Sunday, May 2, 2010

Of 'pushing nouns and adjectives': the poetics of space

The older I get the more interested I become in the space I inhabit.  I want it to be beautiful and by that I mean appropriately spacious, colorful, artful, and (usually) abstract.  In my younger days I hardly noticed the space I inhabited -- upon reflection I don't think I had enough life experience to understand how crucial it is. 

I'm reading a new (to me) book: The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places by Gaston Bachelard. [First published in France in 1958.] I saw a reference to it in the Comments to a post by Robin at Metanoia. The title fascinated me.

Turns out that Bachelard was chair of the philosophy department at the Sorbonne. He gained that position from his works on the philosophy of science, but once he was established in his field, he moved to much more esoteric topics, including Water and Dreams, Air and Revery, The Earth and the Reveries of the Rest. (Can we stand it?--the reveries of rest, air, and water, no less.) Anyway, he kept moving away from reason/rationality and into more abstract ways of thinking. He had to forget all his acquired knowledge, for in the realm of abstractions like the soul and space/time the rationalism of science did him little good.

The first idea he presents in the Introduction is that in studying the poetics of the imagination "one must be receptive, receptive to the image at the moment it appears...The idea of a principle or a 'basis' ...would interfere with the essential psychic actuality, the essential novelty of the poem...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."

and more on this:
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 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 is it 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.

At the level of the poetic image, the duality of subject and object is iridescent, shimmering, unceasingly active in its inversions.

The image, in its simplicity, has no need of scholarship. It is the property of a naive consciousness; in its expression, it is youthful language. The poet, in the novelty of his [sic] images, is always the origin of language. To specify exactly what a phenomenology of the image can be, to specify that the image comes before thought, we should have to say that poetry, rather than being a phenomenology of the mind, is a phenomenology of the soul.

and this from the Foreword to the 1994 edition:
Always container, sometimes contained, the house serves Bachelard as the portal to metaphors of imagination. With a rare grace, he handles the most fragile shell, the most delicate "cottage chrysalis," the most simple containers. 'Chests, especially small caskets, over which we have more complete mastery, are objects that may be opened.' What immensities flow from objects that may be opened. From Jungian psychology to sexual intimacy, Bachelard explores the significance of nooks and crannies, the shells of turtles, the garden 'chambers' still favored by landscape

Language serves and delights Bachelard...He writes of hearing by imagination, of filtering, of distorting sound, of lying awake in his city apartment and hearing in the roar of Paris the roar of the sea, of hearing what is, and what is not. In struggling to look "through the thousand windows of fancy," Bachelard elevates language, pushes adjectives and nouns to far-off limits, perhaps to voluptuous heights, certainly to intimacy elsewhere unknown...

In an age of so much homogenized space, so much shoddy, cramped, dimly it, foul-smelling, low-ceilinged, ill-ordered structure, Bachelard offers not only methods of assaying existing form but ways of imagining finer texture and concatenations. The Poetics of Space resonates in an era suffused by television and video games, fluorescent lighting and plastic floors....It is a book that ...demonstrates to its readers that space can be poetry.
All of this speaks to me so powerfully.
Just wish I could translate it effectively.  Perhaps that will come.


Jan said...

Thank you for these quotes to ponder. I've never heard of the book before and look forward to you posting more about it.

I love your new look--rain!!

Heather said...

Brilliant! I will add it to my summer reading list. I love to see everyday, mundane localities suffused with richer significance...or should I say, evocative of richer significance. Thanks, Katherine! :)