Review – Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space

The cover art for the Penguin edition of Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space
The cover art for the Penguin edition of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space

This book – philosophical musings, abstracted opinion and also hilariously undisguised apathy for psychologists and scientists for their reductionist POV – is not so much philosophy, but an invitation to the reader to join him in his wanderings, and dream along with him. The only prerequisite needed here is your capacity to build sandcastles in the air.

Gaston Bachelard was highly unusual from other philosophers and scientists in his time. He was a critic of the Cartesian worldview which promoted a dualistic, non-reconcilatory and reductive way of reasoning, and argued that sensory perceptions were complimentary with intellectual deduction and reasoning, not at the expense of one or the other. He also pioneered the theory of the epistemiological break, which describes the history of science as occuring not in an expansion or build up on current scientific theories and assumptions, but as a complete breakaway, or demolishment of previous theories and assumptions that are the true culprits in preventing us from integrating new perceptions and perspectives. In other words, our own thought structures prevent us from seeing things in other perspectives, or from moving forward. We have to tear down our own existing beliefs, opinions and assumptions, in order for us to accept, reintegrate and rebuild our own structures of what we think we understand. For instance, we see this epistemological break happening in the theory of Copernican heliocentrism, which deviated massively from the widely held theory of Ptolemaic geocentrism a few centuries before.

‘And so the woodpecker enters into my sound world and i make a salutary image of him for my own use. In my Paris apartment, when a neighbour drives nails into the wall at an undue hour, I “naturalize” the noise by imagining that I am in my house in Dijon, where I have a garden. And finding everything I hear quite natural, I say to myself: ‘That’s my woodpecker at work in the acacia tree.’ This is my method for obtaining calm when things disturb me.’

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

In the Poetics of Space, Bachelard asks us to reexamine everything we see not through reducing things down to A + B = C, but through the enlargement of possibility; through our ability to dream. What if A + B could also be explained as the sum of (D + E + F + G), then divided by X? And it is here that we enter the realms of our poets, artists and writers who see and understand space through the exploration of imagery, envisioning it as much more than a purely theoretical idea.

Gaston Bachelard, the dude himself

A house is not so much a space for inhabitation, but also a hidey-hole for our personal experiences with the people that we inhabit with, and where we keep our earliest emotional and psychological furniture. Deviating from its abstract meaning of the void, we carry space inside us as a sacred temple of our being, and where we can retreat in times of distress and uncertainty. In each corner of this abstract house of our minds, we see the dreams that are familiar bedfellows at night, we experience the fears of the bogeyman underneath your bed – and we remember the lingering memory of your mother’s hand brushing against your forehead. When we climb down to the basement of nothingness, in the same way you descend into dreams every night, we get in touch with the deepest parts of our many-layered self. When we ascend to the attic of our high-flying fancies, in the same way you daydream at the back of your class as a kid – we see our hopes, aspirations and dreams of the future. Or, as you hide in a literal cosey corner with your book, sinking into the waters of that tasty plot, deeper and deeper into another embryonic world that slowly encloses around you…

‘He who buries a treasure buries himself with it. A secret is a grave, and it is not for nothing that a man who can be trusted with a secret boasts that he is ‘like the grave.’

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Bachelard also delights in escaping into the fleeting and epheremal beauty of poetry and fiction, as he examines Rilke, and other authors. ‘Words are clamor-filled shells. There’s many a story in the miniature of a single word!’ He also remarks on the introspective wonder and awe of immensity that pulls a person back into themselves, and mediates on the symbolic expression of shells as a metaphor of transformation, alternating between repression and vigorous expression – and also as a house for the soul. Bachelard even tries his hand at using imagery as therapy, imagining the noise of his neighbour’s DIY work to be the woodpecker’s incessant pecking in the acacia tree, as a way to calm himself down.

The book was rather difficult to understand in some chapters, especially The Dialectics of Inside and Outside and Intimate Immensity. I disagree with Bachelard on scientific objectivity removing all potential for imagination. I couldn’t help myself but think of cosy blanket castles when Bachelard recommends voiding all poetic imagery for coming to peace with one’s consciousness. I also yawned a lot, out of boredom and fatigue but also found myself patiently devouring word after word, in the solitary light of the muted lamp. And after two weeks of digestion, I’m now ready to move into the Bachelard-shaped shadow that this book has left.

I thought about how immensity plays a rewarding factor in shaping the concept of flow, where just the right amount of difficulty and enjoyment makes learning rewarding on its own terms. I think about building not only just a physical space to relax, but a mental space where I can rebuild and nourish myself, then spring out again refreshed; ready to take on the world. And I think about what Bachelard would have made of our post-pandemic world. How would he have responded in kind to our confinement and isolation? After reading so many reviews off the Internet, the subject of its study raises even more questions. Is it phenomenology? A ground-breaking architectural essay on art? An argument about the inevitable reduction present in scientific theory? Some white-bearded dude spouting abstract nonsense? I don’t know, but I love how it made me feel, and I love what it provoked in me. In its infinitude and logical respite, imagination and imagery are even more important in a world fragmented by ‘I know it is so, because I Googled it’, ‘I am correct and you are wrong’, by various -isms, by constantly forcing knowledge and meaning into neatly-shaped receptacles that once dismantled make no sense in experience.

‘Words—I often imagine this—are little houses, each with its cellar and garret. Common-sense lives on the ground floor, always ready to engage in ‘foreign commerce’, on the same level as the others, as the passers-by, who are never dreamers. To go upstairs in the word house is to withdraw, step by step; while to go down into the cellar is to dream, it is losing oneself in the distant corridors of an obscure etymology, looking for treasures that cannot be found in words. To mount and descend in the words themselves—this is a poet’s life. To mount too high or descend too low is allowed in the case of poets, who bring earth and sky together. Must the philosopher alone be condemned by his peers always to live on the ground floor?’

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

I cleverly returned the book and forgot to take a photo of it, so have a large photo of the man himself – and of some quotes that in themselves are little rooms to retreat to. And to end this lengthy review in Bachelard’s words – ‘On May nights, when so many doors are closed, there is one that is just barely ajar. We have only to give it a very slight push! The hinges have been well-oiled. And our fate becomes visible.’

Review © Zelda Reville, quotes by Gaston Bachelard

Quote – Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics Of Space”

Photo by Matheus Viana on Unsplash

“All intimacy hides from view, and I recall that the late Joë Bousquet wrote: ‘No one sees me changing. But who sees me? I am my own hiding place.”

– Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

I went away because I had something to focus on – or so I thought. After 2 years away from this site, I realize that I miss writing a lot. I don’t know how long I’ll be back here on, but I started posting reviews of the books I’ve been reading on Instagram, and would LOVE to share them here too.

Black Hole

I Plunged into Solitude. I Dwelt in the Tree behind Me by Odilon Redon

I look towards the door. I think of her.
I think back to the drawer, that little piece of paper.
Something like reality. Grainy and full of pulsating life –
buzzing flies, little black and white stars; nestled among the curling papers.
Then he closes the drawer, before I can make out the full word.
And about those words. euryewreyrsjdhg. Wait, what again?
I don’t get it. I open my mouth. Her face turns stormy.
Then she turns back towards the windows.

I wish he would tell me. I can’t read what’s between those eyes.

I peer into the sinkhole. But the noodle is gone.


© Zelda Reville


Artwork (not mine) inspired by Joseph Cornell 

encapsulated into being:
an A, an E, maybe a D
or, perhaps, two Ts:

You grow into your name,
or maybe you don’t know
what it means. Google tells you
that you’re a “child of God”,
or “the Messenger of Angels”.
But I don’t want empty titles, or
non-definitive purposes. Neither am I
a word lost in the passages
of light, or meaningless verses.

The story spills, rolling about
from the dregs: pale pastures of bitter coffee.
Of two really bad wines –
a glass flute lies casually on its thinly, curved side.

A discarded button lies on the floor,
reflecting a pale bluish Singer hue.
Ethereal grandmother eyes, sandwiched
between ancient, jovial mischief
now sparkle as she takes to the tale:

“80 years of strife,
and of withered family life –
of the seas and of many lovers,
drowned in the jungles of Malaya.
A man that disappeared off the coast,
taken by two khaki-clad men:
who is to say, or say afoul
of these dangerous mice
that masquerade as men?”

Somewhere in between
the halogen lights
rests the slight pause
of her dexturous fingers,
the shadow looming

in the form of benign presence,
all in all, right in front of me –
she who wears them all,
clandestine threads
inpalpably woven in her blood:

she, half-hidden by the light
of the lamp, who gently
pokes the needle through the cloth,
humming the medley under her breath.

“I took you to the fortune teller
and he took a look at you –
and he named you right there, and then.”

But what does it mean, Mum?

She continues to sew,
the silence punctuated
by the scrape of the key.
The door creaks open
and a stilted gasp of light peers in.

It dances on her face,
illuminating buttonhole dimples,
tracing soft-worn wrinkles
and lifting her face
from somnabulant monsters.

“I don’t know, honey –
count it as a blessing from the gods?
But what you make of it:
that, I can say, such will be.”


Image  by Francesca Woodman

The silent embroiderer continues to weave. The rain tinkles, their spherical bodies dashing themselves against the window panes.

Her needle; quick – sharp – is the sniper resting on the water’s edge. Then it dives in, that little pinprick of red, and a flame slowly flickers on the surface of cobalt silk. That sudden flare, the inevitable anger! She stops her work, startled.

Then it quivers; dilating in a spectrum of orange, and the sudden memory of a held-back slap inches its way to the surface. A tear-streaked face, painted in hazy shades of white and grey, keeps repeating: “No, mamma.”

She tilts her head, grappling with the memory, her eyes narrowing involuntarily. The hazy film continues, unaided. But the persistence of her laconic reply rapidly gives way to the explosion. The hand moves suddenly, from out of the corner of her eye, and a tingling sting radiates across her fleshy cheeks, stippling its anger across naive flesh. “But why, mamma?” And another slap. “But why?” Slap.

Then it dims to night, as if someone had turned the light down a notch, and a blanket swims into view. Its hunched folds, pregnant with a slowly ebbing warmth and some strange, pernicious yearning now seems to her like that distant glimmer of stars, brushing against cold, stiffened feet, offering some unfulfilled premise of yet another forgotten story:

But what? And why?

She touches the cool metal, that sits neatly in the clasp of her throat, that silent observer, yielding no truth to her curious fingers, but pressing down on that hollow at the base of her throat.

Her chair creaks. The damp air clings to her. She stops her embroidery, and looks out through the dirty windows.

The cuckoo, doomed forever as that instigator of abandonment, starts crying out its wretched call in the fading daylight.

© Zelda Reville

Again: hi.

Edit: Just realized that today is my 2nd year anniversary on WordPress. Damn, I feel old already!


You can bring me to the flowers, but not the flowers to me!

Photo by Gül Kurtaran on Unsplash

There was a dude
who bought a bouquet of roses

for a girl he really, really liked –

but the colours that leapt before her:
January’s spring! Quivering arrows;

hiding their thorns
in crinkled, silver foil

brought not joy – but, instead –
dismay to her eyes.

Then the girl said,

“Never mind this awful Valentine’s Day cliche,
but there’s something you have to know:

“you can bring me to the flowers,
but not the flowers to me!”

The dude, surprised by her words,
only had two words to offer: “But why?”

She continued, her mature stance belying
the terra-cotta freckles on her little hands:

“You see, my hands may bring them warmth,
but not the sustenance they truly need:

some water, sunshine, earthworms
to loosen the soil – or, even better – butterflies!

So leave them alone in the mucky dirt,
because that’s what they really, really like –

and bring me to the treetop walk instead,
because – my darling – that’s what I truly LIKE!”

© Zelda Reville

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!

Pro tip: not all women like flowers, not all flowers are like women. Enjoy.


Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

This poem is written with relation to these quotes by Osho. Or maybe not. 🤣

“So I say to you, even to a well frog it is possible to communicate something about the sea. And if the messenger is really inventive, he can create devices to communicate. That is what a Buddha is doing, a Jesus is doing – creating devices to communicate something of the sea to well frogs. Because there is one thing in common – the water. If there is one thing in common, then connection is possible, a bridge exists.”

And this quote here could describe both the ecstacy and frustration that occur when we communicate with someone else.

“There are three hundred languages in the world and three hundred languages for rose; there is no relationship, all relationship is arbitrary. Cold is related to hot, well is related to the ocean. Their relationship, however indistinct, is there – real,  not arbitrary. But between a word and reality there is no relationship, they are not related at all. So you can have your own words, a private language, you can call anything by any name.If you like to call it something else, the rose will not fight in a court. And nobody can prove that their word is more correct than yours, nobody can prove it because no word is more correct or less correct. Words are irrelevant, they are not related.

And this snow –
born in the cold:

the shade of an old man’s beard,
marking transitions –

the pearl, glistening,
spread open, all opportune
nestled between hinges.

The untouched language
of  Indian textiles; before
purple and gold existed –

the bare glint of a pebble,
all lonely on the sand.

How could I even try
my hand at comprehending?

There’s 50 words for snow,
but no single word
to cut to the absolute bone.

Ruminate all you want,
come up with dialectics
till you go blue in the face –

but still,


“All this snow –
always born in the cold…”

I’m really, really enjoying this book…and really, really enjoying this rain….