Review of Powers of Time: Versions of Bergson

Powers of Time: Versions of Bergson
by David Lapoujade; translated by Andrew Goffey

University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2017
120 pp. Paper, $22.95
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0427-2.

Reviewed by
Edith Doove
February 2019

In Powers of Time: Versions of Bergson French philosopher David Lapoujade sets out to construct a portrait of an ‘another’ Bergson, one not solely defined by the three main aspects of his thinking on affect - emotion, sympathy, and attachment. After an intense and lengthy interrogation of Henri Bergson’s vision on time and affect, as well as the notion of freedom, amongst others via  Gilles Deleuze’s Bergsonism, Lepoujade concludes that this other Bergson, or in fact multiple Bergsons, can be made to appear via “apparently secondary and sometimes neglected” concepts, such as “obscure number”, “attachment to life” and “sympathy.” These thus give occasion to think of Bergson as a mathematical version, a perspectivist one, and even “a doctor of civilization” to finally arrive at Bergson the Spiritualist. By fully acknowledging these concepts, and thus opening up to another understanding of Bergson’s oeuvre, Lapoujade believes to “enable an indissoluble relationship to be knotted together between time and affect.” And he succeeds in doing so, although it takes some time to access his particular way of reasoning as he tends to first pose certain lines of thought only to immediately question these literally by a series of questions.

Lapoujade thus continuously points to aspects that have so far rarely been evoked. In the chapter ‘The Obscure Number of Duration’ of Life’ he for instance explicitly points to the close resemblance that Bergson observes between the philosopher and “the mathematician who determines a function by starting from the differential” in relation to the occurrence of “infinitely small elements” or in Lapoujade’s words, “veritable differentials of consciousness.” It has to be said that Lapoujade here picks up on a thesis already introduced by Jean Milet in 1974 “on the importance of infinitesimal calculus at the time that Bergson was working on Time and Freewill” (p. 22, note 14), which he however then further develops. In combination with amongst others his clarification of the subtle, but important difference between intuition and sympathy in Bergson’s work this adds to a small, but very insightful volume.

Originally published in 2010, Lapoujade’s vision of Bergson is especially timely through its link to a nonhuman perspective. Especially the chapter on the attachment of life presents “a [Bergsonian] universe that opens up to a plurality of worlds,” as its final sentence appropriately posits, affirming that the nonhuman turn, not entirely surprising, already found its origins much earlier than today. It is therefore a shame, as is unfortunately quite often the case, that the translation of this work comes only now. In this case it is however also somewhat unfortunate that the current translation sometimes lacks in accuracy or translates Lapoujade’s perfectly flowing, but particular way of writing, too literally. On the other hand, Lapoujade’s text raises some questions that beg to be answered, such as on the role of intelligence, and in relation that of artists and philosophers, responsible for Bergson’s observed disturbance of equilibrium. As Lapoujade concludes, “at the cost of violent efforts, man succeeds in synchronizing with other rhythms of duration, but most frequently lags behind (…). Man is this delay itself, an arrhythmia.” That being said, Powers of Time not only invites to read more of Lapoujade, but also to urgently- slowly and intense - reread Bergson in light of the posthuman turn. As it is only through a “long acquaintance”, and possibly a renewed acquaintance that his work can be fully appreciated.