Gaston Bachelard


French Philosopher

Author Quotes

All great, simple images reveal a psychic state. The house, even more than the landscape, is a psychic state, and even when reproduced as it appears from the outside, it bespeaks intimacy. Psychologists generally, and Francoise Minkowska in particular, together with those whom she has succeeded interesting in the subject, have studied the drawing of houses made by children, and even used them for testing. Indeed, the house-test has the advantage of welcoming spontaneity, for many children draw a house spontaneously while dreaming over their paper and pencil. To quote Anne Balif: Asking a child to draw his house is asking him to reveal the deepest dream shelter he has found for his happiness. If he is happy, he will succeed in drawing a snug, protected house which is well built on deeply-rooted foundations. It will have the right shape, and nearly always there will be some indication of its inner strength. In certain drawings, quite obviously, to quote Mme. Balif, it is warm indoors, and there is a fire burning, such a big fire, in fact, that it can be seen coming out of the chimney. When the house is happy, soft smoke rises in gay rings above the roof.

If I were a psychiatrist, I should advise my patients who suffer from anguish to read this poem of Baudelaire's whenever an attack seems imminent. Very gently, they should pronounce Baudelaire's key word, vast. For it is a word that brings calm and unity; it opens up unlimited space. It also teaches us to breathe with the air that rests on the horizon, far from the walls of the chimerical prisons that are the cause of our anguish. It has a vocal excellence that is effective on the very threshhold of our vocal powers. The French baritone, Charles Panzera, who is sensitive to poetry, once told me that, according to certain experimental psychologists, it is impossible to think the vowel sound ah without a tautening of the vocal chords. In other words, we read ah and the voice is ready to sing. The letter a, which is the main body of the word vast, stands aloof in its delicacy, an anacoluthon of spoken sensibility.

Now my aim is clear: I must show that the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of a man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man would be a dispersed being. It maintains him through the storms of the heavens and through those of life. It is body and soul. It is the human being's first world. Before he is cast into the world, as claimed by certain hasty meta-physics, man is laid in the cradle of the house. And always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle. A concrete metaphysics cannot neglect this fact, this simple fact, all the more, since this fact is a value, an important value, to which we return in our daydreaming. Being is already a value. Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.

Who listens to the murmur of the waterwheel can not understand who listens to commend the flame

All important words, all the words marked for grandeur by a poet, are keys to the universe, to the dual universe of the Cosmos and the depths of the human spirit.

If our heart were large enough to love life in all its detail, we would see that every instant is at once a giver and a plunderer.

Often a simple detail suffices for Mme. Minkowska, a distinguished psychologist, to recognize the way the house functions. In one house, drawn by an eight-year-old child, she notes that there is a knob on the door; people go in the house, they live there. It is not merely a constructed house, it is also a house that is lived-in. Quite obviously the door-knob has a functional significance. This is the kinesthetic sign, so frequently forgotten in the drawings of tense children. Naturally, too, the door-knob could hardly be drawn in scale with the house, its function taking precedence over any question of size. For it expresses the function of opening, and only a logical mind could object that it is used to close as well as to open the door. In the domain of values, on the other hand, a key closes more often than it opens, whereas the door-knob opens more often than it closes. And the gesture of closing is always sharper, firmer, and briefer than that of opening. It is by weighing such fine points as these that, like Francoise Minkowska, one becomes a psychologist of houses.

All knowledge is in response to a question. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself.

If the child is unhappy, however, the house bears traces of his distress. In this connection, I recall that Francoise Minkowska organized an unusually moving exhibition of drawings by Polish and Jewish children who had suffered the cruelties of the German occupation during the last war. One child, who had been hidden in a closet every time there was an alert, continued to draw narrow, cold, closed houses long after those evil times were over. These are what Mme. Minkowska calls motionless houses, houses that have become motionless in their rigidity. This rigidity and motionlessness are present in the smoke as well as in the window curtains. The surrounding trees are quite straight and give the impression of standing guard over the house. Mme. Minkowska knows that a live house is not really motionless, that, particularly, it integrates the movements by means of which one accedes to the door. Thus the path that leads to the house is often a climbing one. At times, even, it is inviting. In any case, it always possesses certain kinesthetic features. If we were making a Rorschach test, we should say that the house has K.

One might say that immensity is a philosophical category of daydream. Daydream undoubtedly feeds on all kinds of sights, but through a sort of natural inclination, it contemplates grandeur. And this contemplation produces an attitude that is so special, an inner state that is so unlike any other, that the daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity.

All readers who have a certain passion for reading, nurture and repress, through reading, the desire to become a writer.

If we were to give the imagination its due in the philosophical systems of the universe, we should find, at their very source, an adjective. Indeed, to those who want to find the essence of a world philosophy, one could give the following advice-look for its adjective.

Outside and inside form a dialectic of division, the obvious geometry of which blinds us as soon as we bring it into play in metaphorical domains. It has the sharpness of the dialectics of ?yes? and 'no,? which decides everything. Unless one is careful, it is made into a basis of images that govern all thoughts of positive and negative. Logicians draw circles that overlap or exclude each other, and all their rules immediately become clear. Philosophers, when confronted with outside and inside, think in terms of being and non-being. Thus profound metaphysics is rooted in an implitcit geometry which? whether we will or no?confers spatiality upon thought; if a metaphysician could not draw, what would he think? Open and closed, for him, are thoughts. They are metaphors that he attaches to everything, even his systems. In a lecture given by Jean Hyppolite on the subtle structure of denegation (which is quite different from the simple structure of negation) Hyppolite spoke of a first myth of outside and inside. And he added: you feel the full significance of this myth of outside and inside in alienation, which is founded on these two term. Beyond what is expressed in their formal opposition lie alienation and hostility between the two. And so, simple geometrical opposition becomes tinged with agressivity. Formal opposition is incapable of remaining calm.

And for a dreamer of words, what calm there is in the word round. How peacefully it makes one's mouth, lips, and the being of breath become round. Because this too should be spoken by a philosopher who believes in the poetic substance of speech.

If we were to study these fragments by Baudelaire according to the normal methods of psychology, we might conclude that when the poet left behind him the settings of the world, to experience the single setting of immensity, he could only have knowledge of an abstraction come true. Intimate space elaborated in this way by a poet, would be merely the pendant of the outside space of geometricians, who seek infinite space with no other sign than infinity itself.

Read, read always mellifluous passion of the anima. But when, after reading it, we give ourselves to the task, with daydreams, to make a book, the effort is up to the animus. And always a hard mister, that of writing a book. We are always tempted to limit ourselves to dream.

And when a philosopher looks to poets, to a great poet like Milosz, for lessons in how to individualize the world, he soon becomes convinced that the world is not so much a noun as an adjective.

Immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed, immense is the movement of motionless man. It is one of the dynamic characteristics of quiet daydreaming.

Still, imagine will be larger than life.

As I stood in contemplation of the garden of the wonders of space, Milosz writes, I had the feeling that I was looking into the ultimate depths, the most secret regions of my own being; and I smiled, because it had never occurred to me that I could be so pure, so great, so fair! My heart burst into singing with the song of grace of the universe. All these constellations are yours, they exist in you; outside your love they have no reality! How terrible the world seems to those who do not know themselves! When you felt so alone and abandoned in the presence of the sea, imagine what solitude the waters must have felt in the night, or the night's own solitude in a universe without end! And the poet continues this love duet between dreamer and world, making man and the world into two wedded creatures that are paradoxically united in the dialogue of their solitude.

In Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, we read: An oyster opens wide at full moon. When the crab sees this, it throws a pebble or a twig at the oyster to keep it from closing and thus have it to feed upon. Da Vinci adds the following suitable moral to this fable: Like the mouth that, in telling its secret, places itself at the mercy of an indiscreet listener.

The geometry of a peacock's tail is more aerial: The eyes in a peacock's spread tail are situated at the intersecting point of a double cluster of spirals, that are apparently Archimedean spirals.

But each poetic world is not a pure invention, it is a possibility of nature. Imagination is itself immanent in the real. It is not a state. It is human existence itself.

In my book entitled 'L'eau et les reves, I collected many other literary images in which the pond is the very eye of the landscape, the reflection in water the first view that the universe has of itself, and the heightened beauty of a reflected landscape presented as the very root of cosmic narcissism.

The intellectualist philosopher who wants to hold words to their precise meaning, and uses them as the countless little tools of clear thinking, is bound to be surprised by the poet's daring. And yet a syncretism of sensitivity keeps words from crystallizing into perfect solids. Unexpected adjectives collect about the focal meaning of the noun. A new environment allows the word to enter not only into one's thoughts, but also into one's daydreams. Language dreams.

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French Philosopher