Plant on Hegel: the importance of praxis to knowledge


Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, oil on canvas, 1849. Destroyed, Dresden, Germany, 1945.

Theoretical mind is the attempt of the self-conscious person to take possession of the world through the exercise of the intellect, but Hegel argues that without the supplement of practical activity such a grasp cannot be achieved. In practical activity man transforms objects and once they are thus transformed by human activity, the products can be appropriated by the human intelligence. Full self-consciousness is achieved when the mind can fully elucidate its own relationship to the world in practical activity. This is a point of crucial importance. A conceptual grasp of an object can only be attained when that object has been formed and structured by human praxis

Accordingly, full self-consciousness is achieved when man can have a full grasp of the kinds of transformations which he has effected through his practical activity on a world which is not the mere product of his mind, but which can be shaped by his will, this process at the same time contributing to his own development as a person.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 151-2


Lenin: the theory of knowledge of dialectical materialism

Sensations and Complexes of Sensations

For every scientist who has not been led astray by professorial philosophy, as well as for every materialist, sensation is indeed the direct connection between consciousness and the external world; it is the transformation of the energy of external excitation into the fact of consciousness. This transformation has been, and is, observed by each of us a million times on every hand. The sophism of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a fence, a wall, separating consciousness from the external world – not an image of the external phenomenon corresponding to the sensation, but as the “sole entity”. Avenarius gave but a slightly changed form to this old sophism, which had been already worn threadbare by Bishop Berkeley. Since we do not yet know all the conditions of the connection we are constantly observing between sensation and matter organised in a definite way, let us therefore acknowledge the existence of sensation alone – that is what the sophism of Avenarius amounts to.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, 38


Part one/to be continued…


What is Man?

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Vitruvian Man, c. 1490. Pen, ink and wash on paper, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venezia

And from the first animals were developed, essentially by further differentiation, the numerous classes, orders, families, genera, and species of animals; and finally vertebrates, the form in which the nervous system attains its fullest development; and among these again finally that vertebrate in which nature attains consciousness of itself – man.

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 33


Hegel: cognition and the observer effect

It is a natural assumption that in philosophy, before we start to deal with its proper subject-matter, viz. the actual cognition of what truly is, one must first of all come to an understanding about cognition, which is regarded either as the instrument to get hold of the Absolute, or as the medium through which one discovers it. A certain uneasiness seems justified, partly because there are different types of cognition, and one of them might be more appropriate than another for the attainment of this goal, so that we could make a bad choice of means; and partly because cognition is a faculty of a definite kind and scope, and thus, without a more precise definition of its nature and limits, we might grasp clouds of error instead of the heaven of truth. This feeling of uneasiness is surely bound to be transformed into the conviction that the whole project of securing for consciousness through cognition what exists in itself is absurd, and that there is a boundary between cognition and the Absolute that completely separates them. For, if cognition is the instrument for getting hold of absolute being, it is obvious that the use of an instrument on a thing certainly does not let it be what it is for itself, but rather sets out to reshape and alter it. If, on the other hand, cognition is not an instrument of our activity but a more or less passive medium through which the light of truth reaches us, then again we do not receive the truth as it is in itself, but only as it exists through and in this medium. Either way we employ a means which immediately brings about the opposite of its own end; or rather, what is really absurd is that we should make use of a means at all.

It would seem, to be sure, that this evil could be remedied through an acquaintance with the way in which the instrument works; for this would enable us to eliminate from the representation of the Absolute which we have gained through it whatever is due to the instrument, and thus get the truth in its purity. But this ‘improvement’ would in fact only bring us back to where we were before. If we remove from a reshaped thing what the instrument has done to it, then the thing – here the Absolute – becomes for us exactly what it was before this [accordingly] superfluous effort. On the other hand, if the Absolute is supposed merely to be brought nearer to us through this instrument, without anything in it being altered, like a bird caught by a lime-twig, it would surely laugh our little ruse to scorn, if it were not with us, in and for itself, all along, and of its own volition. For a ruse is just what cognition would be in such a case, since it would, with its manifold exertions, be giving itself the air of doing something quite different from creating a merely immediate and therefore effortless relationship. Or, if by testing cognition, which we conceive of as a medium, we get to know the law of its refraction, it is again useless to subtract this from the end result. For it is not the refraction of the ray, but the ray itself whereby truth reaches us, that is cognition; and if this were removed, all that would be indicated would be a pure direction or a blank space.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V. Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 46-47


How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

Kant wrote: ‘…the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever undiscovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).

The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…



1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

Lenin: the recent revolution in natural science, and philosophical idealism – part two

Every particle exhibits the properties of both particles and waves.

Every particle exhibits the properties of both particles and waves.

The Crisis in Modern Physics

In his book Value of Science (Valeur de la science), the famous French physicist Henri Poincaré says that there are “signs of a serious crisis” in physics, and he devotes a special chapter to this crisis (Chap. VIII, cf. p. 171). The crisis is not confined to the fact that “radium, the great revolutionary”, is undermining the principle of the conservation of energy. “All the other principles are equally endangered” (180). For instance, Lavoisier’s principle, or the principle of the conservation of mass, has been undermined by the electron theory of matter. According to this theory atoms are composed of very minute particles called electrons, which are charged with positive or negative electricity and “are immersed in a medium which we call the ether”. The experiments of physicists provide data for calculating the velocity of the electrons and their mass (or the relation of their mass to their electric charge). The velocity proves to be comparable with the velocity of light (300,000 kilometres per second), attaining, for instance, one-third of the latter. Under such circumstances the twofold mass of the electron has to be taken into account, corresponding to the necessity of overcoming the inertia, firstly, of the electron itself and, secondly, of the ether. The former mass will be the real or mechanical mass of the electron, the latter the “electrodynamic mass which represents the inertia of the ether”. And it turns out that the former mass is equal to zero. The entire mass of the electrons, or, at least, of the negative electrons, proves to be totally and exclusively electrodynamic in its origin. Mass disappears. The foundations of mechanics are undermined. Newton’s principle, the equality of action and reaction, is undermined, and so on.

We are faced, says Poincaré, with the “ruins” of the old principles of physics, “a general debacle of principles”. It is true, he remarks, that all the mentioned departures from principles refer to infinitesimal magnitudes; it is possible that we are still ignorant of other infinitesimals counteracting the undermining of the old principles. Moreover, radium is very rare. But at any rate we have reached a “period of doubt”. We have already seen what epistemological deductions the author draws from this “period of doubt”: “it is not nature which imposes on [or dictates to] us the concepts of space and time, but we who impose them on nature”; “whatever is not thought, is pure nothing”. These deductions are idealist deductions. The break-down of the most fundamental principles shows (such is Poincaré’s trend of thought) that these principles are not copies, photographs of nature, not images of something external in relation to man’s consciousness, but products of his consciousness. Poincaré does not develop these deductions consistently, nor is he essentially interested in the philosophical aspect of the question.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 233-234



Part two/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd

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

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Antliff wrote that the Symbolist poet Tancrède de Visan (who had begun attending Bergson’s lectures before 1904 and who wrote the first extended discussion of the theoretical parallels between Bergson’s philosophy and Symbolism) was the primary Bergsonian theorist within Cubist circles.1 Green thought the Cubists became familiar with Bergson’s theories through the writing of Jules Romains.2 Antliff dates Romains’ familiarity with Bergson to 1906 or earlier.

Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du “Cubisme”, Eugène Figuière Editeurs, 1912

Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du “Cubisme”, Eugène Figuière Editeurs, 1912

In 1911 Alexandre Mercereau affirmed Bergson’s support for Cubism (Vers et Prose, no. 27, October-December, 1913, 39). At the same time André Salmon wrote on Bergson and the Cubists (Paris-Journal, November 29, 1911). Émile Blanche wrote that Bergson was interested in Cubism in 1912 and that the Cubists encouraged that interest, at least Gleizes and Metzinger in the period they wrote Du Cubisme.3 Salmon wrote that Bergson tentatively agreed to write a preface for the catalogue to the Section d’Or exhibition in 1912 (‘La Section d’Or’, Gil Blas, June 22, 1912).

Yet the Cubists appear to have been much more aware of Bergson than he of them, although this too is most probably more complex than it seems.4 For example, Bergson’s difficulty in accepting the Cubists’ radical application of his philosophy to art could have to do with a possible reticence in acknowledging awareness of their work. In an interview published in L’Intransigeant (Paris, November 26, 1911) Bergson stated he had never seen Cubist art. In 1913 he criticised the Cubists for analysing artistic practice instead of intuitively performing it.5 In the same year he said he could not understand a word of Gleizes’ and Metzinger’s writing on Cubism and that he had never seen a Cubist painting before that year.6 Fry wrote that Mercereau was only one of the first among many defenders of Cubism to declare that Bergson had given his approval to it and that Bergson did not agree to write the preface Salmon claimed he did.7

A connection between Picasso, Braque and Bergson was, to my knowledge so far, not admitted by the artists, but on their behalf by fellow artists and critics. Yet there is very strong circumstantial evidence to support the connection, in addition to an analysis of their work and the consciousness with which they marketed it. Picasso from his youth had a fascination for Nietzsche (like so many artists and writers of the time) and there was much in common between the theories of Nietzsche and Bergson. Picasso’s admiration for Jarry and his friendship with Apollinaire would have been two more direct connections with Bergson’s philosophy. Again, Salmon was photographed in Picasso’s studio with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Three Women in 1908.8

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, oil and oilcloth on canvas with rope frame, Musée Picasso, Paris

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, oil and oilcloth on canvas with rope frame, Musée Picasso, Paris


1. ‘Bergson and Cubism: A  Reassessment’, op. cit., 342

2. Ibid.

3. J. Blanche, Portraits of a Lifetime, New York, 1938, 244-45 in The Relevance of Bergson op. cit., 8

4. For my subject, the interest of the former in the latter is of far greater importance.

5. ‘The Relevance of Bergson’, op. cit., 1

6. G. Beck, ‘Movement and Reality: Bergson and Cubism’, The Structurist, op. cit., 110

7. Cubism, op. cit., 67

8. Reproduced in Cubism, op. cit., facing p. 17


This essay was written during my enrolment at the College of Fine Arts (now UNSW Art & Design), the University of New South Wales, towards a thesis on the impact of Neoplatonism on Cubism. I did not complete my thesis which, in effect, addressed the basis for an entire cultural re-reading and a turn to intellectual honesty in Western culture with regard to the profound and continuing influence of mysticism on it, terminating my enrolment after years of commitment in 1999 in disgust at the time-serving ignorance, hypocrisy, hostility and abuse I experienced at the College.

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Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

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

Bergson’s view of man as a creator, above the approval of fellow humanity, reads as Nietzschean. In Mind – Energy he wrote ‘the joy he feels is the joy of a god.’1 He equated this person with ‘superman’2 – in Nietzsche’s philosophy the higher state of Übermensch embodies the ‘will to power’ and creation.

Another parallel between these two philosophies is that just as creative intuition entails a willed effort to transcend logical patterns of thought, Bergson’s élan vital and Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ both represent a struggle to gain freedom from the social and material environment. Bergson also distinguished between the artist or poet and ‘the common herd.’3 He wrote that the aim of art is to lay bare the secret and tragic element in our character,4 and that ‘True  pity consists  not  so much in fearing suffering as in desiring it.’5

Bergson wrote that the ‘inward states’ of creative emotion are the most intense as well as the most violent.6 His words ‘for what interests us in the work of the poet is the glimpse we get of certain profound moods or inner struggles’7 are closely echoed in those Picasso used with regard to Cézanne and Van Gogh.

‘It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is…What forces our interest is Cézanne’s anxiety – that’s Cézanne’s lesson; the torments of Van Gogh – that is the actual drama of the man. The rest is a sham.’8

Bergson held that the object of art is to put to sleep the resistance of the viewer’s personality (a spiritualised hypnosis), to bring the viewer ‘into a state of perfect responsiveness, in which we realise the idea that is suggested to us and sympathise with the feeling that is expressed.’9 To provoke an intuitive response, the elements of the canvas must first arouse the viewer’s emotions and sensitivity to the flow of true duration.10 This can be achieved in a number of ways. Devices include the rhythmical arrangement and effect of line and words

Juan Gris. Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth, 1915, Private collection

Juan Gris. Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth, 1915, Private collection

‘it is the emotion, the original mood, to which they (artists) attain in its undefiled essence. And then, to induce us to make the same effort ourselves they contrive to make us see something of what they have seen: by rhythmical arrangement of words.’11

Bergson also gave the example of letters (of words) which are parts of a poem which one knows, but randomly mixed. Because one knows the poem, one can immediately reconstitute the poem as a whole. This is an example of the reconstitution of the real parts of intuition (and metaphysics), distinct from the partial notations of analysis and the positive sciences, which cannot be reconstituted.

It was Bergson’s philosophy that the Cubists drew on in their use not only of material not previously associated with art (sand, wallpaper etc.) but also of part words and lettering.

‘Now beneath all the sketches he has made at Paris the visitor will probably, by way of memento, write the word “Paris”. And as he has really seen Paris, he will be able, with the help of the original intuition he had of the whole, to place his sketches therein, and so join them up together.’12 Negation also affirms and suggests aspects of an object.13

Another device is the conveyance of the notion of passage. The technique of passage derives from Cézanne, but its stimulus may well lie in Bergson’s philosophy.14 Not only did Cubism develop on this, a similar treatment can be seen in art contemporary with it and which has established connections with Bergson’s philosophy – that of Gleizes, Metzinger, the Futurists and Delaunay.15 Bergson wrote of flexibility, mobility, ‘almost fluid representations, always ready to mould themselves on the fleeting forms of intuition.’16 Evocative of the refined and far more relaxed methods of so-called Synthetic Cubism are Bergson’s words ‘Intuition, bound up to a duration which is growth, perceives in it an uninterrupted continuity of unforeseeable novelty.’17

Pablo Picasso, 'Ma Jolie', 1913-14, oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis (Image, Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso, ‘Ma Jolie’, 1913-14, oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis

‘So art, whether it be painting or sculpture, poetry or music, has no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalities, in short, everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself…realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul and…it is only through ideality that we can resume contact with reality.’18

Bergson’s entire philosophy, and the fundamental problem with it, lies in his distinction between the ‘mind’ (consciousness) and the brain, between subjective reality and objective reality. This is encapsulated in the following

‘That there is a close connection between a state of consciousness and the brain we do no dispute. But there is also a close connection between a coat and the nail on which it hangs, for if the nail is pulled out, the coat falls to the ground. Shall we say, then, that the shape of the nail gives us the shape of the coat, or in any way corresponds to it? No more are we entitled to conclude, because the physical fact is hung onto a cerebral state, that there is any parallelism between the two series psychical and physiological.’19

Georges Braque. Pitcher and Violin, 1910

Georges Braque, Violin and Pitcher, 1910

It is my contention that it was very likely to this most fundamental of philosophical issues than a play on illusion that the nail in Braque’s Pitcher and Violin 1909-10, referred. As Bergson and Braque would have been aware – a lot hangs on it.

Part thirteen/to be continued…


1. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 114

2. Ibid., 101, from Creative Evolution, op. cit.

3. Laughter, op. cit., 151

4. Ibid., 160

5. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 19

6. Laughter, op. cit., 158

7. Ibid., 166

8. From an interview with M. de Zayas in Theories of Modern Art, op. cit., 272

9. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 14

10. Antliff wrote that for Bergson, the provocation of an intuition depends on the activation of the beholder’s subliminal ‘mind’.

11. Laughter, op. cit., 156

12. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 33

13. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 288

14. See G. Hamilton, ‘Cézanne, Bergson and the Image of Time’ Art Journal, xvi, Fall, 1956, 2-12

15. See Antliff on the use of passage to evoke the apprehension of the dynamism of form. Definition was not sought but suggestion ‘so that the mind of the spectator is the chosen place of their concrete birth.’ Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 52

16. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 198

17. Ibid., 39

18. Laughter, op. cit., 157

19. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 13

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

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

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Mona Lisa, oil on poplar wood, 1503-1506, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Mona Lisa, oil on poplar wood, 1503-1506, Musée du Louvre, Paris

*   *   *

In ‘The Life and Work of Félix Ravaisson’ (1904) Bergson praised da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as an example of artistic intuition (da Vinci’s experience of his model) in which the line, form and colour lead us ‘toward a virtual centre located behind the image.’1 By entering into or identifying with a character

‘out of that indivisible feeling, as from a spring, all the words, gestures and actions of the man would appear to me to flow naturally…The character would be given to me all at once, in its entirety…Symbols and points of view…place me outside him; they give me only what he has in common with others and not what belongs to him and to him alone…his essence cannot be perceived from without…nor be expressed by symbols…Coincidence with the person himself would alone give me the absolute. It is in this sense and in this sense only, that absolute in synonymous with perfection.’2

 While an image cannot replace the intuition of duration, a mix of distinct but balanced images can work together to stimulate a viewer to make the necessary effort to achieve an intuition.

‘many different images, taken from quite different orders of things, will be able, through the convergence of their action, to direct consciousness to the precise point where this is a certain intuition to seize on. By choosing images as dissimilar as possible, any one of them will be prevented from usurping the place of the intuition it is instructed to call forth, since it would then be driven away at once by its rivals. By seeing that in spite of their differences in aspect they all demand of the mind the same kind of attention and, as it were, the same degree of tension, one will gradually accustom consciousness to a particular and definitely determined disposition, precisely the one it will have to adapt to…to produce the desired effort and, by itself, arrive at the intuition.’3

Georges Braque, 1910, La guitare (Mandora, La Mandore) oil on canvas, Tate Modern, London (Image, Wikipedia)

Georges Braque, 1910, La guitare (Mandora, La Mandore) oil on canvas, Tate Modern, London (Image, Wikipedia)

The ‘austere’ and subtle use of tonality by Picasso and Braque in their so-called Analytic Cubism (and less capably by other Cubists) may derive from Bergson’s philosophy in order to not only focus the viewer’s attention on geometric form and space but to convey interpenetration and the ‘greyness’ of duration.

‘philosophy consists precisely in this, that by an effort of intuition one places oneself within that concrete reality, of which the Critique (of Pure Reason) takes from without the two opposed views, thesis and antithesis. I could never imagine how black and white interpenetrate if I had never seen grey; but once I have seen grey I easily understand how it can be considered from two points of view, that of white and that of black.’4

 For Bergson, artistic practice ‘aims at impressing feelings on us rather than expressing them (my emphases), it suggests them to us, and willingly dispenses with the imitation of nature when it finds some more efficacious means.’5 The artist aims at sharing his emotion with the viewer ‘so rich, so personal, so novel and at enabling us to experience what he cannot make us understand.’6 Bergson regarded  emotion  as transcendent. As Deleuze wrote, it ‘is like the God in us.’7

‘emotion is creative (first because it expresses the “whole of creation, then because it creates the work in which it is expressed; and finally because it communicates a little of this creativity to spectators or hearers.’8

Consider the use of musical instruments and notation in Cubist art, in the light of Bergson’s words

‘When music cries, it is humanity, it is the whole of nature which cries with it. Truly speaking, it does not introduce these feelings in us; it introduces us rather into them, like the passers-by that might be nudged in a dance.’9

Georges Braque, 1912, The Violin (Mozart-kubelick), oil on canvas, private collection, Basel, Switzerland (Image, Wikipedia)

Georges Braque, 1912, The Violin (Mozart-kubelick), oil on canvas, private collection, Basel, Switzerland (Image, Wikipedia)

For Bergson, this creative emotion is precisely a cosmic Memory that liberates man from ‘mere’ duration in order to make him a creator, through whom flows the whole movement of creation.10

‘This liberation, this embodiment of cosmic memory in creative emotions, undoubtedly only takes place in privileged souls. It leaps from one soul to another…(and) it traces the design of an open society, a society of creators’11

Part twelve/to be continued…


1. In ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’, op. cit., 345

2. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 22

3. From An Introduction to Metaphysics in ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’, op. cit., 345. Cf. the use of lettering etc. by the Cubists.

4. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 60. A critic wrote less specifically, ‘The “gravity” of intuitive emotion caused them (the Cubists) to subordinate colour to form’ , in Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 31.

5. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 16. Very important to cf. Bergson on this point with Plotinus on the function of the emotions. Also, to impress feelings rather than to express them suggests the notion of the artist seeking to control the viewer’s response. Cf. Republic.

6. ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’, op. cit., 343.

7. Bergsonism, op. cit., 110.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. In The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Trans., Audra and Brereton, 1935. Bergson wrote ‘create creators’ 243.

11. Bergsonism, op. cit., 111

Mona Lisa

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

Pablo Picasso, ‘Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’, 1910, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (Image, Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso, ‘Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’, 1910, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (Image, Wikipedia)

Creativity was a key concept for Bergson. He titled his major work Creative Evolution. In this book he discussed his notion of artistic intuition and claimed that the creative urge is at the heart of evolution. He began Time and Free Will with writing on aesthetic feeling. Bergson did not develop a systematic aesthetic. His thoughts in this area refer to ‘old-fashioned’ elements of grace, motion and rhythm as components of beauty. He did not champion a particular style of art. His ideas on art contain the same profound contradiction as did those of Plato, revolving around notions of art as ‘mere’ representation and art as an inspired and creative practice, around truth revealed in art and truth revealed through art.

On the former, Bergson held that all forms of representation are distorted refractions of the inner self, merely enriching our present, resulting in the inner self being ‘spatialised’.

‘A representation taken from a certain point of view, a translation made with certain symbols, will always remain imperfect in comparison with the object of which a view has been taken, or which the symbols seek to express. But the absolute, which is the object and not its representation, the original and not its translation, is perfect, by being perfectly what it is. It is doubtless for this reason that the absolute has often been identified with the infinite.’1

Georges Braque, 'Nature more', (Fruit Dish, Ace of Clubs) oil, gouache and charcoal on canvas, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Georges Braque, ‘Nature morte’, (Fruit Dish, Ace of Clubs) oil, gouache and charcoal on canvas, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (Image, Wikipedia)

While the inner life cannot be represented by either concepts or images, an intuition of duration can be evoked by an image. For this to happen the work of art must not be constructed analytically (since one can only pass from intuition to analysis but not vice versa) but must induce an alogical ‘state of mind’ in the viewer.2

For Bergson, the great souls are those of artists and mystics, true art is revelation and the artist is ‘this revealing agent.’3 This is because these artists are in harmony with the inner life of things, have greater sensitivity to colour and form and can draw us into their experience through their work.4

‘we live in a zone midway between things and ourselves, externally to things, externally also to ourselves. From time to time, however, in a fit of absent-mindedness, nature raises up souls that are  more detached from life’5

Bergson felt these artists should have a privileged position in society, followed by a public ‘whose perceptual capacities forever follow the artists’ lead.’6

‘For hundreds of years…there have been men whose function has been precisely to see and to make us see what we do not naturally perceive. They are the artists. What is the aim of art if not to show us, in nature and in the mind, outside of us and within us, things which did not explicitly strike our senses and our consciousness?’7

Pablo Picasso, 'Ma Jolie', 1913-14, oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis (Image, Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso, ‘Ma Jolie’, 1913-14, oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis (Image, Wikipedia)

Bergson thought that every work of art is the result of a process whereby the inner self in its duration is made accessible to others through intuition. Art tells others about ourselves and always aims at what is individual. Artistic intuition embodies nature’s spiritual essence. Bergson argued for creative action rather than contemplation, yet in his philosophy the two are indistinguishable. He held that the artist’s vision is free of conceptual or utilitarian influence – it is disinterested.

‘The artist’s vision is essentially detached from the need to act; he perceives things for their own sake and not for what can be done with them.’8

The creative product of intuition hopefully persuades the viewer or reader to transcend their daily ‘mental’ habits and also experience intuition and these two intuitions co-mingle in inter-subjectivity.

Part eleven/to be continued…


1. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 23

2. Compare  with Plato’s ‘For a poet is indeed a  thing ethereally light, winged and sacred, nor can he compose anything worth calling poetry until he becomes inspired and, as it were, mad, or whilst any reason remains in him…(they compose) from the impulse of the divinity within them.’ ‘Ion’ in Five Dialogues of Plato Bearing on Poetic Inspiration. London,1929, 7. Deleuze wrote ‘Platonic inspiration makes itself profoundly felt in Bergson.’ Bergsonism, op. cit., 59.

3. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 159

4. This theme is developed in Le Rire.

5. H. Bergson, Laughter, An essay on the Meaning of the Comic, Trans. C. Brereton, F. Rothwell, London, 1911, 154

6. Quoted in Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 60. Cf. Kahnweiler on this and the above point.

7. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 159

8. Bergson and his Influence, op. cit., 13. Bergson’s philosophy drew together the two currents in art I have identified – movement and static contemplation  – both are contained in the visual art ‘isms’ of the first two decades of  the twentieth century. The above paragraph and quotation outline the function of Bergson’s philosophy and the art based on it in capitalist visual ideology.