Monday, February 21, 2011


In closing his chapter on "Corners," Gaston Bachelard remarks extensively on the spacial qualities of words. The Poetics of Space has been a very enjoyable read so far, and there's this small section that I will likely read and reread for years to come. So I'm gonna write 'bout it!

My love of words and language is still in its infancy. I have yet to learn Latin, French or any other non-latin alphabet language. This text put forth an as yet unimagined understanding of words that involves their spacial properties:

"The intellectualist philosopher who wants to hold words to their precise meaning, and uses them as the countless little tools of clear thinking, is bound to be surprised by the poet's daring. And yet a syncretism of sensitivity keeps words from crystallizing into perfect solids. A new environment allows the word to enter not only into one's thoughts, but also into one's daydreams. Language dreams.
...We find ourselves experiencing in words, on the inside of words, secret movements of our own. Like friendship, words sometimes swell, at the dreamer's will, in the loop of a syllable. While in other words, everything is calm, tight. Words--I often imagine--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 to 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 a philosopher be condemned by his peers always to live on the ground floor?"

Language furnishes our lives. It allows us to explain away the day, to communicate pain and to dissect the nuances of all that existence brings our way. The nature and function of language as a human tool has often kept me daydreaming semiotic theory instead of whatever I would have otherwise been doing. But to speak of words themselves as having interior space--that is, etymological, poetic and generally malleable space--is a strange yet completely understandable thought. There is always a past beneath the linguistic dust (the cellar), as revealing as it may be dormant. And often, we use words beyond their literal meaning (going upstairs), knowing we have taken a step away from the word itself, but afforded no other morpheme that both speaker and hearer could agree upon.

The final lines of the text are perfect in their explanation of the function of poets and poetry in the world. They are the great stretchers and shapers of words, the ones who furnish both our waking and sleeping dreams, and it is because of this that they may be the ones most worth our ears' attention.