The very focus in Western culture not on a reason that is wholistic but on one that is only linguistic and conceptual, on ‘elegance’ and wit in language, the scholastic licking and sucking of every ‘ism’ (yet one more shade of philosophical idealism) or piece of jargon, a current which has sought to block out the spiritual, the emotional, the passionate, above all, the animal and material, has presented in its analysis only a twisted half of who we are.
* * *
I believe the brain plays a game – some parts providing the stimuli, the others the reactions, and so on…One is only consciously aware of something in the brain which acts as a summariser or totaliser of the process going on and that probably consists of many parts acting simultaneously on each other. Clearly only the one-dimensional chain of syllogisms which constitutes thinking can be communicated verbally or written down…If, on the other hand, I want to do something new or original, then it is no longer a question of syllogism chains. When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…And what we call talent or perhaps genius itself depends to a large extent on the ability to use one’s memory properly to find the analogies…[which] are essential to the development of new ideas.
Stanislaw M. Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, 1976, in Scientific American, October, 1994, 83
I’m sorry I haven’t replied to you earlier. I wanted to sit with your question. And I could sit with it a great deal longer.
Mysticism for me is the deepest feeling for and orientation to the whole, yet sensitivity to the parts that comprise it (in each part is the whole), to the relationship between whole and parts, to their infinite complexity and unceasing motion – and that awareness is essentially ineffable, yet intuitively understood.
If you remove ‘feeling’, ‘the ineffable’ and ‘intuition’ from this statement you have the description of a relationship that bears comparison with the first words of Lenin’s ‘On the Question of Dialectics’ – ‘The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the ‘essentials,’ one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) or dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).’
My comparison is appropriate, because mystical philosophy, as Marx acknowledged (particularly its Germanic current culminating in the philosophy of the ‘German Proclus’, Hegel), is the philosophical core, stood by Marx on its feet, of dialectical materialism.
Lenin went on: ‘the correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science.’ This can be simply demonstrated – if you hold a rock in your hand, you hold a unity. While it looks utterly still – in its composition, in its parts, it is in unceasing motion. The contradictory motion of those infinitely divisible parts is the very thing which results in the apparently stable unity you hold in your hand (I am reminded of Plotinus’ profound and profoundly poetic position regarding his One – that it is the greatest activity in the greatest stillness).
And the interaction of this rock, this material composition, with the greater, infinite material whole will one day result in the passing of the form and contents of that stone into other material structures.
Thus everything passes, and only matter (objective reality) driven by the (theoretical) absolute of change remains.
While capitalist ideologues treat mysticism like pornography as they secretly study and draw from it, claiming, as true patriarchs, that their appropriations are the result of the most rigorous conceptual ‘reason’, materialists should be proud of their philosophical heritage and continue to mine it for more philosophical gems.
‘Intuition’ is one such. I believe it is a form of reasoning far more holistic and connected to our ‘emotions’/our ‘feelings’, our ‘sense of self’ than is the reason of language and concept. The latter, while its benefits and the achievements made with it are obvious, comparative to intuition (which is always functioning in the background), is plodding.
An example: suppose you were to walk around a corner while another did the same thing walking towards you. You bump into each other. Your eyes meet. Without doubt you would both have an instantaneous wealth of thoughts and feelings so rich and complex that thinking linguistically would not only be an impediment, it would be an impossibility.
Yet the thoughts and feelings you both have in those few seconds will be formative, evidence of a type of reason which I think is central to our sense of self.
When the monotheist prays to God – ‘God, give me guidance’, they are calling on that other form of reason which requires emotional ‘stillness’ to be heard and listened to. They speak of ‘stillness’ and ‘listening’ at such times.
It is a flux of reason that draws on their life’s experience, on their spiritual connection to the world, on all that comprises them.
‘Spirituality’ – a concept I rejected for many years – for me is the feeling for and knowledge of profound material connectedness.
Intuitive reason is like ‘another’ to that of our usual, linguistically conditioned self.
There is certainly nothing of the patriarch to it, yet if you fail to listen to that ‘voice’, you do so at your peril. You will be like the man in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket – reading all the labels, unable to choose, looking for an impetus and answer only in words, his linguistic ‘self’ disconnected from that other, deeper, more holistic, intuitive ‘self’.
In this unity of self (both linguistic and intuitive) and the world is to be found the unity of both mystic and materialist – it is one, unwilled yet profoundly dialectical, profoundly ‘poetic’ world.
When I am presented with any problem, I first try to intuit a way forward or a solution, then I apply my ability to reason linguistically. And although the results are usually different (my intuition seems consistent with necessity – which supports my understanding of intuition), I play those two results against each other to arrive at my answer.
These are a few of my thoughts on the subject of mysticism.
What are some of your thoughts on the subject?
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.
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
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.
* * *
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
‘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
‘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
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 ↩
* * *
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
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
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 ↩
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
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
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. ↩
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
‘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
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…
1. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 209. ↩
2. Ibid., 208. ↩
3. See note 56. ↩
4. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 70. ↩
5. Ibid., 70. ↩
Bergson thought that geometry is immanent in the universe1 and that nature as a unity can be represented in an abstract and geometric form.2 Geometry as consciousness is prior to intellect and is the latter’s goal of perfect fulfilment.3 It is eternal and impersonal.4
The intellect, through tendency to its goal, carries ‘a latent geometrism that is set free in the measure and proportion that (it) penetrates into the inner nature of inert matter.’5 This results in the geometrification of space.6
Bergson thought that our ‘minds’ give matter its true materiality7 since every aspect of matter acts on every other aspect of matter and that ‘all division of matter into independent bodies with absolutely determined outlines is an artificial division.’8
There is something more but not different to matter than what is given by the senses, and this is geometry – ‘matter…is weighted with geometry.’9
The space of consciousness is real motion10 and therefore doesn’t exist between things but in the relations between things and as such is part of duration and the absolute.11 The intuition of space and direction requires the same geometrisation of nature as the intuition of bodies.12
Bergson wrote that ‘spatialised time’ is a fourth dimension of space. This occurs in consciousness where ‘the mind’ brings together simultaneities or successive moments and gives them duration.
‘Thanks to philosophy, all things acquire depth – more than depth, something like a fourth dimension which permits anterior perceptions to remain bound up with present perceptions and the immediate future itself to become partly outlined in the present. Reality…then…affirms itself dynamically, in the continuity and variability of its tendency. What was immobile and frozen in our perception is warmed and set in motion. Everything comes to life around us, everything is revivified in us.’13
‘Space is no more without us than within us, and…all sensations partake of extensity.’ The problem with ‘ordinary realism’ is that sensations are extracted from each other and placed apart in an indefinite and empty space.14 In reference to contemporary psychology, Bergson wrote ‘It is maintained, not without an appearance of reason, that there is no sensation without extensity or without a feeling of “volume”.’15
Bergson used the achievements of science to refute ‘the positive sciences’ and to justify his theories. Not only are all atoms interpenetrating, with each atom occupying the whole of gravitational space, the materiality of the atom dissolves further, with the advance of knowledge, to a point where objective matter no longer exists, but force becomes ‘materialised’. This force returns continuity to the universe.16 Bergson referred to Faraday’s work
‘For Faraday, the atom is a centre of force. He means by this that the individuality of the atom consists in the mathematical point at which cross, radiating throughout space, the indefinite lines of force which really constitute it: thus each atom occupies the whole space to which gravitation extends and all atoms are interpenetrating.’17
and to that of Lord Kelvin
‘Lord Kelvin, moving in another order of ideas, supposes a perfect, continuous, homogeneous and incompressible fluid, filling space: what we term an atom he makes into a vortex ring, ever whirling in this continuity and owing its properties to its circular form, its existence and consequently, its individuality to its motion…vortices and lines of force…point out the direction in which we may seek for a representation of the real.’18
Bergson stressed the interpenetration of all things.19 Although the material world can be extended in space and ‘the mental’ cannot, they form an absolute interpenetration with no independent parts.
‘A priori and apart from any hypothesis on the nature of the matter, it is evident that the materiality of a body does not stop at the point at which we touch it: a body is present wherever its influence is felt…The more physics advances, the more it effaces the individuality of bodies and even of the particles into which the scientific imagination began by decomposing them: bodies and corpuscles tend to dissolve into a universal interaction.’20
1. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 361. ↩
2. Ibid., 190. Even in extension, the body is defined by geometry, Creative Evolution, op. cit., 349. Also, ‘Descartes reduced matter – considered at the instant – to extension; physics in his eyes, attained to the real insofar as it was geometrical.’ Duration and Simultaneity, op. cit., 160 ↩
3. Ibid., 210-211 ↩
4. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 63 ↩
5. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 195 ↩
6. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 135 ↩
7. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 202 ↩
8. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 196 ↩
9. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 369 ↩
10. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 217 ↩
11. Bergsonism, op.cit., 49 ↩
12. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 212 ↩
13. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 186 ↩
14. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 216 ↩
15. Ibid., 217 ↩
16. Bergson and Modern Thought, op. cit., 83-84; Matter and Memory, op. cit., 199-200. Compare with Kandinsky, ‘This discovery (the further division of the atom) struck me with terrific impact, comparable to that of the end of the world. In the twinkling of an eye, the mighty arches of science lay shattered before me. All things became flimsy, with no strength of certainty…To me, science had been destroyed.’ Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911, reprint., New York 1977, 14. Also Marinetti, ‘“Let’s go!” I said, “Let’s go friends! Let’s go out. Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are finally overcome. We are about to witness the birth of the centaur and soon we shall see the first angels fly!” ‘The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism, 1908, in H. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art, A Source Book by Artists and Critics, California,1968, 284. Lenin wrote that ‘matter’ is a philosophical concept for objective reality and that ‘“Matter disappears” means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper’. V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, reprint., Moscow, 1977, 241 ↩
17. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 201. Antliff has written on the impact of Bergson’s philosophy on Futurism. Gino Severini painted Travel Memories in 1911 in response to his reading of Bergson’s An Introduction to Metaphysics. See ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’, op. cit., 345 ↩
18. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 201. In 1912 Apollinaire described Delaunay’s art as ‘Orphic Cubism’. In the same year Delaunay wrote an article titled ‘La Lumière’ in which he made frequent use of Bergsonian concepts – ‘simultaneity’, ‘rhythm’, ‘vital movement’, ‘visual movement’ and ‘dynamic’. His Eiffel Tower (1911) like Gleizes’ Portrait of Jacques Nayral (1911) was painted from collective memories. Antliff wrote that Delaunay’s Eiffel Tower had a Bergsonian genealogy. See ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’ op. cit., 345 ↩
19. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 266 ↩
20. Ibid., 188 ↩
While Bergson’s claim that reality can be perceived by non-intellectual intuition appears to contradict Plato’s philosophy, in which knowledge of reality (the realm of Ideas or Forms) is attained through reason, the issue depends on what exactly constitute the ‘intuition’ and ‘reason’ of both. For Bergson and Plato they amount to the same contemplation of perfection in ‘mind’.
Their philosophies are dependent on the ‘reality’ of ‘mind’ being more ‘real’ than that of the senses – the latter having a lower status than the realm of truth. The relationship Bergson drew between knowledge and the emotions is consistent with Plato’s philosophy.1
Bergson believed that intuitive knowledge could nourish and illuminate everyday life, since the world of our senses is no more than a shadow and is as cold as death.2 He wrote that a philosophy of intuition will be swept away by the ‘positive’ sciences ‘if it does not resolve to see the life of the body just where it really is, on the road that leads to the life of the spirit.’3
Intuition or ‘mind’ introduces us to the unity of spiritual life.4 Bergson’s intuition amounts to knowledge of the soul in its eternal movement.
According to Bergson there are two ways to apprehend reality – by the analysis and understanding of partial notations (the way of science) or by the metaphysical intuition of real parts (the way of creation and art).5
Analysis breaks up duration into static fragmentary concepts and is compelled to move around the object it desires to embrace.6 Intuition or ‘intellectual sympathy‘7 probes the flow of duration in its concreteness, by placing one within an object and giving an absolute.
Analysis reduces an object to elements common to it and other objects, intuition allows one to experience its inexpressible uniqueness. Analysis always deals with the immobile and cannot be reconstituted, intuition places itself in mobility and can be reconstituted in consciousness. It is a simple act, whereas
‘analysis multiplies without end the number of its points of view in order to complete its always incomplete representation; and ceaselessly varies its symbols that it may perfect the always imperfect translation. It goes on therefore to infinity.’8
Bergson thought that one can pass from the reality of intuition to the concepts of analysis, but never in reverse order. Even then ‘the intuition of duration, when exposed to the rays of the understanding…quickly congeals into fixed, distinct and immobile concepts.’9
Bergson applied the term ‘subjective’ to what is given in intuition (that which can be completely known) and ‘objective’ to what is given through analysis (a constantly increasing number of new impressions).
For him the intellect is bound to misunderstand motion and change, reducing such phenomena to points and instants. It is spatially orientated and unavoidably tends to separate states of ‘mind’. In duration, states of ‘mind’ flow into and interpenetrate each other.
Bergson believed that we have almost completely sacrificed intuition to intellect and wanted to develop a philosophy in which intuition subsumed intellect – ‘Intellect leaves us in the darkness of night.’10
For Bergson, there are two levels of conscious life – ‘a superficial level composed of discrete sensations and separate states and a deeper level where there is no separation but a pure continuity.’11 We constantly tend to assimilate the latter to the former through separating moments and the use of words.
Language reduces the expression and particularity of individual experience to shared conventions. This criticism is most relevant to emotional expression. To put a feeling into words conveys only the shadow of the feeling since it is inevitably bound up with a multitude of feelings. Similarly with ideas (Ideas).
‘We see that the intellect, so skilful in dealing with the inert, is awkward the moment it touches the living. Whether it wants to treat the life of the body or the life of the mind, it proceeds with the rigour, the stiffness and the brutality of an instrument not designed for such use…The intellect is characterised by a natural inability to comprehend life.’12
Since ‘mental’ reality does not exist in space, the intellect, which does and deals with spatiality, cannot grasp it. ‘Mental’ reality can only be intuited because it lies beyond spatial explanation.
Although the intellect can give an increasingly complete account of the material world, it can only offer a reduction of life into terms of mechanics. Intuition is the faculty of grasping the pure flow of consciousness before the intellect fragments it into separate states and parts.
Part eight/to be continued…
1. For example Plato on the imagination and divine inspiration of a poet (Ion), on the love of beauty and sexual love (Phaedrus). Plotinus developed this relation between inspiration, Form as focus for the emotions and truth. Deleuze noted that Bergson’s intuition is Platonic in inspiration, in Bergsonism, op. cit., 22. ↩
2. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 111. Compare with the simile of the cave in The Republic, op. cit., 316-325 ↩
3. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 269 ↩
4. Ibid., 268 ↩
5. Carr suggests that perception is the revelation of matter and memory is the revelation of spirit, each being the awareness of a different reality. H. Carr, The Philosophy of Change, London 1914, 90 ↩
6. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 24. Representations taken from successive points of view belong to analysis which can never go beyond the surface of an object. A major point in my thesis will be that the application and retention of the misnomer ‘Analytic’ to the early development of Cubism by Picasso and Braque shows both how little understood is both Bergson’s philosophy and its enormous impact on Cubism and the origins of Modernism. The Cubists rejected the art of illusional appearance and I believe what they most directly built upon is expressed in Bergson’s philosophy. ↩
7. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 4 ↩
8. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 24 ↩
9. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 228 ↩
10. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 268 ↩
11. A. Pilkington, Bergson and his Influence, A Reassessment, Cambridge, 1976, 5 ↩
12. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 88 ↩