Spatial synthesis through work

Collected Items 23.09.12

I picked up a copy of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space at Shakespeare and Company in Paris this summer. I love this brilliantly quoted fragment of Rilke which, in the words of Bachelard, “offers each one of us a means of becoming aware of our room by strongly synthesizing everything that lives in it, every piece of furniture that wants to be friends”. Read on:

In Lettres a une musicienne, Rilke writes to Benvenuta that in the absence of his cleaning woman, he had been polishing his furniture. “I was, as I said, magnificently alone . . . when suddenly I was seized by my old passion. I should say that this was undoubtedly my greatest childhood passion, as well as my first contact with music, since our little piano fell under my jurisdiction as duster. It was, in fact, one of the few objects that lent itself willingly to this operation and gave no sign of boredom. On the contrary, under my zealous dustcloth, it suddenly started to purr mechanically . . . and its fine, deep black surface became more and more beautiful. When you’ve been through this there’s little that you don’t know! I was quite proud, if only of my indispensable costume, which consisted of a big apron and little washable suede gloves to protect one’s dainty hands. Politeness tinged with mischief was my reaction to the friendliness of these objects, which seemed happy to be so well treated, so meticulously renovated. And even today, I must confess that, while everything about me grew brighter and the immense black surface of my work table, which dominated its surroundings . . . became newly aware, somehow, of the size of the room, reflecting it more and more clearly: pale gray and almost square . . ., well, yes, I felt moved, as though something were happening, something, to tell the truth, which was not purely superficial but immense, and which touched my very soul: I was an emperor washing the feet of the poor, or Saint Bonaventure, washing dishes in his convent.”

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space trans. by Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon, 1994)

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