Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space

I have long thought that there must be something of value on the aethetics of everyday life in Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space.  The problem is with reading his rather weird prose style. But I have finally got into it, and there is in fact some interesting material.  Of course Bachelard would agree with me that artists (in his case, poets) are the true aestheticians of everyday life. His effort is to be inspired by poets in doing a phenomenology of the house.  It turns out that a phenomenology of the house in his view involves analyzing various poems and responses to poems, poems that feature aspects of homes.  Poems are seen as dreams or dream-like.  Bachelard encourages us to read poems a second time with the view to letting them engage us in a sort of day-dream.  Here are some quotes from Bachelard and comments on how his views can contribute to everyday aesthetics.

"I once read an Italian novel in which there was a street sweeper who swung his broom with the majestic gesture of a reaper.  In his daydream he was reaping an imaginary field on the asphalt, a wide field in real nature in which he recaptured his youth and the noble calling of reaper under the rising sun."  (60)   I believe that an aesthetic experience is being described here.  We are seeing how the street sweeper experiences his sweeping.  Notably, it is experienced as enhanced through the use of imagination.

Bachelard also quotes from Rilke's Lettres a une musicienne.  in which Rilke describes his experience as a child cleaning a piano.  This might be seen in juxtaposition with Yuriko Saito's discussion of cleaning in her book on everyay aesthetics.  Describing the dusting Rilke says that the piano "was one of the few objects that lent itself willingly to this operation and gave no sign of boredom.  On the contrary, under my zealous dustcloth, it suddently started to purr mechanically...and its fine, deep black surface became more and more beautiful....Politeness tinged with mischief was my reaction to the friendlines of these objects, which seemed happy to be so well treated, so meticulously renovated." (70)  There is an imaginative dimension to this experience insofar as the piano is personified, but this is also coinnected with greater dimensions of beauty associated with the black surface of the piano.  So we are not just talking about the pleasures of fancy....there is a sensuous dimension as well.

In general, Bachelard speaks of daydreams that can accompany household activities.  "The minute we apply a glimmer of consciousness to a mechanical gesture, or practice phenomenology while polishing a pice of old furniture, we sense new impressions come into being beneath this familiar domestic duty.  For consciousness rejuvenates everything, giving a quality of beginning to the most everyday actions." (67)  This idea of consciousnessness making things young again makes me think again that phenomenology is really devoted to aesthetic exeperience. 

"when a poet rubs a piece of furniture - even vicariously - when he puts a little fragrant wax on his table with the woolen cloth that lends warmth to everything it touches, he creates a new object; he inscreases the object's human dignity; he registers this object officially as a member of the human housefuld."  (67) 

See this as an addendum to my article on sparkle and shine. 

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