“The image can only be studied through the image, by dreaming images as they gather in reverie.” ~Gaston Bachelard
I’m immersed in Bachelard’s The Poetics of Reverie, which has a subtitle I adore: “Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos.” In the book’s first section, however, I felt myself a bit bogged down because the reverie of words (language) he describes deals with word gender. That works for French, and for most languages [or so I understand], but not for English.
Initially, then, I found myself wondering why I was reading the text. But I like Bachelard’s style, enthusiastic and looping and always replete with inquiry upon inquiry; and I love his dedication to and defense of poetry. Not all philosophers have been so kind to poetry.
As I was driving to work one morning, however, I found myself dwelling upon the above chapter about the reveries words can inspire. I fell into a recollection of myself as a very young child, the way I loved to peruse the dictionary. Even before I could read, the heavy tome with its onion-skin pages and glossy color plates of the flags of the world or of gemstones appealed to me as a room in which to become lost, a forest of leaves in which to cover myself or to lie upon, a river of language in which to be immersed. When I was older and a more capable reader, I browsed the examples, the multiple meanings and uses, the parts of speech and the etymologies of the words.
Bachelard, I realized, is correct. The contemplation of words themselves leads to reverie, to thinking about thinking, to making dreamlike concatenations that chug through the consciousness and lead to imagination. His example involves contemplations and imaginings about the genders of words and how they suggest all kinds of interweavings and reactions, but noun gender need not be the motivating inspiration. For me, etymology accomplishes the same ends.
Contemporary adult life offers few chances for reverie. My commute to work is often the only time during the week when I can daydream a bit. My best opportunities for reverie are during a walk outside or while gardening, but I don’t get to do those things every day. I agree that reverie or daydream leads, very often, to poetry or to philosophical innovation or understanding; and Bachelard’s initial chapter on the rambling, amusing, aimless process of reverie makes me wish to go back to my childhood days of less responsibility and more imagination. Of course, that is impossible, but of course, that is part of what the philosopher intends (there is a later chapter on childhood reverie…I will be reading that pretty soon).
Boredom invites reverie. Who, in these busy times, with the many entertainments we carry in our pockets, is ever bored? So many of us, when bored, simply turn off the iPhone or the TV and sleep.
“It is a poor reverie which invites a nap.” ~Gaston Bachelard
My upcoming musings on this book will probably include garden reveries. Or memoir. Or etymology. Who can tell?
What a nicely written post, Ann. I especially love your descriptions of seeing the dictionary as a child… wonderful imagery. I love your blog!
A really fine post, Ann–I do so admire it–but mostly, thank you for Bachelard’s reverie, which became your reverie, which is now mine.
[…] I have less background in early 20th-century philosophy than I do in Zen studies. I enjoyed reading Bachelard’s imaginative, image-based take on phenomenology because I could relate to it on a poetry level even […]
[…] Reverie Anne E. Michaels on Bachelard and reverie […]
[…] in on the lyric state of mind. These passages seem to me to hearken to Bachelard (see here and here) on the […]
[…] This post is an effort to illustrate how image, memory, sensory experience, stories, human connections, and activities bounce around the neurological synapses while a person experiences reverie. […]