The emergence of rhythmanalysis

Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) (source:

Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) (source:

The term "rhythmanalysis” was first introduced by Lúcio Alberto Pinheiro dos Santos (1931, as cited in Bachelard, 1950), a Brazilian philosopher whose inaccessible writings remained largely unknown. However, it is mainly through the work of the French philosophers Gaston Bachelard, and later Henri Lefebvre, that the notion got developed.

[The following section is adapted from Alhadeff-Jones, 2017, pp.180-181]

Inspired by the discoveries made in physics at the turn of the 20th century, Bachelard developed a theory of the self privileging its "undulatory" nature. Like a photon or a chemical substance, he conceived the self as temporal being that "vibrates", locating the experience of discontinuity at its core (e.g., the divided time of one’s action and the fragmented time of one’s consciousness).

Bachelard believed that the experience of discontinuity constituted the privileged way to access the understanding of time. If the life course of the individual is fundamentally divided, rhythm was conceived as what articulates the discontinuity of lived instants (Sauvanet, 2000, p. 110). For him, the feeling of continuity that humans experience is a construct made a posteriori. According to Bachelard's philosophy, time is felt through the experience of rhythms as a flexible and subjective organization of instants.

According to Bachelard, the experience of time is not grounded in the measurement of objective changes, such as those symbolized by a clock or a calendar. It emerges from the human capacity to relate successive and discontinuous instants of one's life. The feeling of experiencing continuity throughout one's life is a construct and, as such, it requires one to process the tensions experienced on a daily basis. Accordingly, the evolution of the self is conceived as “undulatory”, as a fabric made of tensions (e.g., successes and mistakes, forgetting and remembering) (Bachelard, 1950, p. 142).

Thus, rhythmanalysis aims at finding "patterns of duality" (motifs de dualité) for the mind to balance them (Bachelard, 1950, p. 141) beyond a dualistic logic. Doing so, it may carry some form of healing power. Bachelard's rhythmanalysis aims therefore at freeing ourselves from contingent agitations through the analysis of lived temporalities and the purposeful choice of lived rhythms. As stressed by Sauvanet (2000, p. 107), it does not involve for Bachelard a relationship between an analyst and a patient; it requires loneliness through which an individual self-analyzes oneself through the use of media, such as literary works, which help symbolize and interpret one’s own experience.

If Bachelard was the first one to consider rhythm as a philosophical concept, his approach remains nevertheless mostly metaphorical (Sauvanet, 2000, p. 100). His main contribution is that it draws an ethical framework and formulates valuable intuitions regarding the role played by introspection in regard to rhythmic experience. As he never formalized it, Bachelard’s rhythmanalysis is not a theory per se; it should rather be conceived as a “creative exercise” (Sauvanet, 2000, p. 101). The power of his intuitions relies on the assumption that the unicity of the self requires an ongoing work of self-elaboration that purposefully organizes lived instants into rhythms to tolerate and organize – rather than reduce – the tensions and contradictions they may carry.

Pursuing Bachelard's intuition

Considering the development of rhythmanalysis as a method, the focus on "patterns of duality" experienced in the everyday life, as much as throughout the lifespan, seems critical to analyze. Concretely, it suggests one to pay attention to the alternance between various activities, states of mind, dispositions, moods, emotions, as they may relate to each other. Rhythms emerge from the recognition of the patterns that link such experiences with each other. From an educational perspective, the methodological challenge appears therefore to establish how someone can learn to identify such patterns, what resources are required to proceed, and how such a capacity can be fostered.