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The reception of Henri Bergson in French and Italian avant-garde circles at the start of the twentieth century: Bergsonism, art and politics

4 giugno 2013
Ex Boccherini - Piazza S. Ponziano 6 (Conference Room )
In 1913 a public battle occurred among prominent figures in the anarchist movement over the merits of Henri Bergson. This heated exchange pitted the defenders of anarchist communism—led by the prominent Russian anarchist and scientist Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and his ally Jean Grave, editor of Les Temps Nouveaux (1895-1921)—against an international group of anarchist individualists headed by André Colomer (1886-1931), co-founder of the Paris-based journal L’Action d’art (1913). The division between Kropotkin and Colomer also implicated members of the European avant-garde by positioning Neo-Impressionists such as Paul Signac, who drew on Kropotkin and Grave’s scientific metaphors in proclaiming the anarchist import of their artistic technique, against a younger group of symbolists and Futurists (most prominently Gino Severini) who participated in the Action d’art project and shared Colomer’s enthusiasm for Bergson’s metaphysics. As I will demonstrate, Colomer’s anarchist ideology was based on a complex synthesis of Bergson’s philosophy with that of young Hegelian Max Stirner, whose book of 1844, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (The Ego and His Own), was foundational for the anarchist individualist movement. Colomer assimilated Stirner’s notion of ‘egoism’ with Bergson’s conception of the personality to advocate a theory of revolutionary immanence that had radical aesthetic implications for those artists affiliated with the Action d’art movement. Thus I will consider the Action d’art group’s championing of Romanticism, fin-de-siècle Aestheticism, and Futurism as an expression of a broader epistemological shift within leftist circles in Europe from an advocacy of scientific materialism to a voluntarist theory of insurrection, premised on Bergson’s concepts of duration and creativity.
Antliff, Mark - Duke University - Durham