All really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home... the sheltered being gives perceptible limits to his shelter. He experiences the house in its reality and in its virtuality, by means of thought and dreams. (1)
In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard wrote that ‘all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home’. He described the interior spaces of the house – the attic, the cellar, the stairs – and the small spaces contained within it – drawers, chests and wardrobes; nooks and corners and cracks, writing ‘Our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word’. When the book was published in 1958, Bachelard was seventy-four years old. A year earlier, the Russian dog, Laika, had travelled on Sputnik 2 for seven days, and in 1961, a year before Bachelard died, Yuri Gagarin would make the first successful orbit of the Earth and return safely to the planet.
With Gagarin’s historic journey, our notions of space and the cosmos were changed for ever. Today space has grown even bigger because the coming of the internet has stretched it to mean the area covered by anything which can communicate with anything else, so that the most distant interstellar probe is as hooked into the web as the child in her classroom, and the geography they mutually inhabit is more related than we could ever have imagined.
Today we carry ‘our corner of the world’ with us wherever we go, and many of us have adapted to a life where we are seldom established permanently in one physical place. An email address has more permanence than the name of a street or building. So now we need a new book, The Poetics of the Network. Perhaps, indeed, this is that book.
The Poetics of the Network would use a different set of metaphors, in which nooks are exchanged for hubs; staircases for satellites, cellars for databases. We have an alternative mental geography now. The notion of an interconnectedness of all things has become an accepted conceptual framework for ecology, society, culture – even economics and politics. It seems that in our interconnected, technologised and information-rich world there is no longer such a need for ‘the house’ in its physical sense, since so much of that world now is miniature and portable. We are learning to be nomads again. The objects we own are foldable, replaceable or disposable. If they take up too much room, we can throw them away and buy exact replicas somewhere else. Some belongings don’t even have a material physicality – they are simply uploadable. We don’t need to store or carry them – the internet does it for us.
(1) Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958). 5.