The Love Affair Else-where, Part II: Humans and Nests

The specific spark for the body of work I am developing over the course of my Residency at Harcourt House dates back well over a year now, to two conversations I had in quick succession, with two of my favourite poets: Catherine Owen and Jannie Edwards. Turns out, both of them had been re-reading Gaston Bachelard’s amazing work The Poetics of Space … and I had been reading some of Roger-Pol Droit‘s delightful explorations of phenomenology in his books How are Things? and 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. I had let Bachelard’s book slip from my awareness a bit, and so after great talks with Cath and Jannie, I dug into The Poetics of Space once more, after a many-years absence. The reward was great and immediate – as it had been the first time I read his words.

Bachelard has this to say about nests:

A nest, like any other image of rest and quiet, is immediately associated with the image of a simple house.

And further:

A nest-house is never young … . For not only do we come back to it, but we dream of coming back to it, the way a bird comes back to its nest, or a lamb to the fold. This sign of return marks an infinite number of daydreams, for the reason that human returning takes place in the great rhythm of human life, a rhythm that reaches back across the years, and through the dream, combats all absence.

(Boston: Beacon Press, 1994,pp.98-99)

 So here we are at the intersection of the object, memory, emotion, and space: the confluence of the human beings’ relationship to things. But there’s more to this than meets the eye, if for no other reason than this is a human response to a non-human structure. A certain amount of species-centric thinking here, to be sure, but this is a discussion of human responses and ideas, after all.

And there’s no small set of contradictions in the human response to the bird nest – the ambivalence and ambiguity of which hooked me immediately – and simply required that I do something with it. Because, as Bachelard points out quite clearly, a “nest – and this we understand right away – is a precarious thing, and yet it sets us to daydreaming of security. Why does this obvious precariousness not arrest daydreams of this kind? (pp. 102-103)

Two nests I found within days of each other this past autumn. Hardly representative of the haven and security we seek.

There’s so much in the nest-as-object that screams insecurity, loss (potential or real), absence, ephemerality. And yet … and yet. They are also objects emblematic of ingenuity (be it hard-wired genetically or not), of a certain stick-with-it-ness in the face of any number of possible negative outcomes. Perhaps it is these things to which we respond so strongly. The idea of endurance, and the security that it brings … the longevity of memory that allows room for a return or two; the capacity to “use the available materials” (my thanks here to poet Louise Gluck) to craft a place that says “safe” that says “haven” … against all odds.

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