Wednesday, 15 April 2015

No-oooooonne WRITES like Gaston, douses LIGHTS like Gaston

I just don't like Gaston Bachelard.

I'd go into it but even I don't fully understand my reasons for not liking him. Frenchness. Psychoanalysis. Flowery fucking writing style. Philosophy. World-view. Assumptions. Everything.

I owe him a bit more than that because he's pretty good. I was wondering if he was a Deepak Chopra and I don't think he is. Much. And my differences with his way of seeing the world are subtle and deep enough that I should make some concerted effort to untangle them.

But I can't be bothered so I just put quotes from him underneath pictures of Gaston from Disney's. Beauty And The Beast. Great movie.

Here are all the D&Dable fragments from pretty much one chapter of Bachelards The Psychoanalysis of Fire. Almost all of these are fragments of quasi-scientific thinking which he summons up to 'smilingly reduce' as he would put it. They are all from various thinkers from the middle ages to around the enlightenment, all trying to work out what fire is and how it works. I think I like all of them more than I like Bachelard.

To start with, everything must be called into question: sensation,
common sense, usage however constant, even entomology,
for words, which are made for singing and enchanting, rarely make
 contact with thought. Far from marveling at the object,
objective thought must treat it ironically.

"The element of fire is born from a specific germ. Thus, like any power which engenders, fire can be stricken with sterility as soon as it reaches a certain end. If fire is left to live its natural life, even if it be fed, it grows old and dies like the plants and animals."

1. Fire has an age. Each specific fire has an age. Fire elementals have an age and no matter how big they get they will die when they get old. A gaming world in which fire does not infinitely renew with fuel would be an interesting one.

"Each thunderbolt could well be the effect of a new production of igneous beings, which, increasing rapidly in size, because of the abundance of vapours which feed them, are collected by the winds and carried back and forth through the middle regions of the atmosphere. The many new volcanoes in America, the new eruptions of the old craters, also give proof of the productiveness of the subterranean fires."

2. Igneous beings whose birth brings thunderbolts. Carried back and forth in the middle reaches of the sky.

"Hooke, having struck a flint over a sheet of paper and having examined with a good microscope the spots where the sparks had fallen, which were marked by little black spikes, observed there some round and shiny atoms, although the naked eye could see nothing.. they were little shiny worms."

"At the slightest incident, the ants can be seen swarming tumultuously out of their underground dwelling, similarly, at the slightest shock to the piece of phosphorous, the igneous animalculae can be seen to collect and come forth with a luminous appearance."

3. Fire is a microscopic living thing. A kind of burning microbe, or very tiny insect. An animal, and can be understood and influenced as such.

"To explain the seven colours of the spectrum Robinet does not hesitate to propose "seven ages or periods in the life of the igneous animalcular ... these animals, in passing through the prism, will each be obliged to suffer refraction according to its own strength and age and thus each will bear its own colour."

4. Light is a microscopic living thing. Red light is old light. Old light gets tired and slow, stays behind after sunsets. Young light is bluer. Light dimming is light getting tired. perhaps darkness is light sleeping, or dying.

Everyone must learn to escape from the rigidity of the mental
habits formed by contact with familiar experiences. Everyone
must destroy even more carefully than his phobias, his
"philias", his complacent acceptance of first intuitions.

"Fabre does not think it impossible that through proper food, conductive to building up a hot and dry constitution, the feeble heat of females may become so strong that it may be enabled to thrust outwards the parts which its weakness has kept back within. For 'women are men in a latent state because they have the male elements hidden within them.'"

5. Woman are men in a latent state. By feeding them the right things you can gradually covert women to men. Certain spices are useful for this. Perhaps by cooling men enough you can convert them back to women.

"Like any  form of wealth, fire is dreamed of in its concentrated form. The dreamer wishes to enclose it in a small space the better to guard it."

6. A dream of fire is a dream of wealth. To possess wealth is to dream of fire. Thieves steal the fire from your dream. If someone takes the fire in your dream, wake up quickly because someone is taking your wealth.

In order that we may indicate clearly the resistance offered by
the deeply hidden unconscious values, we shall give some examples
 in which this resistance is so weak that the reader can smilingly
 make the reduction himself
 without our having to call attention to the obvious errors.  

"Three sorts of fire, the natural, the innatural and the unnatural. The natural is the masculine fire, the principal agent; but in order to obtain it the artist must take great pains and use all his knowledge; for it is so torpid and so strongly concentrated within metals that it cannot be set into action without persistent effort. The 'in-natural' fire is the feminine fire and the universal dissolvent, nourishing bodies and covering with its wings the nudity of nature. It is no less difficult to obtain than the natural fire. The feminine fire appears in the form of a white smoke, and it often happens that in this form it may disappear because of the negligence of the artists. It is almost impalpable, although through physical sublimation, it appears to be corporeal and resplendent. The unnatural fire is that which corrupts the chemical compound and which first has the power of dissolving that which nature had strongly joined together."

7. Fire has three genders. The male, found in metals and released in forges. The nourishing female in the form of white smoke. The third 'unnatural' gender which dissolves things nature has bound. (And clearly does most of the work.)

"And thus we have the intuition of Rodin, quoted without comment by Max Sheckr, doubtless because he failed to see its clearly primitive character "Each thing is merely the limit of the flame to which it owes its existence."

8. Each thing is merely the limit of the flame to which it owes its existence.  

A psychoanalysis of objective knowledge must constantly
denounce this claim to inner depth and richness.

"D'Annunzio portrays Stelio who, in the glass works, is contemplating in the annealing oven:

The extension of the smelting oven, the shining vases, still slaves of the fire, still under its power... later the beautiful frail creatures would abandon their father, would detach themselves from him forever; they would grow cold, become cold gems, would lead their new life in the world, enter the service of pleasure-seeking men, encounter dangers, follow the variations in light, receive the cut flower or the intoxicating drink."

9. Glass is a kind of concubine and former slave of fire. Or a daughter, perhaps with some old loyalties and resentments in its new privileged, yet dangerous role. Glass speaks to fire, or perhaps refuses to speak.

Almost always a case of incendiarism in the country is the sign
of  the diseased mind of some shepherd. Like bearers of sinister torches,
these men of low degree transmit from age to age the contagion of their lonely dreams.

"The elements of fire are everywhere; they are found in gold, which is the most solid of all known bodies, and in the vacuum of Torricelli."

10. Fire is within metals. Not applied to them. Clearly this is the 'masculine' fire spoken of above. Fire is the dominant element, sustaining all things. Whether its true or not you can bet Fire Elementals believe it is.

"The Egyptians said that it was a ravening insatiable animal which devours everything that experiences birth and growth; and after it has eaten well and gorged itself, it finally devours itself when there is nothing left to eat and feast upon; because, having both heat and movement, it cannot do without food and the air it requires to breathe."

11. A literal animal of Fire that literally Eats itself. But only when everything else that can be consumed has been. Some kind of Godzilla of fire maybe. 

12. "The Persians, when they made sacrifices to fire, would present food to it on the alter while uttering the phrase... 'eat, and feast of Fire. Lord of all the world.'

We would like to be able to concentrate all
chemical action into a handful of gunpowder,
all hatred into one swift poison,
an immense and unutterable love into a humble gift. 

Thus one of the most common notions in the cosmologies of the Middle Ages and if the prescientific period is that of food for the stars. These exhalations feed the comets. The comets feed the sun...  Thus Robinet writes in 1766:

"It has been stated with a good deal of probability that the luminous globes feed on the exhalations that they draw from the opaque globes, and that the natural food of the latter is the flood of igneous particle that the former are continually sending to them; and that the spots of the sun which seem to spread and darken every day are nothing but an accumulation of crude vapours of expanding volume that the sun attracts unto itself ; that these clouds of smoke that we think we see rising from its surface are really rushing towards the surface; and that in the end it will absorb such a quantity of heterogeneous material that it will not only be enveloped  and encrusted by it, as Descartes claimed, but will be totally penetrated by it. When this happens it will be extinguished, it will die, so to speak, by passing from the state of light, which is its life, to the state of opacity, which we may call a true death when speaking of the sun. In a similar fashion the leech dies when it has slaked its thirst for blood."

13. The Sun is feeding on the earth and one day it will become full and go out.

..among eighteenth century thinkers that "all the stars are created from one and the same celestial substance of subtle fire." They consider that a fundamental analogy exists between the stars formed of rarefied celestial fire and the metallic sulphurs formed of crude terrestrial fire. they believe they have thereby united the phenomena of earth and sky and have obtained a universal view of the world.

14. The Sun is a kind of complex metallic substance. Lesser forms of it can be found on earth. They will have some of the powers of the Sun.

If one has not had a personal experience of this hot sugared alcohol
 that has been born of flame at some joyful midnight festivity,
one has little understanding of the romantic value of  punch;
one is deprived of a diagnostic method of studying certain phantasmagorical poems.

"In the same story when the witchcraft, which was to have brought back the student Anselme to the poor Veronica, is completed, there is nothing left "but a light flame rising from the spirits of wine which burnt in the bottom of the cauldron." Later in the story the salamander, Lindhorst, goes in and out of the bowl of punch; the flames in turn absorb him and reveal him. The battle between the witch and the salamander is a battle of flames; the snakes come out of the tureen filled with punch. Madness and intoxication, reason and enjoyment are constantly presented in combination. From time to time there appears in the stories a worthy bourgeois who would like to "understand""

15. Ok this ones just a straight up encounter.

We are never completely immune to the prejudice
that we spend a great deal of time attacking.

"It is especially within the oils,the bitumen's, the gums, the resins that God has locked up fire, as if in so many boxes capable of containing it."

16. Fire is in the gums. It was put there by god. Presumably people will be upset about you letting it out. Others will insist that you do.

"It is reported that mulberries will be fairer, and the trees more fruitful, if you bore the trunk of the tree through in several places, and thrust into the places bored wedges of some hot trees, as turpentine, mastic-tree, guiacum, juniper etc. The cause may be for that attentive heat doth cheer up the native juice of the tree."

17. Tree alterations. This ones just quite quiet and sweet. But wealthy horticulturalists would presumably pay very well for fragments of strange or rare trees. And who knows what freaky shit they might splice together once they got them.

18. "The branches of that tree which antiquity dedicated to the Sun in order to crown all the conquerors of the Earth, (Laurels) when shaken together give out fire, as do the bones of lions."

"To describe the fire of nitric acid (or aqua fortis), Trevisian says that its hidden fire is "subtle, vaporous, digesting, continual, encompassing, airy, clear and pure, confined, non-flowing, corrupting, penetrating and sharp." Obviously these adjective are not describing an object, they are revealing a feeling, probably an urge to destroy."

19. Acid actively wants to burn you. No-one should be surprised by the malicious nature of acids.

"...the big tall men are humid and mercurial; shrewdness, made up of wisdom and prudence, is never at its highest degree in these men; for the fire from whence come wisdom and prudence is never vigerous in such large and vast bodies, since it is wandering and diffused; and nothing in nature that is scattered and diffused is ever strong and powerful. Force needs to be compact and compressed; the strength of fire is seen to be all the stronger when it is compressed and contracted. Cannons demonstrate this fact...

20. As with cannons. So with men.


  1. You criticize him for his "Flowery fucking writing style"? YOU!!???

    1. It might seem strange to say but I only ever write heightened prose about heightened things, or simply about simple things or strangely about strange things. The prose is never meant to stand between you and its object. Bachelard writes in circles around important things. He writes suspiciously.

    2. ...and your answer even taught me something about good writing. Thank you, Patrick!