Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Four

Bergson equated consciousness with memory. Hence duration is essentially conscious memory. The preservation of the past and the interpenetration of which Bergson wrote is enabled by memory and belongs therefore to ‘the mind’ only and not the objective world. In duration, there is no distinction between the present and the past and the emotions are paramount, entailing the addition to a present feeling of the memory of past moments.

‘Inner duration is the continuous life of a memory which prolongs the past into the present, the present either containing within it in a distinct form the ceaselessly growing image of the past, or, more probably, showing by its continual change of quality the heavier and still heavier load we drag behind us as we grow older.’1

For Bergson, there are different types of memory – memory applicable to daily existence (perception, ‘motor habits’, impulse) and memory attuned with the past (recollection). Referring to the two durations (not only do most commentators on Bergson incorrectly recognise only one – the ‘true’ or ‘inner’ duration – Bergson, as he frequently did, contradicted himself on this point) Bergson wrote of this interpenetration of memories

‘The duration wherein we see ourselves acting, and in which it is useful that we should see ourselves, is a duration whose elements are dissociated and juxtaposed. The duration wherein we act is a duration wherein our states melt into each other (my italics). It is within this that we should try to replace ourselves by thought’2

Memory is a synthesis of past and present with a view to the future and duration is resistant to law and measurement.3 Our perceptions are infused with memories and our memories are activated by what we see – ‘these two complimentary memories insert themselves each into the other.’4

‘If, in order to count states of consciousness, we have to represent them symbolically in space, is it not likely that this symbolical representation will alter the normal conditions of inner perception?…our projection of our psychic states into space in order to form a discrete multiplicity is likely to influence these states themselves and to give them in reflective consciousness a new form, which immediate perception did not attribute to them.’5

Not only do our different types of memory interpenetrate and interact in duration, any symbolic representation of this process will have further influence on our mental states. Further ‘there are always some dominant memories, shining points round which the others form a vague nebulosity.’6 On recollection, Bergson wrote

Subject and object would unite (my italics) in an extended perception, the subjective side of perception being the contraction effected by memory, and the objective reality of matter fusing with the multitudinous and successive vibrations into which the perception can be internally broken up…Questions relating to subject and object, to their distinction and their union, should be put in terms of time, rather than of space.’7

For Bergson, the synthesis performed by our consciousness of what is and what was, results in a permeation, completion and continuation.

Part four/to be continued…


1. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 40

2. H. Bergson, Matter and Memory, 1896; trans. N. Paul, W. Palmer, New York, 1988, 186. On the quality of Bergson’s thought, it is worth noting that he wrote in this book ‘there can be no question here of constructing a theory of matter’, 188

3. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 108

4. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 153

5. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 90. For Bergson, ‘space’ is a site of infinitely complex ‘mental interaction’, to which I will return.

6. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 171

7. Ibid., 70

2 thoughts on “Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Four

  1. Thanks Phil. for another clear and beautiful appraisal of an intriguing inroad to our wondrous reality and functioning. It seems to me there’s a witness, a disassociated complement to the manifesting aspects of our reality, by which we are aware of them. By the witness we may be in recognition of our self having an experience as subject, and the object that is what we experience, as well as all the aspects of our reality that we may sense and form notions about. I wonder if you have come across any consideration or concern for this aspect of our make-up or its possibility ? I feel we keep ourselves to what may be determined. You know I consider our reality and its make-up to be created and placed or projected by a whole being in reality who we as identity are not, and are a projected part. Tach


    • Hello Tach, thank you for your kind response. By ‘a witness, a disassociated complement to the manifesting aspects of our reality’ are you referring to our ability to reflect on our own thought processes? Phil


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