Imagination and Matter
The imagining powers of our mind develop around two very different axes.
Some get their impetus from novelty; they take pleasure in the picturesque, the varied, and the unexpected. The imagination that they spark always describes a springtime. In nature these powers, far from us but already alive, bring forth flowers.
Others plumb the depths of being. They seek to find there both the primitive and the eternal. They prevail over season and history. In nature, within us and without, they produce seeds—seeds whose form is embedded in a substance, whose form is internal.
By speaking philosophically from the outset, we can distinguish two sorts of imagination: one that gives life to the formal cause and one that gives life to the material cause—or, more succinctly, a formal imagination and a material imagination. Thus abbreviated, these concepts seem to me indispensable for a complete philosophical study of poetic creation. Causes arising from the feelings and the heart must become formal causes if a work is to possess verbal variety, the ever-changing life of light. Yet besides the images of form, so often evoked by psychologists of the imagination, there are—as I will show—images of matter, images that stem directly from matter. The eye assigns them names, but only the hand truly knows them. A dynamic joy touches, moulds, and refines them. When forms, mere perishable forms and vain images—perpetual change of surfaces—are put aside, these images of matter are dreamt substantially and intimately. They have weight; they constitute heart.
Of course, there are works in which the two imagining powers cooperate. It is not even possible to separate them completely. Even the most fleeting, changing, and purely formal reverie still has elements that are stable, dense, slow, and fertile. Yet even so, every poetic work that penetrates deeply enough into the heart of being to fin the constancy and lovely monotony of matter, that derives its strength from a substantial cause, must bloom and bedeck itself. It must embrace all the exuberance of formal beauty in order to attract the reader in the first place.
Because of this need to fascinate, the imagination ordinarily works where there is joy—or at least one kind of joy—produced either by forms and colors, variety and metamorphosis, or by what surfaces become. Imagination deserts depth, volume, and the inner recesses of substance.
However, it is to the intimate imagination of these vegetating and material powers that I would like to pay most attention in this book. Only an iconoclastic philosopher could undertake the long and difficult task of detaching all the suffixes from beauty, of searching behind the obvious images for the hidden ones, of seeking the very roots of this image making power.
IN the depths of matter there grows an obscure vegetation; black flowers bloom in matter’s darkness. They already possess a velvety touch, a formula for perfume.
Excerpt taken from: BACHELARD, G. 1983: Water and Dreams An Essay On the Imagination of Matter. The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.
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