Bachelard’s Miniature

Despite the fact that Bachelard’s chapter entitled “miniature? is my favorite chapter after the first two, it irritates me in several ways. This chapter, more than any other, shows Bachelard’s provincialism, his unwillingness to look outside his own culture for examples to support his theories, since as he says here:

Unfortunately, being, as I am, a philosopher who plies his trade at home, I haven’t the advantage of actually seeing the works of the miniaturists of the Middle Ages, which was the great age of solitary patience. But I can well imagine this patience, which brings peace to one’s fingers. Indeed, we have only to imagine it for our souls to be bathed in peace. All small things must evolve slowly, and certainly a long period of leisure, in a quiet room, was needed to miniaturize the world. Also one must love space to describe it as minutely as though there were world molecules, to enclose an entire spectacle in a molecule of drawing. In this feat there is an important dialectics of the intuition which always sees big and work, which is hostile to flights of fancy. Intuitionists, in fact, take in everything at one glance, while details reveal themselves and patiently take their places, one after the other, with the discursive impishness of the clever miniaturist. It is as though the miniaturist challenged the intuitionist philosopher’s lazy contemplation, as though he said to him: “You would not have seen that! Take the time needed to see all these little things that cannot be seen all together.” In looking at a miniature, unflagging attention is required to integrate all the detail.

For instance, I would have loved to hear what he would say about Bonzai, or the associated miniature carvings that often accompany Bonzai.

Still, since I am fond of microscopes and macro-photography, it would be impossible not to identify with:

The man with the magnifying glass takes the world as though it were quite new to him. If he were to tell us of the discoveries he has made, he would furnish us with documents of pure phenomenology, in which discovery of the world, or entry into the world, would be more than just a worn out word, more than a word that has become tarnished through over frequent philosophical use. A philosopher often describes his “entry into the world,” his “being in the world,” using a familiar object as symbol. He will describe his ink bottle phenomenologically, and a paltry thing becomes the janitor of the wide world.

The man with the magnifying glass quite simply bars the everyday world. He is a fresh eye before a new object. The botanist’s magnifying glass is youth recaptured. It gives him back the enlarging gaze of a child. With this glass in his hand, he returns to the garden,

les enfants regardent grand

(where children see enlarged)

Thus the minuscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire World. The details of a thing can be the sign of a new world which, like all worlds, contains the attributes of greatness.

Miniature is one of the refuges of greatness.

It’s impossible to spend hours building an accurate model without seeing the real thing with new eyes. Whenever I fly, I’m struck by how much the real world below looks like the train sets my younger brother used to lavish so much attention on.

Nor could I agree more with:

In reality, as we shall see later, especially when we examine images of immenseness, tiny and immense are compatible. A poet is always ready to see large and small. For instance, thanks to the image, a man like Paul Claudel, in his cosmogony was quick to assimilate the vocabulary if not the thinking of contemporary science. The following lines are from his Cinq grandes odes (p.i8o): “Just as we see little spiders or certain insect larvae hidden like precious stones in their cotton and satin pouches, “In the same way, I was shown an entire nestful of still embarrassed suns in the cold folds of the nebula.”

If a poet looks through a microscope or a telescope, he always sees the same thing.

It’s impossible for me to look at photos taken through electron-microscopes and not be inspired for it’s a whole new way of seeing the world, nearly as enlightening as seeing the first shots of earth taken from outer space. For many of my generation, seeing that blue ball floating in space was a mind-altering experience,an “A hah? moment.

I’ve never been in a belfry-tower, but I’ve often felt exactly the way Bachelard describes here when descending from the mountains or from high on the Columbia River Gorge:

From the solitude of a belfry-tower, a man watches other men “running about? on the distant square bleached white by the summer sun. The men look “the size of flies? and move about irrationally “like ants.? These comparisons which are so hackneyed that one no longer dares to use them, appear as though inadvertently in numerous passages that recount a belfry daydream. It remains true, nevertheless, that a phenomenologist of images must take note of the extreme simplicity of these reflections which so successfully separate the daydreamer from the restless world, and give him an impression of domination at little cost. But once its commonplace nature has been pointed out, we realize that this is specifically the dream of high solitude. Enclosed solitude would think other thoughts. It would deny the world otherwise, and would not have a concrete image with which to dominate it. From the top of his tower, a philosopher of domination sees the universe in miniature. Everything is small because he is so high.. And since he is high, he is great, the height of his station is proof of his own greatness.

It’s not without reason that Bill and I used to refer to tourists who never left the parking lot but were content to look up at the mountains or at the Gorge waterfalls as “flatlanders? when we descended into their midst.