Friday, 9 October 2015

Bergson and Yeats's Masterful Images


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind but out of what began
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
(from The Circus Animals Desertion by W.B. Yeats)

That Yeats knew and appreciated the philosophy of Bergson is clear from the positive annotations to his copies of Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution. An early edition of A Vision was dedicated to Vestigia which was the name adopted by Bergson’s sister Mina for her work in the Order of the Golden Dawn which her husband directed during Yeats’s membership. He of course was the well known McGregor Mathers. Mina (sometimes Moina) is an ususual name. The only other bearer I can remember is Meena Harker nee Murray of Dracula.

I haven’t seen those annotations which are in the National Library but I imagine concurrence was achieved on the importance of Cones and Intuition. For my amusement I stretch the difficult topic of ‘images’ in Bergson to fit the above quoted stanza of Yeats. The ‘masterful images’ are from the outer reaches of the memory cone of Bergson. They are archetypal and impersonal. ‘Images’ are normally inflected by memory. It’s a matter of efficient response. What Bergson calls ‘perception’ is a purely material response to stimuli unmediated by consciousness. This basic physical presence in the world would correspond to the ‘foul rag and bone shop of the heart’. Presumably in Bergson’s philosophy this is the ground on which ‘images’ are laid. Staying within the archetypal symbol/metaphor of the mirror Bergson remarks: The objects which surround my body reflect its possible action upon them. (Matter and Memory) We do not carve at the joints, rather, what we take to be objects are reflections of our needs at the basic level. They are therefore images. 'Images’ are an attempt to navigate between Realism and Idealism. He speaks of the world as an aggregate of images. It may have been an ill-chosen course given the strong mental bias conveyed by the term 'image’. I

Sartre’s The Psychology of Imagination has much to say on the image and the ‘unrealizing’ function of the mind. Another day, another de trop.

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