Bachelard’s “house and universe?

If Bachelard had limited his “house image? to just our house, his theories would have limited value to most readers. His second chapter “house and universe? extends the image, or metaphor:

Rilke has furnished many proofs to which we shall often refer of his cognizance of the drama that attaches to the dwellings of men. At whatever dialectical pole the dreamer stands, whether in the house or in the universe, the dialectics become dynamic. House and space are not merely two juxtaposed elements of space. In the reign of the imagination, they awaken daydreams in each other, that are opposed. Rilke is ready to concede that the old house is “inured” by its trials. The house capitalizes its victories over the hurricanes. And since, in all research concerning the imagination, we must leave the realm of facts behind, we know perfectly that we feel calmer and more confident when in the old home, in the house we were born in, than we do in the houses on streets where we have only lived as transients.

“House? and “space? become opposing dialectical poles. Our sense of house, though I’d prefer the term “home,? offers us the safety we need to explore the universe. Safe at home we dream of far-flung adventures; far away from home, battered by our experiences, we dream of returning safely to home, or, at the very least, comfort ourselves with a little home cooking.

He asserts self and house are so closely linked that we tend to personify the house :

And so, faced with the bestial hostility of the storm and the hurricane, the house’s virtues of protection and resistance are transposed into human virtues. The house acquires the physical and moral energy of a human body. It braces itself to receive the downpour, it girds its loins. When forced to do so, it bends with the blast, confident that it will right itself again in time, while continuing to deny any temporary defeats. Such a house as this invites mankind to heroism of cosmic proportions. It is an instrument with which to confront the cosmos. And the metaphysical systems according to which man is “cast into the world” might meditate concretely upon the house that is cast into the hurricane, defying the anger of heaven itself.

In other words, the qualities we admire in a person are precisely the same qualities we admire in a home, and vice-versa, probably no mere coincidence since a strong, happy home is essential in raising strong, resilient adults.
There seems little doubt that a sense of home lies at that most literary of feelings, nostalgia:

If we go from these images, which are all light and shimmer, to images that insist and force us to remember farther back into our past, we shall have to take lessons from poets. For how forcefully they prove to us that the houses that were lost forever continue to live on in us; that they insist in us in order to live again, as though they expected us to give them a supplement of living. How much better we should live in the old house today! How suddenly our memories assume a living possibility of being! We consider the past, and a sort of remorse at not having lived profoundly enough in the old house fills our hearts, comes up from the past, overwhelms us. Rilke2 expresses this poignant regret in unforgettable lines which we painfully make our own, not. so much for their expression as for their dramatic depth of feeling:

o nostalgie des lieux qui n’étaient point
Assez aimés a l’heure passagere
Que je voudrais leur rendre de loin
Le geste oublié, l’action supplémentaire.

(Oh longing for places that were not
Cherished enough in that fleeting hour
How I long to make good from far
The forgotten gesture, the additional act.)

Though I much prefer living in the moment, even the future, it’s hard to imagine anyone who could live their entire life without some regrets or longing for the past, certainly not I. In fact, with Christmas fast approaching I’ve been spending time trying to make sure that this year’s Christmas measure up to those imaginary Christmases I had in my childhood.

Not only is our memory of our childhood home an integral part of out view of the past, it plays a part in our dreams of the future:

Sometimes the house of the future is better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past, so that the image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home. Late in life, with indomitable courage, we continue to say that we are going to do what we have not yet done: we are going to build a house. This dream house may be merely a dream of ownership, the embodiment of everything that is considered convenient, comfortable, healthy, sound, desirable, by other people. It must therefore satisfy both pride and reason, two irreconcilable terms. If these dreams are realized, they no longer belong in the domain of this study, but in that of the psychology of projects. However, as I have said many times, for me, a project is short range oneirism, and while it gives free play to the mind, the soul does not find in it its vital expression. Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts serious, sad thoughts and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.

Perhaps in reaction against my childhood homes which were various short-term rentals from small shacks to mansion-like older homes, I’ve always put a lot of work into my home, particularly into the yard. I can’t image a home ever done, particularly the yard.

The chapter closes on a slightly different note, a domestic one:

Objects that are cherished in this way really are born of an intimate light, and they attain to a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects, or those that are defined by geometric reality. For they produce a new reality of being, and they take their place not only in an order but in a community of order. From one object in a room to another, housewifely care weaves the ties that unite a very ancient past to the new epoch. The housewife awakens furniture that was asleep.

If we attain to the limit at which dream becomes exaggerated, we experience a sort of consciousness of constructing the house, in the very pains we take to keep it alive, to give it all its essential clarity. A house that shines from the care it receives appears to have been rebuilt from the inside; it is as though it were new inside. In the intimate harmony of walls and furniture, it may be said that we become conscious of a house that is built by women, since men only know how to build a house from the outside, and they know little or nothing of the “wax” civilization.

I’ll have to admit that the hardest part of leaving the last two homes I’ve lived in, both of which I owned for nearly 17 years, was leaving behind the work I had done at each of them, though equally important were the memories invested there. I’ve always found it difficult to think of the homes I’ve owned as “investments.? No amount of cash could ever be as valuable as the time I’ve spent trying to create the home I wanted to live in.