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The Poetics of Space
By Gaston Bachelard
Translated from the French by Maria Jolas
With a new foreword by John R. Stilgoe
Boston: Beacon Press, 1994 - Philosophy - 241 pages
An excerpt—pages 51 to 53
51 house and universe
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. “My house,” writes
Georges Spyridaki,1 “is diaphanous, but it is not of glass.
It is more of the nature of vapor. Its walls contract and
expand as I desire. At times, I draw them close about me
like protective armor ... But at others, I let the walls of
my house blossom out in their own space, which is infi·
nitely extensible.”
Spyridaki’s house breathes. First it is a coat of armor,
then it extends ad infinitum, which amounts to saying that
we live in it in alternate security and adventure. It is both
cell and world. Here, geometry is transcended.
To give unreality to an image attached to a strong reality
is in the spirit of poetry. These lines by René Cazelles2
speak to us of this expansion, if we can inhabit his images.
The following was written in the heart of Provence, a coun·
try of sharp contours:
“The undiscoverable house, where this lava flower blows,
where storms and exhausting bliss are born, when will my
search for it cease?
...... ...... ................. .... ..... .... .. ... .
“Symmetry abolished, to serve as fodder for the winds
... ...... .. ..... .... ..... . .... .... ............ ..
“I should like my house to be similar to that of the ocean
wind, all quivering with gulls.”
Thus, an immense cosmic house is a potential of every
dream of houses. Winds radiate from its center and gulls
fly from its windows. A house that is as dynamic as this
allows the poet to inhabit the universe. Or, to put it dif·
fervently, the universe comes to inhabit his house.
1 George Spyridaki. Mort lucide, p. 35. Séghers, Paris.
2 René Cazelles,
De terre et d’envolée, pp.13, 36. "G.L.M." Paris.
52 the poetics of space
Occasionally, in a moment of repose, the poet returns to
the center of his abode (p. 29) .
. . . Tout respire à nouveau
La nappe est blanche
( … Everything breathes again
The tablecloth is white)
This bit of whiteness, this tablecloth suffices to anchor
the house to its center. The literary houses described by
Georges Spyridaki and René Cazelles are immense dwellings
the walls of which are on vacation. There are moments
when it is a salutary thing to go and live in them, as a
treatment for claustrophobia.
The image of these houses that integrate the wind, aspire
to the lightness of air, and bear on the tree of their impossible
growth a nest all ready to fly away, may perhaps
be rejected by a positive, realistic mind. But it is of value
for a general thesis on the imagination because, without
the poet's knowing it apparently, it is touched by the attraction
of opposites, which lends dynamism to the great
archetypes. In an article1 in the Eranos yearbook. Erich
Neumann shows that all strongly terrestrial beings—and a
house is strongly terrestrial—are nevertheless subject to the
attractions of an aereal, celestial world.The well-rooted
house likes to have a branch that is sensitive to the wind,
or an attic that can hear the rustle of leaves. The poet who
L’escalier des arbres
On y monte2
(On the stairs of the trees
We mount)
was certainly thinking of an attic.
1 Erich Neumann, Die Bedeutung des Erdarchetyps fur die Neuzeit.
Eranos-Jahrbuch, 1955, p. 12.
2 Claude Hartmann. Nocturnes, La Galère, Paris.
53 house and universe
If we compose a poem about a house, it frequently
happens that the most flagrant contradictions come
to wake
w from our doldrums of concepts, as philosophers
would say, and free us from our utilitarian geometical notions. In this fragment by René Cazelles, solidity
is achieved by an imaginary dialectics. We inhale in it the
impossible odor of lava, here granite has wings. Conversely,
the sudden wind is as rigid as a girder. The house conquers
its share of sky. It has the entire sky for its terrace.
But my commentary is becoming too precise. Concern-·
ing the different characteristics of the howe, it is inclined
to be hospitable to fragmentary dialectics, and if I were
to pursue it, I should destroy the unity of the archetype.
However, this is always the case. It is better to leave the
ambivalences or the archetype wrapped in their dominant
quality. This is why a poet will always be more suggestive
than a philosopher. It is precisely his right to be suggestive.
Pursuing the dynamism that belongs to suggestion, then,
the reader can go farther, even too far. In reading and
re-reading René Cazelles’ poem, once we have accepted the
burst of the image, we know that we can reside not only in
the topmost heights of the house, but in a super-height.
There are many images with which I like to make super-height
experiments. The image of the house in the solid
representation is folded lengthwise. When the poet
it and spreads it out, it presents a very pure phenomenological
aspect. Consciousness becomes “uplifted” in contact
with an image that, ordinarily, is “in repose.” The image
is no longer descriptive, but resolutely inspirational.
It is a strange situation. The space we love is unwilling
to remain permanently enclosed. It deploys and appears to
move elsewhere without difficulty; into other times, and
on different planes of dream and memory.
Is there a reader who would fail to take advantage of the
ubiquity of a poem like this one:
Ure maison dressée au coeur
Ma cathédrale de silence
Chaque matin reprise en réve
54 the poetics of space
Et chaque soir abandonnée
Une maison couverte d'aube
Ouverte au vent de ma jeunesse1
(A house that stands in my heart
My cathedral of silence
Every morning recaptured in dream
Every evening abandoned
A house covered with dawn
Open to the winds of my youth.)
This house, as I see it, is a sort of airy structure that
moves about on the breath of time. It really is open to the
wind of another time. It seems as though it could greet us
every day of our lives in order to give us confidence in life.
In my daydreaming, I associate these lines by Jean Laroche
with the passage in which René Char2 dreams in "a room
that grew buoyant and, little by little, expanded into the
vast stretches of travel.” If the Creator listened to poets, He
would create a flying turtle that would carry off into the
blue the great safeguards of earth.
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