Phenomenology 2010

Volume 5, Issue Part 2, 2010

Selected Essays from North America Part 2

David Seamon
Pages 225-243

Gaston Bachelard’s Topoanalysis in the 21st Century
The Lived Reciprocity between Houses and Inhabitants as Portrayed by American Writer Louis Bromfield

This article contributes to phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard’s call for topoanalysis by examining houses and inhabitation depicted in two works by American writer Louis Bromfield (1896-1956). The first work considered is “The Hands of God,” a 1939 short story that recounts the defilement of a 300-year-old Basque farmhouse. The second work considered is Bromfield’s last novel, the 1951 Mr. Smith, which depicts the unraveling, pre-World-War-II home life of Wolcott Ferris, a conventional Midwestern, middle-class husband and father. These two works demonstrate how, regularly in his creative efforts, Bromfield depicted a lived reciprocity whereby house and inhabitants mutually sustain and reflect each other, sometimes in positive ways that facilitate engagement and care; at other times, in negative ways that intimate or spur personal or social dissolution. The article concludes by considering implications for phenomenological research on houses and homes in the 21st century. The argument is made that, on one hand, inhabitation involves a lived whole unified by its total character. On the other hand, inhabitation involves a lived dialectic founded in a twofold significance involving internal diversity versus external connectedness. In both these inner and outer relationships, there are “sustaining” and “undermining” situations—e.g., the home as a place of comfort and regeneration versus the home as a place of unease, vulnerability, or conflict. Most broadly, the perspective argued for here looks inward toward the uniqueness of particular homes and inhabitations but also recognizes that they are integrally related outwardly to the world beyond, including other places, the broader societal context, and global interconnectedness.