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

Pablo Picasso, Still LIfe with a Bottle of Rum, 1911, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image, Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso, Still LIfe with a Bottle of Rum, 1911, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image, Wikipedia)

The importance of Bergson’s philosophy to an understanding of the development of abstraction and early twentieth century Modernism cannot be overstated. The similarity in the treatment of form woven into pictorial space in the art of Cubism, Futurism, Cubo-Futurism and Rayonnism (Rayism) in particular, find their connection here. Obviously, my substantiation of this assertion will be central to my thesis. As I have stated previously, this essay is essentially an explication, owing to the subject’s neglect, of Bergson’s philosophy.

The following are two substantial quotations which, I think, have immense bearing on my subject. The first deals with the inadequacy of perception for grasping truth, the second details the process required for bringing duration to consciousness

‘That there are, in a sense, multiple objects, that one man is distinct from another man, tree from tree, stone from stone, is an indisputable fact…But the separation between a thing and its environment cannot be absolutely definite and clear-cut; there is a passage by insensible gradations from the one to the other: the close solidarity which binds all the objects of the material universe, the perpetuality of their reciprocal actions and reactions, is sufficient to prove that they have not the precise limits which we attribute to them.’1

Georges Braque, 1910, Violin and Candlestick, oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Image, Wikipedia

Georges Braque, 1910, Violin and Candlestick, oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. (Image, Wikipedia)

‘Matter (separate from consciousness) thus resolves itself into numberless vibrations, all linked together in uninterrupted continuity, all bound up with each other and travelling in every direction like shivers through an immense body. In short, try first to connect together the discontinuous objects of daily experience; then resolve the motionless continuity of their qualities into vibrations on the spot; finally fix your attention on these movements, by abstracting from the divisible space which underlies them and considering only their mobility (that undivided act which our consciousness becomes aware of in our own movements): You will thus obtain a vision of matter, fatiguing perhaps for your imagination, but pure, and freed from all that the exigencies of life compel you to add to it in external perception. Now bring back consciousness…At long, very long, intervals, and by as many leaps over enormous periods of the inner history of things, quasi-instantaneous views will be taken, views which this time are bound to be pictorial, and of which the more vivid colours will condense an infinity of elementary repetitions and changes. In just the same way the multitudinous successive positions of a runner are contracted into a single symbolic attitude, which our eyes perceive, which art reproduces and which becomes for us all the image of a man running…The change is everywhere, but inward; we localise it here and there, but outwardly’2

Pablo Picasso, 1909-10, Head of a Woman (Fernande), bronze, Blue Mountain Project, Princeton University. Image, Wikipedia

Pablo Picasso, 1909-10, Head of a Woman (Fernande), bronze, Blue Mountain Project, Princeton University. (Image, Wikipedia)

The point Bergson made regarding our perception and the artist’s depiction of a man running differs from Plato on an artist’s representation in that the former deals with an action and the latter with an object. But both the perception of the action and the reproduction of the object amount to partial representations of a standard which exists in a  higher,  absolute  and  eternal  reality.3

On the purely physical aspect of perception, Bergson wrote that the cells of our eyes break down into thousands of squares our perception of an artist’s painting and that our final perception is a recomposition of the work into a united whole.4 Again, evolution itself is a process of fragmentation. It proceeds like a shell burst which in turn becomes further fragments. ‘We perceive only what is nearest to us, namely, the scattered movements of the pulverised explosions.’5 He wrote of the explosive force which life bears within it.

Part ten/to be continued…

Notes

1. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 209.

2. Ibid., 208.

3. See note 56.

4. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 70.

5. Ibid., 70.

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