The Hand of the Engraver

Albert Flocon Meets Gaston Bachelard

By Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
Translated by Kate Sturge

Subjects: Philosophy Of Science, History Of Philosophy, Intellectual History, Art History, History Of Science
Series: SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Hardcover : 9781438472119, 126 pages, December 2018
Paperback : 9781438472102, 126 pages, July 2019

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


Albert Flocon, Gaston Bachelard


Reveries of Earth

In Praise of Hands


On Engraving


Castles in Spain

Science, Art, Literature


A rich intellectual encounter, revolving around the hands of the experimenter and those of the artist, highlighting the relation between the sciences and the arts.


This book is the first to explore in detail the encounter between Albert Flocon and Gaston Bachelard in postwar Paris. Bachelard was a philosopher and historian of science who was also involved in literary studies and poetics. Flocon was a student of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, who specialized in copper engraving. Both deeply ingrained in the surrealist avant-garde movements, each acted at the frontiers of their respective métiers in exploring uncharted territory. Bachelard experienced the sciences of his time as constantly undergoing radical changes, and he wanted to create a historical epistemology that would live up to this experience. He saw the elementary gesture of the copper engraver—the hand of the engraver—as meeting the challenge of resistant and resilient matter in an exemplary fashion. Flocon was fascinated by Bachelard's unconventional approach to the sciences and his poetics. Together, their relationship interrogated and celebrated the interplay of hand and matter as it occurs in poetic writing, in the art of engraving, and in scientific experimentation. In the form of a double biography, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger succeeds in writing a lucid intellectual history and at the same time presents a fascinating illustrated reading of Flocon's copper engravings.

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger is Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Germany. Kate Sturge is a translator and editor based in Berlin, Germany, and Visiting Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies at Aston University, United Kingdom.


"Rheinberger is one of the premier scholars of the world in his fields, and an acknowledged expert on Bachelard. Though the book is exceptionally short, there is a wealth of learning and scholarship packed into it. The author is intimately familiar with all of the literature on the subjects he discusses, and master of the relevant primary sources and documents relating to Bachelard and Flocon. I was utterly charmed and captivated by this book, continually spurred on to read and think more." — James J. Bono, author of The Word of God and the Languages of Man: Interpreting Nature in Early Modern Science and Medicine: Ficino to Descartes