The revival of Bergson in the
Twenty-First Century  

Date: 26 November 2021
Venue: Ateneum – The Finnish National Gallery

Henri Bergson (1859–1941) was one of the leading philosophers of his time. His conceptions of memory, the nature of time, intuition, and evolution as a creative process influenced several trends in early 20th-century philosophy. In the past decades, numerous scholars, artists, and philosophers have become interested in the French philosopher’s thinking, and reinterpretations of his legacy have rendered Bergsonism a global phenomenon. The seminar illuminates the interplay of philosophy, biology, and the arts in Bergson’s thought while examining the political implications of Bergsonism. Keynote lecture by Prof. Mark Antliff, Duke University.

The seminar will be in English, and the event can be attended both on-site and online. Admission is free.


What explains the renewed interest in Henri Bergson’s philosophy at the start of the twenty-first century?

Having been refused the standing of a “serious philosopher” in the post-Second World war period – in no small part due to the celebrity status of this philosopher, who is said to have caused the first traffic jam on Broadway with his 1913 lecture at Columbia – the revival of Bergson in the anglophone world owed much to the English translation of Gilles Deleuze’s 1966 essay on Bergsonism in 1988. This event was soon accompanied by a resurgence of anti-Bergsonism in the context of the science wars of the following decade, prompted by the alleged mistreatment of natural science by postmodern philosophers. The ‘Sokal affair’ and the book Intellectual Impostures (1998) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont amounted to a warning that philosophers should not meddle in scientific affairs out of their reach – Bergson’s conversation with Einstein in 1922 was invoked as a warning example – or concern themselves too much with the implications of contemporary science for our worldview. 

Today, these debates continue in both established and new directions. Contemporary ‘Bergsonism’ encompasses the return of critical analyses of the human intellect’s tendency towards mastery and control. This is especially pronounced with respect to ecological and postcolonial questions. It is also concerned with a renewed attention to the links between philosophy and art, which in Bergson’s own time centred on the close affinity between his philosophy of duration and symbolist theories on the ‘unveiling’ role of art for mediating between the reality of movement and the abstract appearances of language.

Furthermore, novel perspectives on Bergson have developed in relation to subjects such as evolutionary biology, human rights or Bergsonism as an unusually global intellectual movement. Against the backdrop of these on-going reinterpretations, explorations and creative appropriations, the purpose of the workshop is to bring together literary scholars, philosophers, intellectual historians, artists and scholars of art in a broad conversation on the revival of the ‘Bergsonian moment’ in philosophy and cultural debate. While Bergson is our starting point, as the most illustrious representative of a wider philosophical landscape that in other settings branched out into movements such as Lebensphilosophie and pragmatism, we explore different strands of this philosophical moment and their potential for rethinking the relationship between science, literature and art, humans and their environment, analysis and synthesis. 

The seminar is organised by the project ‘Science, Literature and Research’, (University of Helsinki), in collaboration with Ateneum and funded by the Kone Foundation.