House and Universe (and my broken window :( :( )
I am aware that we didn’t get much chance – other than somewhat elliptically (although fitting given the text itself) – to talk about Bachelard’s Poetics of Space; so, I thought, given my recent travails, I would write a brief blog post on my house and Bachelard’s house(s). And here we have, already, the brackets: for he is looking for more than one house (there are many in the poetry he cites), but also looking for his house: the this of dwelling, what makes my house mine in and of itself (for I surely cannot call a house, which I rent, my own: nor would it be easy to call a house, which will presumably outlast me, my own even if I owned it (this, before we get to a ‘mortgage’ – note the etymology from mort (death, stillness in French)). So it is no surprise – although it seems to be – that Bachelard takes up photography so early in the chapter, because it is about a thoroughly modern (quasi-Romantic) sense of place and temporality. His house buffeted by the winds of the hurricane is in the countryside: away from humanity, secluded within the thrawls of the countryside’s majesty, it is supposed as a place where the skin is less tattooed by the throws of modern urbanity, and more marked (as in through a religious symbol) by the essential attributes of nature. Yet, in these houses, Baudelaire still experiments with hashish and opium (Thomas de Quincy here), and Rilke still – bizarrely! – walks out into the rain! What is going on here? Bachelard suggests that Rilke wants the positive force of nature to eek out into the poetic evocations he draws from it: like an individual Daguerreotype plate, he wants to draw out the speculative individuality of a moment of supreme humanity (the equation of devastation and the sublime were hallmarks of Romantic literature also). Whereas, Baudelaire wants the hurricane to come in his house by pressure from the outside: he wants to imagine it as a negative, an outside, which floods in through a mediated sensorium. Hence the negative; a reverse image of bodily commitment to the ravages by going out, into, beyond, for once; rather than, with Baudelaire, over and over, virtual mediated by the very creeks of the house… Here we have a common duality in the speculative imagination, and will be worth recalling here Bachelard’s own comment – just after his exposition on Rilke – where representations are concerned (and he is, at this point, a wonderful old atomic Surrealist): “in all research concerning the realm of the imagination… we must leave the realm of facts behind” (43). Given that photographs give us leave to dream, push-and-pull us in the realm of (queer) desires (to be with something or one in a ‘departed’ – and thus exhumed – time and space), we might start to wish to consider how photographs alter our sense of historical narratives; always open to the fantastic, we still find it hard to conceive of the discipline leaving its sacred totem (facts) behind, even if only for a moment.
Well, this is all and well in Bachelard’s world of imagination, human essences, and orderly objective contingencies. But what happens when a rock flies through the window – not from a cosmic storm, or profound meteorological event in the timeless rural world – but from the hand of a person in an impoverished Lancaster council estate? Well, I do like his comment that the house becomes a kind of skin: “And what an image of concentrated being we are given with this house that ‘clings’’ to its inhabitant and becomes a the cell of a body with its walls close together. The refuge shrinks in size.” (46) If we see our house within only the contours of its architectural geometry (and Benjamin suggests this) or within a representational straightjacket which converts it only into one side of an equation which has ‘public’ on its other side (with either ‘private’ or ‘domestic’ as its counter point), we miss the ravages of the self to which adjustment to the home (and you all know this as – mainly speaking – transients in a fugitive university life destined, at some point, to end) entails, we miss the shape-shifty ontology (bodily affect) of objects on our sentience. It is toward this atmosphere that this hailed bullet from the hand of an outsider pierced and, in leaving that rock, disturbed the arrangement of objects in the house. It is this piercing of bodily skin that is the violation that we usually – too simply (for a whole host of other analytic reasons) – put under the label of mere vandalism. As it happens, I shall now move house: but I wonder how much of it will still stand – and stretch – into my new place? Photographs and photography played an important part in converting from a vision of the house as part of communal patternation, into one of private accumulation of property.
(Quick aside: amidst all this theoretical posturing, we must also remember the injunction with Derek’s opening piece for the course, “Wittgenstein at Ground Zero”, for there has been much shouted obscenity amidst this ‘comprehension’!! Or, FFS! as we now say post-Facebook…)