becoming, bergson, break, depth, diachrony, divergence, event, experience, flow, fracture, intensity, invention, irreversibility, memory, phenomenology, rhythm, science, sensation, time, victor hugo

On the Origin of Duration

Caspar David Friedrich, Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1824)

On The Origin of Duration

(Notes towards a “Genealogy” of Time)

Time is invention, or it is nothing.

Henri Bergson

Time is a stutter, a clue, a signal from beyond which comes from within. The concept “temporality” breaks itself, already expresses divergence, it forever escapes our control.

The flow of time outruns itself, it is always diachronous, bringing thought straight back to its origin, to the quality without quantity, to an intensity issuing neither in number nor form, but rather in pure expressivity itself, in the depth and fullness of experience. Memory is the form of this recurrence, through the continuous variation of matter along certain axes of symmetry, the flowing solution of a complex problem of folding events, unfolding new durations.

Becoming is a transmission received in convoluted mazes, actualization is labyrinthine: not only a million decisions, but a million ideas — and so a million qualities, varieties and dimensions of time, tucked away and tiny, alive in the cracks between the problems and the idea, between memory and the future, waiting to be explored.

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Bachelard, Barthélémy, becoming, bergson, communication, complexity, French Translation, individuation, ontogenesis, ontology, philosophy of science, physiology, Simondon, singularities, Teildhard de Chardin, transindividual, Untranslated Theory

Translation: Jean-Hugues Barthélémy on Simondon, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin


The following is the first half of chapter 1 from Jean-Hugues Barthélémy’s book Penser l’individuation: Simondon et la philosophie de la nature. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005. p. 37-48. Original translation by Taylor Adkins on 10/22/07.

Chapter 1

The concept of object and the concept of subject, in the same virtue of their origin, are limits that philosophical thought must overcome. –Gilbert Simondon

1. Ontology and ontogenesis: from Bergson to Simondon

The philosophically fundamental watchword of all Simondian thought undoubtedly resides in the idea according to: the process of individuation cannot be ob-jectified by knowledge, since the former is produced by the latter if the knowledge of individuation is itself the individuation of knowledge. This is why the principal introduction of his thesis ends with these lines:

We cannot, in the usual sense of the term, know the individuation; we can only individuate, individuate ourselves, and individuate in ourselves; this seizure is thus, in the margin of knowledge properly stated, an analogy between two operations, which is a certain mode of communication. The individuation of the real exterior to the subject is seized by the subject thanks to the analogical individuation of knowledge in the subject; but it is through the individuation of knowledge and not by knowledge alone that the individuation of (non-subject) beings is seized. Beings can be known by the knowledge of the subject, but the individuation of beings can be seized only by the individuation of the knowledge of the subject.[1]

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assemblage, Bachelard, becoming, bergson, Deleuze, difference, duration, image, intuition, memory, metaphysics, metapsychology, ontology, problematics, time, virtual, Whitehead

Bergsonism, or Philosophy of Sub- and Superhuman Durations


Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone, 1991.

Bergson on several occassions compares the approach of philosophy to the procedure of infinitesimal calculus: When we have benefited in experience from a little light which shows us a line of articulation, all that remains is to extend it beyond experience—just as mathematicians reconstitute, with the infinitely small elements that they perceive of the real curve, ‘the curve itself stretching out into the darkness behind them.’ In any case, Bergson is not one of those philosophers who ascribes a properly human wisdom and equilibrium to philosophy. To open us up to the inhuman and the superhuman (durations which are inferior or superior to our own), to go beyond the human condition: This is the meaning of philosophy, in so far as our condition condemns us to live among badly analyzed composites, and to be badly analyzed composites ourselves (Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism pg 27-28).


Deleuze’s project in Bergsonism is to render a systematic understanding of Bergson’s concepts in their interrelations. Of course, this book is an experiment in philosophical buggery, and so there is a clear Deleuzian ring to it. There is much in here that is strictly related to Deleuze’s project, but in itself it still retains a lot of theoretical value and stands as a concise and intriguing reading of Bergson. The first chapter on intuition as method lays out clearly Bergson’s project in three moves: (1) state and create problems; (2) discover the genuine differences in kind; (3) apprehend time in its reality as duration. To construct this method in its rigor, we must set out some rules as we go along.

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bergson, laughter, society

Bergson (Theory of Laughter)

As contrary electricities attract each other and accumulate between the two plates of the condenser from which the spark will presently flash, so, by simply bringing people together, strong attractions and repulsions take place, followed by an utter loss of balance, in a word, by that electrification of the soul known as passion. Were man to give way to the impulse of his natural feelings, were there neither social nor moral law, these outbursts of violent feeling would be the ordinary rule in life. But utility demands that these outbursts should be foreseen and averted. Man must live in society, and consequently submit to rules. And what interest advises, reason commands: duty calls, and we have to obey the summons. Under this dual influence has perforce been formed an outward layer of feelings and ideas which make for permanence, aim at becoming common to all men, and cover, when they are not strong enough to extinguish it, the inner fire of individual passions. The slow progress of mankind in the direction of an increasingly peaceful social life has gradually consolidated this layer, just as the life of our planet itself has been one long effort to cover over with a cool and solid crust the fiery mass of seething metals. But volcanic eruptions occur. And if the earth were a living being, as mythology has feigned, most likely when in repose it would take delight in dreaming of these sudden explosions, whereby it suddenly resumes possession of its innermost nature. Such is just the kind of pleasure that is provided for us by drama.

Henri Bergson (Laughter)

awareness, bergson, cogito, freud, interconnection, memory, poise

Bergson (Attention)

“Collecting, organizing the totality of its experience in what we call its character, the mind causes it to converge upon actions in which we shall afterwards find, together with the action which is their matter, the unforeseen form which is stamped upon them by personality; but the action is not able to become real unless it succeeds in encasing itself in the actual situation, that is to say, in that particular assemblage of circumstances which is due to the particular position of the body in time and space… Our body, with the sensations which it recieves on the one hand and he movements which it is capable of executing on the other hand, is then, that which fixes our mind, and gives it balance and poise. The activity of the mind goes far beyond the mass of accumulated memories, as this mass of memories itself is infinitely more than the sensations and movements of the present hour; but these sensations and these movements condition what we may call our attention to life, and that is why everything depends on their cohesion in the normal work of the mind, as in a pyramid which should stand on its apex.”
(Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory 172-3)

Why does the nervous system, like human societies and organizations, seems to beg for analysis and comprehension through the lens or cipher of a pyramidal geometry? The focal point of Bergson’s hierarchical schema of consciousness is focus itself, that is, attention or awareness; we have here a series of superimposed triangles (after Lacan’s schema) whose pinpoint alternates between polarized modalities: first, the ocular apparatus (itself a double tripartite structure whose apex is the surface of the cornea, with the visual field on one side and the inverted reflection on the other); then, sensation: the body’s inter-face with externality, the focal point again being focus itself; then, the spiritual-social: the subject’s inter-transposition with the void and the face on either side, an infinite and unterritorializable relation which cuts jagged gashes across and through the “stuff” and matter of subjectivity.

Indeed, Bergson is absolutely correct–everything depends on the cohesion of these jagged, irregular, mobile structures; their tripartite division (mind, body, soul; idea, image, word; object, eye, gaze) expresses the radical separation between any two layers within any structure, which reveals the radical interconnection between structures of awareness. Balance is inevitable, constantly resurging, self-correcting. We deconstruct the layers of awareness (physical, sensible, spiritual) only to discover their essential identity and contradiction in the same movement; it is this very rupture which is objectified in the cogito; this objectification is of course its downfall, as in fact it makes a much stronger case when inverted: we think because we are– i.e., pure materialism– but either way, the identity asserted between mind and body represses the fundamental rupture, the void point between or across both which awareness represents. But why does Bergson stand the pyramid upon its point?

The inversion which Bergson here intends is not between our body and its movements, nor between mind (thought, theory, memory, time) versus body (sensation, matter, movement, space); rather, there is a fundamental paradigm of balance and “poise” under which any awareness “decodes” itself through (e)motion, allows a crack in being so that its essence or “charater” may be exposed, and this rupture is rather the empty core of that helix around which body and mind are braided together–that is, the world is neither a stage upon which awareness and expression are performed are performed any more than awareness can give itself means, substance or inspiration to function.

By connecting awareness to balance, to the apex of an inverted pyramid, does Bergson not represent the weight, the burden of existence upon the singular “point” of the subject whose iceberg of unconsciousness is rather bearing down on his conscious attention rather than supporting? Our awareness is white hot and right here–is it not every engaged in an endless dissolution and triage of the mass of memories–which is itself a dissolution, displacement and metaphor for the mass of movements and sensations? Awareness is not thrown, but surges up from beneath a weight, constituted from the very courage to stand, as well as the steadiness to continue.

Yet, this balance is something like a logical rupture between “bodies” as independent, isolated, separate and mentally supervised “movement” as relationity, synchronicity interconnection. Poise is a kind of improvised synchronization with externality, as between “mind” as memories and “body” as pure sensation. This balance is not a solution; rather it is more like the generations, successive improvisations on similar themes; the uneasy balance of the family is structural (and is this still not the most repressed of Freud’s discoveries?) but constantly seeking cohesion of disparate personalities, both antagonism and resolution.

Therefore the balance of Bergson’s pyramid is as precarious as our attention span, for it is both (a) pure presentation and cautiously maintained, and (b) chronically absent and desperately sought after. Love, faith, understanding: are these are really enough to pacify and balance memory, to sanctify the present assembly, and transform emptiness into holiness? I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure the answer is “yes”–if only for the briefest of moments…