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Spontaneous Combustions

The Psychoanalysis of FireBachelard text

“In my youth, at the time of the great winter festivals, they used to prepare a brûlot (brandy burnt with sugar). My father would pour into a wide dish some marc-brandy produced from our own vineyard. In the center he would place pieces of broken sugar, the biggest ones in the sugar bowl. As soon as the match touched the tip of the sugar, a blue flame would run down to the surface of the alcohol with a little hiss. My mother would extinguish the hanging lamp. It was the hour of mystery, a time when a note of seriousness was introduced into the festivity. Familiar faces, which suddenly seemed strange in their ghastly paleness, were grouped about the round table. From time to time the sugar would sputter before its pyramid collapsed; a few yellow finger would sparkle at the edges of the long pale flames. If the flames wavered and flickered, father would stir at the brûlot with an iron spoon. The spoon would come out sheathed in fire like an instrument of the devil. Then we would “theorize”: to blow out the flames too late would make the brûlot too sweet; to put them out too soon would mean concentrating less fire and consequently diminishing the beneficent action of the brûlot against influenza. One of the watchers would tell of a brûlot that burned down to the last drop. Another would tell about the fire at the distillery when the barrels of rum “exploded like barrels of gunpowder,” an explosion at which no one was ever present. At all costs we were bent on finding an objective and general meaning for this exceptional phenomenon … Finally the brûlot would be in my glass: hot and sticky, truly an essence.”

Read by V. Hardy
Bachelard, Gaston. The Psychoanalysis of Fire. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

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The Critical Theory and Creative Research Collective is devoted to socio-political critique, including the rethinking and recalibration of unstable, fast-changing relations between machine-generated data and human experience, theory and practice, the possible and the real, time and judgment, process and end-driven behavior. Its members include Anne-Marie Oliver, Barry Sanders, Marie-Pierre Hasne, Joan Handwerg, Nicole Smith, Marshall Astor, Carmen Denison, Peter Falanga, Andre Fortes, Dustin Freemont, Val Hardy, Lauren Heagerty, Hannah Horovitz, Evangelina Owens, Mel Ponis, Kevin Smith, Mohammed Usrof, Brooke Wendt, and Chloé Womack.

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