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Alexandre Lefebvre and Melanie White, eds.: Bergson, Politics, and Religion.

Alexandre Lefebvre and Melanie White, eds. Bergson, Politics, and Religion. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. 338 pp.

Since the early 1990's interest in the French philosopher Henri Bergson has skyrocketed, driven in part by the pervasive impact of Gilies Deleuze's interpretative writings on Bergson within the humanities and social sciences, but also by a reevaluation of the vitalist (including the non-organic) dimension of Bergson's thought. In his important anthology, The New Bergson (1999) philosopher John Mullarkey called for a rethinking of Bergson as "a contemporary philosopher" rather than an "historical curiosity," and fresh readings of Bergson in light of current philosophical issues by such scholars as Keith Ansell-Pearson, Elizabeth Grosz, Suzanne Guerlac, and Mullarkey himself now make that a well developed project. The same period witnessed renewed study of what is known as 'Bergsonism', with a flurry of publications devoted to Bergson's historical and contemporary impact across the humanities (Such studies include R.C. Grogin, The Bergsonian Controversy in France [1988]; eds. Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglass, The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy [1992]; Mark Antliff, Inventing Bergson: Cultural Politics and the Parisian Avant-Garde [1993]; Francis Azouvi, La gloire de Bergson [2007]; Donna Jones, Racial Discourses in Life Philosophy [2010]; eds. S. E. Gontarski, Paul Ardoin, Laci Mattison, Understanding Bergson, Understanding Modernism [2012]; and Charlotte de Mille and John Mullarkey's forthcoming edited volume, Bergson and the Art of Immanence). These developments were augmented by the appearance of magisterial biographical studies of Bergson by Philippe Soulez and Frederic Worms (See Philippe Soulez and Frederic Worms Bergson [2002]; and Frederic Worms, Bergson et les deux sens de la vie, [2004]). In 2002 Worms provided scholars of Bergson with a forum for such reconsiderations by inaugurating the journal Annales Bergsoniennes, which has so far devoted special issues to such key subjects as phenomenology, critical reassessments of Bergson's Creative Evolution, Bergson's political legacy from the era of Jean Jaures to the present, and Bergson and the sciences. Taken together, these studies attest to a renewed understanding of Bergson's importance and to the ongoing reassessment of his philosophy in light of the pressing issues of our own day, such as environmental degradation, human and animal rights, the threat of war, and the spectre of global annihilation.

What makes Alexandre Lefebvre and Melanie White's anthology so valuable is that it takes up many of the subjects and themes mentioned above within the context of analyses of an understudied text in Bergson's oeuvre, his Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932). As the first book in English to focus on the integral relation of Bergson's theory of religion with his status as "a philosopher of the political," this anthology calls for a rethinking of Bergson in a manner that further enriches the already vibrant field. The editors make another critical contribution by including translations of key essays previously unavailable in English: Worms' comprehensive analysis of Bergson's distinction between the 'closed' and 'open' in Two Sources, taken from the edited anthology Bergson et la religion (2008); Soulez's study of Bergson's philosophical meditations on war and politics from his book Bergson politique (1989); and Vladimir Jankelevich's reflections on Bergson and Judaism from his monograph on Bergson (1959). In their cogent introduction, Lefebvre and White set the stage for these and other studies by summarizing Bergson's crucial role as a diplomatic emissary to the United States during World War I and as an agent in helping to establish the League of Nations and promoting intellectual exchange between countries worldwide. They then argue that such political interventions need to be considered in tandem with an analysis of Bergson's understudied theory of politics, as manifest in his meditations on the origins of war, morality and religion, the animating themes of The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. These are the issues central to the fifteen essays that follow, which are divided into three thematic subsections titled "Closed and Open," "Politics," and "Religion and Mysticism." In "Closed and Open" Frederic Worms' overview of Bergson's theorizing of these fundamental terms in Two Sources is followed by essays focusing on the import of Bergson's notion of closed and open societies in relation to war and Bergson's theory of "the void" (Suzanne Gurleac); democratic theory and Bergson's notion of the "indefinite" (John Mullarkey); and a novel reading of Bergson's concept of aesthetic sense as "prior to nature" (Claire Colebrook). Part II on politics opens with Soulez's masterful analysis of Bergson's meditations on war, followed by Hitsashi Fujita's comparative study of the capitalist and anti-capitalist import of language and violence in the thought of Georges Sorel and Bergson; Leonard Lawlor's study of Bergson's interrelation of a "war instinct" with sexuality and our redemptive capacity to "cheat nature"; and three essays on political theory, focusing on democracy (Paulina Ochoa Espejo), Bergson's critique of "practical reason" as related to the thought of Kant and Alain Badiou (Carl Power), and human rights (Alexandre Lefebvre's superb contribution). A final section on "Religion and Mysticism" opens with Jankelevich's study, which is followed by Frederic Keck's sociological interpretation of Bergson's distinction between closed and open religions; comparative studies of Bergson's views on religion with those of Nietzsche (Keith Ansell-Pearson and Jim Urpeth) and William James (Paula Moratti); and a refreshing consideration of Bergson's interest in what early-twentieth century thinkers referred to as "Psychical Research" (G. William Barnard).

The one drawback of this anthology is the absence of essays addressing the legacy of Bergsonism among Catholics, which would have led to consideration of the so-called Modernist controversy and philosophical luminaries like Edouard Le Roy and Jacques Maritain. In addition the lack of any discussion of such issues as the placing of Bergson's writings on the Papal Index in a book devoted to "Bergson, Politics and Religion" is unfortunate, given the anthology's scholarly focus. But that only suggests one of the subsequent steps that need to be taken in this burgeoning field. Taken together these essays make a significant contribution to the field of Bergson studies, and they will be of special interest to those actively engaged in the reevaluation of Bergson for the twenty-first century.

Mark Antliff, Duke University
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Author:Antliff, Mark
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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