The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard

Penguin Books, 268 pp, 2014

Penguin Books, 268 pp, 2014

A fascinating foray into the spatial quality of the human imagination. Renowned French philosopher abandons strictly critical thought in order to pursue a phenomenology of the intimate spaces we live in. This is accomplished mainly through examples from poetry, the corpus consisting primarily of French poets I have never read before. A sense of joy exudes from the text, as Bachelard examines cellars and attics (ch 1–2), drawers, chests and wardrobes (ch 3), nests (ch 4), shells (ch 5), corners (ch 6) and so on.

Being a study of intimate spaces, Bachelard clearly focuses on the positive aspects of inhabiting interior spaces. He briefly touches upon the ways that humans shield themselves against the dangerous outside (e.g. storms) but ultimately this is a rather anthropocentric account and would benefit from an update. I’m a few hundred pages into Peter Sloterdijk’s massive 2500-page trilogy Spheres (reading the first part Bubbles: Spheres I very slowly) and I think he dives into this subject from a more modern perspective. Moreover, Bachelard comes across a little outdated in some of his remarks regarding domestic space (e.g. housekeeping), traditionally considered to be a woman’s place. But it’s still a great read, and I’m lucky I can spend my research time reading something as literary as this, not only academic theory and criticism.

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