Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space: Topoanalysis and Topohpilia (summary)

Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

The Poetics of Space
In his "The Poetics of Space" Gaston Bachelard introduces his concept of "topoanalysis" which he defines as "the systematic psychological study of the sites of out intimate lives" (The Poetics of Space, p.8). He then proceeds to assert that "in the theatre of the past that is constituted by memory, the stage setting maintains the characters in their dominant roles" (ibid). What Bachelard means is that memories of the house and its various parts are not something remembered but rather something which is entwined with the present, a part of our ongoing current experience. Bachelard writes about the desire to stop time. The way to transcend history, to produce that space which suspends time, is through imaging and hallucination. Unretrievable history is fossilized, memories stand, they do not move, and therefore for Bachelard it is space, not time, which invokes memories. Bachelrad therefore searches, through is topoanalysis, the experience and not the process, the essence and not the contingent and fleeting.

In order to give an account of mental life a biography is insufficient for Bachelard who asks for a topoanalysis of places, houses, in subjective terms. The topoanalysis examines the intimacy of the house room after room, space after space. These are not actual material rooms or spaces, but rather the dreamed, imagined, remembered and read places, which allow us to come closer to the core of mental experience.

The psychoanalytic subconscious, Bachelard holds, is "normal" whenever it conveniently and blissfully dwells in place. Bachelard does not elaborate in this respect but what is implied in the introduction to The Poetics of Space is that such blissful dwelling is the sense of feeling at ease, feeling at home. Psychoanalysis calls the subconscious into the conscious in order to help the "homeless" find their sense of being in place. Topoanalysis, as an aid for psychoanalysis, will examine the spaces through which we can exit the shelter of the subconscious and enter the conscious of our imagination.

With these intimate spaces being spaces of bliss, topoanalysis is related to topophilia (the love of place) - the love for those places exposed by topoanlysis. And through the concept of topophila Bachelard examines those spaces of intimacy he most esteems – the rooms of the house.

Poetry's capacity, Bachelard holds, to summon the subconscious is not dependant on its ability to describe space, but rather to direct or set a bearing towards it. Only an implied description will enable us to bring forth those sought after feelings which might vanish if intellectualized.     

 To his notions of topoanalysis and topophilia introduced in The Poetics of Space Bachelard adds the physical dimension, arguing that our house is engraved into our flesh. The body it better in preserving detailed memories than the mind is. Other memories are harder to trace and these can be revealed only by means of the poetic image. For Bachelard, poetry's main function is to give us back a state of daydreaming, which is something history, psychology and geography are incapable of. 

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Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4