THE POETICS OF REVERIE by Gaston Bachelard


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Although Bachelard, who died at the age of seventy-nine in 1962, is considered the father of the French new critics, his work is both too bizarre and homespun to bear much relationship with the diagrammatic works of Barthes, Richard, and Starobinski. A professor of the natural sciences and philosophy, Bachelard incorporated these disciplines in his meditations on literature, where the four elements, earth, water, fire, and air, are seen as embodying the creative temperament as well as the basic forms of life: childhood, for instance, ""is a human water, a water which comes out of the shadows,"" the misty world of the emerging personality, while fire is a generative emblem, expressing sexual potency and affectivity. As John Weightman has noted, ""Bachelard's attraction is that he proposes an optimistic hygiene, which seems to be within everyone's scope, and is directly concerned with the intangibles of aesthetic experience,"" so that while his works are a series of phenomenological investigations (""to vibrate phenomenologically"" is his goal), amid all the subtle disquisitions on cosmological and metaphysical themes he stresses ""all those sensations of depth, shape, movement, texture, color, etc., which go to make up a harmonious relationship with the outside world,"" often preferring rusticity to the modern conveniences. Bachelard's style -- oracular, pacific, paradoxical (poetry is ""a sublimation which doesn't sublimate anything"") -- is anathema to the Anglo-Saxon mind; and The Poetics of Reverie is an in-process attempt at a new way of approaching literature (""the reading of poets is essentially reverie""), erudite, richly suggestive, but vaporous in meaning.

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 1969
Publisher: Grossman-Orion