Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Bachelard, Manovich, and the Poetics of Space (Augmented or Otherwise)

Hello everyone—here is a brief summary and attempted synthesis of the Bachelard and Manovich readings, with a few questions for discussion at the end. Looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and impressions in class! – Seb

Following the past two weeks’ discussions of world-building and the design of emotion, Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) bridges the two topics by examining the emotional relationship between a space and the individual who occupies it. The Poetics of Space (1958) explores how imagination fills a space with spirit and meaning, and reciprocally, how the space evokes feeling, memory, and fantasy in its occupant’s imagination.

Though Bachelard was a philosopher of science, he understood that empiricism was a poor means by which to understand subjective emotional experience, and so in The Poetics of Space he adopts the role of phenomenologist. Phenomenology is the philosophical study of affect, perception, and cognition—that is, of consciousness—as experienced in the first-person. Bachelard’s phenomenology gives primacy to the imagination because it is inextricable from perception and cognition: a single sensory stimulus can trigger an array of associations, memories, and synesthetic images. “But a whiff of perfume,” writes Bachelard (2014), “or even the slightest odor, can create an entire environment in the world of the imagination” (p. 189). Because perception stimulates the imagination, consciousness itself is productive, and productive of being: “being as incessant birthing of newness through images” (Richard Kearney 2014, p. 16).

This imaginative production, for Bachleard, means that to experience a space, we can never experience it as only a space. We are never merely in a space, reduced to its bare physical dimensions. Our experiences, our memories, our speculations, our imaginations are always layered atop the space because we bring them with us: we inhabit the space. “Inhabited space transcends geometrical space” (Bachelard 2014, 82).

In illustrating the phenomenological experience of space (i.e. the transcendence of geometric space), Bachelard considers various commonplace settings and objects as they become poetically transformed in his imagination. Bachelard (2014) depicts a house as a “community of memory and image” (49), divided into the Freudian triumvirate of attic/ego, ground-floor/superego, and basement/id (Bachelard 2014, p. 58). He sees drawers and boxes that are full of secrets as long as they are closed, but hollow and bare as soon as they are opened: “it is always more enriching to imagine,” Bachelard reminds us, “than to experience” (115). Likewise, as long as the house is empty, it is filled with an intimacy, a solitude—that is, a oneness, filling the whole space until there is no more inside or outside, only the unitary intimacy and immensity of the universe, and “all the universe… is ‘annexed to inner space’” (Bachelard 2014, 211).

For Bachelard, to be is to imagine, and to imagine is to imagine otherwise; thus, to be in a space is to imagine it otherwise. As long as it is lived in, a space is not a static arrangement of surfaces of given physical dimensions; it is a site of contingent relations, a dynamic document of human life, within and upon which multiple layers of activity, affect, and information operate at once.

Thus, the phenomenology of Bachelard’s poetic space uncannily resembles Lev Manovich’s description of augmented space. There as well, the boundaries are fluid, the scales are relative, localization occurs on overlapping fields, and sense-making is immaterial. But there is one crucial difference: none of this is imaginary. Augmented space is the overlay of physical space with three technological applications, surveillance, cellspace (i.e. mobile, wireless, or location-based media), and electronic displays. Taken together, Manovich (2006) says, these technological overlays “make physical space into data-space: extracting data from it (surveillance) or augmenting it with data (cellspace, computer displays)” (222).

Because of differences between physical spaces, its occupants, and the flows of data between the two, the operative depth of data-space is dynamic and inconstant. Manovich suggests that this depth can be measured between the poles of total immersion and relatively superficial augmentation (Manovich 2006, 225). Yet the reach of the technologies of augmentation is already so vast that it proposes totalization: “GPS, wireless location services, surveillance technologies, and other augmented space technologies all define dataspace—if not in practice, then at least in theory—as a continuous field that completely extends over, and fills in, all of physical space” (Manovich 2006, 228).

Bachelard (2014) offered the term topoanalysis as “the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives” (51). Augmented space tweaks Bachelard’s concept to recast topoanalysis as the infometric study of our intimate lives within a given site. Bachelard (2014) wanted our living spaces to be understood as “tool[s] for analysis of the human soul” (45). Augmented space, on the other hand, is a tool for the analysis of human behaviour. As Manovich (2006) reminds us, “The close connection between surveillance/monitoring and assistance/augmentation is one of the key characteristics of a high-tech society. […] augmented space is also monitored space” (222-223).

Questions for Discussion:

  • Does a space lose its poetry when human desire and volition is rendered as data?
  • When a space loses its physical fixity and gains a relational intelligence, do we still relate to it as a space or as something else?
  • Is augmented space, to use Bachelard’s word, haunted?
  • What about the phenomenological experience of a space can be captured and stored as data? What cannot?
  • When constructing a new space (cinematic, virtual, augmented, or physical), do we begin at the macro (i.e. world-building) and work downward to produce a subject who is ideally suited or “native” to that space? Or do we begin, as Bachelard might, by positing an individual subject and building a world around them to suit their needs, desires, etc.?

References:

  • Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space (translated by Maria Jolas; introduction by Richard Kearney). New York: Penguin, 2014. (E-book edition)
  • Manovich, Lev. “The poetics of augmented space.” Visual Communication, 5 (2), 2006, 219-240.

Tue, October 10 2017 » Manovich, augmented reality, seminar summaries

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