The shell, to Bachelard, is so much more than the exoskeleton of a mollusk; it is a home, skin, and an enclosed space where we hold the most precious energies of them all – ourselves. The shell is an analogy of the body, simultaneously, it is also an analogy of where we rest our bodies. Bachelard states that shells “are privileged forms that are more intelligible for the eye, even though more mysterious for the mind, than all the others we see indistinctly” (105); perhaps upon repeated exposure to our species on a daily basis, we find sanctuary and comfort in the image of a human, however, what lies beyond the human, within the shell, is always a mystery when facing a stranger. It seemed most prominent that Bachelard is referring to the soul, a portion of it “remain[ing] imprisoned […] not always tak[ing] a designated form” (108). Through imagination and meditation, he believes, a part of our soul is immersed into the world, for a brief second, until logic captures it back into our geometric shape; like a snail, we leave our shell to bask in immensity, but we always retreat back inside as a result of “fear” (110). In duality, nonetheless, the shell itself can also depict our homes, a shell, encasing a shell, incasing us. A home is something we carry, unlike a mollusk, on a metaphysical level – home is where we feel safe, where we settle, and that can change often enough for us to realize that it never generates out of materiality.
As cliché as it sounds, I had decided to read shells by the shore, assuming I would find inspiration in the aesthetics of the surrounding shells. Half-way through, I had decided to retreat home; I realized that my understanding of the text had been evolving from one of biocentricity to one of anthropocentricity, and the need to retract back into my shell was paramount. I sat on a cushion alongside shelves that displayed my mineral and rock collection; Bachelard spoke about ammonite, one of my favorite fossils, I used it as a bookmark. Gazing through its peculiar shape was a gateway into understanding the dimension of the text, in its polychromatic form and symbolism of home, I was able to appreciate Bachelard’s homage to the body. I live in a newer apartment building, constructed in 2015, the walls have no stories, I am its first inhabitant – a blank slate to paint my own history into. A history I’ve carried along with me since I was younger; a shell.
I was reminded of Alessandro Keegan’s piece Sanctuary (2017), to me, a vibrant illustration of emergence. “There is a sign of violence in all these figures in which an over-excited creature emerges from a lifeless shell” (Bachelard 111); this piece depicts just that. Foreign shapes and extraterritorial material dominate the composition, emerging from a seed-like vessel, a shell of some sort. What brings about aspects of violence is the background; muddy and assertive, convincing the audience that, behind its innocuous colors, there’s a danger to it.