Philosopher Gaston Bachelard, writer of The Poetics of Space, writes in theoretical and poetic prose on the nature of space; the macrocosms and universes within the house, as well as the microcosms; nests, drawers, shells and corners. Places which the hermit or lonely child may look for solitude, shelter and places to indulge in day-dreaming amidst the dusty architecture of houses.
Nests and Shells
“Even at the level of an isolated poetic image, if only in the progression of expression constituted by the verse, the phenomenological reverberation can appear; and in its extreme simplicity, it gives us mastery of our tongue.”
The architecture of the imagination and its role in the process of enlightenment can be beautifully summed up by the nest and the shell. Rather than an image of the human consciousness, the poetic image of the nest is much like the house; our own little corner of the world and therefore an expression of comfort and shelter, a perfect construction of symmetry and delicate strength.
Though an illusion of stability, the nest is also a wholesome one, the shell a place of withdrawal, an introversion, an ‘envelope’. Like a rabbit in its burrow, the nest and shell provide the child with imaginings of security and submersion, though the illusion of safety is not to last and eventually we must emerge into the light.
Drawers, chests and wardrobes
“Our past is situated elsewhere, and both time and place are impregnated with a sense of unreality”
The image of the drawer and other heavy wooden containers; of keep-sake boxes and treasure chests where the excess baggage of thought; objects with no purpose and keys that open mysterious doors to various parts of the subconscious provide the child with a playground of poetic images.
The back-less wardrobe and the bottomless chest lead us into other lands, the drawer contains treasures only the child can appreciate and use on their adventures through the tangles of the unknown at the bottom of the garden.
The storage of time and container of artifacts, drawers and chests represent meticulous organization and the hoardings of memories the mind should have long since disposed of. They contain the bizarre collectibles of our wilting and eccentric elders; layers of intimacy and objects the past forgot, they are the ‘veritable organs of the secret psychological life’.
“Sometimes the house of the future is better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past, so that the image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home.”
The corner, though not always associated with a place of punishment, is more often than not a place of silence. The corner is a place of immobility that can appear to be a trap but actually, like the nurturing darkness of a cave can be a haven.
Corners can be the places we find ourselves, the blank walls and lack of stimuli a trigger for inner reflection. As with the naughty child sent to the corner to think about what they have done, the corner can also mirror the emptiness within and the potential for manifestation. The true nature of being is a blank canvas, a cloudless sky… but also a corner.
The corner is the ideal place for daydreaming and realizing the nature of our existence:
“The child has just discovered that she is herself in an explosion toward the outside, which is a reaction, perhaps, to certain concentrations in a comer of her being.”
Attics and Basements
“If we look at it intimately, the humblest dwelling has beauty.”
The house as a ‘verticality’ of the universe; a universe within a universe is what makes the polarities of the traditional house; the attic and the basement such reflections of heaven and hell; one is rational the other, irrational. Both are spaces that the child might spend hours playing in, and should each be as essential as the other, polarities in perfect balance.
Perhaps one is visited more than the other, but what we do know is that the basement is invariably a place to fear; a place of questionable smell and clogged exits. It is a place that harbours mistaken monsters and deep sea beasts, a place most would not like to be trapped in. The basement represents the subconscious and our shadow lurking there.
The attic, on the other hand, is lofty; reaching towards the heavens like the tower of Babel. It is the hill we climbed to experience the lightheadedness of pure oxygen, as far as we can get from the mundane.
The attic is not quite pure consciousness, but the place we find ourselves when free from the pulls of the world. It is freedom, and we might gaze out of a stained glass window or find a few pillows to lie on and look up through the skylight at the passing clouds and dream of things bigger than ourselves. It’s in the attic that, not unlike the corner with its lack of distraction that we might bump into our true selves, without any worldly worries obscuring it.
Candle in the Window
“Winter adds to the poetry of a house.”
The candle or lamp in the window seems to be the ultimate image of the daydream. When the storm is raging around us, and the hermit seeks out a hut, the candle burning steadily in the window is a symbol of hope. It is one that has associations with All Hallows Eve and the happy conclusions of all life changing adventures.
Although it’s often an image symbolizing age and great wisdom, for the child the candle is the light that drowns out all darkness and should be our focus through the long winters of uncertainty and compromise that lie ahead. A symbol of the fragment of the Divine burning brightly within all of us, the candle draws us towards it like a magnet, and is perhaps the best way to sum up the true meaning of our lives.