January 30, 2006

In Defense of Daydreaming: Bachelard's "Poetics of Space"

[By Jason Koo]

Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space is a book that has had my name written all over it for the past four of five years—during which time I was somehow not reading it, to my extreme detriment. How does one not read this book? One does things like watching Extreme Dating and eating Bagel Bites instead.

I was sitting at Country Kitchen last night, recording all the passages marked in the latest chapter into my notebook. My hand grew heavy; I felt I was quoting the whole book. There are books like this, where one wants to quote the whole thing. And that is, of course, because one wants to have written it.

Bachelard’s book is the most eloquent defense of poetry that I know. And it is a defense of poetry as daydream, which is a particularly daring approach. Most people associate daydreaming with laziness. Bachelard says, Ho, ho, daydreaming is important.

I love the title of this book, but it could easily be retitled, In Defense of Daydreaming. Bachelard argues for a certain kind of reading (one that poetry encourages) that continues on from the page, that is unhurried, relaxed, slow. He says we need to live the images on the page, let them expand in us. The poetic image creates a space that lifts off from the page, and the poetry occurs when we allow ourselves to drift into that space.

“…the unhurried reader—I personally hope for no others—undoubtedly enters into this miniaturizing daydream. Indeed, this leisurely reader has often indulged in daydreams of this kind himself, but he would never have dared to write them down. Now the poet has given them literary dignity. It is my ambition to give them philosophical dignity. For in fact, the poet is right, he has just discovered an entire world.”

“…we should have to learn how to meditate very slowly, to experience the inner poetry of the word, the inner immensity of a word. 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.”

Literature is slowness. It slows everything down, takes us out of the world while at the same time taking us deeply into it. And we should accept this slowness. Why read quickly? We do everything quickly. I do not understand people who criticize certain books (In Search of Lost Time, Moby Dick, etc.) for moving too slowly. The slowness is the point. There is infinity in that slowness.

What’s a quick pleasure to a slow pleasure? When we are experiencing pleasure, we like to slow down. This, of course, to make it last longer. Who runs through a museum? Fastforwards through a film? Wants to make love in under a minute?

Everyone likes a slow dance.

Bachelard argues for slowness, and his book moves at that great pace as well. Every page embarks on its own little boat of revery.

“Incidentally, I should like to point out the power that an adjective acquires, as soon as it is applied to life. A gloomy life, or a gloomy person, marks an entire universe with more than just a pervading coloration. Even things become crystallizations of sadness, regret or nostalgia. And when a philosopher looks to poets…for lessons in how to individualize the world, he soon becomes convinced that the world is not so much a noun as an adjective.”

I love the music, the mischief, of these two sentences:

“A bath taken in the abode of such a mollusk must be very mollifying indeed.”

“Thus we see a poet take the hollow road of a piece of molding in order to reach his hut in the corner of a cornice.”

Bachelard points out that when a poet fully sees an object, he is not just going into the object, but around it. The action of plumbing the depths of the object simultaneously expands it into space. “To give an object poetic space is to give it more space than it has objectivity; or, better still, it is following the expansion of its intimate space.”

Bachelard’s book goes further and further in and out with each page. And I think this is what all great literature does, creates a sense of movement both in and out, a feeling of depth and immensity. We need to stay with this movement for as long as possible, because it enlarges our being.

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