Big land, big heart, big spirit

Uluru-1

Patrick Hatch, ‘Supermarket backs down on plastic bags’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 02.08.18

Coles has hoisted a white flag in the face of angry shoppers aggrieved by having to pay 15c for a “reusable” bag and has promised to give them away for free until customers get used to bringing their own.

The supermarket chain’s decision has raised the ire of environmental campaigners who say it is a return to the “bad old days” where plastic bags were used once and then discarded.

Coles and Woolworths removed thin “single-use” plastic bags from their checkouts nationwide in July and late June, respectively, as a growing number of state governments ban the environmentally damaging items.

But offering only thicker, “reusable” plastic bags for 15c each has elicited howls of outrage and led to a series of backflips – including giving the reusable bags away for free for a short period of time while customers adapted to the changes – to quell the outcry.

The uses of plastic bags

In the latest backflip, a Coles spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the supermarket would give the 15c bags away for free, until shoppers had “become accustomed to bringing their own bags”.

“When Coles phased out single-use plastic bags on 1 July…some customers told us they needed more time to make the transition to reusable bags,” she said.

“Many customers bringing bags from home are still finding themselves short a bag or two, so we are offering complimentary reusable Better Bags to help them complete their shopping.”

Coles said the free bags were an “interim measure to help customers transition to reusable bags”. …

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The battle for art – part three: on the use in capitalist ideology for spiritual art and art education

Janis Lander: Vision Art Workshop - ‘Observing the energy body (centres and channels)/Observing thoughts and emotions/Understanding the dynamic interaction of colours and “sacred geometry” in the making of an image’

Janis Lander: Vision Art Workshop – ‘Observing the energy body (centres and channels)/Observing thoughts and emotions/Understanding the dynamic interaction of colours and “sacred geometry” in the making of an image’

Schiller was confident that men in the contemporary world could develop new types of harmony and new types of community predicated upon new connections between the powers of the mind. This could not, however, be developed by ignoring the enormous changes which had overtaken society since the decline of the Greek city state. Schiller saw the long-term solution to the problem in terms of a programme of aesthetic education which, by uniting facets of personal experience, would lead eventually to the development of harmonious social experience. Schiller’s typology of human development was, in a sense, therefore, triadic. It presupposed at the beginning of the historical world an undifferentiated society peopled by whole men whose capacities and powers had not been fragmented by the division of labour – such a society reached its zenith with the Greeks and has since declined as a result of the growth of science and the division of labour. These factors had led to the fragmentation of the community and of the person. The third stage of this process, which has yet to arrive in Schiller’s view, was to be induced by aesthetic education, which would procure a regeneration of both the community and the individual personality appropriate to this change in the human condition.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 74

Part three/to be continued…

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The battle for art – part five: the bourgeois art gallery, capital’s House of the Lord

UM, Weisman Art Museum | Minneapolis, MN | Frank Gehry with MS&R

Symbols for the two great approaches to God the Self:

  • floors of lacquered woodgrain – the pathway of contemplative (Romantic) spiritual activity
  • walls of pure white – the surrounds of contemplative spiritual stillness

Lighting from the ceiling accentuates and unites floor, walls and artworks to form a spiritual whole – for Plotinus, the greatest contemplative activity in the greatest contemplative stillness.1

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1. Think this a bit far-fetched? In the Roman banquet room the ceiling and floor were also significant – the ceiling symbolised the universe and the floor symbolised the earth.

And remember, art galleries and the layout of everything in them (including the cafeteria) are designed by people educated in both the theory and practice of art.

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Battle of the time lords

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Comment for The Philosopher’s Zone 21.06.15

Hi Joe,

Jimena Canales said in your interview of her that she looked at the entry in the SEP on time and was ‘astounded’ and ‘very shocked’ to see that Bergson was not even mentioned.

Yet at that entry it points to another on temporal consciousness where Bergson, appropriately, appears.

Canales dated the beginning of Bergson’s philosophical fall towards disappearance to 06.04.22, describing her subject as ‘an incredible, untold story’.

A dramatic sales-pitch from one who herself continues to ‘overlook’ one of the greatest influences on Western philosophy and culture.

What has ‘disappeared’ – been suppressed – has not simply been Bergson’s philosophy but a philosophy for which he was the primary vehicle into the twentieth century – Neoplatonism – the pornography of academic philosophers, assiduously studied and drawn upon in private while its influence was and is not acknowledged or was and is lied about in public.

Your astounded and shocked guest asked ‘Why, given the evidence, did Bergson not agree with what Einstein was saying?’ failing to answer that it was because his view of time was Neoplatonic – a concept neither you nor she used once. Neither once mentioned the name ‘Plotinus’.

Your guest referred to Bergson’s ‘élan vital’ which came straight and unadulterated from The Enneads. Did she make that basic point? No.

She said she ‘paid a lot of attention’ to what Bergson and Einstein were citing in their argument and twice spoke of her ‘care’ on this matter. Her fundamental failures counter that assertion.

You asked who was right, Einstein or Bergson. Canales said she wanted to move past this but one can’t move past that question which underlies all others and which can be expressed another way – Which is prior to or the product of the other – objective reality or consciousness and its products? The former subsumes the latter, irrespective of how rich and rewarding the latter is.

In her book, she gave Plotinus one mention and not one to Neoplatonism. The Enneads are not cited in her bibliography.

Bergson tried to hook his ancient philosophy to Einstein’s revolution, just as Kant attempted to do with his in relation to scientific knowledge with his carefully worded ‘turn’ inspired by the hypothesis of Copernicus.

In Australia’s authoritarian and anti-intellectual culture I have sought since 1982 to understand and publicise the profound impact of mysticism and its primary Western form Neoplatonism on Western culture.

Much of my effort has been counter to time-serving academics who have built their careers aboard the ideological caravans of modernism and pomo – themselves suffused with mysticism.

There has never been a greater dishonesty and failure of scholarship and a more prolonged pandering to Western supremacism on the back of a claim to be the bearers of ‘reason’ than in regard to this matter.

My proposals to run courses on this since 1999 have been rejected at the University of Sydney, UNSW and the WEA.

In an essay ‘Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic’ at my blog philipstanfield.com I explicate Bergson’s philosophy as it is – Neoplatonist.

This philosophy via the consummate Neoplatonist Hegel, having been stood on its feet by Marx, is the philosophy and epistemology of science and the future.

Philip Stanfield

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

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

Notes

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

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

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 sympathy7 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…

Notes

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

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Four

Kant’s setting out of his dilemma – we can only know appearance – contained, for the Romantics, the solution – we are free to overcome it – by focusing on our inner experience.1

And not only to overcome that dilemma but, because of our freedom to focus on our inner experience, to bridge the schism between appearance and what stands beyond it (all the dichotomies symbolised by that schism, ‘the world’) – on the basis of mysticism (the dominant Western form being Neoplatonism).

The very dryness and one-sided rationalism of Kant’s philosophy was an incentive to take that step. The other incentives – our freedom (which Kant intended to be moral) and the justification to focus on the self by exploring the at first implicit then overt Neoplatonism2 in his writing (in fact, the very framework of the dilemma) were the answer.

Kant’s philosophy was both the concentration of a problem and a dare – to fully take up what had not been fully explored, fully indulged in, in German philosophy in the modern period. The Romantics, Schelling and Nietzsche responded eagerly to Kant and met his unintended challenge.

Nietzsche’s vitalist philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy to the final ‘aphorism’ of The Will to Power (which ‘aphorism’ contains a synopsis of The Enneads) was built on Neoplatonism mixed with Platonism and Christianity – the parallels between his god Dionysus and Christ are numerous.3  In The Gay Science Nietzsche wrote: ‘Even less am I concerned with the opposition between ‘thing in itself’ and appearance: for we ‘know’ far too little to even be entitled to make that distinction.

For Nietzsche, we simply have no organ for knowing, for ‘truth’.4 The ‘truth’ to which he (as one drenched in ‘god’) referred was Absolute and ineffable, not (as for the materialist) deepening and relative (it was once true that the earth is flat). It was constrained by the same ‘limits of reason’,5 the same Neoplatonic perspectivism to which Leibniz, Kant and Schelling subscribed.6

In hindsight, the ‘diagnoses’ that Schelling and Nietzsche made of Kant convey that he was far too restrained, too controlled. But in their writing, all of the dualisms were retained – only the emphasis was different. The ‘reason’ of Kant shifted to the ‘emotion’ of Schelling and Nietzsche, but the writing of all three was equally within the embrace of Lloyd’s Man of Reason, equally divorced from true life and nature, and from the criterion of practice.

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 un-discovered 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.’7

He believed that in his Critique of Pure Reason he had made a similar revolutionary achievement in metaphysics – he too had developed an hypothesis that contradicted previous metaphysicians and made the spectator necessary.

What Kant and Copernicus did could not have been more different, each from the other. The observation of matter, and thought about and testing of those observations, resulting in certain laws, confirmed Copernicus’ hypothesis – one which did not seek the observed movements in the spectator, but of bodies in relation to the sun.

For Copernicus, the spectator (or particularly – their consciousness) was not required. His discovery went beyond appearances, which according to Kant’s Critique, was impossible. Kant engaged in sleights of hand to justify his division between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge,8 between ‘conceptual knowledge’ and the distorting influence of the senses, between what goes on in the spectator’s head and in the world, of which that spectator’s head and body are a part.

Like Schelling and Nietzsche, Kant was not guilty of ‘spiritual sickness’ nor ‘decline of life’, he contemplated the world on the basis of a long philosophical tradition – one divorced from the criterion of practice.

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Notes

1. In his metaphysics Kant argued that a person’s perception of the world is dependent on what they bring to the act, in his moral theorising he argued that the individual is free to determine their actions and in his aesthetics he argued the beautiful is to be found in the subject’s experience.

2. Behind which stood Leibniz

3. The final words of Ecce Homo (the words spoken by Pilate before the crucifixion of Christ) are ‘Have I been understood? – Dionysos against the Crucified…’ My reply – in the din of ideology, nowhere near well enough. Ecce Homo, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2004, p. 104, section 8

4. The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 214 section 354

5. The Anti-Christ, p. 185, section 55, in Twilight of the Idols (or How to Philosophise with a Hammer) and The Anti-Christ, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2003

6. Schelling wrote: ‘Within the absolute all particular things are genuinely separated and genuinely one only to the extent that each is the universe unto itself, and each is the absolute whole.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 34, #26

7. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason op. cit., Preface to Second Edition, Note p. 25

8. The Critique of Judgement op. cit., p. 15. For any reader willing to consider Kant’s carefully worded and much repeated lie (in his and subsequent philosophy academics’ attempts to retain the relevance of metaphysics) that his great ‘achievement’ (in The Critique of Pure Reason) replicated in philosophy what Copernicus had contributed to science, I recommend my previous post.

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

Bergson thought that there could be a possible interpenetration of human consciousnesses, that two consciousnesses can be united in a single experience, into a single duration1 and that intuition possibly opens the way into consciousness in general.2

Again, he thought that an impersonal consciousness linked our conscious ‘minds’ with all nature.

‘Such a consciousness would grasp, in a single, instantaneous perception, multiple events lying at different points in space; simultaneity would be precisely the possibility of two or more events entering within a single, instantaneous perception. What is true and what illusory, in this way of seeing things?’3

The more conscious we become of our progress in pure duration, the more we press against the future and know freedom.

For Bergson, memory is not a function of the brain but is independent of matter and ‘there is not merely a difference of degree, but of kind, between perception and recollection.’4 The brain is only an intermediary between sensation and duration – ‘in no case can the brain store up recollections or images’.5

‘Memory, inseparable in practice from perception, imports the past into the present, contracts into a single intuition many moments of duration and thus by a twofold operation compels us, de facto, to perceive matter in ourselves, whereas we, de jure, perceive matter within matter.’6

Memory gives us access to pure duration which is spirit – ‘pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With memory we are, in truth, in the domain of spirit.’7

In reference to Platonism Bergson wrote

‘an invisible current (duration) makes modern philosophy tend to lift the Soul above the Idea. In this as in modern science and even more so, it tends to move in the opposite direction from ancient thought.’8

Not only is his terminology Neoplatonic, his philosophical heritage is clear

And this double movement of memory between its two extreme limits…sketches out…the first general ideas – motor habits ascending to seek similar images, in order to extract resemblances from them, and similar images coming down toward motor habits, to fuse themselves, for instance, in the automatic utterance of the word which makes them one. (my italics)’9

Bergson’s central thesis is that ‘reality’ must be grasped by intuition. Intuition is the immediate non-intellectual knowledge not of discontinuous moments but of the indivisible flow of ‘real’ time, comprising a plurality of multiple aspects and meanings.

Bergson defined intuition as ‘the metaphysical investigation of what is essential and unique in the object’10 and as the ability to immediately discern our own inner being as well as the thoughts of others.11 In apprehending reality in its true duration, we enter into the experience or thing itself.

Bergson referred to Schelling’s and Schopenhauer’s use of the concept ‘intuition’ in their search for the eternal whereas for him, it was a question of finding true duration. Not only is his work informed by Neoplatonism and peppered with concepts such as ‘essence’, ‘absolute’, ‘truth’, ‘perfection’ and ‘God’, for example

‘Coincidence with the person or object can alone give one the absolute. It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that absolute is synonymous with perfection,’12

consider the final sentence in two of his most influential books

‘Spirit borrows from matter the perceptions on which it feeds and restores them to matter in the form of movements which it has stamped with its own freedom’13

‘The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.’14

Intuition unites science and metaphysics in ‘the absolute’. It deals with mobility, and as I have shown earlier, this mobility applies also to the motionless.

To grasp the essence of a thing is to intuit it in its becoming, its movement. We must place ourselves within this evolution. This amounts to the coincidence of consciousness with ‘the living principle’ from which it derives. So duration is the intuitive apprehension of the passage of time.

Intuition is extremely difficult, since it requires us to use our ‘minds’ in a direction and manner the opposite of which our brains are used to function in, to reach ‘the inward life of things’.15

It therefore requires not only the act of seeing (the already-made) but that this be combined with the act of willing (the being-made). Intuition enables us to grasp reality directly, not superficially but in depth, unmediated by intellectual apprehension. Through intuition we can probe the meaning and nature of life and of evolution itself.

Part seven/to be continued…

Notes

1. Duration and Simultaneity, op. cit., 46-47

2. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 36

3. Duration and Simultaneity, op. cit., 45

4. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 236

5. Ibid., 225

6. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 49

7. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 240

8. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 229

9. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 243

10. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 28

11. Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 40

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

13. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 249

14. From Creative Evolution in Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 105

15. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 51

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Three

Schelling and Nietzsche both made excellent criticisms of Kant. Schelling who wrote that to philosophise, one cannot neglect the issue of matter,1 that matter is the foundation of all experience2 also wrote

‘It is quite possible to drive even the most convinced adherent of things-in-themselves as the causes of our ideas into a corner by all sorts of questions. One can say to him, I understand how matter affects matter, but neither how one in-itself affects another, since there can be no cause and no effect in the realm of the intelligible, nor how this law of one world extends into another altogether different from it, in fact completely opposed to it. You would then have to admit, if I am dependent on external impressions, that I myself am nothing more than matter’3

He not only argued the priority of matter over thought but the impossibility of a law completely opposed to the material world and its causal determination, itself functioning in this world. Kant defined matter as ‘that in the appearance (of an empirical intuition) which corresponds to sensation’.4

Yet matter, as with space and time, is a concept for what exists independently of consciousness and thought – of us. Space is not a thing in which matter is distributed, it is the distribution of matter itself, time is not a measure which we rely upon, it is matter in motion. In the functioning of matter there is no requirement for us. We are manifestations of matter. This is the unity that Kant rejected.

It is most interesting that Schelling, the same person who wrote so well about matter (although his discussion of it, indicatively, slipped into the metaphysical), who, on this basis identified the flaw in Kant’s noumenon, then proposed as the solution that philosophy take over the role of religion, later that nature itself be deified and mythologised – that mythology supplant matter.5 He developed his ‘cure’ by drawing on a Platonic/Neoplatonic/Christian current present in German philosophy long before Kant, and in Kant’s philosophy itself.6

Nietzsche’s relation of Christianity and ‘god’ to metaphysics and Kant is justified – his thoughts are tersely, astutely and (as one would expect from him) acerbically expressed. His defence of becoming and praise for the senses themselves warrant praise.

But if one has any concern for what is preached and philosophically practised, when one examines Nietzsche’s arguments more closely, his own position becomes ‘the last smoke of evaporating reality’.7 I know of no more contemptuously hypocritical and self-contradictory philosopher than Nietzsche. In relation to his own writing, his condemnation of Kant warrants Homeric laughter. His indebtedness to Kant was profound.

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

1. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature op. cit., p. 181

2. Ibid., p. 179

3. Ibid.

4. The Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., p. 65, A20

5. ‘(mythology) is the world and as it were the ground in which alone the exotic plants of art are able to bloom and grow.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 45, #38

6. In his writing on morals, Kant advocated not only belief in God as ‘a postulate’ but Christian morals and ‘practical’ faith in the Son of God. Schelling wrote: ‘(the divine imagination) is the means by which the universe is populated; according to this law life flows out into the world from the absolute as from that which is without qualification one.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 37, #30

7. Twilight of the Idols, op. cit., p. 481, section 4

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

Pablo Picasso, Maquette for a sculpture of a guitar; paperboard, cardboard, paper, string, wire, before November 15, 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Pablo Picasso, Maquette for a sculpture of a guitar; paperboard, cardboard, paper, string, wire, before November 15, 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Bergson held that because the brain is a ‘biological instrument’ its capacity for intelligence is restricted to the taking of ‘snapshots’. Modern science likewise substitutes signs for the objects themselves. These signs or Ideas are the moments of becoming and are plucked from eternity – ‘we end in the philosophy of Ideas when we apply the cinematographical mechanism of the intellect to the analysis of the real’.1

The above may appear to contradict my thesis that Bergsonism was an adaptation of Platonism and Neoplatonism. However, not only did Bergson use Platonic terminology and do so in often contradictory ways as I have shown, his maintenance of the relationship between eternal truth (as duration) and appearance (as snapshots of that truth), and of the way by which that truth can be attained (through non-propositional intuition) derives from a Platonic and particularly Neoplatonic heritage.2

Bergson argued that an accumulation of points of view place one outside the subject and that the only way of attaining the subject’s essence (the absolute, perfection) would be by coinciding internally with the subject, by placing oneself within it. By entering it we attain absolute knowledge, by moving around it and remaining on its exterior we can acquire only relative knowledge.

‘Were all the photographs of a town, taken from all possible points of view, to go on indefinitely completing one another, they would never be equivalent to the solid town in which we walk about.’3

Cubism and photography

Through entering and identifying with the original, we become it. Bergson’s distinction between an accumulation of points revealing a subject and its perfect essence is the same as Plato made between the art of representation and truth. The former is a long way removed.4

In his philosophy, Bergson sought to bring the flow of reality to consciousness as opposed to a succession of changing states. He thought that it is only by an effort that we can overcome our natural practice of taking ‘views’ of reality and apprehending a succession of changing states. Antliff suggests that these multiple views can be interpreted as a Kantian attempt to grasp the thing-in-itself.5

Bergson however referred to Kant’s thing-in-itself and stated we can know part of reality – ourselves – in our ‘natural purity.’ The taking of ‘snapshots’ is a function of the brain and is necessary for mere existence. Duration, which is entirely different, is a function of consciousness which in turn is distinct from the brain. Although Bergson acknowledged objective reality, ‘true’ reality lay only in conscious duration.6

In Creative Evolution, Bergson addressed the difficulty of portraying the marching past of a regiment. He wrote that we could take a series of snapshots and throw them on a screen so they very rapidly replace each other. But photography is not animation and from this we could never get movement. Even the motion in film can’t bring us to the full duration of this event. To do so, we must attach the images to an invisible becoming ‘situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge, in order to imitate what there is that is characteristic in this becoming itself’.7

Even when they are successive, states of consciousness permeate one another ‘and in the simplest of them the whole soul can be reflected’.8 Memory, which is the progression from past to present, enables us to place ourselves immediately in the past.

‘We start from a “virtual state” which we lead onwards, step-by-step, through a series of different planes of consciousness, up to the goal where it is materialised in an actual perception; that is to say, up to the point where it becomes a present, active state – up to that extreme plane of our consciousness against which our body stands out. In this virtual state, pure memory consists.’9

Cubism and photography 1

For Bergson, these planes of consciousness move between the plane of ‘pure’ memory and the plane of action. He believed that between these two planes are thousands of different planes of consciousness. The plane of ‘pure’ memory is the place of dreaming. The plane of action is the plane of ‘motor habits’. Bergson referred to these planes of consciousness as an infinite number of planes of memory.10 Further, ‘These planes…exist virtually, with that existence which is proper to things of the spirit’.11

Part six/to be continued…

Notes

1. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 315. This quotation appears to contradict my thesis, but the contradiction is Bergson’s – see next note.

2. Numerous connections can be argued between Plato, Plotinus and Bergson. Some more will be argued by myself and quoted from Bergson in this essay. Also, for example ‘ “And what about life? Is not that a function of mind?” “Very much so”, he said’, Plato, The Republic, trans. D. Lee, London, 1984, 100. This essay is primarily a setting out of Bergson’s philosophy. Where Plato’s Ideas exist in stasis, Plotinus incorporated them (in his second hypostasis) into a profoundly dynamic system of emanation and return.

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

4. ‘The art of representation is therefore a long way removed from truth and it is able to reproduce everything because it has little grasp of anything, and that little is of a mere phenomenal appearance. For example, a painter can paint a portrait of a shoemaker or a carpenter or any other craftsman without understanding any of their crafts.’ The Republic, op. cit., 426. Also, the well-known example of the painter of a bed being at third remove from God’s creation.

5. R. Antliff, ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’, op. cit., 342

6. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 30

7. In A. Papanicolaou, P. Gunter, eds., Bergson and Modern Thought, Towards A Unified Science, London, 1987, 220

8. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 98

9. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 239

10. Ibid., 170

11. Ibid., 242

Image sources:

colour

– black and white, Cubism, Edward F. Fry, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978