'Quelque romancier hardi': The Literary Bergsonist

The European Legacy 16 (7):937 - 951 (2011)
Abstract
Bergson's legacy to literature was nothing short of transformative. His theories of duration, memory, intuition, the élan vital, and comedy inspired a wide range of vital literary innovations. Techniques essential to modern literature?stream of consciousness, imagistic precision, time-shift, plotlessness, multiple perspective?can be traced to Bergson, and Bergsonian tendencies?his focus on subjective consciousness, interest in novelty, and critique of materialism?yet determine literature written today. But what made Bergson such a powerful influence on such a diverse array of writers was his theory of the artist: throughout his work, Bergson honors aesthetic insight and grants the artist authority over discoveries central to his philosophy. Writers were indeed inspired by Bergson's theories of duration, memory, and intuition, but they were truly galvanized to pursue Bersgonian ends by the power promised in his account of the artist's relationship to reality. Any account of Bergson's literary influence should recognize this distinction. Moreover, we should recognize that this will to power made a significant difference to the way writers interpreted Bergson's theories?especially the theory of time. Bergson's account of duration was transformative not just because it inspired writers to try for new approaches to the representation of time but because it encouraged them to think that they, like Bergson himself, could be time's prophets
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