The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines interstice as “a space that intervenes between things, especially between closely spaced things; a gap or break in something generally continuous; a short space of time between events.”
‘You don’t need to read between the lines to understand the history of interstice; its etymology is plain to see. Interstice derives from the Latin interstitium, which is itself formed from the prefix inter-, meaning “between,” and -stes, meaning “standing.” Interstices are the cracks and crevices of life, and the word is often used for both the literal and figurative gaps of the world. In modern uses, interstice can even refer to gaps in time or to special niches in the larger expanse of something else. Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould used it, for example, to comment, “Dinosaurs held sway for 100 million years while mammals, all the while, lived as small animals in the interstices of their world.”‘
I first discovered interstices in Robert Frost’s On a Bird Singing in its Sleep:
A bird half wakened in the lunar moon
Sang halfway through its little inborn tune.
It could not have come down to us so far,
Through the interstices of things ajar,
On the long bead chain of repeated birth,
To be a bird while we are men on earth,
If singing out of sleep and dream that way
Had made it much more easily a prey.
Philosopher Gaston Bachelard maybe saw the value of getting into the “space that intervenes between closely spaced things” when he wrote “The minuscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world.”*
I’m appropriating interstice here as a sometimes tangential blog ‘found’ in the spaces between the main posts at ClimateCultures: further reflections and references, on looking through a narrow gate…
If, when you’re contributing a blog for ClimateCultures – or commenting on someone else’s – you find your mind moving outside the confines of what you’re saying, into the gaps, save that thought! If it explores a small part of the Anthropocene terrain, it might also have a home here.
* And, on a tangent, Bachelard’s book, The Poetics of Space, is one I owned but gave away before I read it. I’m reminded of this, with a pang of regret, every time I come across a quotation from it, as with the one above. I’ve no idea whether Bachelard was actually referring to interstices, but the ‘narrow gate’ seemed to fit the space…
You can read a review of The Poetics of Space in The Independent, where landscape writer Ken Worpole explains that “Bachelard was a phenomenologist, holding the view that there was a dynamic interplay between an active mind and its surroundings.” In a passage that seems to suggest something for approaches to the Anthropocene, Worpole describes his conversations with architects designing hospices:
“Architects will tell you that designing intimate buildings is much more difficult than erecting monoliths. Those I have talked to in writing a book about the new hospice movement have employed Bachelard’s vocabulary of intimacy; they have described the need to create distinct psychological thresholds between open and closed, inside and outside, arrival and departure … places of contemplation and a gathering-in of memory and self-discovery.”
So, a search to track down source of a random quotation that I’d borrowed for an interstitial blog found a connection to the larger theme of Culturing Climate Change.
Find out more:
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1958, Beacon Press new edition 1992)
Robert Frost, On a Bird Singing in its Sleep and other poems are available at The Hypertext Poems
Miriam-Webster Dictionary, Interstice
Ken Worpole, Book of a Lifetime: The Poetics of Space, The Independent 23rd April 2009