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Henri Bergson (1859 - 1941)

Lifespan: 1859 - 1941

Related: French philosophy - process philosophy

Themes and tropes: irrationalism - cinema - time - laughter

With the arrival of cinema, French philosopher Henri Bergson felt the need for new ways of thinking on movement and coined the terms "image-temps" and "image-mouvement" in Matière et Mémoire (1896). Gilles Deleuze, another French philosopher, took Matière et Mémoire as the basis of this theory on and used it to explain his views in his Cinéma I & II (1983-1985). [May 2006]

Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1911) - Henri Bergson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Henri-Louis Bergson (October 18, 1859 - January 4, 1941) was a French philosopher, influential at least in France, but out of the main currents of his time.

Bergson's life was the quiet and uneventful one of a French professor, the chief landmarks in it being the publication of his three principal works, first, in 1889, the Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (Time and Free Will), then Matiere et Memoire (Matter and Memory) in 1896, and L'Evolution créatrice (Creative Evolution) in 1907. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Bergson, Apr 2004

Cinema [...]

Both Gilles Deleuze and Henri Bergson were, to extremely varying degrees, philosophers interested in cinema who used cinema to suit their particular intellectual needs. In the case of Bergson, he cultivated his ideas during a zeitgeist that included the invention of cinema (late 19th century). To a large extent, Bergson's philosophical ideas were shaped by the same cultural, economic, and technological climate that gave rise to narrative cinema. Deleuze on the other hand, erected a two-volume Bergsonian philosophy of cinema toward the end of the century that stands as one of the most stimulating studies of time and cinema. Although a self-professed Bergsonian, Deleuze's sprawling philosophical style is in stark contrast to Bergson's precise and systematic philosophical system. Deleuze's postmodern style is part of its appeal -playful, mercurial, and open to creative interpretation. Terms that are meant to carry critical weight are introduced offhandedly and then left hanging for pages. One neologism gives birth to three others. In a sense, Deleuze's style, forever Becoming, is more Bergsonian than Bergson. --Donato Totaro,"Gilles Deleuze's Bergsonian Film Project"  Part 1 by Donato Totaro

Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889) - Henri Bergson

Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889) - Henri Bergson
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Bergson, all the rage in the early 1900s, has now been rediscovered, thanks in part to the work of Deleuze et al. Time and Free Will is a great exemplar of Bergson's work and his idea of the duree and the spatialization of time. Bergson presents to the reader an energetic flux which is the precondition of our more vulgar concept of time. With this flux, the past is pulled along by the future and presented to consciousness in the present as a heterogeneous conglomeration, inseperable and uncategorizable. It is this work which inspired the stream of consciousness novelists, especially Proust. But the most remarkable element of Time and Free Will is its demand on the reader to live the duree, to return to the duree and forget oneself in it. The goal is freedom and authenticity and this can only be achieved when letting oneself go, flying like a bird, and despatializing time. This book does not only open the door to phenomenology, but it also contributes in a significant way to french existentialist thought. -- anar_schizo@hotmail.com for amazon.com

Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1911) - Henri Bergson

Clem Kadiddlehopper wore a funny hat. Even animals other than humans seem to laugh, because they, too, possess emotions. And sometimes, when you're by yourself, you just start giggling for no reason. But that's not funny. As Henri Bergson, proto-existentialist French philosopher and author of Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, would say, you can stop laughing now. We must rethink what tickles us. For Bergson, laughter is a purely intellectual response that serves the social purpose of assuaging discomfort over the unaccustomed and unexpected. We chuckle at Lucy attempting to wrap the bonbons speeding by on a candy-factory conveyor belt because she's stuck in one place, performing the same task over and over, and failing; we hope that in similar situations we could be more flexible. Bergson recaps: "Rigidity is the comic, and laughter is its corrective."

Bergson's thinking typifies a peculiarly Gallic tendency to rationalize the apparently ephemeral and subjective (in this case, humor), discussing it in exquisitely rarefied language in order to assert that which defies common sense (a funny hat is not funny, laughter expresses no emotion, no one laughs alone) but partakes nonetheless of a logical inevitability. Laughter, first published in 1911, clearly draws upon the early years of European modernism, yet also prefigures the movement in some ways. In recognizing the comic as it embodies itself in a "rigid," absentminded person, locked into repetitious, socially awkward behavior, Bergson--even as he looks backward, primarily to Molière--seems to be spawning the sophisticated visual and physical comedy of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd; the transformation of Léger's figures into anthropoid machines; and Nijinsky's starring role in Stravinsky's satirical clockwork ballet Pétrouchka.

This little book resurrects a British translation that has long been out of print. While Laughter won't quite explain why the French love Jerry Lewis, or keep you in stitches, it's a bracing read that will make you think twice about laughing the next time someone stumbles into a lamppost. --Robert Burns Neveldine via Amazon.com

Product Description:
Philosophy. In this great philosophical essay, Henri Bergson explores why people laugh and what laughter means. First translated into English in 1911, this important work has long been unavailable.

see also: comedy - philosophy

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