two aspects of the self

“This overwhelming of the immediate consciousness is nowhere so striking as in the case of our feelings.  A violent love or a deep melancholy takes possession of our soul: here we feel a thousand different elements which dissolve into and permeate one another without any precise outlines, without the least tendency to externalize themselves in relation to one another; hence their originality.  We distort them as soon as we distinguish a numerical multiplicity in their confused mass: what will it be, then, when we set them out, isolated from one another, in this homogeneous medium which may be called either time or space, whichever you prefer?  A moment ago each of them was borrowing an indefinable colour from its surroundings: now we have it colourless, and ready to accept a name.  The feeling itself is a being which lives and develops and is therefore constantly changing; otherwise how could it gradually lead us to form a resolution?  Our resolution would be immediately taken.  But it lives because the duration in which it develops is a duration whose moments permeate one another.  By separating these moments from each other, by spreading out time in space, we have caused this feeling to lose its life and its colour.  Hence, we are now standing before our own shadow: we believe that we have analysed our feeling, while we have really replaced it by a juxtaposition of lifeless states which can be translated into words, and each of which constitutes the common element, the impersonal residue, of the impressions felt in a given case by the whole of society.  And this is why we reason about these states and apply our simple logic to them:  having set them up as genera by the mere fact of having isolated them from one another, we have prepared them for use in some future deduction.  Now, if some bold novelist, tearing aside the cleverly woven curtain of our conventional ego, shows us under this appearance of logic a fundamental absurdity, under this juxtaposition of simple states an infinite permeation of a thousand different impressions which have already ceased to exist the instant they are named, we commend him for having known us better than we knew ourselves.  This is not the case, however, and the very fact that he spreads out our feeling in homogeneous time, and expresses its elements by words, shows that he in his turn is only offering us its shadow: but he has arranged this shadow in such a way as to make us suspect the extraordinary and illogical nature of the object which projects it; he has made us reflect by giving outward expression to something of that contradiction, that interpenetration, which is the very essence of the elements expressed.  Encouraged by him, we have put aside for an instant the veil which we interposed between our consciousness and ourselves.  He has brought us back into our own presence.”

Henri Bergson, from Time and Free Will, 1889.

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