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Matter and Memory by Henri Bergson
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Matter and Memory (1896)

by Henri Bergson

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This book is not an easy read; it took me about two months to get through it. I was brought to it by my curiosity about Bergson as a figure in philosophical history, and the topic of memory. It is a profoundly interesting treatment of central philosophical questions, challenging the twin inadequacies of materialism and idealism, and ultimately suggesting a useful approach to the relationship between body and mind quite different from the sort of naive Cartesianism that continues to be popular and reflexive in our culture long past its real credibility for serious thinkers.

Bergson makes extensive use of the psychopathological literature of his day in his arguments about the nature of memory in relation to the brain (the second chapter of the book). And while there have certainly been enormous advances in neurophysiology since the late 19th century, I don't think that any of them obsolete his conclusions or invalidate the sort of data that he brings to bear.

His physics is more primitive than his psychology, and his repeated use of the word "relative" in the brief physics discussions of the fourth chapter (e.g. 193-196) should not be mistaken for (anachronistic) allusion to Einsteinian relativity. Still, these were points of orientation to connect with the science of the time, and they rest on the surface of the argument, not in its core.

Bergson's grounding of his theory in the bedrock of "images" reminds me of my readings in the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl and his successors, but I found Bergson's work to be clearer and more persuasive. If I were to propose a later thinker who dealt with similar questions in a different yet comparably effective manner, it would have to be Gregory Bateson (in certain essays found in Sacred Unity).

According to a note in Wikipedia, this book was placed on the Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum for Bergson's alleged pantheism. I personally can't find an iota of theological opinion in the book; it must have been lumped in with other work of the author.

"Memory is thus the reverberation, in the sphere of consciousness, of the indetermination of our will." (65)

"Memory is, then, in no degree an emanation of matter; on the contrary, matter, as grasped in concrete perception which always occupies a certain duration, is in great part the work of memory." (182)
2 vote paradoxosalpha | Oct 10, 2014 |
for my philosophical issues in film class. he's got some things to say but i'm not sure if I really connect with Bergson as a theorist/philosopher. ( )
  TakeItOrLeaveIt | Feb 20, 2009 |
Though style was never Bergson strong point, the book offers a great entry point into Bergson's world . ( )
  DCash | Jun 1, 2006 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henri Bergsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Palmer, W. ScottTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paul, Nancy MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We will assume for the moment that we know nothing of theories of matter and theories of spirit, nothing of the discussions as to the reality or ideality of the external world.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0942299051, Paperback)

"Since the end of the last century," Walter Benjamin wrote, "philosophy has made a series of attempts to lay hold of the 'true' experience as opposed to the kind that manifests itself in the standardized, denatured life of the civilized masses. It is customary to classify these efforts under the heading of a philosophy of life. Towering above this literature is Henri Bergson's early monumental work, Matter and Memory."Along with Husserl's Ideas and Heidegger's Being and Time, Bergson's work represents one of the great twentieth-century investigations into perception and memory, movement and time, matter and mind. Arguably Bergson's most significant book, Matter and Memory is essential to an understanding of his philosophy and its legacy.This new edition includes an annotated bibliography prepared by Bruno Paradis.Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927. His works include Time and Free Will, An Introduction to Metaphysics, Creative Evolution, and The Creative Mind.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:21 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A monumental work by a Nobel Prize-winner, this 1896 work represents one of the great inquiries into perception and memory, movement and time, matter and mind. Bergson surveys these independent but related spheres, exploring the connection of mind and body to individual freedom of choice.… (more)

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Zone Books

2 editions of this book were published by Zone Books.

Editions: 0942299051, 0942299043

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