Sunday, July 10, 2011

One Hundred Pages of Solicitude #1: The Poetics of Space

"He who buries a treasure buries himself within it."

As I mentioned on Friday, I'm going to be taking a brief break from video gaming reading for a bit; I spent Saturday wrestling with the final chapters of The Game Design Reader (the protraction of which is entirely the fault of Edward Castronova and a sunny day), and now I'm free to enact that hiatus. My vacation is your entertainment, and so I hope you'll all enjoy the week long installments of "PoC reads the first 100 pages of book x." I'm hoping to make this into a new feature, as you may have guessed from the above title, "One Hundred Pages of Solicitude." Solicitude, because I will care about reading it for 100 pages, and not a page more. Note that these readings will be brief and superficial, in part because of the aforementioned break but also because of the fact that I couldn't be bothered to do any more.

The first book receiving the 100 page treatment is Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, subtitled "The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places." My first encounter with this book happened three years ago (right around the start of this blog, in fact), as part of a supplementary reading for a course on Satire and the City in 18th century England. To say I didn't care for it at the time was an understatement. I thought it was unfocused, repetitive, and boring. Ah, the follies of youth. Part of my original impatience came from the fact that in that point of my academic career, the only French philosophy I had read in any detail was that of Jean Jacques Rosseau and Jacques Derrida; together, the two function less as a welcoming committee and more like a vanguard instructed to leave no survivors. But since then, I've been expanded considerably and developed my French philosophy immune system with vaccines from (more) Derrida, Kristeva, de Certeau, Foucault, Baudelaire, and, oh yes, Stiegler, Stiegler and for some variety, a little more Stiegler. This time, then, I was a little more open to his argument.

Did it go any better? Well, yes and no. From what I gather, what Bachelard is arguing for in this book is for a phenomenological study of the way people relate to their intimate spaces, with a particular emphasis on the power of poetry. This strand is meant to complicate, counter, and correspond to trends in psychoanalysis current around the time of the book's publishing (late 50s). Psychoanalysis has drifted a bit out of fashion with the academic world in general (and me in particular) since then, and so that part of the book didn't really speak to me. Nor did the frequent references to poems and novels I haven't read, most by French people I've never heard of and Rainer Maria Rilke, who I have heard of, but will freely admit don't understand very well. So while I'm more open to the French style of philosophy and discussions of phenomenology, it still had two strikes against it.

But what the book has going for it is a promising topic and beautiful writing. Intimacy and space is a great subject; Bachelard fully convinced me of its significance very early on. In essence, we never forget our first home--or rather, we never forget the sense of security it gives us. As someone who's a Saskatchewan emigrate, his discussion of how we treat our home spaces really struck a cord with me. And then there's the associations we have with our houses, the way mystery dwells in the cellar and the attic of a home, the way our houses contain us and we contain our houses. And while there is a lot of wandering, at Bachelard's best, his writing reaches the same levels of the best of Foucault or de Certeau--still theoretical, still exploring meaning, but somehow transcending the dry academics to reach a sort of poetry itself.

Verdict: It's improved with age, or maybe I have.

Would read the rest?: Umm. Maybe not, not unless I got some more French lit under my belt. It was good, but I'm not sure the rest of the book offers anything particularly new.

Later Days.

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