This was 13 years, 11 months, 24 days ago

I'm reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, thanks to D who had it on her bookshelf.

The book is really great, excellent. It's heavy and dense at times, but also very light and airy at others, like the cellars and clouds it talks about. It wavers between a poetic/literary exploration of ideas, and a semi-systematic approach to psychology.

I was talking to someone once who asked me why I changed from computer science & English literature to computer science and art history. My response was that I felt that the academic reading and analysis of literature was based upon writing about writing, of the creation of literature about literature -- like building sandcastles on sandcastles on sandcastles. Also: a post-facto, post-creation analysis and exploration of art is done in literature, a different medium than art, I said, and for that reason there is less of a possibility of art coming from analysis; the medium gives birth in a different medium. I said that this was 'concrete', in some way, with more ties to the world full of messy, human politics, religion, and wordly events. Most of all, I said that I believed that art history seemed to have the internal worldview of the creator's public and private history embedded in it, whereas the academic method (that I had encountered) of looking at literature was focused more on a freeform interpretation of the creation, cutting loose the strings tying it to the ground and letting it fly free. Which is great, but just wasn't for me right then -- or so I said.

But reading Bachelard I'm slowly changing my mind -- not about majoring in literature vs art history, but about the nature of analysis, of theory, of thought. This includes writing about art. I really do believe that analytical writing about literature becomes a piece of literature, birth giving birth within the same medium, and containing the possibility of endless progeny. Exploration of literature navigates the same structures, looks at the same themes that literature does. Instead of characters, we have novels or chapters, and instead of plot, we have contextual meaning, thematic connections.

Sandcastles upon sandcastles isn't necessarily bad. The analysis of this endless reiteration upon the initial, is essentially an interpretation not of the original text or the created analysis, but of that process: literary exploration is about unearthing that mystical process in which literature gives birth to literature. When a snake is bitten by a snake which bites another snake, and so on - a sort of helical Ouroboros, the intrigue is not the snake bitten or being bitten, but rather the process of that bite, that mystical bite that is able to conjure up another iteration of the self but at a different level, with a different viewpoint. The 'mystical bite', for literature, is the process of literary analysis, of looking, seeing, and importantly understanding these creations as being simultaneously volatile (as they are built upon each person's own personal imagination and linguistic vocabulary), and also immensely strong and timeless. The mystical bite might take hold of another snake that is drastically different than itself, or it might bite itself in a circular, inward-directed spiral, but the bite itself is endlessly strong and vital, lively and alive, generative and creative, healthy and daring. Full of hope.


Bachelard semi-addresses this in his book. He's talking about the house (not any house, but a specific, universal house that exists in one's memory and dreams) as a kind of origin of the self; it's a location in which the self can exist, explore, and a method of defining one's self, almost. This comes right after a bit in which he talks about a house resisting a hurricane, and the representation this has of the human quality in which the house is "an instrument with which to confront the cosmos. ... Come what may the house helps us to say: I will be an inhabitant of the world, in spite of the world." And then:

"But can this transposition of the being of a house into human values be considered as an activity of metaphor? Isn't this merely a matter of linguistic imagery? As metaphors, a literary critic would certainly find them exaggerated. On the other hand, a positivist psychologist would immediately reduce this language to the psychological reality of the fear felt by a man immured in his solitude, far from all human assistance. But phenomenology of the imagination cannot be content with a reduction which would make the image a subordinate means of expression: it demands, on the contrary, that images be lived directly, that they be taken as sudden events in life. When the image is new, the world is new."

-Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space