Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Bergson and Memory

This radical powerlessness of pure memory is just what will enable us to understand how it is preserved in a latent state. Without as yet going to the heart of the matter, we will confine ourselves to the remark that our unwillingness to conceive unconscious psychical states is due, above all, to the fact that we hold consciousness to be the essential property of psychical states so that a psychical state cannot, it seems, cease to be conscious without ceasing to exist. But if consciousness is but the characteristic note of the present, that is to say of the actually lived, in short of the active, then that which does not act may cease to belong to consciousness without therefore ceasing to exist in some manner. In other words, in the psychological domain, consciousness may not be the synonym of existence, but only of real action or of immediate efficacy; and, limiting thus the meaning of the term, we (pg 182) shall have less difficulty in representing to ourselves a psychical state which is unconscious, that is to say, ineffective.
(pg.181, Matter and Memory)

How different this is from the thought of Sartre who envisaged consciousness as always on, that if there was repression then what was repressed must be something that we are aware of at some level. This is of course in line with the Freudian theory and ‘the return of the repressed’. In the Bergsonian psychology repression might even be a good thing as being the elimination of an impediment to present effective action. Moving on is removing as it were.

Nevertheless it is a startling conception of memory cutting across all sorts of blocks to its acceptance. First of all there is the receptacle notion. There is a place cerebrally located where memory resides in a permanent form. Memory manifests as a consciousness and as we are generally conscious it participates in that. There is as well the fixed view that memory moves from the present to the past, that we draw down from that deposit, from here to there. Bergson proposed memory as a virtual entity, a power that lies unconscious in the background and a practical response to present needs. This division of present and past in relation to memory may be a mirage when the concept of duration is considered. All our past is rolled up and there as a power in each moment. Therefore the action from the past on the present must be understood in that context.

The contrast between the limit cases of pure memory and pure perception and how this affects his view of matter and the twin poles of realism and idealism might be considered in a further note.

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