picture
Individual

Lamp & blank paper

One philosopher whose œuvre I would feel fortunate to emulate is Gaston Bachelard. Among philosophers Bachelard is best known for his writings in épistémologie, a field that has no exact analogue in anglophone philosophy, overlapping as it does with philosophy of science, history of science, and the theory of knowledge. Among literary theorists he is better known for his studies in what he called “psychanalyse”—the investigation of the imagination and its objects, mostly through literature.
La flamme d’une chandelle was the last work of Bachelard published in his lifetime, a reprise, in a way, of La psychanalyse du feu, his first work on the imagination. It has the feeling of a farewell, not only to a long life of teaching and writing, but to an era in which the nocturnal student read by the ever-varying light of a candle or oil-lamp, and not by the electric glow of filaments or phosphors, more reliable than flame, certainly, at least in the wealthy parts of the world, but less suggestive to the imagination.
The last chapter of this last book is an epilogue, “Ma lampe et mon papier blanc”. It begins:
En se souvenant d’un lointain passé de travail, en réimaginant les images si nombreuses mais si monotones du travailleur obstiné, lisant et méditant sous la lampe, on se prend à vivre comme si l’on était le personnage unique d’un tableau. Une chambre aux murs flous et comme resserrée sur son centre, concentrée autour du méditant assis devant la table éclairée par la lampe. Durant une longue vie, le tableau a reçu mille variantes. Mais il garde son unité, sa vie centrale. C’est maintenant une image constante où se fondent les souvenirs et les rêveries. L’être rêvant s’y concentre pour se souvenir de l’être qui travaillait. Est-ce réconfort, est-ce nostalgie que de se souvenir des petites chambres où l’on travaillait, où l’on avait l’énergie pageturnsymbol.png de travailler bien. Le véritable space du travail solitaire, c’est dans une petite chambre, le cercle éclairé par la lampe. Jean de Boschère savait cela, qui écrivait: «Il n’y a qu’une chambre étroite qui permette le travail.» Et la lampe de travail met toute la chambre dans les dimensions de la table. Comme la lampe de jadis, en mes souvenirs, concentre la demeure, refait les solitudes du courage, ma solitude de travailleur!
Translation: “In remembering a distant past of labor, in imagining again the images, so numerous but so monotone, of the obstinate worker, reading and meditating under the lamp, one takes to living as if one were the unique figure in a painting. A room with vague walls and as if wound up about its center, concentrated around the meditator seated before the table lit by the lamp.
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During a long life the painting has undergone a thousand variations. But it keeps its unity, its vital center. It is now a constant image into which memories and daydreams are fused. The one who dreams concentrates so as to remember the one who worked. Solace it may be, or nostalgia, to remember the little rooms where one worked, where one had the energy to work well. The true space of solitary work is in a little room, in the circle lit by its lamp. Jean de Boschère know this well when he wrote: ‘Only in a narrow room can one work.’ And the work-lamp fits the whole room into the dimensions of the table. How the lamp of yesteryear, in my memories, concentrates my dwelling, and refashions the solitudes of courage—my work-solitude!”
Books mentioned
    Bachelard, Gaston. La flamme d’une chandelle. PUF, 1961 (reprinted in the collection Quadrige, 2003). · 2130539017 · English: The flame of a candle. Trans. Joni Caldwell. Dallas: Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1989. · 0911005153
    Bachelard, Gaston. La psychanalyse du feu. Paris: Gallimard, 1938 (reprinted in the collection Idées, 1949). · 2070323250 · English: The psychoanalysis of fire. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987. · 0807064610
Online sources

LinkJanuary 8, 2005 in Literature · Reading Notes