24 Dec 2009

One or Many Hypotheses of Duration? §73. Ch.4.One or Many Durations? Bergsonism. Deleuze

by Corry Shores
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[The following summarizes parts of Deleuze's Bergsonism. My commentary is in brackets. Paragraph subheadings are my own.]

Gilles Deleuze

Le bergsonisme

Une ou plusieurs durées ?
One or Many Durations?

One or Many Hypotheses of Duration?

Deleuze wonders if for Bergson, there is one duration shared by all consciousnesses, or if there are as many durations as there are minds. Deleuze notes that in Duration and Simultaneity, Bergson addresses three possibilities. [For more detail, see §35 of Duration and Simultaneity]

1) Generalized Pluralism
According to this theory, each conscious being experiences a rhythm of duration; yet, every individual experiences durational rhythm in their own unique way. Hence this would be a radical multiplicity of Time. Bergson claims he once advanced this hypothesis. ["We once advanced a theory of that kind with regard to living species. We distinguished durations of higher and lower tension, characteristic of different levels of consciousness, ranging over the animal kingdom" (Bergson, DS 31), again, see §35 of Ch.3]. Yet, Bergson goes on to say that he did not then realize that we could as well extend this hypothesis to the material world, such that it posits different durations for the many material things in the world around us. This is the basis for the next hypothesis.

2) Limited Pluralism
Under this view, we would not say that the things outside us experience a duration that is absolutely different from our own. Rather, exterior things participate in our duration and give it emphasis. [For more on this participation, see the pendulum example in Time and Free Will §68]. But the way they partake in our conscious experience of duration is mysterious. This is because there is some "inexpressible ground" to external objects [§144] that is responsible for the conversion from their exterior non-durational character into our conscious awareness of them changing through time. So this thesis is partly a condensation of ideas from Time and Free Will. In Creative Evolution Bergson says that things participate in our consciousness on account of all things belonging to the Whole of the universe [reference to be added later]. Nonetheless, the nature of the Whole along with our relation to it remains mysterious. Thus Bergson suggests another hypothesis.

3) Monism
"There is only a single time, a single duration, in which everything would participate, including our consciousnesses, including living beings, including the whole material world" / "il n'y aurait qu'un seul temps, une seule durée, auquel tout participerait, y compris nos consciences, y compris les vivants, y compris le tout du monde matériel" (Deleuze 78c/78c).

In footnote 13 [first note of page 78 in the French text], Deleuze recognizes that in Matter and Memory, Bergson speaks of a plurality of rhythms [reference to be added later]. Different minds experience different 'tensions.' Bergson writes:

In reality there is no one rhythm of duration; it is possible to imagine many different rhythms which, slower or faster, measure the degree of tension or relaxation of different kinds of consciousness, and thereby fix their respective places in the scale of being. To conceive of durations of different tensions is perhaps both difficult and strange to our mind, because we have acquired the useful habit of substituting for the true duration, lived by consciousness, an homogeneous and independent Time; but, in the first place, it is easy, as we have shown, to detect the illusion which renders such a thought foreign to us, and, secondly, this idea has in its favour, at bottom, the tacit agreement of our consciousness. Do we not sometimes perceive in ourselves, in sleep, two contemporaneous and distinct persons of whom one sleeps a few minutes, while the other's dream fills days and weeks? And would not the whole of history be contained in a very short time for a consciousness at a higher degree of tension than our own, which should watch the development of humanity while contracting it, so to speak, into the great phases of its evolution? (275d)

En réalité, il n'y a pas un rythme unique de la durée; on peut imaginer bien des rythmes différents, qui, plus lents ou plus rapides, mesureraient le degré de tension ou de relâchement des consciences, et, par là, fixeraient leurs places respectives dans la série des êtres. Celte représentation de durées à élasticité inégale est peut-être pénible pour notre esprit, qui a contracté l'habitude utile de substituer à la durée vraie, vécue par la conscience, un temps homogène et indépendant; mais d'abord il est facile, comme nous l'avons montré, de démasquer l'illusion qui rend une telle représentation pénible, et ensuite cette idée a pour elle, au fond, l’assentiment tacite de notre conscience. Ne nous arrive-t-il pas de percevoir en nous, pendant notre sommeil, deux personnes contemporaines et distinctes dont l'une dort quelques minutes tandis que le rêve de l'autre occupe des jours et des semaines? Et l'histoire tout entière ne tiendrait-elle pas en un temps très court pour une conscience plus tendue que la nôtre, qui assisterait au développement de l'humanité en le contractant, pour ainsi dire, dans les grandes phases de son évolution? (231b.d)

However, Deleuze explains that this multiplicity of rhythms comes to be termed the plurality of fluxes in Duration & Simultaneity. And we shall see that these fluxes are unified into one duration.

Yet, this is surprising. We would have expected from Bergson that he would consider duration to be a multiplicity. For in Time and Free Will he characterizes duration as a thoroughly heterogeneous multiplicity [See for example §65, §68, and §69].

Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. Transl. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books, 1991.Deleuze, Gilles.

Le bergsonisme. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France, 1966.

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