There is only one way to read a phi los o pher who evolves and changes
over time: to follow the chronological order of his works and to begin with
the beginning. This order, to be sure, does not always correspond to the
order of increasing difficulty; for example, reading Matter and Memory,
which dates from 1896, is much more arduous a task than reading the
1900 text Laughter. But Bergson’s philosophy [le bergsonisme] is neither
a mechanic fabrication nor an architecture built step by step, as some of
the great “systems” are. All of Bergson’s philosophy figures, each time in a
new light, in each of his successive books— just as, in Plotinus’s doctrine
of emanation, all hypostases figure in each hypostasis. In the same way,
Leibniz pre sents his entire philosophy in each of his works: does not each
monad express the entire universe from its individual point of view? Is
not the entire universe mirrored in the Monadology’s drop of water? The
microcosm is a miniature of the Cosmos. Schelling, another phi los o pher
of becoming, writes, “what I consider is always consider the totality,” and
this totality he calls potential (Potenz).1 Bergson writes each of his books
oblivious of all the others, without even worrying about the inconsis-
tencies that might at times result from their succession. Bergson delves
into each prob lem as if this problem were the only one in the world.
He follows each “line of facts” in de pen dently of all the other lines, just
as the élan vital follows divergent lines of evolution. He leaves it to the
commentators to resolve possi ble contradictions and to harmonize these
divergences. The conciliation will no doubt work itself out infinitely. It
will work itself out, not within the coherence of logic but in the musical
affinity of themes and in the continuity of an élan. For in Bergson order
resembles a kind of obsessive digression2 more than it resembles the pa-
tient work of the system builders’ marquetry. Bergsonian intuition, al-
ways total and undivided, simple and whole, grows continually in a single
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