1 Aug 2009

The Doubled Jets of Time. Mind-Energy. p157-160. Bergson

by Corry Shores
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The Doubled Jets of Time

Henri Bergson


Chapter V

Memory of the Present and False Recognition


Bergson will explain why the past happens at the same time as the present, and also why the passing of a thing does not involve its being replaced by something new.

He regards memory as something psychical and not physical. And perception for him is the “consciousness of anything that is present, whether it be an internal or an external object.” (157) Bergson then claims that

the formation of memory is never posterior to the formation of perception; it is contemporaneous with it. Step by step, as perception is created, the memory of it is projected beside it, as the shadow falls beside the body. (157d)

However, we are not normally aware of the full collection of memories, even though they are always there in each perception.

Now Bergson has us consider the opposing thesis: memory is not created at the same moment as our perception. But, Bergson objects, if it is not created at the same moment, then at what moment will it be created? This would suggest that we perceive something in the present, and then it comes no longer to exist. After it passes away, we retain it as a remembrance or past perception. To see things this way would mean that “our conscious existence must be composed of clear-cut states, each of which must begin objectively, and also objectively end.” (158)

Now consider first if we saw a play. Then we want to divide it into smaller dramatic divisions. But where we make our cuts has much to do with our interpretation of the action in the play. And also, as we consider the play more, our interpretation changes. Bergson says that it would be the same if we broke our conscious states into separate parts: it is “clear that dividing psychical life into states, as we divide a play into scenes, is relative to the varied and changing interpretations we give of our past and has nothing absolute about it.” (158) We cannot make such divisions, because “the unrolling of psychical life is continuous” (158-159)

The afternoon I happen to have spent in the country with friends has broken up into luncheon + walk + dinner, or into conversation + conversation + conversation, etc., and of none of these conversations, treading as it were on the heels of another, could it be said that it forms a distinct entity. Scores of systems of carving are possible; no system corresponds with joints of reality. What right have we, then, to suppose that memory chooses one particular system, or that it divides psychical life into definite periods and awaits the end of each period in order to rule up its accounts with perception? (159)

But someone might claim that we see an object, and just as soon as it passes, it then becomes a memory. However, Bergson explains, each moment of perception is unique to itself. Each such moment is always passing. And also, for that reason, our memories could never know when it has reached the final moment of the object.

But this is to ignore the fact that the perception is ordinarily composed of successive parts, and that these parts have just as much individuality, or rather just as little, as the whole. Of each of them we can as well say that its object is disappearing all along: how, then, could the recollection arise only when everything is over? And how could memory know, at any particular moment of the operation, that everything was not over yet, that perception was still incomplete ? (159d, emphasis mine)

So really, recollections must be created “step by step with the perception itself.” (159-160) Hence memory is

twofold at every moment, its very up-rush being in two jets exactly symmetrical, one of which falls back towards the past whilst the other springs forward towards the future. (160a)

Deleuze offers this diagram in his Cinema II:

Bergson, Henri. Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays. Transl. H. Wildon Carr. New York: Henry Hold and Company, 1920. Available online at: http://www.archive.org/details/mindenergylectur00berguoft

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Transl. Hugh Tomlinson & Robert Galeta, London: Continuum, 1985.

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