Sunday, April 18, 2010

image, matter, memory, and words ...

There's an ambitious title. Continuing my reading of Bergson's Matter and Memory, which I share here, in my in-process notes, I see that Bergson is after the use of "image" as a "common sense" version of our ability to conceive of matter. He asks his readers to contend with this concept, absent awareness of philosophical debates, to perceive as
a mind unaware of the disputes between philosophers [i'm in]. Such a mind would naturally believe that matter exists just as it is perceived; and, since it is perceived as an image, the mind would make of it, in itself, an image. In a word, we consider matter before the dissociation which idealism and realism have brought about between its existence and its appearance. (viii-ix)

I appreciate a writer who is willing to sidebar an entire and entirely established line of reasoning in the name of advancing his argument. At the very least, it's bold, so I'm staying with this (whereas others have perhaps -- and simply -- dismissed Bergson at this "heresy").

As you might imagine, Bergson turns next to advance "memory" as crucial to the contemplation of matter, image, and our perceptions of each, all of which lead us (back) to questions of "the classical problem of the relations of body and soul" (xii-xiii). Bergson wants us to "see this problem as centering upon the subject of memory ..." which makes sense to me and surely to you, but what troubles me to some extent (although I do not disagree) is where he contends that memory as it relates to the body/soul problem, is "... particularly [focused] upon the memory of words" (xiii). Images? Sure. Words? Okay. But privileging words over images as crucial for seeing memory as the tool most useful for worrying the body/soul relationship? I am right now resisting this notion entirely, Brian Massumi whispering ghostly on "the primacy of affective in image reception" (24). And this resistance obtains, especially as I read Bergon's attempt to reason (slightly condescendingly) that "the physical state seems to us to be, in most cases, immensely wider than the cerebral state," which is to say that the brain is mostly about imaging the body's "movements of locomotion," (xiii) which is not a little reductive, perhaps. This cerebral activity is ongoing, for Bergson ... a perpetual "unrolling [a nicely cinematic term, like "unspooling," which also carries a hint of madness] ... of these sketched-out, or prepared movements" (xiii). Bergson contends that could we see inside the workings of the brain, this is the only "thing" we would be capable of seeing. We would see nothing of "consciousness," (xiv) which seems odd given that our ability to image movements as a kind of perpetual forecast seems profoundly or at least to some great extent contingent upon memory, and perhaps this is where Bergson plans to go ... toward some integration (surely).

... And I see that Bergson intends to go there, yes. In short, this perpetual imagistic forecast of our locomotive experience Bergon identifies as somewhat flexible. He argues that "our psychic life may be lived at different heights [no doubt!], now nearer to the action, now further removed from it, according to the degree of our attention to life" (xiv). This gets after Bergson's central concern: the soul is more complexly demanding of our mental efforts (conscious or not) than is our body. The soul represents "a greater dilatation [dilatation!] of the whole personality, which normally narrowed down by action, expands with the unscrewing of the vice in which it has allowed itself to be squeezed, and, always whole and undivided, spreads itself over a wider and wider surface" (xiv), the demanding biotch! And here, this "unscrewing" vibrates with Massumi's contention that "[t]he autonomy of affect is its participation in the virtual. Its autonomy is its openness" (33). Massumi, in fact, suggests that Bergson's work is helpful here (31), and I begin to see why. Spinoza, too, with his definition of joy as perceived emergence or " that passion by which the mind passes to a greater perfection," (III Proposition 11, Scholium, Ethics), or, as the author of the Spinoza entry has it over @ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (handy for the lay philosophy blogger) "the passion one experiences in the transition to an increased power to strive."

Open: Bergon wants to disrupt views on psychic disorders so that they are more about soul-liberating mental adjustments (and, if we are to imagine that brain activity devoted to movement must perhaps relinquish some of its time/energy to the body, well then also physical). That is, Bergson imagines a productive "unloosing or a breaking of the tie which binds the psychic life to its motor accompaniment, a weakening or an impairing of our attention to outward life" (xiv-xv). From this, Bergson wants to see psychology and metaphysics working together toward problem solving in interdisciplinary fashion. He desires a scene in which

psychological analysis ... never forget[s] the utilitarian character of our mental functions, which are essentially turned toward action ... [and] that the habits formed in action find their way up to the sphere of speculation, where they create fictitious problems, and that metaphysics must begin by dispersing this artificial obscurity." (xvii)

I'm seeing some juicy problems involving memory and the body. and visual rhetoric. and self-help books. and film-as-emergence, and the integration of sound and vision via Michel Chion's "audio-visual contract" (9).

But so my interests are vortexing about ... "unscrewed" ?? This is not unusual, but keep in mind that I am simply trying to make my way through this book (these books) that may or may not be of much use to me (or you). In other words ...

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