How Gaston Bachelard gave the emotions of home a philosophy


EXCERPT: [...] In the book, he guides us through an actual or imagined home (your choice), its comforts and mysteries, assembled and brought into focus, in a place and at a time undefined except by the limits of our own daydreams, longings and memories – those inner landscapes from which, he said, new worlds can be made. The philosopher evokes an idealised past, places the miniature against the immense, and guides us back into childhood. Once there, at home, he reminds us how we tend to look down the cellar stairs, apprehensively, while gazing upwards, towards the attic, always eager. Uncertainty is set against promise, dark against light. This house is a key to an inner self, ‘for childhood is certainly greater than reality’.

Thematically, Bachelard divided the schematic house into a vertical entity and a concentrated one, too: ‘a body of images that give mankind proof or illusions of stability’. His use of architectural phenomenology lets the mind loose to make its way, always ready for what might emerge in the process. The house is ‘the topography of our intimate being’, both the repository of memory and the lodging of the soul – in many ways simply the space in our own heads. He offered no shortcuts or routes of avoidance, since ‘the phenomenologist has to pursue every image to the very end’.

After a journey through ‘undergrounds of legendary fortified castles … a cluster of cellars for roots’, he thrusts upon his readers, in a quite shocking change of tone and imagery, a complete antithesis, in which his prejudice against urbanity and the apparent expedience of mass-produced housing is laid bare...


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