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Gaston Bachelard: A Philosophy of the Surreal

Zbigniew Kotowicz

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The first English-language analysis of this highly influential French philosopher's work on epistemology, poetic imagination and temporality

Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) was a seminal figure in contemporary French philosophy. Together with Michel Foucault, Georges Canguilhem and Jean Cavaillès, he shaped the ‘French epistemological’ school of philosophy of science.

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1. The New Scientific Mind
The Epistemological Rupture
The Epistemological Obstacle
The Ruses of Prejudice
Science and History
Truth, Dialectics, the Philosophy of No
Mathematics, la phénoménotechnique
Against Substance
Pythagorism (and further thoughts on la phénoménotechnique)
Some Concluding Remarks
Appendix to Chapter 1: 'Surrationalism' by Gaston Bachelard

2. The Imaginary
The Turn
The Imagining Faculty
Imagination and Violence
The Body, Hylozoism
A Psychoanalysis of a Philosophical Mind
The Four Elements
The Imaginary and Philosophy
Overcoming Pain, Overcoming Death
Masculine Death, Feminine Death

3. The Poetics of Time
The Instant
The Void
Rhythm and Vibration
Against Bergson
The Void and Nothingness
Concluding Remarks

Appendix: Bachelard and Atomism
Some Preliminary Remarks on Democritus, Epicurus and Pierre Gassendi
Democritus and Hylozoism
The Atom in Contemporary Thought
The Void
Four Atomist systems
Bachelard and Atomism (Epistemology)
Bachelard and Atomism (‘Metaphysics’)
On Philosophical Aspiration


About the Author

Zbigniew Kotowicz is research fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Science of the University of Lisbon. He spent some fifteen years working as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, mostly with R. D. Laing’s Philadelphia Association. Subsequently, he took a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Warwick. He was Wellcome Research Fellow in the History of Medicine in the Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London.


After reading Kotowicz’s book, I find that I have become intrigued by Bachelard; as much by the discontinuities and apparent contradictions as by the overall coherence… Gaston Bachelard: A Philosophy of the Surreal is a fascinating book, a pleasure to read, and a work that will provoke thought and, quite likely, disagreement. By the end it does not seem that Bachelard is any easier to pin down, but there are quite a number of moments of compelling clarity.
- J Paetkau, Useful Illusions

Kotowicz brings a truly Bachelardian spirit to this brilliant and absorbing account of his philosophy. Touching on the current of atomism that runs through much of his writing, Kotowicz shows how, for Bachelard, the mind is at peace when it is at work, and at work in creativity. From the originality of Bachelard’s analyses of scientific rationality to the wisdom of his writing on the elements, the poetic imaginary, and time, this insightful book opens up new ways to explore his thought.

- David Webb, Staffordshire University

This work will be of as much interest to the French as to the Anglophone reader. Kotowicz comes to Bachelard with a fresh look. What he has to say about Bachelard's views on history, atomism and time, as well as his closeness to a Buddhist way of thinking, will come as a surprise. A tremendous read.

- Baudouin Jurdant, Professor emeritus of the University Paris Diderot (Paris 7)

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