October 18, 2015
French philosopher HENRI-LOUIS BERGSON (1859–1941) married a cousin of Marcel Proust, and the latter was best man at his wedding. Does this little biographical tidbit illuminate their distinct but equally passionate engagements with perception, time, free will, and personal identity? Probably not; but one must never rule out the cross-fertilizations of Parisian table-talk. Bergson was massively famous in his time, perhaps the world’s most widely known philosopher in the period between Schopenhauer and Sartre. The philosophical ideas are still prized by specialists in phenomenology, but Bergson’s influence is oddly diffused for a man who won every imaginable accolade, including the Nobel Prize in literature (1927), during his lifetime. Perhaps his expansive, syncretic intelligence works against him in a time where philosophers now compete for pseudo-scientific narrowness rather than literary range. Are they right to do so? Well, history will decide. Meanwhile, though the style is always dryly elegant, Bergson’s occasionally outlandish ideas on intuition, creativity, laughter, and élan vital – all widely criticized by philosophers then and since – mark him as a kind of comic genius, revelling in exuberant human consciousness.
READ MORE about members of the Plutonian Generation (1854-63).