Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Poetics of Space - Objects of Significance

Chapter Two of the Poetic of Space concludes with some discussion about objects and how the objects of the home gain “significance” beyond their physical properties – this of course prompted contemplation on my part about objects, artifacts, and works of art.

I’ve always loved the notion of art as sympathetic magic, that somehow artworks became vessels of magical powers – and of course, in some ways they do. They can be time machines, taking us to a place in the past, capturing a moment, a feeling. They can inspire us or give us pause to reflect on ourselves and who we are. But, the discussion wasn’t about objects of art, but ordinary household objects that at first glance would seem to be nothing but the insignificance of their physical properties.

Still, these objects bear the consequences of our interactions with them, they become artifacts of our lives and evidence the ways we live. Perhaps this is part of what Duchamp and other artists were up to in making found objects art – an acknowledgement that these things possessed a magic of their own, independent of any artists reimagining or rendering.

Then there are the objects that possess special meaning for us, keys that unlock memories. I can look at my socks and remember I purchased them In Harrods and suddenly a day dream is launched of my trip to London, the shows we saw, the markets we wandered. I’m reminded of Orhan Pamuck’s The Museum of Innocence, in which the protagonist (sometime kleptomaniacaly) collects objects from his lover and family to ultimately place them in a museum to tell his love story. The books unfolds as a docent tour of the museum, picking each object and telling the chapter it represents

Going through my mom’s house after she died, was like walking through such a museum without the benefit of such a docent. There were objects that unlocked stories – the leather wallet my father made for her made of the scraps from the factory  where her father worked.  There were objects, like the Lakota children “dream catchers” sent to my mother to solicit yet another donation that evidenced my mother’s gullibility and sentimentality, for not only the Lakota children, but the Human Society, Veterans, and other mass-mailing charities. There were childhood artworks of mine that she saved which I ultimately tossed. They no longer held any magic for me despite the magic they may have held for my mother, or the memory of me as a child that must have been contained in them.

Lastly, there were the objects that had now become mysteries – things my mother kept, an old ash tray, a plastic clock, a collection of phones, metal cookie boxes, and other assorted knick knacks. Things that may have unlocked a day dream for her but to me remained mute and silent. Perhaps some of the objects I tossed from my mother’s house will reveal their mysteries to someone else? Or perhaps create new mysteries for its next owner?

Objects have power – as symbols, as stories, as connections to the past, or to our aspirations. I think that’s why as we acquire things, we sometimes have a hard time letting them go. Personally, I want to stop accumulating objects – I’m glad now in the digital age I feel less a need to own a book, or a movie, or an album. I tell myself I want to collect experiences not objects, and yet I look at my socks, or the naughty dice I got in Paris, and they bring those experiences back to me. Perhaps as we walk through our homes we should act as a docent and try to tell the stories of our objects, share them with each other if compelling enough – and toss the ones that aren’t. Seems like time for a little Show and Tell?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Poetics of Space - Reflections on Verticality

Bachelard states emphatically that houses, in their phenomenological essence are vertical, and perhaps he has something there. Such notions are certainly embedded in our language as we talk of someone with “lofty” ideas; there are certainly aspirations in those high minded thoughts that take place in attics and towers – or the “baser” thoughts that plumb the tunnels of subterranean depths. Bachelard seems to go on to criticize the single floor flats of Paris for lacking placement within this 3-4 story axis.

Yet, I wonder how much is a product of the house archetype of northern European culture? In my own experience I never lived in a place with attic and basement. Sometimes there were crawl spaces, but staircases steep or narrow never lead to any of them. Rather, in my phenomenology , staircases mostly separated the shared spaces of the family, the kitchen, dining room, living room, from the private spaces, the bedrooms and full bathrooms. Downstairs served as the transition from the public to the family – the first line of defense to one’s potential solitude. Whereas an invitation upstairs, was an invitation to intimacy – think Mae West’s “Come up and see me sometime.” As such, stairs were things snuck up late at night, climbed lightly avoiding the creaking step, and done in secrecy – though secrets much different than the secrets of the basement, erotic secrets, secrets of love or conspiracy.

I wonder if the Car Culture of America transforms some of the phenomenology in the garage. The garage has replaced our basement as a place to tinker unseen. Often windowless cluttered with objects banned from the house proper, here is where we American’s dream of entrepreneurial pursuits, or the next road trip. How many men have “shops” in their garage? It is a masculine creative space, where an old fridge keeps a few beers cold and a pin-up calendar displaying femininity through a filter of testosterone.  The garage is a place of men, and of boys coming to age – a place where things are fixed or built before they are ready to be revealed.

My houses have been mostly horizontal; perhaps they were all tall, but decided to lay down and rest a bit, the parts all still there, but recumbent and a little more at ease than their East Coast and European cousins.

The Poetics of Space - Chapter 1 (I-IV)

I’m participating with some friends in a reading of Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. The intent is to both discuss the work and share the fruits of its inspiration on Google + and a Pintrest board. While we haven’t formally begun, I’m finding I can’t keep myself from reacting to what I read. Consequently I've already assembled a couple long-winded posts and related images, but I hate how disconnected they are on those sites so I plan on reposting some of that content here. Perhaps tangential to hedonism, it is none-the-less an activity at present that’s bringing me pleasure and satisfying my hedonic needs. Apologies for the cross posting.


Childhood Memories of Space

While Bachelard begins his phenomenological inquiry with the home, I realize that most of my earliest memories take place outside the home. My earliest memory (age 2) is of a bent post in a chain link fence. Home movies reveal this fence surrounded a pool, and while my father’s camera tends to drift toward the bikini clad neighbors, I’m unmistakably there despite my having no memories of this pool. Rather its exploring the curious bend in a post that haunts my memories. The other posts are all straight and proper, but this one – no doubt struck by someone paying more attention to the bikini clad bathers than their car – is bent in such a way that I cannot resist the temptation to curl my body into its form. Perhaps this is my container?

In our next home (age 3), a modern ranch style house in Cowan heights, I do remember the living room and it’s black and white checkered floor. It was like some giant game board. Still my strongest memories of this house are of its exterior. The unfinished backyard was up against a cliff face that dared to be climbed - or slowly dismantled with my Tonka toy dump truck and bulldozer. My first memorable dream is of this same backyard; a nightmare really in which our family was trapped in a circle of fire by Bedouins on horseback. I was afraid of fire for much of my childhood and could never bring myself to light a match without anxiety until well into adulthood.

When we moved again (age 5) to a garden apartment in Tustin, I can recall the kitchen and being served hot tea with milk and cinnamon toast for breakfast. The Kitchen could be entered from two different rooms. I loved that I was able to walk a continuous loop through all the rooms on the first floor, never having to retreat or turn around. Here is where I discovered looking at a mirror on the bridge of my nose, where I could travel this loop walking on an imaginary ceiling, stepping over reversed transoms as I entered each room.

We had a Sparklettes water cooler in the kitchen. My mother would remember this for a wild night of dreams when a friend of my sister’s added something to the five gallon bottle. I, however, would remember it for the mysterious way bubbles would gurgle forth randomly and seemingly unprovoked. It was certainly a place of childhood meditation. 

My only memory of the upstairs of this apartment was my parents’ bathroom. I could crawl into the cabinet under the sink and hide undetected for hours. Here I discovered the mechanics of my father’s razors, how to make them release their deceptively sharp blades that would stealthily slice my fingers as I traced back the origins of the increasing abundance of blood.

Perhaps this is an American phenomenology of space, but during this time (age 3-5) I have distinct recollections of riding in my parents cars. I used to stand on the transmission hump of the back seat of my mother’s Lincoln Continental because I couldn’t see past the back of my mom’s head if I were seated. My father’s car, a Chrysler New Yorker, had these wonderful interior door pulls. They were like levers some mad scientist would pull to animate his Frankenstein monster or initiate the human – primate brain transfer. I loved to ride in this car if for nothing else to pull that lever and open the door – something I got in trouble at least once for doing while the car was in motion.

Honestly though, despite having my own room from at least the age of three, the memories of my own room, my own space, don’t come till much later in life and seem mostly associated with my sexuality. The Playboy found dumpster diving stashed between my mattress and box springs (age 12?), or my father opening my door catching me masturbating. I have memories of an empty room that would become my bedroom as we moved to a new apartment, and the empty bedroom where I lost my virginity on the last night before we moved out. Perhaps these memories of this space only come because these are the moments when I desired my privacy? I remember friend’s bedrooms, Brian’s faux stone walls, David’s Major Matt Mason Moon Base, Reagan’s bunk beds – but my own bedrooms are still mostly a mystery to my memories.

I suppose if I take Bachelard’s premise, the home as a safe haven for daydreams, then perhaps the memories of the physical space is irrelevant, and really what matters is the memories I have of my play: constructing a Middle Earth of Lego fortresses and clay temples, or a bookshelf that served as the underground home to dragons and giants. But then again if these are the images I should place under phenomenological scrutiny, physical space becomes irrelevant as my imagination seldom contained itself to my room, or house, or other physical structure.

But I just started this chapter, so further reflection may come…

The Poetics of Space - Preface

I’m participating with some friends in a reading of Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. The intent is to both discuss the work and share the fruits of its inspiration on Google + and a Pintrest board. While we haven’t formally begun, I’m finding I can’t keep myself from reacting to what I read. Consequently I've already assembled a couple long-winded posts and related images, but I hate how disconnected they are on those sites so I plan on reposting some of that content here. Perhaps tangential to hedonism, it is none-the-less an activity at present that’s bringing me pleasure and satisfying my hedonic needs. Apologies for the cross posting.


I got through the introductions and was transported to a time when I was smoking cigarettes to mask the acidic burn of twice heated coffee, the clock at 3 AM and Kant’s critique of pure reason staring back at me. 

I ingested what I could, but I had to pull myself away to see where Bachelard fell in the philosophic pantheon. No one can hide on the internet and I quickly placed him somewhere between Sartre’s existential musings and the obtuse post structuralism of Derrida, who (and here begins the wiki-tangent) apparently was teaching at UCI in the 80’s – a time when we joked that there were no bookstores in Irvine not knowing then that they would soon vanish from most communities. Where did Derrida buy his books at that time?

Perhaps he stood in a cafeteria line behind Chris Burden (also a UC veteran) before he went out to shoot at airplanes. Meanwhile at another UC campus (Berkeley), fellow French philosopher Michel Foucault was lecturing by day and cruising the S&M bars of San Francisco by night – soon to be one the few acknowledged victims of a strange new disease. AIDS was a long slow lingering death often wrought with suffering and dementia. We lost friends and feared for other’s lives. 

So much happening in my own backyard and me, married and content in a Long Beach 4-plex, a most comfortable space, oblivious to all but my own slice of the culture wars – Dana Rohrabacher and the NEA 4.

I want to post images of that time, that space, but wonder if really these are just memories and not the poetic images that Bachelard wants to subject to his phenomenology. Yet these images possess a certain sonority with me that perhaps bespeak their poetry at least in my own subjective apprehension - so I will post them on my board as a sort of abstract starting point in this exploratory duel.

I'm ready for Chapter One