Henri Bergson: Time, Memory And Modernism

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Bergson: Time, Memory and Modernism
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) was a French philosopher whose philosophy had a marked influence on later 19th century poetry and also on 20th century modernist thought. In my presentation, I will outline in brief Bergson’s key philosophical thoughts and how they influenced modernist literature.

Bergson maintained that in animals, evolution caused a division between the instinct and the intellect. Although the two are not exclusive of each other, the faculty of intellect is developed more in man while instinct is seen at its best in ants and bees. Intellect is that which reflects upon matter and sees it as discontinuous. For Bergson, human intellect tends to explain everything in a manner fitting its limitations and thus “separates
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Instead of the sequential chronological progression found in the works of earlier ages, Modernist literature moved back and forth in time through the use of memory. Thus memory time as opposed to clock time became an organising principle of many modernist works. What is intuitively perceived, ‘duree’, is a flow; implying that thoughts flow into one another and do not exist as distinct and separate units. In many works, there is a collapsing of the notion of history as past and present are merged seamlessly to give the notion of continuity.

Thirdly, the nature of memory as understood by Bergson allowed for the seemingly uninterrupted nature of human thought. The “stream of consciousness” technique that depicts the continuous flow of ideas and feelings which constitute an individual's conscious experience and the “free associative method” in which “a word idea or feeling acts as a stimulus to a series of words, ideas or feelings which may or may not be logically connected” can be seen as two literary methods influenced by Bergsonian philosophy of memory and

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