Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Poetics of Space

I've been reading more of Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space recently, and I was struck by the following passages:

" the imagination, to go in and come out are never symmetrical images. Beauty and magnitude cause spores to swell. As I shall show later, one of the powers of attraction of smallness lies in the fact that large things can issue from small ones." (108).

-in an outlet, large things ARE issuing from small ones; perhaps not in the obvious way that an elephant is larger than a conch shell, but the 2 inch outlets we commonly see in domestic spaces are designed to blend into the wall-- if, however, you probe a metal fork into its depths, the resulting spark and electric shock creates noise and light, as well as dangerous electrical discharge that commands our attention.

The shell is a site of potential.
"...every hospitable hollow is a quiet shell." (124).

"Reversals of this kind may seem to have only slight documentary interest for the all-of-a-piece school of phenomenologists who take the World as their next-door neighbor. They are immediately conscious of being of and in the world. But the problem becomes more complicated for a phenomenologist of the imagination constantly confronted with the strangeness of the world. And what is more, the imagination, by virtue of its freshness and its own peculiar activity, can make what is familiar into what is strange. With a single poetic detail, the imagination9107). confronts us with a new world. From then on, the detail takes precedence over the panorama, and a simple image, if it is new, will open up an entire world. If looked at through the thousand windows of fancy, the world is in a state of constant change. By solving small problems, we teach ourselves to solve large ones." (135).

"For here too, as with nests, enduring interest should begin with the original amazement of a naive observer. Is it possible for a creature to remain alive inside stone, inside this piece of stone? Amazement of this kind is rarely felt twice. Life quickly wears it down. And besides, for one 'living' shell, how many dead ones there are! For one inhabited shell, how many are empty! But an empty shell, like an empty nest, invites day-dreams of refuge. No doubt we over-refine our daydreams when we follow such simple images as these. But it is my belief that a phenomenologist should go in the direction of maximum simplicity. And therefor I believe that it is worthwhile proposing a phenomenology of the inhabited shell. The surest sign of wonder is exaggeration. And since the inhabitant of a shell can amaze us, the imagination will soon make amazing creatures, more amazing than reality, issue from the shell." (107).

"...we have the impression that, by staying motionless of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whilwinds, of being. The most dynamic escapes take place in cases of repressed being...If we experience the imaginary paradox of a vigorous mollusk...we attain to the most decisive type of aggessiveness, which is postponed aggressiveness, aggressiveness that bides its time. Wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones." (112).

I think these passages appeal to me because, in some ways, the poetics of the shell are similar to the poetics of the electrical outlet. Both have a hidden, untapped potential contained within a small, unassuming covering. True, in the case of the outlet, electricity is not contained at the outlet, but the outlet represents the electrical power of a space due to its visibility. Like the pearly, fluted lip of a spiralling conch shell, an outlet is the gateway to paths which wind away to depths unseen, whether they be hidden behind plaster and paint or the creamy calcium aggregations of sea creatures. Where there is deadly mythical potential contained within the shell, there is physical danger present in the outlet. When Bachelard warns that "wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones," I can't help but think of the number of deaths caused each year by lightning strikes, versus the number of people who die from home electrocution.

Knowledge and recognition of this potential can go some length in altering the perceived neutrality of the gallery.

The outlet, like a shell, a wound, or a orifice, is an indication of an interior world to which we are denied access. This is nit ti say that an outlet is mysterious; do it yourself books and certified electricians, as well as many knowledgeable laymans can tell us without difficulty where these openings lead. But there is, nonetheless, great imaginative potential in the benign plastic covers that pepper our lived spaces.

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