39 pages • 1 hour readGaston Bachelard
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Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) was born into a family of shoemakers and worked his way up from mail carrier to philosopher. He earned his Doctor of Letters from the Sorbonne in 1927, originally studying the intersection of science and philosophy. Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space attracts readers of all types, including architects, poets, and other creative people. The Poetics of Space represents his journey into the philosophy of the imagination. Bachelard published The Poetics of Space in 1958, only four years before his death. The book explores the human relationship with interior spaces and the emotional architecture of a home. Bachelard’s work is rooted in phenomenology, the study of consciousness and experience. This guide refers to the 2014 version translated by Maria Jolas.
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The Poetics of Space connects many ideas: consciousness, being, infinity, creativity, imagination, literature, memory, and experience. At its core, it is a study of what it means to be human. Bachelard utilizes physical space and design to understand how people exist in the world and how their surroundings contribute to their relationship to the universe, the collective consciousness, and themselves. Certain design elements evoke strong emotions and reconnect people with deeper parts of themselves. They also return people to a sense of childlike wonder and root them in their own existence.
In the introduction, Bachelard explains that he will not be examining creativity through a lens of psychoanalysis or psychology. Instead, he examines creativity, or what he calls the poetic image, using ontology, the study of being. Poetics does not refer to poems exclusively; rather, it derives from the Greek “poesis,” meaning “to make.” Poetics encompasses all creative processes and outputs. He is concerned primarily with the moment the poetic image appears in consciousness and how it is conjured from an unconscious space within the cosmos. Bachelard proposes that reverie, the daydream, is the means by which the individual can connect with this unconscious world and that the speaking of the poetic image into a poem, art, or other creative outlet is divine expression, or logos.
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In Chapter 1, Bachelard begins to look at the house as a realm of the soul, the place where the individual engages in reverie. He points to the childhood home and the persistence of its memory to argue for the emotional connection the individual has to the architecture of a home. He emphasizes two themes of the home. First, he points to its verticality as a symbolization of the conscious mind. Second, he suggests that the intimacy of a home draws the individual closer to that unconscious realm, the resonance that presents to the individual the poetic image. The home becomes both an exhibit of the soul and the embodiment of it. It has a life of its own, a persona. Because of this, Bachelard attests that the home cannot be looked at rationally or through a scientific lens. It can only be understood the way a soul is understood—through feeling.
In Chapter 2, Bachelard examines the relationship between the interior of a house and the exterior world. Both lend value to the other. The outside world makes the house feel more intimate and protected. The inside world adds to the exterior’s wildness and ferocity. Bachelard also personifies the house, asserting that a house has a psychic state. In Chapter 3, he explores the phenomenological implications of drawers, chests, and wardrobes. These spaces evoke senses of secrecy and solitude. He suggests that their design encourages discovery and, in turn, engages the imagination.
Chapters 4 and 5 depart from the human world and examine the homes of the natural world. Nests and shells are noted for their beauty of form and the emotions they draw out of observers, including feelings of protection, security, solitude, and infinity. These natural forms offer lessons about being and consciousness and provide opportunities to incorporate elements of their construction into human design.
Chapter 6 explores corners and the human connection to them as spaces of immobility, security, and liberation. Corners are optimal for daydreaming; Bachelard asks readers to recall their own connection to corners from childhood. Within the corner, there are universes available for the imagination. Bachelard utilizes corners to introduce the ideas of the exterior and interior as dualities that he will explore further in a later chapter.
Chapters 7 and 8 begin to explore these dualities. The miniature, which encompasses all manner of small design or observations on a smaller scale, connects humans to their own relationship with infinity. Intimate immensity does the same, utilizing vastness to engage observers with their connection to the cosmos. In both, however, Bachelard asserts that intimacy can be achieved. The relationship between the miniature and immensity leads Bachelard into a discussion of dualities.
Chapter 9 provides the focus of this discussion. Bachelard looks at the exterior and interior as dualities that do not work to oppose one another. Rather, he asserts that the two refine and enhance one another. His discussion mirrors Chapter 2, where Bachelard states that a house in winter is made cozier by the presence of winter outside, while the exterior is made wilder and fiercer by the presence of the home. Dualities in design are necessary because they engage the imagination and refine experiences.
In Chapter 10, Bachelard looks at the phenomenology of roundness. He examines the ways in which children view certain natural forms as inherently round. As observation develops, this roundness is seen as protruding from an epicenter. Roundness engages the imagination and connects it to the universe. It extends from being outward into infinity.
Throughout his work, Bachelard is concerned with being—that is, he attempts to understand what it is to live or inhabit being, particularly within space. He correlates experience with design and form, noting how the physical world can contribute to consciousness and the navigation of the imaginary world. Bachelard’s book appeals to all types of readers: designers, artists, creatives, and anyone interested in what it means to be human.