Gordon Bearn on Bergson

Henri Bergson was perhaps the most influential French philosopher at the beginning of the 20th century. Bergson wrote that intuition, as the discoverer of truth – reveals the real world, not intellectual analysis. Gordon Bearn argues there is a striking similarity between Bergson’s notion of metaphysical intuition and the concept of sensuality.  

Bearn, professor of philosophy, began his examination of sensuality in 2008.  It is easy to misconstrue pleasure as a subjective sensation like pain, but this error is avoided if we consider enjoyment.   What we enjoy is the peach, not the effect of the peach on us.  He has been examining sensual enjoyment, a definite way of enjoying something, enjoying it sensually.  

“Take a spoonful of soup and suppose you are the cook. You can taste the soup to see if there is too much cumin, too much salt, or not enough.  You’re not really enjoying the soup. You’re just freezing that experience as a cumin experience or a salt experience.  But you can also hold the soup in your mouth, close your eyes, plunging into the flavors, ‘mmmm.’  That’s my target: floating sensual in liquid corporeality.

“What you enjoy when you plunge into the soup is the soup, losing track of time, you feel the thickness of the soup in your mouth, the passage between textures and flavors. I think that blurring of all the sensual things together, the passage between what we habitually separate, is the key to sensual enjoyment."

Normally, as Bergson says, we don't really see things at all, we just read labels attached to them. Sensual enjoyment will only be ours, if we resist intellectualizing and categorizing our experience of the world, if we break our habits of practical engagement.  Bearn enjoys putting this as:  if it ain't broke, break it.

Although the supposed requirements of a conformist morality have mostly forced sensual enjoyment beyond the horizon of philosophy, philosophers do admit that sensual enjoyment exists.  But the sensual enjoyment of linguistic life, if it is even conceded existence, is almost never interrogated.  Bearn is interested in both dimensions of sensuality: the sensuality of things, but also the sensuality of language, a sensual semantics.

“Many people think of language as a tool. We habitually think of a word as a series of phonemes, a complex type of sound, arbitrarily associated with its significant use.   It might be arbitrary but it is not therefore, as a phoneme, without significant expressive force.”

The long sound "a" is made way down the throat. Learning about the way our bodies resonate to different phonemes is learning about the expressive sources of our language, for example: mmmm.  And enjoying words both as signifiers and as resonators can sensual, he says. Moreover, there is no stopping the expressive force of sounds, the singular utterance will always precipitate feelings and thoughts that resonate in variously expressive ways with the surroundings of the utterance, semantical and material.

“To see the world we need to exercise the painful violence of sensation to reach Bergsonian intuition. The logic of sensation is the logic of metaphysical intuition.  It can provide heterogeneous sensual enjoyments, linguistical no less than material.”