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Bergson and the Art of Immanence

Bergson and the Art of Immanence: Painting, Photography, Film, Performance

John Mullarkey
Charlotte de Mille
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Bergson and the Art of Immanence
    Book Description:

    This collection of 16 essays brings 20th-century French philosopher Henri Bergson's work on immanence together with the latest ideas in art theory and the practice of immanent art as found in painting, photography, film and performance. It places Bergson's work and influence in a wide historical context and applies a rigorous conceptual framework to concepts of rhythmic duration, perception, affectivity, the body, memory and intuition – all of which were first formulated as immanent objects through the work of Bergson. The international, interdisciplinary contributors include Iris van der Tuin, Eric Alliez, Simon O'Sullivan and Howard Caygill.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7023-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Film Studies, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction: Art’s Philosophy – Bergson and Immanence
    (pp. 1-14)

    In an interview made for the opening of her installation,Nowhere Less Now,Lindsay Seers tells her interlocutor that the work was motivated by a very Bergsonian problem: ‘I start with a question – where does the past exist? But the starting point is from a notion of the philosopher Henri Bergson’s intuition as practice, to make art ontological.’ To make art ontological – to give it Being.¹ We might, nonetheless, partly reverse Seer’s formulation of this Bergsonian intuition: alongside making an ontology for art, why not also give Being its ‘perception’ (aisthesis)? After all, for Bergson, metaphysics – that is, an immanent,...

  6. Part I: Bergson, Art, History

    • 1. Bergson, History and Ontology
      (pp. 17-31)

      Since the revival of Bergson studies, a key aspect of his work has remained largely dormant amongst scholars: his philosophy of history. In this chapter, I will address this under-explored area of investigation by making some suggestions as to what Bergsonian philosophy might have to offer our understanding of history. This task will be guided throughout by a concern for the ontological nature of history. Although Bergson’s thoughts on history are often considered to be restricted to hisTwo Sources of Morality and Religion,I will demonstrate how Bergson develops and deploys an ontology of history and an historical ontology...

    • 2. Art History, Immanently
      (pp. 32-46)

      Immanent art history cannot be written. Art history concerns selected, condensed particularities, the material objects on which the discipline is founded. Immanence denotes forces and events on a plane that Deleuze in his final essay called simply ‘a life’. Art history is inherently dialectical; recognised and developed by its originators, problematic to their successors. For the last four decades, the socially and culturally motivated ‘new’ art history has archived ‘lives’ for its subjects, often deferring to critical writing that enables it to map its subjects within networks or cultural fields. Such art history has often been hooked into a sequence...

    • 3. Art History, Less Its Conditions of Possibility: Following Bergson’s ‘Le Possible et le réel’
      (pp. 47-62)
      ADI EFAL

      In thinking about the applicability of Bergsonian epistemology to art historical inquiries, one immediately faces a methodical problem: the very use of the term ‘art historical inquiries’ is very much a gross generalisation, and therefore does not comply with the Bergsonian demand for precision in philosophy. Nevertheless, it is the basic view of this chapter that Henri Bergson’s nominalism should not be automatically viewed as an anti-rationalism. It does seem that one of the capacities of Bergson’s philosophy has to do with a revision of the ‘rationalist’ tradition itself, in face of the nominalist challenge. I would like to begin,...

    • 4. Matisse, Bergson, Oiticica, etc.
      (pp. 63-79)

      I will venture to put forward – in the form of a short-circuit – this unique proposition: there is no immanence other than that which always constructs on a plane that is never bequeathed and whose plurality depends strictly on the displacement of problems in function of forces susceptible to radicalising its expression in thepresent imperative.The projection of a ‘Bergsonian paradigm of immanence’ in the field of art, taken at its very first historic inscription (in Matisse, in Fauvism), is such a small exception to this that it is the very notion of theaestheticthat finds itself radically problematised...

    • 5. Bergson Before Deleuze: How to Read Informel Painting
      (pp. 80-93)

      Gilles Deleuze ‘rediscovered’ Bergson, according to some of the ‘New Bergsonists’. Yet, far from there being a lapse in terms of Bergson’s impact, he was named ‘philosopher of the age’ by theNouvelle Revue Françaisein 1939, and maintained a vital presence in France in the 1940s, not only in philosophical and Catholic circles. His thought was key to the understanding of the turn in painting known as theinformeland the related movement known as lyrical abstraction.¹ Created in Occupied France at the moment of Bergson’s death, a multifarious body of work, initially full of spirituality and anguish, expressed...

    • 6. Revolutionary Immanence: Bergson Among the Anarchists
      (pp. 94-112)

      In 1913 a public battle occurred among prominent figures in the anarchist movement over the merits of Henri Bergson. This heated exchange pitted the defenders of anarchist-communism – led by the prominent Russian anarchist and scientist Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) and his ally Jean Grave, editor ofLes Temps Nouveaux(1895–1921) – against a group of anarchist individualists headed by André Colomer (1886–1931), co-founder of the journalL’Action d’art(1913). At the time, Kropotkin was an international celebrity among the European intelligentsia, whereas Colomer was a self-styled philosopher, poet, theatrical performer and rising star in the anarchist firmament.¹ This schism...

  7. Part II: Unconditional Practice

    • 7. The Matter of the Image: Notes on Practice-Philosophy
      (pp. 115-130)

      ‘Just walk in a straight line’, says the male voice in the opening of the film titledSwamp.¹ But the body holding the camera cannot comply with these instructions, and the creation of the art form is left for the camera to determine, frame by frame, as it records the process of the camera-body movement. As the body moves within the landscape of soft golden grassed tracks, a pale blue high skyline and browntopped flax-coloured reed stems are forced out of view and the lineforms created are crossed, barriers to movement that are anything but straight. Perceptual conflict arises from...

    • 8. Pasearse: Duration and the Act of Photographing
      (pp. 131-147)

      Pasearseis a self-reflexive verb that could be translated as to ‘take oneself for a walk’. Walking as an artistic and intellectual practice has had a substantial trajectory within the history of painting and photography: from the early artists of the picturesque movement to the more contemporary ones, including the urban walks of the Situationists’ or those of the Land Art movement. For artists such as Richard Long and Robert Smithson, walking is central to the development of tactics, methods and practices that are confronted with the complexity of physical as well as mental activity. A verb lies at the...

    • 9. Duration and Rhetorical Movement
      (pp. 148-164)

      The two paintings we see in reproduction are James McNeill Whistler’sSymphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl(1862) (Figure 9.1) and Édouard Manet’sLuncheon on the Grass(1862) (Figure 9.2), but they are qualitatively multiple and the crowd writing this chapter sees many of them. The paintings share a history as successful scandals at the 1863 Paris refusals’ salon, after the academy had denied them wall space in the official salon. In their own time, these paintings were dissident works through their disruption of representative normalcy and their ambiguous, defiant gaze; however, their time is not their own....

    • 10. A Diagram of the Finite-Infinite Relation: Towards a Bergsonian Production of Subjectivity
      (pp. 165-186)

      Henri Bergson’sMatter and Memoryamounts to a revolution in thought, a radical ‘switch’ in how we understand ourselves, and especially our relation to the past (understood as that which is ‘outside’ our present experience). For Bergson, we are not composed of a body and of a mind inhered within the latter. Indeed, we are not a vessel or a container for our memories (Bergson’s thesis is a critique of interiority in this sense), but more like a point or probe that is moving through matter and which is itself part of the very matter through which it moves. In...

  8. Part III: Immanence of the Visible

    • 11. Painting the Invisible: Time, Matter and the Image in Bergson and Michel Henry
      (pp. 189-205)

      There are intriguing parallels between the thought of Bergson and that of the radically unorthodox phenomenologist Michel Henry, although the latter, so far as I can tell, made little or no reference to the former and identified wholly – if also dissentingly – with phenomenology.¹ Bergson’s philosophy in any case has much in common with phenomenology, through shared origins in nineteenthcentury psychology; Bergson, like William James and Franz Brentano, conducted a philosophical enquiry into psychic life, in contrast to the scientistic experimentalism of the psycho-physicians.² In France, Bergson’s thought left traces in the work of both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Henry, a philosopher...

    • 12. ‘For We Will Have Shown it Nothing’: Bergson as Non-Philosopher (of) Art
      (pp. 206-231)

      Towards the end of Henri Bergson’s 1911 lectures on ‘The Perception of Change’, a peculiar moment is reached when philosophy is forwarded as a kind of popular art, only one that is notforthe masses so much as one that could be performedbyeveryone, generating altered perceptions ‘more continual and more accessible to the majority’. This general art allows a democracy of vision irrespective of artistic aptitude: ‘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...

    • 13. The Untimeliness of Bergson’s Metaphysics: Reading Diffractively
      (pp. 232-246)

      Monday morning, the first semester of the academic year. I hear the English table clock in my living room strike 7:30. I put on my glasses, get up, switch on the radio, feed my cat, take a shower. At ten minutes past eight I hit the road in order to take the train to the university. An hour later I am in front of the students, waiting for them to unpack their bags. My thoughts are lingering and I realise that I am wearing my acetate glasses. Why did I wear these and not my other pair? Searching for answers...

    • 14. Hyperaesthesia and the Virtual
      (pp. 247-259)

      Bergson’s conviction that we perceive much more than our consciousness allows us to perceive is central to his understanding of the virtual. This enigmatic part played by the virtual in Bergson’s theory of perception receives its compelling quality from the confluence of a philosophical interest in Leibniz’s monadology and its theory ofpetits perceptions,with a parapsychological inquiry into the phenomenon of ‘hyperaesthesia’ or states of extreme perception. The latter are characterised by a high intensity of perception – mainly but not exclusively visual perception – that becomes manifest in pathological contexts where conciousness and the habits of daily life are suspended....

  9. Afterword: An Art Historical Return to Bergson
    (pp. 260-271)

    ‘A Return to Bergson’ is the title of Gilles Deleuze’s famous afterword for the English translation ofBergsonism(1966). Written more than twenty years after the book’s initial publication, the afterword is itself another opening, another invitation to return to Bergson that extends his project today. As Deleuze writes, this renewal or extension is undertaken ‘in relation to the transformations of life and society, in parallel with the transformation of science’.³ These well-known lines express Deleuze’s methodology of ‘return’, his history of philosophy as repetition and masquerade. Hence his singular ‘Bergsonism’ is a method that prioritises concepts inherent in Bergson’s...

  10. Index
    (pp. 272-276)