19 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §9 "The Aesthetic Feelings. Their Increasing Intensities are Really Different Feelings"

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary; my commentary is in brackets.]

Bergson, Time and Free Will (Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience)

Chapter I, "The Intensity of Psychic States"

Part III: "The Aesthetic Feelings

§9 "The Aesthetic Feelings. Their Increasing Intensities are Really Different Feelings"

Previously we examined emotions that seemed to increase in their magnitude, but really only changed qualitatively.

Aesthetic feelings demonstrate this even more clearly.

The simplest aesthetic feeling is the feeling of grace.

a) First, we perceive someone's facility of motion. Their movements are easy, and each one prepares the way for the succeeding motion.

b) We come then to foresee the person's movements, and we perceive how the person attains them with ease.

If jerky movements are wanting in grace, the reason is that each of them is self-sufficient and does not announce those which are to follow. If curves are more graceful than broken lines, the reason is that, while a curved line changes its direction at every moment, every new direction is indicated in the preceding one. Thus the perception of ease in motion passes over into the pleasure of mastering the flow of time and of holding the future in the present.


Si les mouvements saccadés manquent de grâce, c'est parce que chacun d'eux se suffit à lui-même et n'annonce pas ceux qui vont le suivre. Si la grâce préfère les courbes aux lignes brisées, c'est que la ligne courbe change de direction à tout moment, mais que chaque direction nouvelle était indiquée dans celle qui la précédait. La perception d'une facilité à se mouvoir vient donc se fondre ici dans le plaisir d'arrêter en quelque sorte la marche du temps, et de tenir l'avenir dans le présent.


c) The graceful movements accompanied to musical rhythm adds a third element. The rhythm adds so much foreseeability to their motions that we come to believe we control them.

the regularity of the rhythm establishes a kind of communication between him and us, and the periodic returns of the measure are like so many invisible threads by means of which we set in motion this imaginary puppet.


la régularité du rythme établit entre lui et nous une espèce de communication, et les retours périodiques de la mesure sont comme autant de fils invisibles au moyen desquels nous faisons jouer cette marionnette imaginaire.


The rhythm of the music in accordance with the dancer's movements causes our bodies to synchronize rhythmically. So if the dancing stops even if just for a moment, our bodies will tend toward continuing the motion "as thought to push it, as though to replace it in the midst of this movement, the rhythm of which has taken complete possession of our thought and will." (12-13)

Thus physical sympathy is inovlved in the feeling of grace. The pleasure of this feeling does not come from an efficient saving of effort, as Herbert Spencer argues. We feel a sympathetic connection with the dancer, who affects us profoundly. So we really derive our pleasure from the "suggestion of a possible movement towards ourselves, of a virtual (virtuelle) and even nascent sympathy." (13bc)

So when we watch the dancer, each successive sensation seems to be "heralded by its predecessor." Really what happens is that the dancer's rhythm gradually colors more and more of our constituent states. We experience that progress as an increase of the feeling of grace, which is an increase in our sympathetic connection with the dancer. However, there is no net increase of anything. Rather, only more of our total constituent states come to synchronize with the dancer. This gives the illusion of an increasing intensity of the feeling of grace, when really there was merely a "qualitative progress" of sensations. (13d)

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Images from the pages summarized above, in the English Translation [click on the image for an enlargement]:

Images from the pages summarized above, in the original French [click on the image for an enlargement]:

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Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, Transl. F. L. Pogson, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001).

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French text from:

Bergson, Henri. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Originally published Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1888.


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