Beyond Bergson: the ontology of togetherness

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Fell, Elena Vladimirovna (2009)

Bergson's views on communication can be deduced from his theory of selfhood, in which he identifies the human self as heterogeneous duration a complex process that can only be adequately understood from within, when we intuit our own inner life. Another person, accessing us from outside, inevitably distorts and misunderstands our nature because duration is incommunicable. Does Bergsonism assert the failure of communication in principle? No, if we develop Bergson's theory further and identify the process of communication as heterogeneous duration. As such, it is intuited from within by its participants who engage with each other in the process of dealing with the same object. They intuit the process of which they are part and thus intuit each other's involvement in it as well. To appreciate the importance of this implicit mutual communicative engagement we only need to imagine an empty airport with just one passenger or a deserted pleasure beach.\ud Bergson does not have a theory of communication per se but his views on communication can be extracted from his ontology and epistemology. These views may account for some apparent failures of communication conflicts, loneliness, hostility and Bergson uses them to suggest a way out towards better and more harmonious intersubjective relations.\ud Bergson claims that we misunderstand reality in general and each other in particular. Instead of trying to grasp human nature directly in intuition we analyse its being and create a distorted view of one another. If we were able to conceive the human self as it is, we would see it as duration and might be able to reach the state of an open society where people's love towards one another is ontologically backed up by their openness towards each other's being.\ud However, the Bergsonian theory of duration and intuition, promising to resolve the difficulties of communication, reasserts these difficulties metaphysically. The idea of duration entails the impossibility of accessing it from outside, as the genuine view of it is only possible from within. This paper, instead of trying to salvage a model of communication where people strive to intuit each other's uniqueness, locates intuition in the very act of communication. Bergson himself finds intuition in artistic creation where the artist and spectators communicate by intuiting a common object without learning any personal details about each other. We find that communication is itself duration and that the communicating participants are heterogeneous elements of that duration. As such they are subservient to the act of communication that displays features of autonomous existence. Our model of communication, although accepting the impenetrability of one's person for a complete cognitive penetration from outside, allows for the partial fusion of minds engaged in the same act of communication and negotiating the same subject matter.
  • References (4)

    Henri Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1889

    Henri Bergson, “Introduction à la métaphysique” in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, January, 1903

    Henri Bergson, Matière et mémoire. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1896 Henri Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1932

    Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, Translated by Richard Pevear, Penguin Books, 2006 Prosper Mérimée, A Chronicle of the Reign of Charles, translated by Frank S. Holby, New York and Philadelphia, MCMVI

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