Then, in episode 45, I referred to “The Poetics of Space” again, in the context of translating the word “mind.”
And now, I am talking about “The Poetics of Space” again—this time, in the context of honey.
Honey. Oh. So much honey in this book. It’s not about honey, but one need not use the word “honey” to conjure up honey in the mind. Or the soul. Depending on your culture and the language you use, mind and soul may exist as entirely separate notions or be more or less the same. For me, mind and soul are basically the same thing, though they’re convenient tools when I want to talk about various aspects of the thing that is. The thing that cannot be named anyway. The thing that can only be experienced, and barely that. It’s like when we call the wrist the wrist, the forearm the forearm, and the elbow the elbow, even though we wouldn’t want the wrist and forearm and elbow to be actually separate. Hopefully we can have an arm instead of actually believing that the various parts exist separately. Hopefully, even as we use words like mind and soul separately, we are one whole human.
But if I had to choose one word, I would use the word mind—and use it in a way that doesn’t merely contain the intellect. That is how “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” seemed to be using the word; and that book is referred to in episode 45 as well.
But, back to honey. “The Poetics of Space” contains so much honey. It is of honey. It is a house built of honey. It reminds me of the movies of Park Chan-Wook, especially “The Handmaiden.” Mr. Park’s movies, and especially “The Handmaiden,” are honey. But they’re not cloying honey. Honey drips from each frame, but the structure of the story is so secure, you never have to worry about the movie falling apart. And that is also what it feels like to read “The Poetics of Space.” The book talks about the house—a house where people live in. And it talks about it in more than a physical or technical way.
The house very much is a physical thing. It is a technical thing. I have a vague, imprecise admiration for architects because architecture is art while being so practical. And the risk. Wow. To build a place where people live in. And that, in the physical sense, but also, in the metaphysical sense. In the everything sense. Even the most spiritual person lives somewhere. It might not be a huge mansion that requires a lot of physical material and coordination among people to build; it might be a hut. But even so, someone built that hut. Maybe that spiritual person built that hut. At any rate, someone built that hut, and whatever spirituality happens in there. If the hut falls apart on top of the spiritual person, there is no more spiritual person. The spirit may go somewhere—or it may stay because it was never born and therefore will never die. But the person will be no more. The person will be logged out of this game.
So, architecture, on big or small scales—I have a really vague and imprecise admiration for it and architects. I don’t have the technical knowledge to fully admire the state-of-the-art material or building strategies. All I can admire is the idea of architects as these beings who build these mind-nurturing, mind-creating, mind-encouraging spaces for people.
Mr. Bachelard also talks about the ideas. And they are beautiful, sweet sweet honey ideas. He talks about the basement and the attic, he talks about the mansion and the hut. And, he talks about poetry.
For weeks, I wondered how I should do an episode about this book, because every line in it is so… You could take any line and it could stand on its own as a quote.
You know, some great books are great because one must read them whole.
Then there are books like “The Poetics of Space” and you could take any line, write it on a card, and send it to someone, and that recipient will taste honey.
And for those of you who celebrate Valentine’s Day, here is an idea. Try reading this book, and if you like it, gift a copy to your lover. Even better, if you’re an architect! Oh my gosh. I don’t know what would be more romantic without being impractically cloying. If you are someone who can build a house and talk about the house the way Mr. Bachelard does, my goodness. Sir, ma’am, or whichever other title you prefer—you are honey. If you are an architect and you were to propose to your lover with this book, it would be near impossible to say “No.”
And even if you aren’t an architect—this book is definitely Valentine’s Day material and more than that. This is the 25th Wedding Anniversary material. This is material you want to read to your dying lover on their deathbed when you’re a hundred and twenty years old. By which I mean—this is timeless romance. It’s not merely young love romance—no offense to young love, but young love is just one of the many loves. This is… this is young love and “We spent a hundred years together, now you’re dying. I cannot read you the whole book because your time in this world is running out, but I can pick any line from this book and it will be honey. So, honey, I am reading you that one line, because we still have time for that one line, and I want you to die with sweetness in your ears and all my love on your tongue.”
Because the book consists of lines that are each, individually, quotable, I started collecting quotes for Sponge, and at some point realized…
This is gonna be copyright infringement. There were too many quotes. And also, at some point, quoting too much becomes pointless, because you might as well read the whole book. You might as well find an audiobook version of this book and listen to that, instead of me interrupting the quotes with whatever I say.
So, what I decided was: I will mainly talk about the forewords of this book. This, because forewords being forewords, it’s possible that the version of “The Poetics of Space” that you have access to doesn’t contain the same set of forewords. Therefore, perhaps what I will be quoting will be new to you.
And before the forewords, there is also the table of contents. Even that is beautiful, for gods’ sake. It’s a list of words, but even in that, from the beginning, before reading anything of the actual book, I thought, Wow, the visual pleasure. Because, the way the table of contents looked on the page was beautiful. And it wasn’t because of the font or the trim size, necessarily. It was due to the aspects that a writer is in full control of: the actual chapter titles and their lengths. Even considering that the book was written in French, and I was reading the English translation, more or less, the lengths of the chapter titles probably do maintain their… proportions. I mean that in any language, a three-word chapter title is probably longer than a one-word chapter title. And from these chapter titles, there was this sense of… rhythm.
“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Table of Contents
- Foreword to the 1994 Edition
- Foreword to the 1964 Edition
- 1. The House. From Cellar to Garret. The Significance of the Hut
- 2. House and Universe
- 3. Drawers, Chests and Wardrobes
- 4. Nests
- 5. Shells
- 6. Corners
- 7. Miniature
- 8. Intimate Immensity
- 9. The Dialectics of Outside and Inside
- 10. The Phenomenology of Roundness
It’s just a list of words. But the words themselves are beautiful, the way the titles get from long to very short to long again is beautiful, and, it’s just beautiful.
So, the foreword from 1994. It was written by John R. Stilgoe. Quote:
Bachelard guides the reader into wondering why adults recall childhood cellar stairs from the top looking down but recall attic stairs from the bottom looking up, into musing on the significance of doorknobs encountered by children at eye level, into pondering the mysteries of fingertip memory. How does the body, not merely the mind, remember the feel of a latch in a long-forsaken childhood home?“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Foreword to the 1994 edition
I love this line in particular: “not merely the mind.” I have more often heard of the body being “merely the body.” Meanwhile, this book talks about “merely the mind.”
The more I do inner work, the more I adore my body.
Firstly, the body is the mind for someone who is focused on the inner world. In other words, if one believes that the inner world is so powerful that everything comes from within—which I did believe in the past in a less literal sense and which I do believe now in the literal sense—then, the body also must come from the mind. Therefore, the body is the mind. So, in a situation like that, where one believes that the inner world creates everything, if one still somehow feels that the body is to be neglected and hated because it’s lesser than the mind, then something is very wrong.
Secondly, if the body and mind were separate, or if I were a person who didn’t believe that everything comes from the inner mind, then I would choose the body. That’s because if the body and the mind were separate, I, too, would consider the mind “mere” mind. In a case like that, the word “mind” seems to mean mere intellect. Intellect is far, far, far less important for me than my body’s spontaneous knowing of how to breathe, when to sleep, when to wake up, when to eat, how to digest. And the body has intuition that mere intellect doesn’t have.
I will read several more quotes from various parts of the foreword. Quote:
… he weaves into his argument that the house is a nest for dreaming, a shelter for imagining … his insistence that people need houses in order to dream, in order to imagine, remains one of the most unnerving, most convincing arguments in Western philosophy.
Storm makes sense of shelter, and if the shelter is sound, the shelter makes the surrounding storm good, enjoyable, re-creational, something that Bachelard uses to open his understanding of house and universe, of intimacy and immensity.
Bachelard writes of hearing by imagination, of filtering, of distorting sound, of lying wake in his city apartment and hearing in the roar of Paris the rote of the sea, of hearing what is, and what is not.
It is a book that makes its readers dissatisfied with much contemporary structure and landscape, for it demonstrates to its readers that space can be poetry.“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Foreword to the 1994 edition
Indeed, at this point I had only read the foreword and it was so beautiful that I was already dissatisfied with most spaces I’d been in. I think this is the foreword of my life. What a way to introduce a book—“a book that makes its readers dissatisfied.” Something like this isn’t usually said, when you’re trying to encourage people to read a book.
And then, an ambitious claim. Quote, “Every reader of it will never again see ordinary spaces in ordinary ways.” End quote.
Ah. What an introduction.
And, as to what Mr. Stilgoe says about Bachelard’s work in relation to the, quote, “titanic importance of setting in so much art,” end quote, including fiction, I wholeheartedly agree. Setting is a character of its own in a story. It is so in everything, including life, because life is art—if we let it be.
I also like this phrase. Quote, “Always container, sometimes contained, the house …” End quote.
Ah. Pure honey.
The Foreword to the 1964 Edition is also beautiful. This one is more focused on Bachelard as a person. He is described like a character in a novel and it is beautiful. This foreword was written by Etienne Gilson.
I wish I could make clear how his provincial origins and his familiarity with the things of the earth affected his intellectual life and influenced the course of his philosophical reflections. Owing to his courageous efforts, Bachelard finally succeeded in giving himself a university education, got all the university degrees one can get and ended as a university professor; yet, unlike most of us, at least in France, he never allowed himself to become molded by the traditional ways of thinking to which universities unavoidably begin by submitting their students. His intellectual superiority was such that he could not fail to succeed in all his academic ventures. We all loved him, admired him and envied him a little, because we felt he was a free mind, unfettered by any conventions either in his choice of the problems he wanted to handle or in his way of handling them.“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Foreword to the 1964 edition
These words are full of adoration for Bachelard and also, a bit humorous.
And on the time when Bachelard wrote a book titled “The Psychoanalysis of Fire,” the writer says, quote:
What are they going to say? Who, they? Well, we, all of us, the colleagues. After appointing a man to teach the philosophy of science and seeing him successfully do so for a number of years, we don’t like to learn that he has suddenly turned his interest to a psychoanalysis of the most unorthodox sort, since what then was being psychoanalyzed was not even people, but an element.
More volumes in the same vein were to follow during the course of years: Water and Dreams, Air and Revery, The Earth and the Reveries of the Will, The Earth and the Reveries of Rest, in which Bachelard was resolutely turning from the universe of reason and science to that of imagination and poetry.
…what Bachelard calls imagination is a most secret power that is as much of a cosmic force as a psychological faculty.“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Foreword to the 1964 edition
First of all, what great book titles: “The Psychoanalysis of Fire,” “Water and Dreams,” “Air and Revery,” “The Earth and the Reveries of the Will,” “The Earth and the Reveries of Rest.”
These titles remind me of the Nina Kiriki Hoffman book, “The Silent Strength of Stones,” which was the seed for episode 42. What beautiful titles.
And the way Bachelard’s transformation is described is like a passage from a novel. Quote:
…he was then turning from the philosophy of science to the philosophy of art and to esthetics.
This could not be done without extreme care, especially on the part of a mind for so many years intent on the intricate, but always precise, moves of the scientific mind. From the very beginning, as will be seen in the first lines of this work, Bachelard realized that he would have to forget all his acquired knowledge, all the philosophical habits contracted during years of scientific reflection, if he wanted fruitfully to approach the problems raised by the poetic imagination.“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Foreword to the 1964 edition
I normally read one or two lines of a foreword or introduction and skip to the actual thing. But these forewords, from the very first line, were so natural that I just kept reading. By natural, I mean that they didn’t have this air of being a foreword. They sounded like the writers were speaking to the readers because they love Bachelard and his work.
And, earlier in this episode I said that so many lines in this book could stand on their own. However, also at the same time, when you read the whole thing, you get a whole house. So, this book is like a house with a window and a door and a chimney that are excellent on their own, but also, as a whole, they finally form the house—like how the wrist and forearm and elbow form an arm.
This book, its parts can be quoted, but I cannot summarize it. This book cannot be Cliffnotes-ified. You can read parts of it and get a lot, but I don’t think there would be a point in summarizing the book. It’s like a novel, more than most other nonfiction I’ve read. The individual parts are beautiful, and at the same time, there is a reason why the whole thing flows the way it flows. It’s a story—although Bachelard talks more about poetry, and yes, this book is also poetry.
Poetry and story are like mind and body in that some people distinguish between the two more than others. I don’t distinguish between them much.
Let me mention a few things from the parts that come after the forewords.
Something that Mr. Bachelard seems to be aware of is that he is someone talking about poetry who, according to some definitions, perhaps including his own definition, doesn’t write poetry. Yet, because he does the talking about so masterfully, what he does, itself, becomes poetry, in a way.
This isn’t someone who never created talking about creativity. Oh, Mr. Bachelard is an artist. I don’t know about what intellectually superb mind he has. I don’t study philosophy. I don’t study psychology. But I read this book and it is a work of art. Just like this book talks about barrier-less reverie, there is no barrier between him talking about art and the art. He isn’t a mere external observer commenting on something he will never perform himself. He is talking about the actual thing while being the actual thing.
In his introduction, he mentions how, in the case of a philosophy of poetry, quote:
The idea of principle or ‘basis’ … 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.
In other words, as soon as an art has become autonomous, it makes a fresh start. It is therefore salient to consider this start as a sort of phenomenology. On principle, phenomenology liquidates the past and confronts what is new.
… contemporary painters no longer consider the image as a simple substitute for a perceptible reality. Proust said already of roses painted by Elstir that they were “a new variety with which this painter, like some clever horticulturist, had enriched the Rose family.”
And with regard to images, it soon becomes clear that to attract and to repulse do not give contrary experiences. The terms are contrary. When we study electricity or magnetism, we can speak symmetrically of repulsion and attraction. All that is needed is a change of algebraic signs.
Now everything becomes clear, the house images move in both directions: they are in us as much as we are in them.“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – Introduction
The external phenomena of love from lack and love from abundance may appear to be the same to the avatar eyes—by which I mean, the eyes that are restricted to the sensations of the external world. But the internal experiences—the stuff of being—are different depending on wherefrom the love draws.
I can only sense abundance from “The Poetics of Space.” It overflows with love, from the foreword to the end. And, love, here, isn’t romantic love. I mean the kind of love I mentioned a few times before—unconditional love. This is the love we have toward rocks: of not wondering why a rock isn’t rounder or pointier. It’s of not demanding of the rock to be bigger or smaller. Or to lie farther north or farther south.
Reading “The Poetics of Space” is so sweet because the love can be felt. Yes, there are many words that categorize various things. But amidst all that, there is love. Mr. Bachelard doesn’t need to keep track of what he has given. He wrote what he loved. He is autotelic. Thus his love overflows. There is no seeking. This is the world of poetry; the world of a lifeforce that doesn’t run out. This is where people go in flow state. It’s where people go in healthy ecstasy—not drug-induced, artificial, physical, and external ecstasy, but deep pure autotelic ecstasy that every human can access.
There is the external house, but what this book mainly discusses is the internal love. Mr. Bachelard doesn’t need fulfillment because he is full. Well, at least, if he did feel some kind of lack in his life, certainly it wasn’t in the area of his creative work. Here, the honey overflows.
I will end this episode with some quotes from chapter 1, titled, “The house, from cellar to garret. The significance of the hut.” Quote:
The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity in its depths. Daydreaming even has a privilege of autovalorization. It derives direct pleasure from its own being.
In the theater of the past that is constituted by memory, the stage setting maintains the characters in their dominant roles. At times we think we know ourselves in time, when all we know is a sequence of fixations in the spaces of the being’s stability—a being who does not want to melt away, and who, even in the past, when he sets out in search of things past, wants time to “suspend” its flight. In its countless alveoli space contains compressed time. That is what space is for.
…even when it is forever expunged from the present, when, henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams. These retreats have the value of a shell. And when we reach the very end of the labyrinths of sleep, when we attain to the regions of deep slumber, we may perhaps experience a type of repose that is pre-human; pre-human, in this case, approaching the immemorial. But in the daydream itself, the recollection of moments of confined, simple, shut-in space are experiences of heartwarming space, of a space that does not seek to become extended, but would like above all still to be possessed. In the past, the attic may have seemed too small, it may have seemed cold in winter and hot in summer. Now, however, in memory recaptured through daydreams, it is hard to say through what syncretism the attic is at once small and large, warm and cool, always comforting.“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard – chapter 1, “The house, from cellar to garret. The significance of the hut.”
Oh, so sweet, this book. It is abundant. It is plenty. I hope you were able to taste honey.
- “The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard
- “The Spectral Arctic: A History of Dreams and Ghosts in Polar Exploration” by Shane McCorristine
- “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” (Bardo Thodol)
- “The Handmaiden” (아가씨)
- “The Silent Strength of Stones” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
- Itamar Gross – Dancing Leaf
- Eldad Zitrin – I Need a Hug
- idokay – Levier de Répétition
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