Science and Literature / European Studies / Philosophy


Gaston Bachelard, Subversive Humanist
Texts and Readings
Mary McAllester Jones

In an elegant translation, Mary McAllester Jones brings to English-speaking readers the writings of a singular French philosopher of science whose rich intellectual legacy is too little known.

Gaston Bachelard, who died in 1962, left us twelve works on the philosophy of science, nine on the poetic imagination, and two on time and consciousness, written in an image-laden style that rejected traditional academic discourse in favor of a subversive, allusive, highly metaphorical way of thinking and writing. Gaston Bachelard, Subversive Humanist gives us a generous introduction to Bachelard's brilliant and idiosyncratic writings about the relation of science, poetry, and human consciousness. The extracts are framed in succinct critical essays that explicate the development of his ideas and clarify his relation to the contemporary French intellectual revolution more commonly associated with Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

The matrix of Bachelard's thought is twentieth-century science, the "new scientific mind" that he dates from 1905 and Einstein's special theory of relativity. Like the discovery of America five hundred years before, the discoveries of mathematics and physics today have undermined our familiar epistemologies. Modern science has forced us to revise our conception of the rational subject and of the relation between reason and reality, subject and object. A "psychic revolution" has accompanied this revolution in reason. If we try to grasp the dialectics of matter and energy in physics, or the dualism of waves and particles, we shall learn to maintain difference and handle complexity; we are shaken out of the reductive, identity-ridden habits of ordinary life and thought.

As a writer of science, Bachelard deliberately aimed to rid us of the preconceptions that blind us to the facts, to science as it is now. The same wariness with regard to theory is present in his approach to poetry. For Bachelard, mathematical equation and poetic image alike break with everyday experience. Reading poetic images brings us "the experience of openness, of newness", says Bachelard. The reader "is called upon to continue the writer's images, he is aware of being in a state of open imagination." There is little place for abstract critical theory in Bachelard's view of Poetry.

Mary McAllester Jones is lecturer in French at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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McAllester Jones's book is yellow with a black and white drawing of a man

June 1991
LC: 90-050649 PN
192 pp. 6 x 9
ISBN: 0299127907 Cloth
Now out of print in both bindings, see a good used bookstore for copies.

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