The need for new imaginaries: a move towards the poetics of reverberation?
While I am writing this at the beginning of 2021, I am wondering what it means to do research that matters today: What kind of approaches to methods do we want to engage in? I am returning to the words of Arundhati Roy, published in the Financial Times in April 2020, where she wants us to see that the pandemic can be a portal to something new. Conveying her important message, she emphasizes the need to break with what we think of as “normal,” not least during these troubling times:
Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
Arundhati Roy asks us to be brave, to break with the comfortable and well known, and to be selective in terms of what we bring with us. Even though I am not sure yet what to pack into my little luggage, there are two books that I think need to go into the suitcase. Both of them contain keys to the kind of research approach that I am curious to develop further.
The first book that I open is the Intuition of the Instant, written by the philosopher Gaston Bachelard. This is the text where Bachelard for the first time writes about poetics, and he does so in relation to temporality. Just like Arundhati Roy, Gaston Bachelard emphasizes the importance of paying attention to ruptures, and to learn more about the “poetic instant,” a special moment that enables us to discover “… the becoming of others, the becoming of life, the becoming of the world” (Bachelard, 2013: 59).
What a promising invitation! But what kind of research approach can bring “poetic instants” to life and where can I learn about all these significant matters? This is where the second book comes into play: The Poetics of Space. Bachelard wrote this book toward the end of his career, a working life devoted to the development of a phenomenology of poetics. In the introduction to The Poetics of Space he spelled out the methodological foundation he had developed over the years. From reading poetry, deeply and attentively, he addressed the differences between “resonance” and “reverberation.” As I read Bachelard, “resonance” makes me think of traditional research approaches focusing on interpretations and critical inquiries that end up as descriptions of what is. “Reverberation”, on the other hand, is about an intimate poetic creation. He wrote:
The resonances are dispersed on the different planes of our life in the world, while the reverberations invite us to give greater depth to our own existence. In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own. The reverberations bring about a change of being. It is as though the poet’s being were our being (Bachelard, 2014: 7).
Reverberation is understood as a special kind of energy, to be released in research practices where we use our poetic sensibilities through a form of engagement where “the poem possesses us entirely” (Bachelard, 2014: 7). Methods approached from a distance that separate subject from object fall apart. Describing it as the “opposite of causality,” this is a cultivation of research methods rooted in deep reading and listening to the rhythm of others (p. 7). It is from this form of engagement that we can locate “a poetic power rising naively within us” (p. 8).
Inspired by the Methods Lab created at SSE, and the focus on finding new ways to make methods matter, I wonder: Can the dynamic condition of reverberation be a portal to taking the dialogue on research methods further?
Bachelard, G. 2013. Intuition of the Instant. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Bachelard, G. 2014. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.