An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

“The Psychoanalysis of Fire”

Posted by xbanguyen on August 12, 2009

A  low power design technique known as clock gating is simple, almost  zen-like: if you don’t need a particular function in a circuit then keep it still by turning off its clock.   Static power used to be  insignificant compared to dynamic power. However, as we advance deeper and deeper into sub-micron territory,  sub-threshold leakage causes the amount of static power dissipation to increase exponentially.   While I think it is necessary to find ways to reduce power consumption for obvious reasons, I wonder if it can make an engineer harbor a longing for the other extreme.  I am thinking of thermal attraction in the literal sense, of the pyromantic images evoked by that primal force, fire.  This brings  Gaston Bachelard’s  “The Psychoanalysis Of Fire” to mind.  It takes an astonishing book to psychoanalyze such force:

“If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and it is universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky. It rises from the depths of the substance and offers itself with the warmth of love. Or it can go back down into the substance and hide there, latent and pent-up, like hate and vengeance. Among all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell. It is gentleness and torture. It is cookery and it is apocalypse.”

It is also presumptuous of me to feel a kinship for the writer of the above passage, a professor of philosophy, chemistry and physics at the same time, but it does not stop me from doing so.  And I fell head over heels for his other books.  How could I not with titles like  On Imagination And Reverie, The Poetics of Space? It was the last book that led me to this  Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem.

What skies are mirrored

within the inner lake

of these open roses?

They can barely stand by themselves

many swollen to the point of bursting

overflow with inner space

into days which enclose

an ever vaster fullness

until the entire summer becomes

a chamber within a dream.

To me the poem exudes a heady, almost voluptuous, opulence.  And have you noticed how often summer recurs in these few posts of mine?  Perhaps I too have been consumed by the warmth we enjoyed in the recent past.

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