By Nicole Morgan, CACOR member:
Allow me to introduce Bachelard through a little bit of personal history. You may skip it but please read the article, published by aeon you will find at the end of the text. It is about a French philosopher like no one. (how-gaston-bachelard-gave-the-emotions-of-home-a-philosophy)
The Angel, the Table and the Roses
It is the beginning of the summer the space of which I fill with flowers. They have been a necessity for me ever since I ventured into the sky of Ideas. I was, may be, eleven years old when, in the naive arrogance, which has long characterized me, I wrote under the pom pom roses embracing a stone wall of our garden in Dijon, What is humanity? I learned to walk more humbly among the flowers but I will stop only under a bush of lilac whose smell, it is in my will, will intoxicate my ashes as long as there will be lilacs.
In this summer 2017, my bare feet burried in hydrangeas bursting with sunshine, the question is nevertheless more intense than ever, lost in a turmoil of images and numbers which upsets the small community of philosophers challenged by the dyzzing pace of new technologies . Every concept, idea, belief, ideal, object seem to disintegrate, beginning with the very identity of humanity. It exploded the concept of reality, our stumbling block. At the best, it floats like a point of trembling lights in a cyber space animated by the quanta. On my table, rests an half open book – The End of Time, the Next Revolution of Physics — offered for my birthday by a friend, a physicist. I leafed it, reassured by the preface which describes an innocent walk among the roses of the Englisher Garten in Munich. I trot happily behind its author, the astrophysicist Julian Barbour
That said, as I am turning around a graveled path, I see it.
A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red.
I understand too late: I had crossed the mirror of Alice in Wonderland, this metaphysical masterpiece, written by a mathematician. I have avoided reading it for decades trying to focus on just one side of the mirror which dear to me since I lived there. This time it is much worse. Not only Barbour rushes me beyond the mirror that separates the real from the virtual, but there is no longer even a mirror or time. The Einstein space-time continuum evaporates into a four-dimensional nebula.
The volume of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, lost on a shelve nearby, looks ill, yellow, brittle. Me too.
For metaphysics is not for those who suffer from vertigo as I do and I cling to the table, this table which has always been given to us as an example to demonstrate there is a reality. During the sometimes interminable courses of epistemology, I had to look at this sad little table, without even a tablecloth flowered by Matisse! Mesdames et messieurs, the teacher repeated, this is Reality. He hammered with his forefinger the poor little table with such a violence that I thought she was crying. One day I inquired kindly about the shape of his knuckles adding that may be the pain he felt was the eluding principle of reality. Did I imagine it? But I think I saw a light of murder in his eyes. (I should have seen the warning since I spent the rest of my life caring for the sore finger of humanity: political philosophy).
I put the book down and Plato comes back to my mind. Plato, our greatest philosopher… Halas!
And if the Athenian was right! We would be stuck in a cavern whose walls are covered with illusory shadows of puppets manipulated by puppet players. Could it be that there was no reality in the cavern, nor even shadows of real objects? We see only shadows of artefacts. We are doomed to describe the virtual reality of caricatures of objects even when we enscrib them in numbers. For not only are we blind but we are deaf. In the cave we can not hear the sounds of the “harmonious” numbers between them that Pythagoras describes. We can hear only the faint humming of harmony-deaf computers.
By then I am fully depressed. Metaphysics has always had this effect on me which never lasted long for I have an antidote. I come back to the roses murmuring these verses that have never left me and are always on my lips.
We arrange and compose
The words of so many ways,
But how would we arrive
To match a rose?
If we bear the strange
Claim of this game,
Is that sometimes an angel
Disturbs it a little. 
They were composed by Rainer Maria Rilke, for the greatest unknown philosopher: Lou Andréas Salomé. She is known all right but for the wrong reasons: by being associated with the great men who loved her as if it were important. Lou was a philosopher of her own, passionate about metaphysics and she adored flowers.
This brings me back to the rose garden that borders my memories, that of the garden of the Arquebuse of Dijon. It borders or almost borders the Lycée Marcelle Pardé where I studied. Courses bored me to death and I spent my time drawing in that rose garden and painting behind a pile of books (I discovered that the huge Latin dictionary Gaffiot made the best screen). Came the first day of the philosophy class where it was almost necessary to drag me by my feet. During the summer I had begged my mother to enroll me at the School of Fine Arts which found my sketches refreshing but refused me for a very unfair reason: I was too young.
The Gaffiot having had its use, for I sometimes opened it, I murmured Alea jacta est
It was an autumn day, bathed in a light shivering with hues so delicate that a painter would cry. I see a bouquet of golden dahlias on the professor’s desk: Madame Milner.
She hands us, without saying a word, the poem by Rainer Maria Rilke and … I became a philosopher in a moment. Why not poet? Or painter? Or florist? Because I had understood, the time of a drop of a dew, that he answered to my question : What is humanity?
Not surprising for Madame Milner had received the poem from Gaston Bachelard, whose silhouette I have seen many times in the market of Dijon where as a very little girl I followed my mother. Dressed in a black cloak, his beard to the wind, he wanted to choose his own cheeses, discussing their maturity with a Burgundian accent carved like a vine. My loving little mother, who, having lived through two terrible wars, clung to conformity, classed him, like the chatty people in the market, into the category of mad men, respectable but mad. He was Le fou. Very soon I joined the ranks, minus the respectability, for the poor woman was desperate at the sight of this girl who did not finish growing, who walked only barefoot, who did not try to discipline her blonde mass of rebellious hair , was insane enough to have sworn she would never marry and spent her time reading books obstinately refusing to set foot in the kitchen. I was thus declared mad, a diagnosis which was confirmed later by my desire to study philosophy as one enters religion.
All this because of the rose … and the dahlias. For shortly after this memorable philosophy class, when the dahlias were scarcely fading replaced by chrysantemus, Madame Milner entered the room like a silent shadow. She went up to the platform and looked at us, her eyes filled with discreet tears. It was October 16, 1962.
Gaston Bachelard, “she murmured,” is dead. The world is no longer the same now that he no longer looks at it.
I murmured the same phrase when the wandering philosopher, Umberto Eco, closed his eyes leaving the rose of his enchanting book The Name of the Rose.
Ottawa May 2017