The lightning-filled night

phenomenology and "metaphysics" in Giovanni Piana's philosophy of imagination

Paolo Spinicci

Imagination is one of the most important and pervasive topics in Piana’s philosophical work and the development of an original phenomenological approach to imagination is one of his most substantial achievement. Aim of this paper is to explain two of the main aspects of his phenomenology of imagination: the a-contextual nature of its objects and the historical and material foundations of imagination itself. A short concluding remark is devoted to cast a glance to a coherent and natural development of Piana’s philosophy of imagination.

Publication details

DOI: 10.19079/PR.s1.7

Full citation:

Spinicci, P. (2020). The lightning-filled night: phenomenology and "metaphysics" in Giovanni Piana's philosophy of imagination. Phenomenological Reviews 1.

The lightning-filled night Paolo Spinicci Master XML, sdvig press Patrick Flack February 27, 2020, 3:46 pm ( )

1 | Why this title: The Lightning-filled Night?

1The Lightning-filled Night (Piana 1988) is probably not among the most significant works by Giovanni Piana. It is a book that brings together the outlines of four university courses held in the first half of the Eighties—four courses on different themes, which Piana wished to publish, partly in order to leave behind a difficult and basically not very productive period of his life. Let me avoid possible misunderstandings: these are four very fine, intelligent essays, and they contain many original ideas. Yet, they were not conceived to end up in a single book. Piana was aware of this and the first title he had envisaged for the volume sounded like an implicit confession: Four Essays.

2It wasn’t a particularly happy title and we often discussed this, trying to come up with a better solution: I thought that the title should be changed, in order to say something about the content of the book. They are, of course, four essays, but they also share a common thread: they are all about the nature of imagination and, at the same time, about the ties that bind perception to images. In my opinion, the title ought to have hinted at this common thread, but I didn’t know what to suggest as an alternative. Then, one day, this dry title, purposely so far removed from the lofty choices that were all the rage on the scene of Italian philosophy at the time, became a subtitle, in lowercase letters, making way for a fine poetic quotation. “I’m going to entitle it La notte dei lampi (The Lightning-filled Night)”—he stated—and there was nothing more to be said about it.

3It’s a beautiful title. An explicit reference to André Breton and surrealism, whose echo Piana finds in Gaston Bachelard’s philosophy of images, to which the first essay in the collection is devoted. Breton dreams of writing poetry but, hard as he tries to give free rein to his imagination on the blank sheet of paper in front of him, all he manages to write is a single word: ‘light’. Thus, he tears up the paper and starts with another and yet another, but all he comes up with on every piece of paper is this: light.

4How should we react to this dream that seems to feed on a long literary tradition? Like this, I believe. In this rather emphatic narration, a thought takes shape, although in an imaginary form: the word ‘light’, in triumph there on the blank page, is an image of poetry. Or rather: it is an image of what poetry should be, according to Breton—isolated images that do not get lost in the opaque web of stories. For Breton, poetry does not consist in reasoning, it does not tell stories and is not garrulous like the novel: poetry lives in its images alone. Thus, when Breton concludes his reasoning and writes that the most beautiful of all nights is the night of lightnings, the title is ready at hand. The most beautiful of all nights is the night in which imagination catches fire (Breton 1972, 38).

5A lovely image, but not such a novel one: saying that poetry is light is anything but new, let alone the image of the blank page, which is a commonplace to be found in many authors. Should we conclude, then, that Four Essays would have been a better title?

6I don’t think so and the first step in order to understand this is to remark that, in Breton’s conclusion, light and darkness are tied into a single knot. According to Breton, poetry consists in isolated images, like flashes of lightning in the night, but it will suffice to read the subtitle of Piana’s book carefully—“Four Essays on the Philosophy of Imagination”—to realize that something has changed. The lightning-filled night is not the celebration of a concept of poetry that tends to mark a boundary between images and the narrative web they may occur in. According to Piana, speaking of the lightning-filled night is first of all a metaphorical way of highlighting an essential feature of imagination: the separateness of its products from our world. In his opinion, objects of imagination are a-contextual in nature, because they do not belong to the spatial and temporal horizon of our world and because eventually there is no sense in trying to bind them to the rules that apply in the real world (cf. Piana 1979, 159-165). Pinocchio is a wooden puppet and perhaps this is why he can burn his feet without even waking up—though we must admit that they are only burned by a painted flame. But the wood that burns without causing pain is the same wood that shivers with cold because of the pail of icy water that Pinocchio finds when he wanders the streets of his village begging for a piece of bread to calm, in turn, the grumbling wood of his empty stomach. Collodi asks us to imagine all this, and it isn’t difficult to imagine in this way, because the objects of imagination do not have to pay tribute to the laws that apply on the terrain of logical coherence or, even less so, on that of reality. No reader of Pinocchio fails to understand that a log of wood from the pile can be planed down and refined and no reader of Pinocchio fails to understand the protests of the future puppet, ‘tickled’ by the plane. The reader understands both because, in the web of the imagination, the nature of wood is only relevant inasfar as (and in the form in which) the narrator obliges us to think of it. That is what the imagination is like: it builds on the basis of our knowledge of the world but does not let itself be stopped or constrained by what we know. We must remember and forget at the same time what winds are, if we want to understand how Aeolus manages to capture them in a goatskin. According to Piana, imagination is a flash of lightning in the night, because it makes a clean break with what lies beyond it—reality with its rules and its laws.

7The separateness of the products of imagination and their a-contextual nature are aspects that Piana’s philosophy of imagination shares with Husserl’s reflections on neutralization (Husserl 1964, 195-203); yet, in order to grasp what it means for Piana to read the imagination in the light of Breton’s image, we should not only consider Husserl’s legacy: we must appeal to Bachelard as well.

8To understand Piana’s philosophy of imagination, Bachelard is an author we must take into account. For sure, one would seek in vain in Piana’s writing for any real endorsement of the phenomenology that Bachelard outlines in his own way in his The Poetics of Space or The Poetics of Rêverie. Quite the opposite: whoever reads the first essay in the Lightning-filled Night will come across a close discussion offering argument upon argument for dismissing what Bachelard writes about the imagination. The first impression the reader gains is that Piana speaks of Bachelard in order to explain why one could actually just as well not speak of him any further. But this is just half of the story and, even though Bachelard’s texts are analyzed and harshly criticized at times, the problems raised by his reflections appear very relevant to Piana and worth a detailed discussion—but starting over right from the beginning and in a different form.

9To say what these issues are is more complex than it might seem at first look, because beyond the basic differences (which are also differences in philosophical method and style), the consonance between Bachelard’s and Piana’s philosophical reflections is significant. To shed light on this consonance is what this essay sets out to do and what will occupy us for the next few pages, though as a constant bass note.

10One point of consonance leads us to the refusal, so characteristic of Bachelard’s position, to bind images to the factual dimension of their origin. “One does not read poetry while thinking of other things”, Bachelard (1971, 4) writes, and this claim rests on the persuasion that images do not need causal explanation, as it happens for events taking place in the world. In other words, Bachelard obliges us to set aside any reductionist reading of the products of imagination, a theme Piana was very sensitive to. The flashes of lightning in the night are an image of poetic images because, for Bachelard, no image can be explained by being reduced to the existential and psychological situation of its author.

11Perhaps these considerations may appear too fleeting nowadays. And, to a certain extent, it is possible to see in them, perhaps only as a watermark, a refusal of the authorial perspective that is so emblematic of the theoretical debate in the second half of the last century. In other words, the critique of psychologism, the refusal to reduce images to psychic life or to the superficial echo of historical and political events should be linked to the widespread scepticism towards ‘the author’s intentions’ that marked so many of the theoretical reflections of French structuralism—a current of thought that was truly distant from Piana’s thought.

12In any case, before coming to any conclusions and before attempting to read Piana’s books ‘while thinking of something else’, we should try to better understand in what sense—and to what extent—imagination and poetic images, for Piana, are really similar to flashes of lightning tearing through the night.

2 | Sometimes images ‘hobble’: The historical and material foundations of imagination

13The considerations we have offered until now share a common thread: they emphasize the divide between imagination on the one hand and the real world or the practical experience of the imagining subject on the other. They seem to maintain that it is a mistake, if not a nonsense, to think of images and fictional objects against the background of our lives and world.

14One only has to read Piana’s words more attentively in order to realize that this would be an over-hasty conclusion, for two different sorts of reasons, which lead us to see images as differently rooted, both in relation to world and in relation to the historical determination of the imagining subject.

15Let me dwell, first of all, on the relation between imagination and world. We must understand if and how it is possible to highlight the divide between imagination and world without at the same time denying that, in order for images to actually be ‘conceived’, we need to have experience of the world. Unraveling this issue means, I think, tracing a distinction between what belongs to the content of imagination and what, instead, constitutes the background it rests upon. When we read a fiction we are supposed to imagine a lot of things, and in order to imagine what we have to imagine experience of the world is needed. Nevertheless, the basic conditions that allow the actual imaginability of a fictional content are not necessarily part of this content and do not necessarily belong to the fiction that concerns us. Let us return to our log of wood from the pile, on which Geppetto works to obtain a puppet. Wood is a material suspended between two genres: it is a thing, but it originates from (and is or was part of) a tree, which is a living being. The bark is similar to our skin but is harder and it is insensitive; planes are useful for smoothing the surface of a piece of wood, ‘scratching’ its bark, etc. We need all these commonsense ‘truths’ about what wood in reality is to understand what the future puppet says when he complains of the ‘tickling’ the plane causes him. To play Collodi’s game properly, we need to know a lot about the world—but we must at the same time succeed in forgetting or suspending just as much. We must see the tree in the log and remember that the wood was alive, yet forget this, too, and know that it is not in fact alive and sensitive and that it is therefore ridiculous, and at the same time amazing, that it can feel tickling—produced by a plane, what’s more.

16We have to know all these things, yet it would be senseless make such a confused and even contradictory mixture of knowledge into the content of the story, as though every story implied a world to be part of—the (coherent?) combination of the ‘truths’ that must be taken for granted in order to understand the story or play the game. The child pretending that the sofa is a ship and cushions its hull knows what a sofa is like and the game takes advantage of this knowledge. Nevertheless, in the game, the sofa is no longer there and neither is the softness of the cushions which are imagined to be made of wood—even though you can jump on them without hurting yourself.

17When imagining, one starts out from the world, but stories and games do not belong to the world and it would be wrong to confuse the fictional content of imagination with its background. Prisons have walls, floors and ceilings but the prison where Ugolino starves to death with his children is evoked by the view of a window alone, recalling that out there, beyond reach, the world continues to exist in the flow of days passing, and by a door, which can be heard to be nailed up down below and which only has to be imagined, in order to understand that it cannot be opened. Again: to imagine the story of Count Ugolino, we must know many things about the world, but this does not necessarily mean that the background of our has to become part of the imagined content underlying the text. We do not know what Ugolino looked like but there is no need to imagine him: it would be useless to do so. Giving the walls of the prison a consistency or wonder whether other noises or other voices beyond that “chiavar l’uscio di sotto” (“nailing the threshold below”) penetrated from the world outside where the sun continues to rise and set would mean betraying Dante’s text, which asks us to imagine the place in an abstract and essential form—the cerebral form of a nightmare agitating Ugolino’s devastated mind. To imagine that Ugolino’s prison is more than Dante tells us would not only be senseless: it would simply be wrong.

18Similar considerations hold for another significant aspect of the tie that binds images to the world. The game of imagination is a game that has to do with the materials of our world, and the concrete nature of these materials limits the freedom of imagination. Let us start with an example again. The Odyssey tells a story in which sea and land compete for the leading role. The sea is the voyage, its infinite possibilities, the possibility of losing oneself and forgetting; the land, instead, is memory, rocky Itaca that restores a destination and a firm foothold to life. It will rightly be objected here that earth and water are elements and have no meaning in themselves; nonetheless, the imagination cannot arbitrarily play with their nature and in order to become aware of this it is sufficient to try and correct the decisions made by poetic imagination. Can we really link memory to the water that washes away and cancels, closing behind us when we have passed through it? And can we see in the rocks that stand fast and resist the tides the image of forgetting? Not at all, and it is enough to immerse oneself in this game to realize that imagination is not completely free. In this case, too, one starts out from the world when imagining.1

19There is no doubt that, for Piana, this thesis corresponds to a form of phenomenological objectivism, i.e., it entails the rejection—characteristic of Husserl’s philosophy—of a concept of experience as the result of subjective projections, rules founded entirely on the side of subjectivity. Kant and Hume—the former being the transcendental philosopher, who attributes the task of organizing the amorphous materials of experience to the intellect or to the conceptual dimension of language, and the latter being the empirical philosopher, who instead maintains that order only arises from the formation of perceptual habits—according to Husserl made the same error: they both assume that experience in itself has no form and there are no internal ties that are rooted in the very nature of what is experienced.

20Objectivism is the central lesson of Husserl’s phenomenology and it is also one of the most significant features in Piana’s philosophy of experience. It is sufficient to browse through the essays in The Lightning-filled Night to become aware of this. In particular, the second essay in the book is devoted to a phenomenological foundation of the grammars of colour and sound. According to Piana, the logical form of our concepts of colour and sound has its roots in the very nature of colours and sounds as we perceive them. Colours and sounds have a phenomenological form and structure, and any attempt to compose them into expressive units cannot fail to face the fact that colours and sounds have a form.

21In this respect, Piana is a full-fledged philosopher of the Nineteen Hundreds: his philosophy of imagination should also be understood as an answer to the questions raised by the historical progression of art in the last century—by the rise of abstract painting and twentieth-century music. Piana is not satisfied with the basically hasty and superficial answers of philosophers, like Goodman, who see in the twentieth-century watershed of art a reason why the thesis of conventionalism and the return of art under the auspices of language should appear to be more plausible. Quite the opposite: for Piana the Nineteen Hundreds in painting and music mark the century of the rediscovery of materials, their internal expressivity, beyond codified systems of rules of composition. Abstractism is first and foremost a movement that calls figurativeness into question, in order to rediscover the multiple significances intrinsic in the forms and colours themselves, and something similar can be said about twentieth-century music, which presents a similar separation between the ‘logical’ and the phemonenological element, between the dimension of composition and the material dimension of sounds (cf. Piana 1991, 67-70).

22As I have hinted at, a second order of thoughts should be added to remember that there is a sense in which images do depend on the cultural and historical perspective of their creator. On this topic, Piana is very far from agreeing with Bachelard. According to Bachelard, images are not the products of decisions by the imagining subject but—so to say—they are simply found by poets: more than artistic creations, images are archetypical forms in which our original experience of the world has sedimented. Images are simply there, ready at hand, and philosophers just have to collect them and order them thematically. Bachelard’s books on imagination are basically catalogues of the imaginary, written whilst systematically forgetting the authors of the images, in the conviction that the imagination exclusively responds to its thematic roots and does not depend on the imaginer’s form of life.

23According to Piana, things are different: images are the outcome of an imaginative game, in which cultural interests and existential inclinations play a significant role. In short, for Piana, imagination is based in our world, but it arises because the imagining subject is a subject that lives and thinks and feels in a historical manner. Thus, it is a fact (even though a sui generis fact) that the Moon is far from the Earth, and it is true that it seems more brilliant when the day is over and it is night-time, but distance and luminosity speak in different accents in the imagination of poets who differ in terms of their culture and subjective inclinations. Thus, for Ariosto, the distance of the moon from earthly clamour is what allows it to preserve what is lost down here due to vanity, ignorance, or rashness, whilst for Leopardi it becomes the sign of nature’s blindness to human vicissitudes. For Ariosto, the Moon is a twin Earth that allows us to understand and take an ironic stance towards the vanity of our human concerns—it is the Earth as it would have been if we humans had been different;2 for Leopardi, instead, the Moon is first and foremost intact, because it does not allow itself to be touched by our human events. The same fact suggests different images, just as the same toy can suggest different games to different players.

3 | A metaphysics of the imagination?

24So far, I have only touched upon the main themes in Piana’s philosophy of imagination and the main issues in the book we are discussing, but something is still missing, even though it is not simple to exactly describe what it is. The reader of Piana’s book would grasp what I mean because s/he is constantly required to open and close the door facing onto the same problems: s/he must first plunge into a clutch of considerations full of general metaphysical implications, only to recognize that it is impossible to advance claims of an ontological or cognitive nature on imagination in its various forms.

25This is how things are in the essay that closes The Lightning-filled Night and which encourages us to keep our distance from Heidegger’s emphasis on the spatial nature of Dasein, and this, again, is how things are in the pages devoted to shedding light on Cassirer’s philosophy of myth and its claims that mythical thought creates a specific reality—the sacred world. As we already observed, even though it is difficult to free ourselves of a metaphor that seems to impose itself automatically, it is important to remember that, for Piana, imagination does not create worlds and does not discover hidden truths. We should not attribute to imagination tasks that do not pertain to it—the boundaries around concepts must be drawn as clear as possible. Nonetheless, if Piana returns several times to these themes it is because in this particular case he feels the need to come as close as possible to the boundary.

26To grasp what I mean, it is necessary, once again, to return to the essay on Bachelard and, in particular, to the last few pages of the essay, whose object is Bachelard’s metaphysics of imagination. This is not a negligible theme. As we have already observed, for Bachelard images are found and, in a way, do not have an author. Certainly, in the Poetics of Space the authorial dimension is slight, yet, if Bachelard wishes to forget that images do have an author in the strong sense of the word, it is because he intends to argue something about their nature. In his view, images speak an ancient language: they show how rooted we are in the world we live in. Images tell of our original belonging to our world and the connection, so characteristic in Bachelard, between images and infancy does not rest upon any supposed poetic sensitivity in childhood, but on the conviction that images are our original way of inhabiting and experiencing the world. Images speak the language of childhood because they tell us what the world is like before the advance of practice aiming to interpret and get to know it.

27Of course, maturity comes after childhood and after the games of imagination rational procedures advance, which invite us to smile3 at our imaginative grasp of the world. The world of imagination is to some extent necessarily declined in the past tense.

28So far Bachelard. Piana does not share this view. He does not believe that imagination is a sort of knowledge of what is most originary, an immediate understanding of the sense of things, dulled by time and put aside by scientific reflection and its rational procedures. Imagination is not irrational in nature and, despite what Bachelard and Breton maintain, there is no reason to believe that imagination only lives in isolated images. It becomes manifest also in poems and series of frescoes. After all, imagination is also at work in science and technology—a topic to which Piana devotes a few rapid but fascinating observations.4

29Yet, this time, Piana is not only interested in the problem addressed by Bachelard: we can also read in his pages some tacit appreciation of the tone in which Bachelard gives form to his considerations—a tone which actually decides the very nature of the problem. Bachelard’s metaphysics of imagination does not take the form of a reflection claiming to define the profound nature of being. In the Poetics of Space, in fact, Bachelard ironically distances himself from the “the lightning metaphysicists” who wish to nail human existence to a formula that declares its essence once and for all. Bachelard’s metaphysics of imagination is quite different and wears the modest garb of an “album of concrete metaphysics”5, in which the philosopher collects images, just as family photographs are collected over time.

30Strange as it may seem, this analogy should be taken seriously. The images the philosopher collects have basically the same function as the photographs revealed to those who turn the pages of the family album: they teach us nothing new, but they go side by side with a ritual of recognition. We leaf through family albums for this purpose: in order to consolidate the dimension of belonging, to repeat—if only in our memories and imagination—the experiences that make us part of a group of people and bind us to them.

31Bachelard’s album has the same function: it allows us to find ourselves in the things around us, rediscovering in the world the stage scenery of our lives. Finding ourselves in our imagination means that the album of metaphysics that we compose, collecting the images of poets (and, in general, narrative fictions) is not just a mild and domesticated form of metaphysics of the imagination, but the fruit of an imaginary metaphysics, a coherent fantasizing that imaginatively responds to a need for something that makes sense.

32This is where, for Piana, Bachelard’s view should be taken up, but only in order to go beyond his own philosophical approach. The album of images imaginatively narrates the world but, if we free ourselves of the claim that anchors imagination to an original gaze and if we acknowledge that imagination depends on cultural perspectives, then we understand what remains of Bachelard’s confidence in the metaphysical meaning of imagination. There is not a metaphysics of imagination but—according to Piana—imagination has the same function that was once assigned to metaphysics: imagination does not claim to tell us about life and the world just as they are, but invites us to imagine them in the light of our needs, our convictions, and our persuasions.

33I believe these are the thoughts at the root of Piana’s interest in imagination, but it is difficult to rephrase these considerations in a more precise way.

34One thing, instead, seems certain to me: in a broad sense, imagination, for Piana, has an existential function. It does not intuit or allow us to acquire knowledge about any hidden reality, it does not grasp any latent metaphysics, but suggests a way of finding ourselves in the world and accepting it imaginatively in the light of our needs.

4 | One more flash of lightning

35I would like to conclude by connecting the previus remarks with something Piana develops in his somewhat unexpected last book—Leggere i poeti. Note a margine a Giovanni Pascoli [Reading the Poets. Margin Notes to Giovanni Pascoli]. This is not a completely arbitrary move on my part, because the book is essentially about poetry and poetic images, although—as commonly happens in Piana’s later work—music and sound also occupy a highly important place in this book. Perhaps this is the reason why Piana chose Pascoli: in Pascoli, the voices of nature and sounds are the heart of an incomparable imaginative meditation in Italy’s Nineteen Hundreds—or at least so I believe. Yet, Piana’s desire to write a book about Pascoli cannot be understood without remembering that Pascoli is a poet of images that force us to think in an openly existentialist key.

36Let us briefly dwell on this observation. The fact that the works of imagination give us something to think about is a characteristic feature of Piana’s philosophical approach, present from his very first writings on imagination (Piana 1979, 229). What is more difficult to clarify is the form and the way in which these thoughts are concretized in the images themselves and in the subjectivity of those who grasp them. Certainly, this does not happen through reasoning: images are persuasive and may be extremely deep, but even if they appear to be ‘true’ to us, they never make us deaf to other and different imaginative appreciations. Images speak to us in a persuasive voice, but they are neither mutually excluding truths, nor thoughts that bind us to a determined position with the force of their evidence. To say that that the works of imagination give us something to think about only means that they allow us to glimpse something, in the apparent form of a thoughtful experience.

37Images are illuminations—this is also one meaning of the expression ‘the lightning-filled night’. Yet, that expression also means that we should locate imagination in the space that pertains to it: the space of a sudden blaze of light, which does not have any stable consistency. The ‘truths’ of the imagination do not exist beyond the thoughtful and meditative experience in which we grasp and appreciate them. In this sense they are momentary. Images convey something that, for a moment, appears as an unexpected message and feels like a discovery—even though, strictly speaking, the only thing we discover is that it seems possible for us to recognize a certain way of describing our life and our world as ours.

38Pascoli expresses this very well in a poem that once again speaks of lightning and describes what is revealed when the flash of lightning strikes, lighting up the night landscape for a moment. Pascoli wants to invite us to think of the brevity of human life, of how it begins and ends in a short time lapse, just for the time that is necessary to see that nothing was before it and nothing after. The ‘thoughts’ of imagination are very similar to our experience—they seem certain and unquestionable as long we live in our imaginings:

E cielo e terra si mostrò qual era:
la terra ansante, livida, in sussulto.
Il cielo ingombro, tragico, disfatto:
bianca bianca nel tacito tumulto
una casa apparì sparì d'un tratto;
come un occhio, che, largo, esterrefatto,
s’aprì e si chiuse, nella notte nera

(G. Pascoli, Il lampo, Myricae, 1894)

(And sky and earth revealed as it was:
the breathless, livid earth, shaking.
The sky swollen, tragic, disrupted:
white white in tacit tumult
a house appeared disappeared suddenly;
like an eye, wide and astounded,
that opened and closed, in the black night).

39Goodbye Giovanni.


  • 1 In music, as Piana writes in the concluding remarks to his Filosofia della musica, we have “the idea of a memory of the world profoundly immersed in the resonance of sound, which thus cuts through the appreciative operations of the imagination. And it is certainly up to historical and analytical research to being to light this memory, giving concrete evidence of the amazing wealth of forms in which music stands in relation to reality” (Piana 1991, 345).
  • 2 Quivi ebbe Astolfo doppia meraviglia:
    che quel paese appresso era sì grande,
    il quale a un picciol tondo rassimiglia
    a noi che lo miriam da queste bande;
    e ch'aguzzar conviengli ambe le ciglia,
    s'indi la terra e 'l mar ch'intorno spande
    discerner vuol

    (Ariosto 1982, XXXIV, 71)

    Here doubly waxed the paladin’s surprize
    To see that place so large, when viewed at hand;
    Resembling that a little hoop in size,
    When from the globe surveyed whereon we stand,
    And that he both his eyes behoved to strain,
    If he would view Earth’s circling seas and land

    (Ariosto 1910, XXXIV, 71).
  • 3 “What we consider to be our fundamental ideas concerning the world are often indications of the immaturity of our minds. Sometimes we stand in wonder before a chosen object; we build up hypotheses and reveries; in this way we form convictions which have all the appearance of true knowledge. But the initial source is impure: the first impression is not a fundamental truth. In point of fact, scientific objectivity is possible only if one has broken first with the immediate object, if one has refused to yield to the seduction of the initial choice, if one has checked and contradicted the thoughts which arise from one’s first observation. Any objective examination, when duly verified, refutes the results of the first contact with the object. To start with, everything must be called into question: sensation, common sense, usage however constant, even etymology, for words, which are made for singing and enchanting, rarely make contact with thought. Far from marvelling at the object we thought, we must treat it ironically. Without this malign vigilance, we would never adopt a truly objective attitude.” (Bachelard 1964, 2)
  • 4 “Let us think of the invention of the gear-wheel – this simple yet extraordinary object that contains the idea of all machines. Let us think of the exact moment in which the gear was invented: in that instant, as he stares at a wheel, the obscure inventor sees it grow teeth. The image is superimposed on the object, which already finds itself in the grip of a problem, as a way-stage to the solution.” (Piana 1988, 64).
  • 5 Indeed, Bachelard writes “my album of concrete metaphysics” and here the word ‘my’ does not serve so much to relativize the universal scope of the suggested images, but rather to emphasize that images always speak in the first person (cf. Bachelard 1996, 256).

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