Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Bergson's Nobel Prize


Henri Bergson won the Nobel prize for literature in 1927 for the brilliant skill with which he presented his ideas. Arguably his closest connection to literature as such was when Marcel Proust acted as best man at his wedding. The concept of duration influenced Proust of course and I have in past posts mentioned T.S.Eliot and Louis MacNeice in relation to ‘duree’. If he had turned his attention to literature as usually conceived then I have no doubt that his fertile imagination would have thrown up luxuriant scenarios. Here is a quick sketch during a discussion on primitive culture and curious tribal customs:

We have all come across one of those very united, self-satisfied families, who keep themselves to themselves, because they are shy or supercilious. It is not unusual to notice certain quaint habits among them, aversions or superstitions, which might become serious if they were to go on fermenting in a closed vessel. Each one of these singularities has its particular origin. It was some idea which occurred to one or another of the family, and which the others have taken on trust. It may be a walk they took one Sunday and took again the next Sunday, and which then became a settled thing every Sunday of the year: if they should have the misfortune to miss it once, goodness knows what would happen. In order to repeat, to imitate, to follow blindly, we have only to relax; it is criticism that demands an effort. Now take a few hundred centuries instead of a few years; magnify enormously all the little foibles of a family living in isolation: you will have no difficulty in imagining what must have occurred in primitive societies which have remained self-centred and self-satisfied, instead of opening windows on to the outside world, of dispersing the foul vapours as they gathered about them, and of making a constant effort to broaden their horizon.
(fromThe Two Sources of Morality and Religion

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