Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros26Dossier Université Invitée: GenèvePoétiques de recompositionStrange Distance: Bergson and Sym...

Dossier Université Invitée: Genève
Poétiques de recomposition

Strange Distance: Bergson and Symbolism

Une étrange distance : Bergson et le symbolisme
Una strana distanza: Bergson e simbolismo
Patrick Jones

Résumés

L’article traite de la rencontre entre la littérature et la philosophie dans l’essai de Maurice Blanchot, « Bergson et le symbolisme ». Il est tentant de lire cette critique, qui met en question l’opinion selon laquelle la pensée de Bergson est un fondement de l’esthétique moderne, comme une affirmation de la singularité de la littérature, qui rend tout échange avec la philosophie futile. Mais une telle lecture s’ancre dans une conception de la relation entre les deux disciplines dont l’essai de Blanchot propose une subtile remise en question. En le confrontant à d’autres auteurs (notamment Maurice Merleau-Ponty), nous verrons au contraire qu’il ouvre un espace pour une rencontre plus fugitive dans laquelle le contact n’est pas fondé sur une coïncidence, mais sur une dialectique étrange de proximité et de distance.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1 “Da stehn sie, die Geschwisterkinder, auf einer Straße stehn sie im Gebirg, es schweigt der Stock, (...)

There they stand, the cousins, on a road in the mountains, the stick silent, the stones silent, and the silence no silence at all.1 Paul Celan

Coinciding from Afar

  • 2 “[Mallarmé ne] voyai[t] que ceux de [s]es collègues dont les heures de classe se trouvaient coïncid (...)
  • 3 “Séparés à peine presque chaque jour par quelques cloisons le plus grand philosophe et l’un des plu (...)

1For a little over a year, Henri Bergson and Stéphane Mallarmé were colleagues at the Collège Rollin in Paris. But, as Bergson confirms in a letter to Charles Chassé, the two men never established contact. The reason behind this is unambiguously mundane: “of his collegues, Mallarmé saw only those whose classroom hours happened to coincide with his own.”2 In a frequently cited passage, Charles Lalo nevertheless accentuates the dramatic charge of this accident of history, writing that despite being “separated almost every day by little more than partitions, Mallarmé and Bergson never spoke to each other. The greatest philosopher and one of the greatest poets of this generation spent long hours in close proximity without ever knowing it.”3 Lalo’s embellishments are worth pausing over, because they are typical of how literary historians respond to such missed encounters: counterfactual scenarios are evoked, and the dominant feeling, however indirectly expressed, is of regret. But the nature of this regret – and the fantasies and presuppositions about philosophy that inform it – are rarely articulated explicitly.

  • 4 “Il eut été si intéressant de voir Mallarmé jugé par Bergson.” Charles Chassé, “Mallarmé universita (...)
  • 5 See Tancrède de Visan, L’Attitude du lyrisme contemporain, Paris, Mercure de France, 1911 and Emeri (...)

2As an exception to this rule, with striking candour Chassé confesses that “it would have been so interesting to have seen Mallarmé judged by Bergson.”4 At the risk, perhaps, of exaggerating literary criticism’s deference to philosophy’s judgement, it is true that the counterfactual scenarios evoked by the missed encounter are, for the most part, one-sided. The fantasy is not that Bergson would have joined, and been influenced by, the mardistes, but rather that “the philosopher of symbolism”5 might have passed judgement on Mallarmé, giving us, through the propositional clarity of philosophical discourse, a framework through which to measure and assimilate the poet’s achievement. Or, better still, that the author of the recently published Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1889) might have been a direct influence on the poet’s radical experiments.

  • 6 This is especially true in the Anglophone academy. For two particularly representative examples see (...)
  • 7 For a more detailed account of why considering Bergson as the philosopher of symbolism is “an impos (...)
  • 8 Henry Bernstein, “Henri Bergson,” in With Master Minds: Interviews with Henry Bernstein, New York, (...)

3Such fantasies are liable to give way when we consider the form that such a judgement or transfer of influence might take. It is undeniable that Bergson, by offering a vocabulary that allowed writers to defend aesthetic experience in the face of an ever-encroaching, life-denying scientism, made an indelible impact on the development of literary modernism. This is a well-trodden and widely accepted narrative; indeed, it is hard to think of a philosopher whose relationship to literature is, in a sense, more settled in advance.6 In the specific case of the symbolists, however, the chronology is problematic: Bergson’s Essai was published after many of the key works of symbolism, and it was not until the first decade of the twentieth century that Bergson’s thought reached a wide audience.7 More significantly, like Kant before him, Bergson was largely indifferent to the avant-garde of his day, and despite his rhapsodic proclamations about the revelatory capacities of art, his judgements on contemporary authors are often strikingly platitudinous. Take, for instance, his comments on Henry James’s project of revising his novels at the end of his career: “to me this is the sign of a great writer. Only great authors go to the trouble of doing this. They are moved by really artistic feelings.”8

  • 9 “Le retour à l’immédiat, la coïncidence, la fusion effective avec l’existant, la recherche d’une in (...)
  • 10 “Si la coïncidence n’est jamais que partielle, il ne faut pas définir la vérité par la coïncidence (...)
  • 11 “Une coïncidence de loin”; “une étrange distance”. Id., p. 164; p. 163. Trad. p. 125; 124.

4In light of these reflections, the missed encounter between Bergson and Mallarmé will accompany us in the essay that follows, as I find in it a figure not only for the relationship between Bergson and literature, but for philosophy and literature more broadly considered. Ultimately, however, my reading attempts to resist characterising this non-identity or non-coincidence as a privation. I find a guide here in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s chapter on “interrogation and intuition” in Le visible et l’invisible (1964). Over the course of several dense paragraphs, Merleau-Ponty highlights the ways in which post-Cartesian philosophy has grounded the very conditions of its possibility on a restrictive notion of truth as coincidence. On a fundamental level, the philosopher argues, this metaphysics is always oriented towards “the return to the immediate, the coincidence, the effective fusion with the existent, the search for an original integrity, for a secret lost and to be rediscovered.”9 The immediacy, fusion, and integrity longed for here do not, of course, ever arrive, something which is taken to be a reflection of thought’s innate capacity for error. In the face of this, Merleau-Ponty makes a remarkable assertion: “if the coincidence is never but partial, we must not define the truth by total or effective coincidence.”10 What is needed, he suggests enigmatically, is a reconceptualization in which every coincidence is always “a coinciding from afar” determined by “a strange distance” that is not reducible to measurement.11

  • 12 “Idée de la proximité par distance.” Id., p. 168. Trad. p. 128.
  • 13 See Leslie Hill, “Blanchot and Mallarmé,” MLN, 105, 5, Dec. 1990, p. 889-913.

5Merleau-Ponty’s death prevented him from extraopolating this “idea of proximity through distance,” but I see such strange distances at work in Maurice Blanchot’s “Bergson et le symbolism.”12 A tightly coiled review of Emeric Fiser’s Le Symbole littéraire : Essai sur la signification du symbole chez Wagner, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Bergson et Marcel Proust (1941), “Bergson et le symbolisme” first appeared in February 1942 in the Journal des débats as part of Blanchot’s weekly “chronicle of intellectual life” and was later selected for inclusion in Faux pas (1943), Blanchot’s first collection of literary-critical writings. The essays in Faux pas have long been recognised as early landmarks in Blanchot’s œuvre, marking the emergence of his preoccupation with the silence and absence he saw as proper to literature and of his longstanding interest in – and idiosyncratic appropriation of – symbolist (and especially Mallarméan) poetics13. “Bergson et le symbolisme,” however, has received little attention, no doubt on account of its subject matter – a dry academic monograph which makes claims about a philosopher not usually seen as one of Blanchot’s interlocutors – and its formidably difficult prose style.

  • 14 “Étrange objet, brûlot concilié, comme insensible à l’histoire… l’élégance des chroniques de Blanch (...)
  • 15 Philippe Soulez, Frédéric Worms, Bergson : Biographie, Paris, Flammarion, 1997, p. 273-274.

6This difficulty is compounded for anyone at all attuned to the context of its publication. Christophe Bident has astutely noted the incongruity of Blanchot’s column in the pro-Pétain Journal, describing it as “a strange object, a conciliatory invective, which seemed to lack feeling for history … Blanchot’s elegant, arrogantly indifferent articles were printed alongside intolerable propaganda, whether in the form of articles or advertisements.”14 This incongruity becomes even more pronounced when one considers that Bergson died the year before the article was published, of a bronchial infection that was exacerbated by queuing outside in the cold to register with the Vichy authorities as a Jew, an act that, according to many accounts, he submitted to voluntarily, having being given a reprieve on account of his eminence.15 The shadow of political violence hangs over Blanchot’s essay, which makes no reference to the occupation nor to Bergson’s death, even though it is inconceivable that he would not have been aware of it. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this essay to fully weigh in on how one might read “Bergson et le symbolism” in relation to Blanchot’s shift, during the war, from the non-conformist extreme right to the radical left, we will pay close attention to the revisions made to the essay between its initial publication and its appearance in Faux pas, which bring into focus Blanchot’s silences and omissions with regard to context.

  • 16 “Abîme”; “attitude d’antipathie tempérée”. Maurice Blanchot, “Bergson et le symbolisme,” Faux pas, (...)
  • 17 Id., p. 132. Trad., p. 112. “C’est chez Bergson que nous trouvons formulé, avec la plus grande clar (...)

7Whilst its implications and execution are difficult to grapple with, the central argument of Blanchot’s essay is easy to articulate: there is an “abyss” separating Bergson’s “attitude of tempered antipathy” towards language and symbolist poetics, which is characterised by a profound faith in language’s capacity to enter into contact with the essence of the world.16 As a defence of literature’s singularity, it is tempting to read the essay as a ground-clearing, a rejection of a form of writing that would locate in Bergson’s philosophy a “foundation” [fondement] for symbolism, an approach that Fiser embodies when he writes that “it is with Bergson that we find formulated, with the greatest clarity, what the symbolists felt only obscurely and for the most part expressed badly.”17 Inverting this dynamic, Blanchot does not cite Bergson once, and writes of the symbolists with the utmost seriousness. In light of this, the title of the collection in which the essay was published might be read as referring both to a local instance of a mis-step [faux pas], in the sense that the Bergson/symbolism pairing represents a faulty coordinate on our route maps of intellectual history, and perhaps more radically as an interdiction [il ne faut pas] on such comparative work altogether.

  • 18 Kevin Hart (éd.), “Introduction,” in Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy in the Narratives of Mauric (...)
  • 19 “La rencontre désigne donc une relation nouvelle, parce qu’au point de coïncidence – qui n’est pas (...)

8With great subtlety, Blanchot challenges such a reading at the same time as he invites it, reflecting his commitment to giving voice to that which unravels “an apparent order without simply denying its importance or replacing it with something else.”18 Underpinning this deconstructive gesture is a notion of the encounter that bears a striking resemblance to Merleau-Ponty’s meta-philosophical reflections in Le Visible et l’invisible. As Blanchot writes in L’Entretien infini (1969), the encounter “designates a new relation because at the point of coincidence – which is not a point but a divergence – it is non-coincidence that intervenes (that affirms itself in the inter-vening).”19 It is by paying attention to how Blanchot stages the encounter between Bergson and symbolism – to the ways in which he undoes an apparent order without replacing it – that we might be able to think what “inter-venes” in the abyss sounding between philosophy and literature.

Sounding the Abyss

  • 20 “Pour mieux servir la révolution nationale, jeune Français, engage-toi dans l’armée.” Maurice Blanc (...)
  • 21 “On a remarqué que depuis quelques mois la poésie semblait avoir réclamé l’adhésion de plus d’espri (...)
  • 22 “Pendant les heures difficiles… quel exercice périlleux la poésie représente pour quelques-uns.” Id (...)
  • 23 “Il faut se contenter d’observer une fois pour toutes qu’il vaut mieux parler le moins possible de (...)

9As a means of beginning this work, it is worth pausing over the editorial abysses that exist between the article published in the Journal des débats and the essay that appears in Faux pas. In essence, Blanchot excises the first half of the original article and along with it any contextual scaffolding, including revealing statements about philosophy and literature. These methodological assertions surface in more indirect ways in the elliptical final essay. The first is an assertion of his commitment to formalism which, strikingly, is explicitly made in the context of the war. Exemplifying the incongruity that Christophe Bident notes above, below an advertisement that reads “young Frenchman: to best serve the national revolution, enlist in the army”,20 the first sentence of the original article declares that “it has been observed that for some months now, poetry seems to have appealed to more minds than was the case before the war, and this observation has led to conclusions that have generally been a source of comfort”.21 Blanchot writes that he cannot take this idea seriously. He dismisses the idea that poetry might offer a refuge “in difficult times” as the height of vulgarity, for it would amount to a denial of “what a perilous exercise poetry constitutes for a very few.”22 Having rejected the notion that the vitality of poetry can be measured in relation to external circumstances, Blanchot makes a startling assertion: “suffice it to say, once and for all, that it is better to talk as little as possible about poetry, or else only talk about it when form and technique are the issue.”23

  • 24 “Ce qui nous parait devoir être retenu du travail de Fiser, ce sont les inconvénients qu’il y a peu (...)
  • 25 “De fausser l’acte créateur des poètes en lui appliquant les schèmes d’une explication théorique et (...)
  • 26 “La méthode n’a que très peu de sens pour les problèmes littéraires.” Id. Trad., p. 31.

10This sense of protecting literature from idle talk underpins another set of remarks that are omitted in the final essay. Having offered, with barely concealed impatience, a summary of Fiser’s argument, Blanchot comes to the conclusion that “the enduring lesson of Fiser’s work would seem to be that there are perhaps disadvantages in looking for the basis of symbolism in Bergson’s philosophy.”24 To this he offers a stark warning: such an approach risks “falsifying the creative act of the poet by applying to it the framework of a theoretical explanation and the forms taken by enigmas that have already been solved.”25 The terms of the encounter, for the dominant methodology, are always predetermined; but the problems of philosophy are not that of poetry. Arguing that “method makes very little sense in the case of literary problems,”26 Blanchot goes on to make a direct statement of his own standpoint, which contains within it prescient echoes of Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on “a coinciding from afar”:

  • 27 “Ce sont les poètes eux-mêmes qui doivent nous conduire, par leurs œuvres et quelquefois par la con (...)

It is the poets themselves who must guide us, through their works and sometimes through the awareness they had of the means they employ, toward that crucial point on which the diverse powers of their creations converge, like paths that are both identical and separate.27

11What is being questioned here is not comparison tout court, but rather a certain conception of it: one in which the literary text is read in accordance with a metric that renders its specific capacities for thinking – which are dependent on its unique formal properties – unintelligible.

  • 28 “Doit-on chercher dans la philosophie de Bergson le fondement du symbolisme comme on a pris l’habit (...)
  • 29 “Est-il bon de traduire de tels textes, comme cela est naturellement possible, dans les termes de l (...)
  • 30 “[N’ont] rien de commun”; “des analogies tout extérieures”; “infiniment.” Id., p. 134; 132; 135. Tr (...)
  • 31 “Ce jeu, qui nie la poésie, nie aussi le bergsonisme.”Id., p. 133. Trad., p. 113

12Addressing the faulty methodology of literary historians, the opening sentence of the revised essay queries not the possibility of comparing philosophy and literature, but rather the value of doing so when it seeks foundations: “should we seek in Bergson’s philosophy the foundation of symbolism, as is often said, and as E. Fiser, in his work Le Symbole litteraire, invites us to think?”28 The question is reiterated in even starker terms later in the essay: “is it good to translate such texts, as it is of course possible, in terms of Bergsonian philosophy?”29 As we might expect, Blanchot’s response is negative, and he separates the two disciplines by using adverbs that leave little room for manœuvre. He writes that Bergson and symbolism “[have] nothing in common,” that they correspond only through “completely exterior analogies” and are “infinitely” distanced [s’éloigner].30 “This game,” he writes, “which denies poetry, also denies Bergsonism.”31 This is perhaps the key sentence of the essay, and one liable to be forgotten in light of Blanchot’s polemic tone. As we will see, in locating differences between Bergson and symbolism, Blanchot sees in Bergson a thinker who, beyond superficial points of contiguity, poses radical questions about the very possibility of literature. The decisive gesture is that these questions, and the assumptions about language behind them, are simply not shared by the symbolists.

The Rough and Ready Word

  • 32 “Une critique du langage en général, critique qui est probablement aussi ancienne que la parole…une (...)
  • 33 “Nous nous exprimons nécessairement par des mots … une traduction illégitime”. Henri Bergson, Essai (...)

13Invoking, but not citing, the Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, Blanchot isolates a distinctive aspect of Bergson’s critique of language, which is typically taken as a defense of literature. Rather than simply offering “a criticism of language in general, a criticism of language that is probably as old as speech,” it simultaneously displays “an extreme distrust for words and an extreme confidence in poetry.”32 The first words of the Essai provide a basis for understanding this, offering an overview of the suspicion Bergson has towards words. “We necessarily express ourselves using words,” Bergson writes, but words, although having immense importance in our practical lives by imposing stability and allowing us to make distinctions, can only ever offer an “illegitimate translation” of the qualitative singularity of our inner life, which is constitutively irreducible to intellectual reduction.33 This logic is on display in a famous passage about the “rough and ready word”:

  • 34 “Bref, le mot aux contours bien arrêtés, le mot brutal, qui emmagasine ce qu’il y a de stable, de c (...)

In short, the word with well-defined outlines, the rough and ready word, which stores up the stable, common, and consequently impersonal element in the impressions of mankind, overwhelms or at least covers over the delicate and fugitive impressions of our individual consciousness. To maintain the struggle on equal terms, the latter ought to express themselves in precise words; but these words, as soon as they were formed, would turn against the sensation which gave birth to them, and, invented to show that the sensation is unstable, they would impose on it their own stability.34

  • 35 “Je ne vois guère de doctrine en apparence plus étrangère ou plus hostile aux Lettres, mieux propre (...)
  • 36 “Les écrivains cependant ont été les premiers à l’adopter.” Id. Trad., p. 30.

14It is in response to this passage that Jean Paulhan writes that “[he] hardly knows of any other doctrine that is, on the face of it, more alien and more hostile to literature, or more liable to reduce it to a pile of quivering and neglected words.”35 And yet, he goes on, “writers have been the first to adopt it”.36 There are certainly glimmers here of the confidence in poetry that Blanchot locates in Bergson’s philosophy of language: in an idiom of duty and struggle, he suggests that we must express ourselves using precise words.

  • 37 In the Anglophone world, T.E. Hulme’s 1912 translation of this essay, was, alongside William James’ (...)

15Whilst we might be tempted to locate a difference here between Bergson and the notoriously obscure symbolists, it is important to stress that Bergson’s notion of precise language is not linked to propositional clarity. On the contrary, it is about dislocating language into its meaning. This is made clearer in a later essay from 1903 which was famously popular with writers.37 Writing of images rather than words, Bergson argues that

  • 38 “Nulle image ne remplacera l’intuition de la durée, mais beaucoup d’images diverses, empruntées à d (...)

no image can replace the intuition of duration, but many diverse images, borrowed from very different orders of things, may, by the convergence of their action, direct, consciousness to the precise point where there is a certain intuition to be seized.38

  • 39 See Fiser p. 52-62 for a summary of what he means by the literary symbol.

16This, in short, is how Fiser crafts his theory of the symbol: the symbol indirectly images that which the intellect cannot grasp, directing us to the point at which such a revelation is to be seized.39

  • 40 “Cette réalité pure dont aucune image ne peut représenter.” Blanchot, p. 132. Trad., p. 112.
  • 41 “Tout occupé à respecter la pureté et l’originalité de l’intuition primordiale.” Id., p. 133. Trad. (...)
  • 42 “Innocence de la vie profonde” Id., p. 132. Trad., p. 112.

17Despite the rhapsodic tone of this passage, which affirms that aesthetic experience plays a privileged role in reorienting perception towards duration, as Bergson himself insists, “no image can represent” this “whole pure reality.”40 This gives credence to Blanchot’s assertion that Bergsonism is ultimately “completely concerned with respecting the purity and originality of the primordial intuition.”41 Bergson’s preoccupation with the “innocence of profound life” places a heavy, and perhaps even impossible, demand on literature, at once exaggerating and denigrating its powers of representation, an act of adulation and humiliation.42 In Bergson’s account, language may, in certain configurations, allow us to glimpse, in a minimal form, the purity of our inner duration; but this revelation must pass away in its very event. The literary text, then, is forever destined to miss the objects it aims to coincide with. Although not stated explicitly, for Bergson, literature bears witness to the fact that no manifestation of form can coincide with itself in time.

18This logic is demonstrated in another famous passage from the Essai which directly addresses literature:

  • 43 “Que si maintenant quelque romancier hardi, déchirant la toile habilement tissée de notre moi conve (...)

Now, if some bold novelist, tearing aside the cleverly woven curtain of our conventional ego, shows us under this appearance of logic a fundamental absurdity, under this juxtaposition of simple states an infinite permeation of a thousand different impressions which have already ceased to exist the instant they are named, we commend him for having known us better than we knew ourselves. This is not the case, however, and the very fact that he spreads out our feeling in a homogeneous time, and expresses its elements by words, shows that he in his turn is only offering us its shadow: but he has arranged this shadow in such a way as to make us suspect the extraordinary and illogical nature of the object which projects it; he has made us reflect by giving outward expression to something of that contradiction, that interpenetration, which is the very essence of the elements expressed. Encouraged by him, we have put aside for an instant the veil which we interposed between our consciousness and ourselves. He has brought us back into our own presence.43

19The mixture of “an extreme distrust for words and an extreme confidence in [literature]” is evident here. The hypothetical of the first sentence is at once a challenge, an expression of possibility, and a denigration, underscoring an impossible reality. The literary text is a shadow, but a shadow imbued with a remarkable power to “put aside for an instant the veil which we interposed between our consciousness and ourselves”. And yet, as Blanchot summarises,

  • 44 “Il n’y a pas de mot dont la conjuration soit assez forte pour ôter à la conscience ses voiles. Tou (...)

there is no word whose conjuration is strong enough to remove the veils from consciousness. All that one can ask of the clever stream of words is to make it quite clear that none of them can, even momentarily, seem the equal of intuition.44

  • 45 “N’exprime pas la pureté d’un moi plongé dans la durée, mais affirme le rayonnement d’une conscienc (...)
  • 46 Des clichés…de la logique prosaïque”; “passion pour les mots”; “transmettre, sans prétexte, la pens (...)
  • 47 “De l’extrême conscience”; “une confiance dans la langage qui n’est pas confiance dans un système d (...)

20Whilst it is clear that Blanchot is questioning the fantasy of coincidence at play in Bergson’s philosophy of language, he does not, at any point, make any assertion as to the superiority of symbolist poetics. He simply underscores, through a series of examples running from Baudelaire, through Mallarmé, to Valéry, their different assumptions about language’s potential. Baudelaire “does not express the purity of a self plunged into duration,” but rather “the radiance of a magical awareness that enters into contact with the essence of the world.”45 Mallarmé, whilst sharing a certain horror towards “clichés” and “prosaic logic,” also has an immense, and transcendental “passion for words” that is not dependent on their capacity to “to transmit, with pretext, the thought of an object or the signification of a state of the soul.”46 The differences between Bergson and Valéry are even starker. For Valéry, over and against the spontaneous language best suited to imaging the inner life, poetry is a language “of extreme awareness,” which displays “a trust in language that is not trust in a system of expression, but a trust in the particular qualities of form”.47

  • 48 “Ce qui, à un certain point de vue, est le contre-pied de la philosophie bergsonienne.” Id. Trad., (...)

21With little ceremony, Blanchot’s essay ends with the following sentence: “Which is, from a certain point of view, the exact opposite of Bergsonian philosophy”.”48 The qualification “from a certain point of view” is difficult to get a handle on. Given the polemical tone of the essay, which submits Fiser’s monograph to severe scrutiny, it may simply be an ironic concession to essayistic commonplaces, where, in the name of diplomacy, we must acknowledge the point of view of others. But I read it instead as an invitation to reconsider the relationship between Bergson and symbolism in light of their significant divergences. Blanchot has demonstrated that Bergson and symbolism have radically different philosophies of language, but this does not foreclose Bergson’s pertinence for literature; it simply remaps the ground on which such an encounter might take place. Blanchot certainly leaves his readers with much work to do, but they can nevertheless rest assured that, as Paul Celan puts it in the remarks that frame this essay, the silence that characterises the two cousins’ conversation in the mountains is no silence at all.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Ardoin, Paul (éd), Understanding Bergson, Understanding Modernism, London, Bloomsbury, 2013.

Bernstein, Henry, “Henri Bergson,” in With Master Minds: Interviews with Henry Bernstein, New York, Universal Series Publishing, 1913, p. 90-106.

Bident, Christophe, Maurice Blanchot : partenaire invisible, Paris, Champ Vallon, 1998.

––– Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography, trad. McKeane, John, New York, Fordham University Press, 2019.

Bergson, Henri, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, Paris, Félix Alcan, 1929.

––– Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, trad. Pogson, F. L., New York, Dover, 2001.

––– “Introduction à la métaphysique,” in La Pensée et le mouvant : essais et conférences, Paris, PUF, 1990, p. 177-227.

––– An Introduction to Metaphysics, trad. Hulme, T.E., London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Blanchot, Maurice, “Bergson et le symbolisme, ” in Chroniques littéraires du Journal des débats : Avril 1941 – août 1944, Paris, Gallimard, 2007, p. 132-135.

––– “Bergson and Symbolism,” in Desperate Clarity: Chronicles of Intellectual Life, 1942, trad. Holland, Michael, New York, Fordham, 2013, p. 28-31.

––– “Bergson et le symbolisme,” Faux pas, Paris, Gallimard, 1943, p. 132-135.

––– “Bergson and Symbolism,” trad. Mandell, Charlotte, in Faux Pas, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2002, p. 112-115.

––– “Bergson et le symbolisme,” Journal des débats, Feb. 10, 1942.

––– L’Entretien infini, Paris, Gallimard, 1969.

––– “Notre compagne clandestine,” in Textes pour Emmanuel Levinas, Laruelle, François (éd), Paris, Place, 1980, p. 79-87.

––– “Our Clandestine Encounter,” trad. Allison, David B., in Face to Face with Levinas, Cohen, Richard A. (éd), New York, SUNY Press, 1986, p. 41-50.

––– The Infinite Conversation, trad. Hanson, Susan, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Celan, Paul, “Conversation in the Mountains,” trad.Waldrop, Rosemarie, in Paul Celan: Selections, Joris, Pierre (éd.), Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005, p. 149-153.

––– “Gespräch im Gebirg,” in Gespräch im Gebirg mit einem Kommentar von Theo Buck, Aachen, Rimbaud, 2002, p. 7-13.

Chassé, Charles, “Mallarmé universitaire,” Mercure de France, Oct. 1, 1912, p. 449-464.

Fiser, Emeric, Le Symbole littéraire : Essai sur la signification du symbole chez Wagner, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Bergson et Marcel Proust, Paris, Corti, 1941.

Gillies, Mary Ann, Henri Bergson and British Modernism, Montréal, McGill-Queen’s Press, 1996.

Hart, Kevin (éd), “Introduction,” in Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy in the Narratives of Maurice Blanchot, Notre Dame (Indiana), Notre Dame University Press, 2010, p. 1-31.

Hill, Leslie, “Blanchot and Mallarmé,” MLN, 105, 5, Dec. 1990, p. 889-913.

Lalo, Charles, L’art loin de la vie, Paris, Vrin, 1939.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Le Visible et l’invisible, Paris, Gallimard, 1964.

––– The Visible and the Invisible, trad. LINGIS, Alphonso, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1969.

Paulhan, Jean, Les Fleurs de Tarbes, ou la terreur dans les lettres, Paris, Gallimard, 1941.

––– The Flowers of Tarbes or, Terror in Literature, trad. Syrotinski, Michael, Champaign, University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Peyre, Henri, Qu’est-ce que le symbolisme ? Paris, PUF, 1974

Soulez, Phillipe, Worms, Frédéric, Bergson: Biographie, Paris, Flammarion, 1997.

De Visan, Tancrède, L’Attitude du lyrisme contemporain, Paris, Mercure de France, 1911.

Haut de page

Notes

1 “Da stehn sie, die Geschwisterkinder, auf einer Straße stehn sie im Gebirg, es schweigt der Stock, es schweigt der Stein, und das Schweigen ist kein Schweigen…” Paul Celan, “Gespräch im Gebirg,” in Gespräch im Gebirg mit einem Kommentar von Theo Buck, Aachen, Rimbaud, 2002, p. 7-13, p. 9. Trad. Rosemarie Waldrop, “Conversation in the Mountains,” Paul Celan: Selections, ed. Pierre Joris, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005, p. 149-153, p. 150.

2 “[Mallarmé ne] voyai[t] que ceux de [s]es collègues dont les heures de classe se trouvaient coïncider avec les [s]iennes.” Cited in Charles Chassé, “Mallarmé universitaire,” Mercure de France, Oct. 1, 1912, p. 449-464, p. 455. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the author’s. Bergson taught philosophy at Rollin, now the College-lycée Jacques-Decour, from August 1899 to October 1890; Mallarmé taught English from October 1885 until his retirement in January 1894.

3 “Séparés à peine presque chaque jour par quelques cloisons le plus grand philosophe et l’un des plus grands poètes de cette génération ont passé de longues heures l’un près de l’autre sans en avoir su.” Charles Lalo, L’Art loin de la vie, Paris, Vrin, 1939, p. 177.

4 “Il eut été si intéressant de voir Mallarmé jugé par Bergson.” Charles Chassé, “Mallarmé universitaire,” op. cit., p. 150.

5 See Tancrède de Visan, L’Attitude du lyrisme contemporain, Paris, Mercure de France, 1911 and Emeric Fiser, Le Symbole littéraire: Essai sur la signification du symbole chez Wagner, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Bergson et Marcel Proust, Paris, Corti, 1941.

6 This is especially true in the Anglophone academy. For two particularly representative examples see Mary Ann Gillies, Henri Bergson and British Modernism, Montréal, McGill-Queen’s Press, 1996 and Paul Ardoin (ed.), Understanding Bergson, Understanding Modernism, London, Bloomsbury, 2013.

7 For a more detailed account of why considering Bergson as the philosopher of symbolism is “an impossibility for those who are attentive to chronology” [“une impossibilité pour qui reste attentif à la chronologie”], see Henri Peyre, Qu’est-ce que le symbolism ? Paris, PUF, 1974, p. 138-9.

8 Henry Bernstein, “Henri Bergson,” in With Master Minds: Interviews with Henry Bernstein, New York, Universal Series Publishing, 1913, p. 90-106, p. 102.

9 “Le retour à l’immédiat, la coïncidence, la fusion effective avec l’existant, la recherche d’une intégrité originelle, d’un secret perdu et à retrouver.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le Visible et l'invisible, Paris, Gallimard, 1964, p. 160. Trad. Alphonso Lingis, in The Visible and the Invisible, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1969, p. 122.

10 “Si la coïncidence n’est jamais que partielle, il ne faut pas définir la vérité par la coïncidence totale ou effective.” Id., p. 163. Trad., p. 124.

11 “Une coïncidence de loin”; “une étrange distance”. Id., p. 164; p. 163. Trad. p. 125; 124.

12 “Idée de la proximité par distance.” Id., p. 168. Trad. p. 128.

13 See Leslie Hill, “Blanchot and Mallarmé,” MLN, 105, 5, Dec. 1990, p. 889-913.

14 “Étrange objet, brûlot concilié, comme insensible à l’histoire… l’élégance des chroniques de Blanchot côto[ie], avec une indifférence superbe, des articles ou des publicités propagandistes intolérables.” Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot : partenaire invisible, Paris, Champ Vallon, 1998, p. 181. Trad. John McKeane, Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography, New York, Fordham University Press, p. 145.

15 Philippe Soulez, Frédéric Worms, Bergson : Biographie, Paris, Flammarion, 1997, p. 273-274.

16 “Abîme”; “attitude d’antipathie tempérée”. Maurice Blanchot, “Bergson et le symbolisme,” Faux pas, Paris, Gallimard, 1943, p. 132-135, p. 132; 134. Trad. Charlotte Mandell, “Bergson and Symbolism,” in Faux Pas, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2002, p. 112-115, p. 112; 114.

17 Id., p. 132. Trad., p. 112. “C’est chez Bergson que nous trouvons formulé, avec la plus grande clarté, ce que les symbolistes ont obscurément senti et la plupart du temps mal exprimé.” Fiser, p. 10.

18 Kevin Hart (éd.), “Introduction,” in Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy in the Narratives of Maurice Blanchot, Notre Dame (Indiana), Notre Dame University Press, 2010, p. 1-31, p. 4. This is Hart’s gloss of a passage from “Notre compagne clandestine” in which Blanchot writes that “le mouvement proprement philosophique […] lézarde tout le texte précèdent et dérange l’ordre solide auquel nous avions été appelés à adhérer, ordre qui reste important.” In François Laruelle (éd.), Textes pour Emmanuel Levinas, Paris, Place, 1980, p. 79-87, p. 85. “The movement that could properly be called philosophical […] fissures the whole of the preceding text, disturbing the solid order we had been called upon to observe, an order that nonetheless remains important.” Trad. David B. Allison, “Our Clandestine Encounter,” in Richard A. Cohen (éd), Face to Face with Levinas, New York, SUNY Press, 1986, 41-50, p. 48.

19 “La rencontre désigne donc une relation nouvelle, parce qu’au point de coïncidence – qui n’est pas un point, mais un écart –, c’est la non-coïncidence qui intervient (s’affirme dans l’inter-venue).” Maurice Blanchot, L’Entretien infini, Paris, Gallimard, 1969, p. 609. Trad. Susan Hanson, The Infinite Conversation, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p. 415.

20 “Pour mieux servir la révolution nationale, jeune Français, engage-toi dans l’armée.” Maurice Blanchot, “Bergson et le symbolisme,” Journal des débats, Feb. 10, 1942. Future references to the original article will be to Bident’s definitive scholarly edition of Blanchot’s Chroniques littéraires du Journal des débats : Avril 1941 – août 1944, Paris, Gallimard, 2007, p. 132-135. The translations are from Michael Holland’s Desparate Clarity: Chronicles of Intellectual Life, 1942, New York, Fordham, 2013, p. 28-31.

21 “On a remarqué que depuis quelques mois la poésie semblait avoir réclamé l’adhésion de plus d’esprits qu’il n’était de règle avant la guerre et on a tiré de ces remarques des conséquences généralement réconfortantes.”Id., p. 132. Trad., p. 28.

22 “Pendant les heures difficiles… quel exercice périlleux la poésie représente pour quelques-uns.” Id., p. 133. Trad., p. 29.

23 “Il faut se contenter d’observer une fois pour toutes qu’il vaut mieux parler le moins possible de poésie ou n’en parler que si seules la technique et la forme sont en cause.” Id. Trad., p. 29.

24 “Ce qui nous parait devoir être retenu du travail de Fiser, ce sont les inconvénients qu’il y a peut-être à chercher dans la philosophie bergsonienne le fondement du symbolisme ou même une loi métaphysique du symbolisme.” Id., p. 135. Trad., p. 30-31.

25 “De fausser l’acte créateur des poètes en lui appliquant les schèmes d’une explication théorique et les formes d’énigmes déjà résolues.” Id. Trad., p. 31.

26 “La méthode n’a que très peu de sens pour les problèmes littéraires.” Id. Trad., p. 31.

27 “Ce sont les poètes eux-mêmes qui doivent nous conduire, par leurs œuvres et quelquefois par la conscience qu’ils ont eue de leurs moyens, au nœud où aboutissent, commes des chemins identiques et séparés, les puissances diverses de leurs creations”. Id. Trad., p. 31.

28 “Doit-on chercher dans la philosophie de Bergson le fondement du symbolisme comme on a pris l’habitude de le dire et comme E. Fiser, dans son ouvrage sur Le Symbole littéraire, nous invite à le penser ?” Blanchot, p. 132. Trad., p. 112.

29 “Est-il bon de traduire de tels textes, comme cela est naturellement possible, dans les termes de la philosophie bergsonienne ?” Id., p. 133. Trad., p. 113.

30 “[N’ont] rien de commun”; “des analogies tout extérieures”; “infiniment.” Id., p. 134; 132; 135. Trad., p. 114; 112; 114.

31 “Ce jeu, qui nie la poésie, nie aussi le bergsonisme.”Id., p. 133. Trad., p. 113

32 “Une critique du langage en général, critique qui est probablement aussi ancienne que la parole…une extrême méfiance à l’égard des mots et une extrême confiance dans la poésie.” Id., p. 133. Trad., p. 113.

33 “Nous nous exprimons nécessairement par des mots … une traduction illégitime”. Henri Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, Paris, Félix Alcan, 1929, p. vii. Trad. F.L. Pogson, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, New York, Dover, 2001, p. xix. It worth noting that Blanchot subtly appropriates this language of “illegitimate translation” and directs it towards the question of philosophy and literature itself when he states that “we might even risk making poetic work incomprehensible by seeking to adjust it to the remarks of Bergson.” [“Il n’est même pas sûr qu’on ne se rende pas incompréhensible le travail poétique en cherchant l’ajuster aux remarques de Bergson.”] Blanchot, p. 133. Trad., p. 113.

34 “Bref, le mot aux contours bien arrêtés, le mot brutal, qui emmagasine ce qu’il y a de stable, de commun et par conséquent d’impersonnel dans les impressions de l’humanité, écrase ou tout au moins recouvre les impressions délicates et fugitives de notre conscience individuelle. Pour lutter à armes égales, celles-ci devraient s’exprimer par des mots précis ; mais ces mots, à peine formés, se retourneraient contre la sensation qui leur donna naissance, et inventés pour témoigner que la sensation est instable, ils lui imposeraient leur propre stabilité”. Bergson, p. 100. Trad., p. 132.

35 “Je ne vois guère de doctrine en apparence plus étrangère ou plus hostile aux Lettres, mieux propre à les réduire à quelques amas de lâcheté, d’abandons.” Jean Paulhan, Les Fleurs de Tarbes, ou la terreur dans les lettres, Paris, Gallimard, 1941, p. 65. Trad. Michael Syrotinski, The Flowers of Tarbes or, Terror in Literature, Champaign, University of Illinois Press, 2006, p. 30. In 1941, Blanchot wrote three articles on Les Fleurs de Tarbes, which were collected together and published by Corti as Comment la littérature est-elle possible ? the following year. I would argue that “Bergson et le symbolisme” is also an address to Paulhan, albeit a more indirect one.

36 “Les écrivains cependant ont été les premiers à l’adopter.” Id. Trad., p. 30.

37 In the Anglophone world, T.E. Hulme’s 1912 translation of this essay, was, alongside William James’s “Bergson and his Critique of Intellectualism” (1909), what kick-started the so-called “Bergson-boom”. One can sense the impact of this passage on the Imagist poets in particular.

38 “Nulle image ne remplacera l’intuition de la durée, mais beaucoup d’images diverses, empruntées à des ordres de choses très différents, pourront, par la convergence de leur action, diriger la conscience sur le point précis où il y a une certaine intuition à saisir”. Henri Bergson, “Introduction à la métaphysique,” in La Pensée et le mouvant : essais et conférences, Paris, PUF, 1990, p. 177-227, p. 185. Trad. T.E. Hulme, An Introduction to Metaphysics, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 10.

39 See Fiser p. 52-62 for a summary of what he means by the literary symbol.

40 “Cette réalité pure dont aucune image ne peut représenter.” Blanchot, p. 132. Trad., p. 112.

41 “Tout occupé à respecter la pureté et l’originalité de l’intuition primordiale.” Id., p. 133. Trad., p. 113.

42 “Innocence de la vie profonde” Id., p. 132. Trad., p. 112.

43 “Que si maintenant quelque romancier hardi, déchirant la toile habilement tissée de notre moi conventionnel, nous montre sous cette logique apparente une absurdité fondamentale, sous cette juxtaposition d’états simples une pénétration infinie de mille impressions diverses qui ont déjà cessé d’être au moment où on les nomme, nous le louons de nous avoir mieux connus que nous ne nous connaissions nous-mêmes. Il n’en est rien cependant, et par cela même qu’il déroule notre sentiment dans un temps homogène et en exprime les éléments par des mots, il ne nous en présente qu’une ombre à son tour : seulement, il a disposé cette ombre de manière à nous faire soupçonner la nature extraordinaire et illogique de l’objet qui la projette ; il nous a invités à la réflexion en mettant dans l’expression extérieure quelque chose de cette contradiction, de cette pénétration mutuelle, qui constitue l’essence même des éléments exprimés. Encouragés par lui, nous avons écarté pour un instant le voile que nous interposions entre notre conscience et nous. Il nous a remis en présence de nous-mêmes”. Bergson, p. 101. Trad., p. 133-134.

44 “Il n’y a pas de mot dont la conjuration soit assez forte pour ôter à la conscience ses voiles. Tout ce qu’on peut demander au flot habile des paroles, c’est de bien laisser entendre qu’aucune d’elles ne peut, même momentanément, apparaître comme l’équivalent de l’intuition et s’unir à cet éclair dans l’invocation qu’elle lui adresse.” Blanchot, p. 134. Trad., p. 113. My emphasis.

45 “N’exprime pas la pureté d’un moi plongé dans la durée, mais affirme le rayonnement d’une conscience magique qui entre en contact avec l’essence du monde.” Id., p. 132–33. Trad., p. 112.

46 Des clichés…de la logique prosaïque”; “passion pour les mots”; “transmettre, sans prétexte, la pensée d’un objet ou la signification d’un état d’âme.” Id., p. 134. Trad., p. 114.

47 “De l’extrême conscience”; “une confiance dans la langage qui n’est pas confiance dans un système d’expression, capable de correspondre fidèlement à la pensée, mais confiance dans les propriétés de la forme”. Id., p. 135. Trad., p. 114.

48 “Ce qui, à un certain point de vue, est le contre-pied de la philosophie bergsonienne.” Id. Trad., p. 115.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Patrick Jones, « Strange Distance: Bergson and Symbolism »TRANS- [En ligne], 26 | 2021, mis en ligne le 17 mars 2021, consulté le 13 mai 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/trans/5909 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/trans.5909

Haut de page

Auteur

Patrick Jones

Patrick Jones is a teaching and research assistant at the University of Geneva. Under the supervision of Professor Simon Swift, he is working on a doctoral thesis that explores the relationship between form and time in the late novels of Henry James. The recipient of a Doc.Mobility fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation, he is currently a visiting scholar in the Department of Comparative Literature at Yale University.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Tous droits réservés

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search