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A Present Folded Back on the Past (Bergson)

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In Matter and Memory, Bergson examines the relationship between perception and memory, the status of consciousness in its relation to the brain, and more generally, a possible conjunction of matter and mind. Our reading focuses in particular on his understanding of the evanescent presence of the present and of its debt vis-à-vis the "unconscious" consciousness of a "virtual" past. We wish to show that the Bergsonian version of a critique of "the metaphysics of presence" is, for all that, an offshoot of a Platonic type of metaphysics. It is true that Bergson departs from traditional standpoints on the side of a self-sufficient and original present and a form of presence to which the transparency of consciousness would confer the character of immediate evidence. All the same, it can hardly be claimed that his rehabilitation of the past and the unconscious opens up new perspectives on how forgetting and death are bound up with the work of memory.

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