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On Poetic Imagination and Reverie [Excerpts]
Gaston Bachelard trans. Colette Gaudin
The image-producing forces of our mind develop along two very different lines.
The first take wing when confronted by the new; they take pleasure in the picturesque, in variety, in the unexpected event. The imagination to which they give life always finds a springtime to describe. In nature, far removed from us, they produce already living flowers.
The other forces which produce images plumb the depths of being; there they seek at once the primitive and eternal. They rise above seasons and history. In nature, within ourselves and without, they produce seeds, seeds in which form is buried in a substance, in which form is internal.
To speak immediately in philosophical terms, one might distinguish two imaginations: that which gives live to the formal cause, and that which gives life to the material cause - or, more concisely, formal imagination and material imagination. These latter concepts, expressed in abridged form, seem indeed indispensable to a complete philosophic study of poetic creation. A sentimental cause, a cause of the heart, must become formal before it can assume verbal variety, before it can become as changeable as light in its many colorations. But in addition to the images of form so often used by psychologists of the imagination, there are - as I shall show - images of matter, direct images of matter. Vision names them, kneads them, makes them lighter. One dreams these images of matter substantially, intimately, rejecting forms - and vain images, and the becoming of surfaces. They have weight, they are a heart.
There are, of course, works in which the two image-producing forces cooperate; indeed, it is impossible to separate them completely. The most mobile, the most changing reverie, the one entirely given over to forms, nonetheless keeps a ballast, a density, a slowness, a germination. On the other hand, any poetic work which descends deeply enough into the germ of being to find the solid constancy and fine monotony of matter, any poetic work which derives its force from the vigilant action of a substantial cause, must still flower, must adorn itself. For the initial seduction of the reader, it must embrace the exuberance of formal beauty.
As a result of this need to seduce, the imagination most often operates where joy goes - or at least where a joy goes! - in the direction of form and colors, of varieties and metamorphoses, of the probable shapes of future surfaces. It deserts depth, intimacy with the substance, volume.
Nevertheless, I would especially like to focus my attention in this work on the intimate imagination of these vegetative and material forces. Only an iconoclastic philosopher can undertake that heavy task: detaching all the suffixes from beauty, seeking out behind the visible images the hidden one, going to the very root of the image-producing force.
In the heart of matter there grows an obscure vegetation; in the night of matter black flowers blossom. They already have their velvet and their scent.
When I began my meditation on the concept of the beauty of matter, I was immediately struck by the absence material cause in aesthetic philosophy. It seemed to me, im particular, that the individualizing power of matter was underestimated. Why is the notion of the individual always attached to form? Is there not a individuality in depth which makes matter, even in its smallest particles, always a totality? Contemplated in the perspective of its depth, matter is not merely the lack of a formal activity; it is precisely the principle which can detach itself from form. It remains itself in spite of any deformation or fragmentation. Furthermore, matter can be imbued with values oriented in two directions: in the direction of depth, and in the direction of height. In the former, it appears as something unfathomable, as a mystery. In the latter, it appears as an inexhaustible force, as a miracle. In both cases, meditation on matter develops an open imagination.
It is only after studying forms and attributing them to their proper matter that we may envisage a complete doctrine of the human imagination. We will then be able to understand that an image is a plant which needs earth and sky, substance and form. The images invented by men evolve slowly, and we understand the profound observation of Jacques Basquet: "An image costs as much labor to humanity as a new characteristic to a plant." Many attempted images cannot live because they are but formal play, because they are not really adapted to the matter they are to adorn.
I believe therefore that a philosophical doctrine of the imagination must first of all study the relations between material causality and formal causality. This problem confronts the poet as well as the sculptor. Poetic images, too, have their matter.