelard shows us ways of dwelling again in the flesh of space, of dreaming our homes as nests and shells, of reimaging hidden gardens and caverns where we can delve back into a world of natality, newness, beginning.
This book invites us to become readers and writers of our lives. And Bachelard is both. He is an author who loves reading, and no reader can enter the imaginary realms he opens up without falling in love with the world again. To follow Bachelard on his poetic meanderings is to be led through homescapes and landscapes of reverie and repose. It is to wander meditatively through new fields and forests of imagination where we revisit our experience as if it were the first day of creation. Rilke, another Bachelard favorite, has the artwork summon the reader with the words “Change your life.”1 Such change occurs, for Bachelard, when we re-enter the dwelling of the soul and intensify the transformation of being: “Our soul is an abode. And by remembering ‘houses’ and ‘rooms,’ we learn to ‘abide’ within ourselves.”2
• • •
The Poetics of Space is the most concise and consummate expression of Bachelard’s philosophy of imagination. His famous turn toward poetics began in the late thirties when Bachelard decided to supplement his work on scientific epistemology (almost thirteen volumes) with an exploration of the life of art and creation. He had become increasingly dissatisfied by what he called the “growing rationalism of contemporary science” and was eager to investigate the “ecstasy of the newness of the image.”3 This meant breaking with the strict habits of scientific research—which placed new discoveries always in the context of acquired bodies of evidence—so as to expose oneself to the novelty of the poetic instant. Because “the poetic act has no past,”4 we must be fully attentive to the image at the very moment it appears, both as itself and as a vibration of the psyche. A new methodology was called for.
The notion of attention was key. Bachelard was concerned as much with the “material” image that stirs us in our depths as with the “formal” image that we produce in response. Bachelard offers a poetics of both matter and form, whereas Aristotle had originally defined poetics in terms of formal properties of plot (muthos) and imitation (mimesis). Poetics comes from poiesis, meaning “to make,” and for Bachelard this is a two-way process: we are made by material images that we remake in our turn. We are inhabited by deep imaginings—visual and verbal, auditory and tactile—that we reinhabit in our own unique way. Poetics is about hearing and feeling as well as crafting and shaping. It is the double play of re-creation. And this oscillating tension flies in the face of traditional dichotomies between subject and object, mind and matter, active and passive, which inform the history of Western thought. Or to put it another way: Bachelard’s sense of poetic creation transcends the traditionally opposed roles of the image as either “imitation” or “invention.” For Plato and many medieval philosophers, imagination was construed primarily as a mimetic act of mirroring, representing, copying. This approach was often associated with deceit and illusion, with confounding original realities with secondary substitutes. By contrast, for Kant and the romantics—including German idealists and existentialists like Sartre—imagination was hailed as a productive force in its own right, the source of all true meaning and value. Bachelard resisted both extremes. For him imagination was at once receptive and creative—an acoustic of listening and an art of participation. The two functions, passive and active, were inseparable. The world itself dreams, he said, and we help give it voice.5 “The image [is] the specific phenomena of the speaking creature.”6 The highest act of imagination is the will to attune oneself to the saying of being itself.
Hence Bachelard’s refusal of Jean-Paul Sartre’s argument in The Imaginary (1940) that perception and imagination are two radically opposed modes of intentionality. Where Sartre spoke of imagination “unrealizing” the world and replacing it with a solipsistic consciousness, Bachelard celebrated imagination’s power to realize the unrealized potential of the world. Where the Sartrean imagination involved a radical negation of things—issuing in an essential “poverty of being”—Bachelard saw imagination as the coming into being of language. Not non-being but surplus-being: being as incessant birthing of newness through images.
For Bachelard the cosmos, no less than the human psyche, is brimming with the force of the imaginary. And to return to his favorite example of the house, he maintains that the poetic reimagining of stairs, passageways, porches or dressers brings together powers of memory, perception and fantasy that criss-cross in all kinds of surprising ways, sounding previously untapped “reverberations” (retentissements). Imagination is a laboratory of the possible inviting us—through reverie and poetry—to give a future to the past. And it is not just a matter of a private past (though Bachelard’s memories of his hometown of Bar-sur-Aube ghost his work) but of a shared reservoir of resonances bequeathed to us by the great poets from Homer and Ovid to Rilke and Valéry.
Bachelard is in his element in poetics, and his poetics is of the elements: water, fire, air and earth. The list of his works on the “elemental imaginary” is hugely telling in this regard, ranging from Water and Dreams, Air and Dreams, Earth and the Reveries of the Will, Earth and the Reveries of Repose right up to his final works, The Flame of a Candle and Fragments of a Poetics of Fire. The term “element” does double duty for Bachelard as both a material and metaphysical substance. Elemental space is something we dwell in with body and soul. It is to be found—shaped and formed—in the “material paradise” of the protective dwelling as well as in the abyssal immensity that seems to breathe and blow through the house, at times dissolving its doors and enclosures. The Poetics of Space is no less than the fruition of a chapter entitled “The House of Our Birth and the Oneiric House” that Bachelard had written in his last book on the elements, Earth and the Reveries of Repose (1948). Both elemental notions haunt The Poetics of Space—the homey existential one, and the more expansive cosmological one. Bachelard writes about the house blown by the winds, or the airy house of words, as well the house rooted in soil and rock.
• • •
Bachelard’s philosophy was eclectic. Though primarily inspired by phenomenology, he was discreetly drawn toward Eastern philosophies and even mysticism, evident in his continuous pursuit of a “philosophy of repose” over against the Angst that ghosted much European culture during his lifetime. He stated this preference as early as his Dialectic of Duration in 1936 and as late as The Flame of a Candle in 1962. Yet, as a modest phenomenologist—with the ingrained discipline of a laboratory scientist—Bachelard steered away from explicitly spiritualist or religious language as much as he did from political discourse (or any language that risked becoming tendentious). Instead, he made a sustained effort to think always from the beginning—focusing on the micro-phenomenon of the poetic image “at the moment of its emergence” in the reader’s waking consciousness. In this sense his writing and thinking are deeply democratic, available to everyone regardless of ideology or creed. It requires no academic degree to appreciate the genesis of the image in the individual consciousness. His imagination is capacious, nothing deemed ineligible if it stirs being into language and language into being. No reader is excluded: professional or amateur, expert or lay. Anyone who can read poetry can read Bachelard—a philosopher of the infinite in the infinitesimal, of the mystical in matter. Daydreams and fantasies are grist for poetic reverie as much as masterpieces by Dante or Baudelaire. “When we dream, we are phenomenologists without realizing it,” Bachelard tells us.7 We are born poets whether we like it or not, though what we do with it is our singular responsibility.
The Poetics of Space not only summarizes the author’s previous approaches to literary language—serving as canopy for its intertwining branches—it also signals his clearest philosophical insights. It is here that Bachelard inaugurates the distinctions between a “phenomenology of soul” (intuition) as opposed to a “phenomenology of mind” (analysis) and between “superlative” imagination and “comparative” reason (poetic words, he notes, are not comparisons but transformations). And it is also in this work that he sharpens the crucial difference between harmonic values (indeterminate reverberation) and empirical facts (determinate observation). Its sequel, The Poetics of Reverie, will elaborate on these key phenomenological insights while incorporating themes from Jungian depth-psychology, including those of animus and anima and the importance of imaginary idealization in their reconciliation.
Bachelard’s poetics of space equally entails a poetics of time. The temporality of the image is, he insists, that of the instant. Here we are concerned with epiphanies that riddle the continuity of time. Bachelard claims that every true poetic image breaks with linear clock time, introducing a dimension of verticality in depth and height.8 Where prosaic time is evolving and continuous (like Bergson’s), poetic time is disruptive and surprising. Echoing Coleridge’s definition of poetry as the “balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities,” Bachelard maintains that the poetic instant is a “harmonic relation between opposites.”9 Confronted by the successive antitheses of ordinary time, the poet refuses to comply, resisting the habit of chronological sequencing by transmuting opposition into instantaneous “ambivalence” (where contraries coexist). The poetic imagination thus substitutes simultaneity for succession. It calls for a radical transmutation of values in a gesture Bachelard calls “rapture” or “ecstasy.” A genuine poetics of space explodes the continuum of the world’s time, as happens in the reading or dreaming of a great fantasy. Just think, for example, of how the creative revisiting of a childhood room can provoke a sense of “involuntary memory” that renders the recalled image timeless and essential—the past suddenly transformed into a miraculous present, as in the Proustian remembrance of the mother’s bedtime kiss. But for Bachelard the imagination even surpasses the limits of the personal past, embracing what he calls the “antecedence of being.” His ruminations on the epiphanic power of dwellings—from nests and shells to cellars and attics—epitomize this ontological embrace.
But perhaps the most original contribution that The Poetics of Space makes to contemporary poetics is its exploration of the rapport between imagination and language. It is here that Bachelard clarifies his bold claim that images “speak” the emergence of being, setting verbs in motion and turning sensations into metaphors by inviting us to live figuratively. For this reason, he insists, images are more demanding and rewarding than ideas. They give logos to perception. So that, as he says, we can devote our reading being to an image that confers being on us. In fact, the image that is the pure product of “absolute imagination” is a specific phenomenon of the speaking creature.10 Here, under the ancient Greek term Logos—with its metaphysical and biblical resonances—Bachelard brings together the fundamental notions of Being, Word and Creation. But the Logos that commands our attention speaks in the lower case of cadences and rhymes. Bachelard always sounds the extraordinary in the ordinary.
So where does this Logos speak from? Bracketing standard causal and metaphysical accounts, Bachelard adopts what he calls a phenomenological attitude of “daily crisis” that allows consciousness to be exposed to the moment’s gift.11 Resolved to let images speak for themselves, he resists all determinist models of explaining consciousness in terms of prior infantile, historical or behavioral events. One cannot, he says, explain “the flower by the fertilizer.”12 Or again:
Poetry extends well beyond psychoanalysis on every side. From a dream it always makes a daydream [rêverie]. And the poetic daydream cannot content itself with the rudiments of a story; it cannot be tied to a knotty complex. The poet lives a daydream that is awake, but above all, his daydream remains in the world, facing worldly things. It gathers the universe together around and in an object.13
Thus a poet can, for example, condense cosmic wealth into the image of a slender casket, the universe into a miniature purse. Images captured from the past act as triggers into a timeless elemental unconscious, extending across individuals and generations, and opening up a limitless future. He writes: “The casket contains the things that are unforgettable, unforgettable for us, but also unforgettable for those to whom we are going to give our treasures. Here the past, the present and a future are condensed. Thus the casket is memory of what is immemorial.”14
• • •
Bachelard’s work had a considerable impact on his intellectual contemporaries. He influenced structuralists like Foucault and Althusser with his revolutionary notion of the “epistemological break” (the idea of radical rupture between different paradigms of knowledge), existentialists like Merleau-Ponty with his discovery of the imaginary as a cosmic-psychic “element,” and hermeneutic thinkers like Ricoeur with the claim that the image is a four-way relationship between author, reader, text and world. Contrary to the formalist ideology of the absolute text (closed in on itself), Bachelard celebrated the interactive function of imagination as a symbolizing process involving someone saying something to someone about something. Poetics, for Bachelard, is not a matter of anonymous floating signifiers; it signals a relational dynamics between beings, involving vital dimensions of intimacy, secrecy, desire and repose. Imagination is at its best when it is incarnate, elemental, opening out into time and space, even when the space is elsewhere—before being, beneath being, beyond being, more than being. For Bachelard, images are not merely seen but lived. They are not just vision, but the cosmos itself as it expands and amplifies from the minute to the magnified, creating a “concordance of world immensity with intimate depth of being.”15 Images touch us at the deepest place of existence and remake the world again and again. Baudelaire—oft cited by Bachelard—expresses this with his notion of “correspondences” that transform vast expanses into the intensity of our inmost being. Correspondences institute “transactions between two kinds of grandeur”—inner and outer.16 They draft peace treaties between self and world. “In the realm of images, there can be no contradiction.”17
The ultimate task of a phenomenology of imagination is, Bachelard concludes, to capture images at their inception, as they begin anew. In this the phenomenologist and the poet are one, for they both know that imaginative contact with the outer world renews our inner being. To imagine going down into the water or wandering in the desert is to change space; and to change space is to change being.18 To dream otherwise—even if it is for the moment of a reverie or poem—is to exist otherwise. And Bachelard invites each reader to join company with his walking companions—Rilke, Lautréamont, Mallarmé, Poe—on such grand imaginary journeys. Once you have entered the poetics of space there is no going back. The home you revisit is never the same again.
1. Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”
2. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (henceforth PS), trans. Maria Jolas (New York: Penguin, 2014), p. 21.
3. PS, p. 1. It is important nonetheless to note that Bachelard’s turn toward poetics did not mean turning his back on science. His main career remained that of a philosopher of science and, while he saw poetic imagination and scientific reason as traveling on apparently separate tracks, he also saw interesting links between them, especially in their prioritizing of the possible over the real and in their transformation of ordinary language (see Roch Smith, “Gaston Bachelard and the Power of Poetic Being,” in French Literature Series, vol. IV, , pp. 235–37). It was Bachelard’s hope to return to more writing on science after The Poetics of Reverie (henceforth PR). Also alluding to the subtle relationship between science and poetics in Bachelard, Etienne Gilson notes in his foreword to the 1963 edition of The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon, 1994): “[Bachelard’s] whole career was founded upon his philosophical critique of scientific knowledge and his conception of a free type of rationalism, quite different from the abstract mode of thinking which the word usually designates, and wholly bent upon the art of using reason as an instrument to achieve an always closer approach to concrete reality” (p. viii).
4. PS, pp. 1–2.
5. As he later put it in The Poetics of Reverie: “The more subtle duality of the Voice and the Sound rises to the cosmic level of a duality of the breath and the wind. Where is the dominant being of the spoken reverie? When a dreamer speaks, who is speaking, he or the world? . . . ‘All the being of the world, if it dreams, dreams that it is speaking’ [Henri Bosco]. But does the being of the world dream? Ah! long ago, before ‘culture,’ who would have doubted it? Everyone knew that metal ripened slowly in the mine. And how can anything ripen without dreaming?” PR, trans. Daniel Russell (Boston: Beacon, 1971), p. 187. See also Richard Kearney, Poetics of Imagining (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998), pp. 109–10.
6. PS, p. 96. On sounding the vibrant Logos of being, see also Poetics of Imagining, p. 107 et seq., and Eileen Rizo-Patron’s excellent study “Awakening the Inner Ear: Gadamer and Bachelard in Search of a Living Logos,” Translation and Literary Studies, ed. Marella Feltrin-Morris et al. (New York: St. Jerome Publishing, 2012), pp. 52–68, esp. pp. 57–61. See also Miles Kennedy, A Concrete Bachelardian Metaphysics (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012).
7. PS, p. 122. See also Poetics of Imagining: in Bachelard “the authentic image . . . does not represent something, it addresses someone” (p. 109).
8. Bachelard, “Poetic Instant and Metaphysical Instant,” in Intuition of the Instant, trans. Eileen Rizo-Patron (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013), pp. 58–63.
9. Bachelard, Intuition of the Instant, p. 59. On Bachelard’s critique of Bergson’s notion of time, see Jean-François Perraudin, “A Non-Bergsonian Bachelard,” in Continental Philosophy Review 41 (2008): 463–79. See also Richard Kearney, “Bachelard and the Epiphanic Instant,” in Philosophy Today (SPEP Supplement), vol. 33 (2008): 38–44.
10. PS, p. 96.
11. PS, p. 3.
12. PS, p. 14.
13. PS, p. 105.
14. PS, p. 105. On Bachelard’s own past see the very poignant piece “Bachelard et sa fille,” by Alain Garric, in Libellules, Le Monde, January 4, 2004. Here it is worth recalling Bachelard’s comment on poetic time in The Poetics of Reverie: “In reverie we re-enter into contact with possibilities which destiny has not been able to make use of. A great paradox is connected with the reveries toward childhood: in us this dead past has a future . . . which opens before any rediscovered image” (PR, p. 112). Poetic reverie performs a double action of retrieving unactivated seeds of the past while simultaneously provoking crises and ruptures that break the conjunctive tissue of time and carve open new spaces of becoming (PS, p. 31).
15. PS, p. 207.
16. PS, p. 210.
17. PS, p. 219.
18. PS, pp. 221–23.
Suggestions for Further Reading
WORKS BY GASTON BACHELARD
Bachelard, Gaston. Intuition of the Instant. Trans. Eileen Rizo-Patron. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013.
———. Dialectics of Duration. Trans. Mary McAllester Jones. Manchester, UK: Clinamen Press, 2000.
———. Lautréamont. Trans. Robert S. Dupree. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications, 1986.
———. Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement. Trans. Edith Farrell and Frederick Farrell. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications, 1988.
———. Earth and Reveries of Repose: An Essay on Images of Interiority. Trans. Mary McAllester. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications, 2011.
———. The Right to Dream. Trans. J. A. Underwood. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications, 1988.
Gilson, Etienne. “Foreword” to The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, pp. xi–xiv.
Kaplan, Edward. “Gaston Bachelard’s Philosophy of Imagination,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1972, pp. 1–24.
Kearney, Richard. “Bachelard and the Epiphanic Instant.” Philosophy Today 52 (2008): 38–45.
———. “The Poetical Imagination” (Gaston Bachelard). In Poetics of Imagining. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998, pp. 96–119.
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———. “Gaston Bachelard and the Poetic Power of Being.” French Literary Criticism IV (1977): 235–38.
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A philosopher who has evolved his entire thinking from the fundamental themes of the philosophy of science, and followed the main line of the active, growing rationalism of contemporary science as closely as he could, must forget his learning and break with all his habits of philosophical research, if he wants to study the problems posed by the poetic imagination. For here the cultural past doesn’t count. The long day-in, day-out effort of putting together and constructing his thoughts is ineffectual. One must be receptive, receptive to the image at the moment it appears: if there be a philosophy of poetry, it must appear and re-appear through a significant verse, in total adherence to an isolated image; to be exact, in the very ecstasy of the newness of the image. The poetic image is a sudden salience on the surface of the psyche, the lesser psychological causes of which have not been sufficiently investigated. Nor can anything general and co-ordinated serve as a basis for a philosophy of poetry. The idea of principle or “basis” in this case would be disastrous, for it would interfere with the essential psychic actuality, the essential novelty of the poem. And whereas philosophical reflection applied to scientific thinking elaborated over a long period of time requires any new idea to become integrated in a body of tested ideas, even though this body of ideas be subjected to profound change by the new idea (as is the case in all the revolutions of contemporary science), the philosophy of poetry must acknowledge that the poetic act has no past, at least no recent past, in which its preparation and appearance could be followed.
Later, when I shall have occasion to mention the relation of a new poetic image to an archetype lying dormant in the depths of the unconscious, I shall have to make it understood that this relation is not, properly speaking, a causal one. The poetic image is not subject to an inner thrust. It is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of an image, the distant past resounds with echoes, and it is hard to know at what depth these echoes will reverberate and die away. Because of its novelty and its action, the poetic image has an entity and a dynamism of its own; it is referable to a direct ontology. This ontology is what I plan to study.
Very often, then, it is in the opposite of causality, that is, in reverberation, which has been so subtly analyzed by Minkowski,1 that I think we find the real measure of the being of a poetic image. In this reverberation, the poetic image will have a sonority of being. The poet speaks on the threshold of being. Therefore, in order to determine the being of an image, we shall have to experience its reverberation in the manner of Minkowski’s phenomenology.
To say that the poetic image is independent of causality is to make a rather serious statement. But the causes cited by psychologists and psychoanalysts can never really explain the wholly unexpected nature of the new image, any more than they can explain the attraction it holds for a mind that is foreign to the process of its creation. The poet does not confer the past of his image upon me, and yet his image immediately takes root in me. The communicability of an unusual image is a fact of great ontological significance. We shall return to this question of communion through brief, isolated, rapid actions. Images excite us—afterwards—but they are not the phenomena of an excitement. In all psychological research, we can, of course, bear in mind psychoanalytical methods for determining the personality of a poet, and thus find a measure of the pressures—but above all of the oppressions—that a poet has been subjected to in the course of his life. But the poetic act itself, the sudden image, the flare-up of being in the imagination, are inaccessible to such investigations. In order to clarify the problem of the poetic image philosophically, we shall have to have recourse to a phenomenology of the imagination. By this should be understood a study of the phenomenon of the poetic image when it emerges into the consciousness as a direct product of the heart, soul and being of man, apprehended in his actuality.