Jean-Paul RIOPELLE, L'hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, 1992 (détail)[ * ]

Habitude Against Itself: Re-defining the ‘Symbol’ in Turn-of-the-Century
French Visual Symbolist Discourse


Adi Efal
                  

Definitions of Symbolism and Symbol

Active between 1880 and 1910, Symbolism was a pan-European and multi-disciplinary cultural movement. Literary and visual Symbolisms were effectively interwoven phenomena, since artists and writers were usually participating in the same social circles and were collaborating on many artistic projects such as book-illustrations or theater productions. Literary and visual Symbolisms are commonly characterized by anti-materialism, mysticism, emotionalism, simplification and abstraction of forms, the use of suggestion and evocation, the reference to the imagination and to the dream world, the departure from conservative concepts of composition, and the ample use of formal nuances. Painters such as Gustave Moreau, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon and Fernand Khnopff, and literary figures such as Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Maurice Maeterlinck and Jean Moréas are considered important figures of this movement.

The development of visual Symbolism can be divided into two phases: (1) An earlier, and a more explicitly anti-materialist and mystical phase, which took place from about 1880 to 1892 — the year the critic Albert Aurier died. During this phase, the Rose-Croix movement was thriving in Paris; in other European capitals, Paul Gauguin was developing his mature, influential and groundbreaking painterly language, and Albert Aurier as well as other Idealist and Neo-Platonist critics were writing many theoretical essays. (2) A later phase, from about 1892 to 1910, in which the followers of Gauguin, amongst them the Nabis Group (i.e. artists and writers like Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Félix Fénéon and Octave Mirbeau), continued to explore the modernist and proto-formalist language of pure pictorial values such as Plane, Form and Colour, while furnishing a more “mundane” Symbolism, centered on Realist subjects of everyday life and based on a more positivist approach to the arts and to art theory. It is in relation to this later phase of French Symbolism that I develop the following argument.

Most scholars refer to French Symbolism as a one-phase development movement, presenting it as a late manifestation of German Romanticist and Idealist worldviews. Here I suggest instead, that it is certainly incorrect to read the later phase of Symbolism as Idealist or as a late Romanticist phenomenon, and that it is necessary to revise our understanding of earlier Symbolism in function of its later stage, as I define it in this essay. Although it is generally proper to view Symbolism as a movement that tried to restore a sense of substantial holism and cohesiveness to the decadent and disintegrating culture of fin-de-siècle Europe, a tendency which can be regarded as concomitant with German Romanticism, it is incorrect, I would contend, to view French Symbolism, and especially its later phase, as simply Idealist or Neo-Platonist. Many of the Symbolist notions, such as “symbol” (symbole), “idea” (idée) and “intuition” can be understood in terms quite other than exclusively Idealist ones. I suggest, therefore, that the vocabulary of late visual Symbolism be re-read as part of the general transformation of French thought occurring around the year 1900.

The first and most pivotal concept that should be re-examined is, of course, the concept of the symbol. The Symbolists inherited this concept directly and indirectly from the writings of the German Idealists, mainly from G. W. F. Hegel’s Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik,[1] but we must also recall that F. W. J Schelling’s System des transzendentalen Idealismus[2] and Arthur Schopenhauer’s influential book Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung[3] contributed to the formation of Symbolist aesthetics. The meaning given by the Symbolists to the concept of the symbol was different from the Hegelian one. Notwithstanding, many 20th-century scholars have interpreted the Symbolist “symbol” according to German Idealist definitions, or rather, according to a vague mixture of German Idealist and Neo-Platonist positions. At this point, it is not my intention to criticize the Symbolist interpretations of the Hegelian definition of Symbolism, but to discuss briefly the shortcomings of 20th-century scholarship, and to suggest what I deem to be a more suitable context for reading the concept of the Symbolist symbol, based mainly on the writings of Henri Bergson and on issues with which French metaphysics grappled throughout the 19th century.

Specific definitions of the symbol referring to late French Symbolist visual art are generally rare, both in the writings of the Symbolists and in later research dedicated to them. Albert Aurier is the most mentioned Symbolist critic that proffered such a definition.[4] Mainly a writer of poetry and art criticism, Aurier was the leading critic and theoretician of French Symbolist art, and he is well known for the theoretical patronage he supplied for the art of Paul Gauguin. Aurier’s texts exhibit Neo-Platonist and idealist traits, and his death in 1892 left a theoretical hole at the heart of the Symbolist visual movement.[5] The later Symbolists, who started to exhibit their works in the last decade of the nineteenth century, amongst them the Nabis and their circle, did not wholly adhere to Aurier's creed. This deviation from Aurier’s views towards 1900 reflects the apex of a general historico-intellectual process, occurring in fin-de-siècle France, a process in which French thought and aesthetics gradually moved away from the Idealist metaphysical canon. The climax of this process, occurring around the turn-of-the-century, was marked by the widening influence of the philosopher Henri Bergson.

I believe that a refined definition of French Symbolism is required as part of a wider re-examination of the meaning of “modern” art. Indeed, I am not convinced that we can still read the story of modernist art, as we usually do, solely on the ground of the Critical (i.e. Kantian) and then Idealist (Hegelian) metaphysical bias. I believe that we need to nuance our understanding of the philosophical core of the modernist story. In examining French Symbolist art, not only as a late expression of Romanticism, nor simply as an instance of proto-abstraction, but as a quasi-autonomous phenomenon, and in referring explicitly to eminent discussions in French metaphysics, I offer different categories for evaluating its importance in the story of modern art. Thus, I present the “Symbolism case” as an example of the need to re-examine the distinct character of French intellectual culture of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Idealist Interpretations of Symbolism and the Symbolic Work of Art

In his Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, Hegel presented his understanding of symbolic art. The latter appeared in its essential mode in the archaic world, especially in Egyptian culture (though Hegel remarks that it is possible to find signs of symbolic art also later on in history).[6] Symbolic art is essentially connected to the presentation of the Sublime or of some kind of divinity or sublime entity (Erhabenheit), an infinite referent or Idea that remains transcendent in relation to the perceived sign (Zeichen) itself—inherently inadequate for a complete presentation of its referent.[7] For Hegel, symbolic art is the most basic and primitive form of artistic expression, and it is contrasted with the Romantic art form, which is the most evolved artistic expression, being essentially subjective and reflexive, and as such, based on an organic affinity between the sign and its content. In the symbolic form of artistic signification, the duality of the infinite/universal and the finite/particular is fixed into accepted signs; the two do not unite fully, but instead retain their difference in the overall effect of the symbol. In a similar manner, Schelling (prior to Hegel) posited the symbolic form of representation as the ground of any true artistic phenomenon. In contrast with, but not unrelated to, Hegel, Schelling sees the symbol as the form of signification in which the particular and the universal maintain perfect equilibrium and do not exceed one another; as such, the symbol for Schelling is the most holistic and organic of all forms of representation. In both cases, the idealist conception of the symbol is related to the notion of totality (Totalität), a holistic system that, as a whole, maintains a middle ground between the particular and the universal. Both in Hegel and in Schelling, the vital power of the Absolute is being expressed by artistic production and symbolization.

 It is important to stress that Schopenhauer’s philosophy shaped the basic concepts of the Symbolist aesthetic. Though he did not deal explicitly with the notion of the symbol, Schopenhauer contributed to a renewed Platonic belief in the place that Ideas occupied in the work of art; this view is also found in many earlier Symbolist writings. The true referent of the work of art, as of any image (Vorstellung), according to Schopenhauer, is the infinite and indifferent will (Wille); but the Ideas are the basic Forms of the crystallization of the will, and they are the essential subject-matter of art. As such, artistic experience purifies the experiencing-subject and releases him from the constant movement of the will and from the petty ego that is subordinated to it.   

The definitions of the symbol given by the earlier Symbolists (see Jean Moréas in his 1886 manifesto of Symbolism)[8] may be best described as an admixture of Hegel’s definitions of symbolic and romantic art, Schelling’s determinations of the symbol as the vital core of any artistic production, and Schopenhauer’s Platonic return to the Ideas as the true referent of any artistic production.  Most 20th-century scholars inherited this complex admixture of definitions of Symbolism and of the symbol. When introducing the concept of the symbol, many scholars refer to Albert Aurier’s definition of Symbolism and the symbolic in art, presented in his 1891 essay on Paul Gauguin.[9] Here Aurier delineates the characteristics of Gauguin’s art as fourfold: Ideist—since it expresses an Idea; Symbolist—since it is an expression by means of Forms; Synthetic—since these forms are devised for general comprehension; Subjectivist; and finally Decorative. Symbolism, then, according to Aurier, is only one of the characteristics of Gauguin’s Symbolist art, and it relates to the primary role of formal expression in its existence. Note that Aurier differentiates between “Forms” and “Ideas,” as forms are the means for the expression of Ideas. This differentiation, we should recall, is unthinkable within the limits of a strict Platonic tradition or in Schopenhauer’s philosophy, as Form is absolutely synonymous with Idea (Eidos). Note also that Aurier proposes a synthesis of Hegel’s symbolic and romantic art forms; for him, Gauguin’s Symbolist art is universal, formal, and subjective. 

We see then that Symbolist critics, like Aurier, were transforming and synthesizing the Idealist systems that contributed the basic concepts for the definition of Symbolism. In a similar manner, 20th-century scholars of Symbolism held on to this synthetical tendency without asking which part of the Symbolist definition was still German-Idealist and which part of it belonged to a genuine French contribution to the history of aesthetic ideas.

The prominent 20th-century interpreter of Symbolism, Edward Lucie-Smith,[10] defines the symbol in a Hegelian manner as an image that refers to a spiritual transcendent essence, inherently indecipherable.[11] Problematically, he presents the symbol as meta-historical (i.e. indifferent to historical mutations and transformations), but still characterizes Symbolist art as anti-modernist, since it is never self-referential: “Behind the shapes and colors to be found on the picture-surface, there is always something else, another realm, another order of meaning.”[12] This last principle adheres to the Hegelian, Schellingian and Schopenhauerian vocabulary of the infinite referent of the symbol: the work of art is only a shadow of a transcendent truth. I refer to this presentation of the symbol as a metaphysical position of expressionist Monism, in which the symbol is conceived as an expression of an ephemeral and non-concrete but essential and substantial being, at once vital and ungraspable.

Later on in the 20th century, Dee Reynolds shows that Symbolism and modernism are commensurable; at the same time, she points to the activity of the (Kantian) Imagination[13] as the subject matter of Symbolism. Imagination encompasses the relation between sensible experience and “knowledge of the super-sensible.”[14] Although “it draws on sensory elements derived from experience, in imaginary space, these elements are combined in new ways and detached from representational or logical functions.”[15] This suggestion, unlike the one advanced by Lucie-Smith, has a transcendental bias: the symbol does not refer to an “Other” indecipherable entity, but manipulates the sensual conditions that support human reference to the world. I maintain that Reynolds’ Kantian version is still not specific enough to define the peculiarities of the French turn-of-the-century concept of the symbol. Indeed, Reynolds’ definition highlights a second feature of the Idealist interpretation of Symbolism, i.e., that the symbol harbours a reflexive transparency, which enables the viewer to relate to his own subjectivity in a purified manner, and to cohere with his own transcendental capacities in the midst of aesthetic experience. This kind of reflexive transparency can indeed be found not only in Kant’s writings, but also in Hegel’s definition of the Romantic phase of the arts,[16] and of course in Schopenhauer’s definition of the purification of the subject through aesthetic contemplation.[17]

Another recent, less Kantian and more Derridean, attempt at discussing the symbol was made by Mark Cheetham.[18] Like Reynolds, Cheetham presents Symbolist aesthetics as a precursor of high modernism, but for the purposes of understanding Symbolism, his version returns to a Neo-Platonist ground. He presents the symbol as self-referential, abstract, and Platonist in nature, referring, as in Aurier’s definition of the symbol, to a transcendent idea.[19] Cheetham emphasizes the (Platonist) importance of the use of memory as a mediator between the artist and the ideas: “Memory had the same epistemological and ontological priority given to it by the Neo-Platonist tradition wherein the soul has the ability to recognize Truth because it had prenatal acquaintance with the Forms or Ideas.”[20]  Cheetham’s approach reveals the third facet of the Idealist interpretation of Symbolism: epistemology of the transcendent. The latter signifies that alongside the symbol’s reflexive transparency to the viewing subject, the symbol also supplies a blurred and partial knowledge of divine entities. 

Apart from Lucie-Smith, Reynolds and Cheetham’s views, other 20th-century scholarly interpretations of the wider Symbolist movement, such as those by the seminal scholars A. G. Lehman[21] and Henrick Rookmaaker,[22] accorded with the Idealist and Neo-Platonist definitions of Symbolism.[23] Recently Michael Marlais also emphasized the Idealist reading of Symbolist art, and underlined the anti-Positivist, anti-Materialist, Idealist foundation of both Aurier’s and Denis’s thought.[24]  Leaning on an intellectual bias of deconstructive criticism, Cheetham also ascribed an Idealist subtext to Symbolist art, which he identified with “essentialism,” the source of which is the Neo-Platonist theory of art, characterized by “access to truth, non-mimetic incarnation, the ability to reform the artist’s soul, […] and self-transcendence.”[25] These tendencies, according to Cheetham, “stem from the heart of Plato’s metaphysics, from what Derrida calls the “ontological,” that is, the presumed possibility of a discourse about what is.”[26] I maintain that such Idealist-Neo-Platonist interpretations, positing the “Spirit” as the active-agent of the symbol, fail to relate to the strong materialist and sensualist features that played a leading part in the development of French intellectual fin-de-siècle culture.[27] Though the Neo-Platonist and Idealist traits of Symbolism are not to be denied,[28] in my view there are other more essential and singular traits that can be observed in later French Symbolism.

In an endeavor to portray the French turn-of-the-century view of Symbolism as quasi-autonomous, I adopt Henri Bergson’s view of the symbol, and also refer to the tradition of French dualism and its Vitalist revival in nineteenth-century France.[29] This interpretation of the symbol is an alternative to the Romanticist, Idealist or Neo-Platonist interpretations,[30] and in my view is more powerfully connected to the views and works of the later Symbolists. The findings I present below relate to visual Symbolism; however, in the course of discussion, I refer both to visual theoreticians and to literary writers.   

The “Ordinary” Symbol and the Dualist Prism

The concept of the symbol is central in Bergson’s philosophy.[31] In contrast with most of the versions of the Idealist tradition, the symbol, according to Bergson, is pre-eminently related to conventional language and to ordinary and partial thinking; it is not considered to be substantially linked to the absolute or the sublime; nor is it seen as forming an organic whole. For Bergson, as for Symbolists such as Camille Mauclair,[32] symbolic truth is inherently partial, stemming from everyday communication.[33] Indeed, as I noted above, the paintings of the Nabis Group, especially those of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, frequently take as subject-matter scenes of everyday life.[34] Maurice Maeterlinck, a prominent Symbolist and member of the wider Nabis circle, claimed that the true work of art must adhere to everyday experiences and their nuances.[35] Vuillard, in his private diaries, mentions regularly the term "rapport" as a main criterion for his work.[36] Rapport relates, in the journal notes of Vuillard, to the interwoven, cohesive and relational structure of habitual sensual experience; to the relationship between the painter and his or her habitus; and to the inner-cohesiveness of the visual surface of the painting. The “symbol” for Vuillard does not refer to a spiritual absolute, but to an everyday, habitual and sensual emotion.[37] Accordingly, the “Idea” in late Symbolist aesthetics should be redefined: it should no longer be understood as a Platonic, abstract, ephemeral and vital eidos, nor as an Absolute, as in the writings of the Romantics, but as a relational situation (rapport): a cohesive unit embodying the sensual and living equivalence existing between the painter and his or her everyday reality. These habitual figures of equivalence, forming the “Idea” of the symbol, pose an alternative to the epistemology of the transcendent, the last of the three facets of the Idealist interpretation of the symbol outlined above. No infinite transcendent Idea is to be found “behind” the symbol. Instead, figures of cohesive affinities between forms and colors coexist, in the mind of the painter or the viewer, with the observed reality: And these figures are considered as the “Idea” of the work of art. This simultaneity underscores another facet of late French Symbolism: synchronic dualism, construed here as an alternative to Expressionist monism—the first facet of the idealist interpretation of the symbol that I outlined above.  

When comparing the four facets outlined above with the Romanticist-Idealist definition of the symbol, we note a fundamental difference: the monist Idealist model, which refers to the primacy of the vital Absolute, is being replaced by a model in which a dual structure is apparent. The French Symbolists dealt more with the equivalence between mind and matter than with the primacy of the infinite spirit and its expression in corporeal phenomena. In this dualist attitude, material reality is considered as synchronic with, or equivalent to, the spiritual reality, and should not be understood as an expression of it. The Symbolists’ symbol sustains this special synchronism. As we shall see below, the dualist artistic symbol, harbouring this kind of simultaneity, is capable of producing qualitative changes in the habitual set of differences:[38] an intellectual and creative task that was designated in the writings of Maine de Biran, Félix Ravaisson and Henri Bergson, but that is foreign to German Idealist thought. 

For the prominent Symbolist writer Camille Mauclair, every object in the world is a symbol in the sense that it carries its own singular being; and the artwork seeks to simulate this simultaneity of the thing with its singularity.[39] Such an attitude towards the symbol is neither Neo-Platonic nor Idealist; it does not speak of an essence expressed by the “Thing;” instead it identifies the symbol with the very own singularity of the apprehended object. In Bergson's eyes, capturing the singularity of the thing is the ultimate target of both artistic endeavour and philosophical method:

Individualité des choses et des êtres nous échappe toutes les fois qu’il ne nous est pas matériellement utile de l’apercevoir…Ce n’est pas l’individualité même que notre œil saisit, c’est-à-dire une certaine harmonie tout à fait originale de formes et de couleurs, mais seulement un ou deux traits qui faciliteront la reconnaissance pratique.[40]

Mauclair, for his part, clarified that this kind of singularity is a product of a disposition of the soul, affected and moved by the observed object: “Si quelque chose est réel dans tous ces éléments, ce n’est pas la rose que j’ai regardée, mais c’est la disposition de mon esprit dont elle est cause.”[41] Mauclair emphasizes the disposition of the spirit that is caused by the empirical perception of the object. But this statement should not be confused with the Romantic Subjectivist attitude to art presented by Hegel. In Romantic art, according to Hegel, what is being accomplished is the reflexive rising-up of the Spirit towards itself (“Erhebung des Geistes zu sich). The absolute Spirit knows its absoluteness as the unity of the finite and the infinite through the corporeal image.[42] But Mauclair defines a whole other kind of subjectivism: a local subjectivist moment, which embodies a particular rapport between the soul of an observer and a thing. It is here that we find the alternative to the second facet of the Idealist interpretation of the symbol—reflexive transparency. In the later French Symbolist conception of the symbol, it is neither the essence of the Absolute Spirit nor the basic categorical structure of perception that is revealed in artistic perception, but a specific figural movement, a product of a kind of causal relation between the thing perceived and the soul of the observer. Instead of reflexive transparency of subjectivity, Symbolism operates an opaque Positivism of forms. Maurice Denis, the Nabi painter and theoretician, emphasizes explicitly the importance of Positivism to Symbolist art. Denis, like Mauclair, adheres to the tradition of nineteenth-century philosophy in France, guided by Victor Cousin.[43] Cheetham mentions the influence of Cousin’s “spiritual eclecticism” on French Symbolism,[44] and describes it as a “French variant of Neo-Platonic Idealism.”[45] Cousin's views were not simply Idealist and certainly not Neo-Platonist; they were actually much more Cartesian and Dualist. Cousin claimed that French philosophy had to unite two opposite traditions in philosophy, both of which he conceived as outcomes of Descartes’s thought: on the one hand German Idealism,[46] and on the other British empiricism and common-sense philosophy.[47] The French philosophers of the 1870s and 1880s in France followed the Cousinian revival of the Cartesian creed: a dualistic attitude, embracing empiricist and Idealist characteristics alike. 

Accordingly, Denis’s opposition to the Platonist dismissal of the material world and his assertion that Symbolist art has a positivist and even a scientific character are understandable, as he notes in retrospect while commenting on the paintings of the 1890s: “[…] Certes non, ce n’était pas une théorie idéaliste. Résultat immédiat des philosophies positives, alors en vogue, et des méthodes d’induction que nous eûmes en si grand respect. Ce fut bien la tentative d’art la plus strictement scientifique.”[48]

When Denis talks of “philosophies positives,” he refers to the Positive (“Positivist”) philosophy of Auguste Comte, [49] who saw philosophy as a scientific endeavor, interested in the interwoven complexes of opaque givens, dealing with all fields of human life and production. In their turn, the painters, whom Denis deemed Symbolists, were the followers of the empiricist Cézanne just as they were inspired by the mystical Gauguin. These, according to Denis, were not metaphysicians: they took nature as their sole subject matter.  

Ceux qui l’ont inaugurée étaient des paysagistes, des nature-mortistes, pas du tout des «peintres de l’âme » (influence de Cézanne sur Gauguin, Bernard, etc.). C’étaient des esprits passionnés de vérité, vivant en communion avec la nature, et je crois bien aussi, sans métaphysique.[50] 

The writer Remy de Gourmont argued that actually the very roots of Idealism are materialist.[51] “Les raisons de l’idéalisme plongent dans la matière, profondément. Idéalisme veut dire matérialisme ; et, à l’inverse, matérialisme veut dire idéalisme.”[52]  Even thought itself, according to Gourmont, is a physiological product.[53] This attitude appears in the movement known as the Spiritualisme français, from Maine de Biran to Félix Ravaisson and Henri Bergson; it presents the life of the spirit as an obscure mechanism, whose gesture distinguishes between the habitual repetition of sense impressions and responses, and the effort of active memory and intuition that renews and transforms them.[54] I believe that this distinction, this primary differentiation or separation between effort and habitude, stands at the heart of the late Symbolist symbol. But first it is essential to turn to the exploration of the components of the Symbolist artistic procedure, which simulates and produces this separation. 

The Mechanics of Habitude: Experience, Effort, Intuition, Distinction 

In Maurice Denis’s writings, sensual experience is the basic component of the process of producing the symbol. He sees Symbolism as a scientific relation (rapport) of forms and emotions, or of tradition and experience: “Pourtant le Symbolisme – maintenant transformé? oublié ? mort-né ? – était la tentative d’art la plus strictement scientifique, appuyée sur la correspondance entre les formes et les émotions, c’est-à-dire sur une vérité confirmée à la fois par la tradition et par l’expérience. [55]  

Denis defined the symbol as encompassing both the tradition of painting and the singular and inherently sensual experience of the painter. A “simple truth” should be found behind these two. In opposition to the Platonic Gauguin, who (as Cheetham emphasizes) saw the tradition of painting as prison chains,[56] Denis considers the (habitual) tradition of painting as necessary to the procedure of painting. His distinction and correlation between experience and tradition should be understood in Bergsonian terms as a qualitative difference, which is by itself the subject matter of the symbol. The symbol as such is inherently dualist; it exhibits this distinction, and it embodies experience and tradition as two radically different modes of human reality.

Here it is worthwhile to underline the deep discrepancies between Denis’s conception of “Expérience” and the German-Idealist concept of “Erfahrung”. The German Idealist “Erfahrung” is a construct and a basis for permanent subjectivity and past experience. In the writings of Kant,[57] and somewhat differently in Husserl[58] and even in Benjamin,[59] Erfahrung is pre-conditioned by the transcendental schematism of sensuality and reason. For the French philosophers Maine de Biran,[60] Félix Ravaisson,[61] and Henri Bergson,[62] sense experience is indeed habitual and repetitious, but it can become intensified and even transformed by the active and resistant effort of the spirit, and especially by the use of memory.[63] Here memory’s task is not to retain and preserve the building-up of subjective capacities, but to actively and permanently transform the infinite series of past experiences. As such, experience is in no way schematic or pre-conceived. Any moment of experience is indeed “experimental,” in the sense that it necessarily creates nuances and new differences. It is a transformational experience: in the words of Ravaisson, any repetition is a repetition of a change, and as such it is responsible for strengthening, diminishing or transforming existing habit.[64] De Biran, Ravaisson, and Bergson outlined two kinds of habitude: passive and active (i.e. the mechanistic one, and the other, which includes effort and presupposes resistance).[65] The one is mechanical, sub-conscious, and passive; the other is at least partly conscious and essentially free action which enhances, intensifies, and rejuvenates the habitual impressions and signs that tend to lose their intensity in habitual and repetitious experience.[66] The effort of habitude against itself, that which Bergson will later call Intuition or effort intellectuel,[67] is conceived in this tradition as the basis for any human and cultural development.

Again, according to Denis, the structure of the symbol is dual: the singularities of experience, together with the traditional tools of expression, create a Symbolist painting that affirms the truth of the idea. Just as Victor Cousin situates Cartesianism between Empiricism and Idealism, so Symbolism is described by Denis as the middle term between Naturalism and Idealism: “Symbolisme, idéalisme, naturalisme sont les trois états de l’Esthétique.”[68]    

Habitual tradition, as Denis presents it, acts similarly to the schematic ground of experience of the Idealists; in contrast, particular experience corresponds to empiricist, detailed and un-prejudiced observation. Henceforth, the symbol should embody a specific distinction between the two. In order to perform the synchronism of emotional-experience and the traditional-form, many Symbolists suggest the use of intuition.[69] Camille Mauclair writes in Eleusis: “L’allégorie, l’analogie, la comparaison et la coïncidence étant des procédés d’extériorisation, des déductions, ne peuvent être confondues avec le symbole, qui est essentiellement un prodrome d’intuitivisme.”[70]  Intuition (as well as its German correlate Anschauung), a classical philosophical term, was used in French philosophy already by René Descartes in order to refer to knowledge which is present for the perceiver in a simple act, the condition for every sound deduction and analysis, whose status is that of hypo-sensuality.[71] Intuition is a primary kind of knowledge that entails epistemological and ontological certitude.[72] But again, note a marked difference between the Idealist and the end-of-the-century Symbolist version: the German Idealist Anschauung, to be found, for example, in Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism, is primarily intellectual and systematic; it is the primordial act of the spirit, and it reveals the relation of the spirit to itself, as well as a holistic-organicist apprehension of the holism (Zusammenhang) of Being.[73] This, of course, goes hand in hand with the understanding of Erfahrung as pre-conditioned. By contrast, for Bergson, Intuition, a primary philosophical method, performs distinctions of singularities and does not unify or pre-conceive.[74] Intuition makes possible a unity of distinct elements, of inner experience and the forms of tradition.[75] Bergson contrasts Intuition with the faculty of analytic reason in that it can lead to an absolute apprehension of the thing itself and not, like scientific reason, to viewing it from an external and schematic perspective. Instead of analyzing a thing’s place in the overall rational network, and moving from frozen concepts to things, Intuition aspires to locate itself in the singular place of the object contemplated, and move from singular things to ideas.[76] Intuitional procedure is achieved through memory, yet not a Platonic anamnesis, but an infinite net of partial memories (i.e., movement of the spirit) caused virtually by the perceived object.[77] For Bergson, Intuition exposes the repetitious nature of what Denis would call “Tradition,” that is, preconceived and repeated actions of the spirit, and opens a heterogeneous and intensive flux of élan vital in which past, present, and future expectations durationally interpenetrate. This procedure simultaneously distinguishes and clarifies both the perceiver and his object.

In as much as Idealist Anschauung unifies subject and object, or consciousness and world, and encompasses a priori the outcome and possibilities of the movement of perception, the French turn-of-the-century Intuition, which is an “intellectual effort” (Bergson), performs differences in kind; it produces new rapports, differences within differences, new combinations of existing differences between symbols. Intellectual effort “clarifies and distinguishes”; unlike the Idealist version of Intuition, it does not unite, comprehend and encompass.[78] Remy de Gourmont makes this point in his argument that artistic creation consists of creating new associations, or better, original dissociations of ideas.[79] For de Gourmont, everyday language is at the disposal of artists and philosophers who use this given system in such a way that new differences (i.e., new rapports) are produced. Also, for Bergson, the artist accepts the given tools of communication of tradition while simultaneously creating new intuitional combinations. Symbolist intuition reveals the differences in the difference between language and sensual experience: no essential knowledge can be drawn a priori concerning the infinite possibilities of transformation.[80] In the painterly method suggested by Denis, that I would describe as intuitive, the simultaneity of forms of tradition and emotive experience differentiates the thing from the way it was repetitively perceived and depicted.

The Mechanistic Character of the Symbol, the Necessity of Deformation, and the nuanced Émotion of the Habitual and Repetitive

The French Symbolist visual symbol is explicitly artificial and mechanistic. Denis, Gourmont, Bergson, and Mauclair understood it as belonging to an autonomous language that never unites with external reality or with the realm of the purely theoretical mind. Visual language, as verbal language, elucidates its own laws.[81] Therefore, the symbol was understood as an artificial construction and not as a primordial and authentic coming-into-being of the Infinite Absolute.[82]   

This artificial, mechanistic view of the symbol should be read in relation to the development of Structuralist thought in turn-of-the-century Geneva. Ferdinand de Saussure posited the status of language as an independent, formal, and artificial field of human behaviour. Some twentieth-century scholars such as Natasha Staller, Elizabeth Prelinger, and Penny Florence took into account the Structuralist development of the status of language when writing about Symbolism,[83] though their discussions do not elaborate on the metaphysical meaning of the conventionality of the sign, a meaning which can be elucidated, again, through Bergson’s writings. Here the communicative symbol is being described once more as a mechanistic and conventional construction: but when the mechanistic symbol is being “transformed” by artistic, philosophical or mystical intuitional procedures, it gains access to a “vital burst” (élan vital) which exists in a repressed state in everyday experience.[84] Every symbol is built around an artificial principle: but the artistic symbol, simultaneously with its conventional functional signification, is an outcome of an intuitional procedure, which deforms and transforms conventional and instrumental language. The concept of “deformation,” which is present in the writings of Maurice Denis, entails exactly this rapport between the mechanistic and the Vitalist nature of the Sign.  Denis characterized the artistic symbol as a caricature of sensation: “[t]oute œuvre d’art était une transposition, une caricature, l’équivalent passionné d’une sensation reçue.”[85] Symbolism transposes sensation into the painterly language of lines and colours, which is also conventional and traditional. This suggests an immanent deformation (of experience) pertaining to the Symbolist procedure: “S’ils furent amenés à « déformer » à composer, et finalement à inventer de surprenantes formules, c’est qu’ils voulurent se soumettre aux lois d’harmonie qui régissent les rapports des couleurs, les agencements des lignes (recherches de Seurat, Bernard, C. Pissarro).”[86]

Bergson also argued that any symbolic (that is linguistic, analytic) expression is inherently deformed.[87] For Denis, deformed form contributes to the expressivity of the image:  “Un Christ byzantin est symbole: Le Jésus des peintres modernes (…) n’est que littéraire. Dans l’un cas c’est la forme qui est expressive, dans l’autre c’est la nature imitée qui veut l’être.”[88]

Painterly deformative expression makes an “equivalence” of sensation, intensifying the impact of sensation:

[m]ais c’est aussi pour apporter plus de sincérité dans le rendu de leurs sensations. Étant donnée la structure de l’œil et sa physiologie, le mécanisme des associations et les lois de la sensibilité (telles du moins que nous les connaissons encore), ils en tirèrent les lois de l’œuvre d’art et obtinrent tout de suite en s’y conformant des expressions plus intenses. Dès lors, au lieu de chercher, toujours en vain, à restituer telles quelles leurs sensations, ils s’appliquèrent à y substituer des équivalentes.[89]

For Bergson, deformation acts as a mortifying element: “La pensée la plus vivante se glacera dans la formule qui l’exprime. Le mot se retourne contre l’idée. La lettre tue l’esprit.” [90] This view is expressed also by Mallarmé, when he states that to name an object is to suppress the enjoyment of the poetic work, which is based on a suggestion of the Idea.[91]

The living energy of the artistic symbol is also rooted in its emotive implications. For Bergson, “Qu’une émotion neuve soit à l’origine des grandes créations de l’art, de la science et de la civilisation, cela ne nous paraît pas douteux. Non pas seulement parce que l’émotion est un stimulant, parce qu’elle incite l’intelligence à entreprendre et la volonté à persévérer.”[92]

For Denis and Vuillard,[93] emotive content is immanent to sensation; and the Symbolist procedure posits a deformative rapport between sensation, form and emotion: “Il y avait donc étroite correspondance entre des formes et des émotions! Les phénomènes signifient des états d’âme, et c’est le Symbolisme.”[94] These “states of the soul,” better translated as “frames of mind,” are intensive heterogeneous pluralities of durational existence, related to a particular moment of perception. But again, this emotion should not be understood as the Romanticist Fühlen: instead of expressing a sudden revelation or exaltation, emotion in the Symbolist context is inherently habitual, repetitious and even mechanical.[95] Remy de Gourmont mentions subconscious automatic activity as the primary source of artistic creation.[96] Symbolist emotion is the effect, or the nuance, of the rapport between habitual experience and the habitudes of traditional language. Between these two habitudes, or between these two aspects of the I,[97] to paraphrase Bergson, resides the effort of intuitive liberty.[98]   

Symbolist emotion expresses the unbridgeable gap separating inner-duration from habitual conventions, or between the present as durational and virtual and the present as a spatial unit. This separating distance between these two habitudes creates deformative symbols, and it is this same separation that produces a habitual and continuous emotion related to the experience of everyday life. This deformative symbol will act as a nuance,[99] which, again, has a dualistic nature: it expresses both the conventional symbol and its difference from essential durée. This habitual nuance is different from the effect of the sublime experience of the Romantics, first and foremost because, in as much as the Romantic experience of the Sublime entails a confrontation between the finite human and infinite nature,[100] the Symbolist nuanced emotion produces a continuous separation within human reality. 

Symbolist emotion, as a nuanced deformation, produces differences in differences. To create this deformative nuance, works of art, according to Bergson, should contain a mixture of images, because a separate and unique image is not capable of expressing intuitive durée: only a relation (rapport) of several converging images can force the spirit to confront simultaneously different aspects and intensities of habitude, hence initiate an intuitional procedure.[101] “Ainsi, qu’il soit peinture, sculpture, poésie ou musique, l’art n’a d’autre objet que d’écarter les symboles pratiquement utiles, les généralités conventionnellement et socialement acceptées, enfin tout ce qui nous masque la réalité, pour nous mettre face à face avec la réalité même.”[102] 

Characteristics of the Symbol

The symbol is a vital sign both in Romanticist and Symbolist theory. In both traditions its vital core is the “idea”. But in late Symbolist aesthetics, the idea is not an abstract Platonic entity, an infinite absolute, or a capsule of the faculty of imagination: instead, the core of the symbol is a cohesive unit of a relation (rapport) between sense-experience and the abstract forms of tradition. This relationship never creates a unity or identity of the particular with the infinite-universal, but an ever hanging, deformed synchronism. Artistic experience is not a traumatic event, but a habitual and consistent transformation, and it expresses the qualitative difference between tradition and experience. The symbol performs and stimulates in the observer an emotion of this difference. While the Romanticist symbol enacts the emotion of a sublime "trauma," the emotive character of the Symbolist symbol is directed to l’habitude as subconscious constant activity and its intensification and transformation by intuitive effort. By means of intuition, and through his or her medium, the artist creates nuanced equivalences between habitude of experience and habitude of tradition. This equivalence is itself an effort of habitude against itself.  This equivalence is artificial, mechanistic, and “deformative.” Deformations express the emotion of the difference in kind between habitual tradition and intuitional effort. As Ravaisson has it, “La disposition dans laquelle consiste l’habitude et le principe qui l’engendre ne sont qu’une seule et même chose; c’est la loi primordiale et la forme la plus générale de l’être, la tendance à persévérer dans l’acte même qui constitue l’être.”[103] The symbol, performing habitude and turning it against itself, underlines the wonder of self-preservation in transformation and deformation, and, in that sense, it is more a technique or a method of preserving life, than (as in the Romanticist tradition) an expression of it. [104]


[1] The first translation of Hegel’s Aesthetics into the French language was published in 1840. (See G. W. F Hegel, Cours d’esthétique. Trans. Ch. Bénard. Paris: A. André, Hachette, Jaubert, 1840.) Earlier, in 1823, Victor Cousin, the influential Sorbonne philosopher, attended Hegel’s lectures on aesthetics (delivered in Berlin), and brought back to Paris an abbreviated transcription. See Alain Patrick Olivier. G. W. F. Hegel, Esthétique. Manuscrit inédit de Victor Cousin. Paris: Vrin, 2005. Schelling’s lectures on aesthetics, known as the Philosophie der Kunst, were not, according to my research at several archives, translated into French until the 20th century. For the relevant texts, see G. W. F. Hegel, “Die symbolische Kunstform.” Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik I-II (1835-1838). Stuttgart: Reclam, 1971, pp.423-48; F. W. J. Schelling, “Philosophie der Kunst (1802).” Texte zur Philosophie der Kunst. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1982, §39, §46, pp.191-9, 243.

[2] F. W. J. Schelling, System des transzendentalen Idealismus (1800). Schelling-Studienausgabe, Schriften von 1799-1801. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesselschaft, 1975, pp. 607-629. This book was translated into French in 1842. See Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Système de l’idéalisme transcendental. Trans. Paul Grimblot. Paris: Ladrange, 1842.  

[3] Though this book had great influence on French fin-de-siècle culture, it did not offer an elaborate discussion of the concept of the symbol. It should be noted that Schopenhauer saw himself more as a critic than a follower of the Idealist generation. Notwithstanding, his philosophy subscribes to key issues and traits of this tradition. See Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818). Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1998. On Schopenhauer’s influence in France, see Alexandre Baillot, Influence de la philosophie de Schopenhauer en France, 1860-1900. Paris: Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1927.

[4]  G.–A. Albert Aurier, “Le Symbolisme en Peinture : Paul Gauguin (1891).” Textes critiques 1889-1892 – De l’impressionnisme au symbolisme. Paris : École normale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1995, p.35.  First published in Mercure de France 2 (March 1891), pp. 155-64. For an English translation, see G.–Albert Aurier, “Symbolism in Painting: Paul Gauguin (1891).” Ed. Henri Dorra. Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1994. pp.192-203.

[5] Michael Marlais, Conservative Echoes in Fin-de-Siècle Parisian Art Criticism. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992, p. 9.

[6] G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, p.422.

[7] Ibid., p.423.

[8] Jean Moréas, “Le Symbolisme ― Manifeste de Jean Moréas (Figaro, du 18 septembre 1886).” Les premières armes du Symbolisme. Paris : Léon Vanier, 1889, pp.31-9. For an English translation, see Jean Moréas, “A Literary Manifesto — Symbolism. ” Ed. Henri Dorra. Symbolist Art Theories,  pp.150-2.

[9] G.–Albert Aurier, “Le Symbolisme en peinture: Paul Gauguin.” Textes Critiques 1889-1892, pp. 155-64.

[10] Edward Lucie-Smith, Symbolist Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972, pp.7-23.

[11] Lucie-Smith defines the symbol, in a romanticist manner, in contrast with the allegorical sign, which is a literal image, deciphered by inter-connections of signifiers (Edward Lucie-Smith, Symbolist Art, pp.18-19). On the romantic differentiation between symbol and allegory, see also Walter Benjamin, “Allegorie und Trauerspiel.” Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1928). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1963, pp.179-90;  Tzvetan Todorov, Théories du symbole. Paris: Seuil, 1977, pp. 235-49.

[12] Edward Lucie-Smith, Symbolist Art, p.7.

[13] Dee Reynolds, “Imagination and Imaginary Space.” Symbolist Aesthetics and Early Abstract Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp.8-40.  

[14] Ibid., p.9. 

[15] Ibid., p.40.  

[16] G. W. F. Hegel, “Vom Romantischen Überhaupt.” Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, pp.564-80.

[17] Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, §34, pp.243-7.

[18] Mark A. Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 

[19] Ibid., pp.2-4. Cheetham refers mainly to Gauguin’s writings, which were close to Aurier’s Neo-Platonist creed, and presents Gauguin and Aurier’s rejection of Positivist criticism and of the positivist methods of the impressionists.

[20] Ibid., p.5.

[21] A. G. Lehman, The Symbolist Aesthetic in France 1885-1895. Oxford and London: Basil Blackwell, 1950.

[22] Unlike Lehman, Hendrick Roelof Rookmaaker does relate to the visual Symbolists, but like Cheetham, he refers mostly to the work of Paul Gauguin. See his Gauguin and 19th Century Art Theory. Amsterdam: Swetz and Zeitlinger, 1972, (1959).

[23] For a discussion of “Symbolist Idealism,” see A. G. Lehman, The Symbolist Aesthetic in France, pp. 37-50. This “mélange” of Platonism, Neo-platonism and Idealism should, indeed, be considered a direct outcome of the immense influence of Schopenhauer on French end-of-the-century culture. See Alexandre Baillot, Influence de la philosophie de Schopenhauer en France 1860-1900. Edward Lucie-Smith’s Symbolist Art, mentioned above, also emphasizes the Neo-Platonist influence on Symbolist artists. See p.12.

[24] Michael Marlais, Conservative Echoes in Fin-de-Siècle Parisian Art Criticism, chapters 1, 2, 4, & 6. 

[25] Mark A. Cheetham, Rhetoric of Purity, p. 37. 

[26] Ibid.

[27] Recently, Edward D. Powers showed that even the supposed Neo-Platonism of Paul Gauguin is imbued with carnality and sensuality: “From Eternity to Here: Paul Gauguin and The World Made Flesh.” Oxford Art Journal 25/2 (2002), pp. 87-106.

[28] At the beginning of his article “Les peintres symbolistes,” Aurier explicitly chose to quote Plotinus. See Albert Aurier, Textes critiques 1889-1892: De l’impressionnisme au symbolisme, p. 95.

[29] I disagree with Maurice Blanchot’s critique of the Bergsonian interpretation of Symbolism. It seems that Blanchot is referring to Symbolism, again from the idealistic, phenomenological and of course post-Hegelian and quasi-Heideggerian, points of view. See his “Bergson and Symbolism.” Trans. Joel A. Hunt. Yale French Studies 4 (1949), pp.63-6. 

[30] On the romanticist and idealist view of the symbol, see Benjamin, “Tragedy und Trauspiel,” and Paul de Man, “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics.” Aesthetic Ideology Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 91-104.   

[31] See Emeric Fiser, “Le philosophe du symbolisme − Henri Bergson.” Le Symbole littéraire − Essai sur la signification du symbole chez Wagner, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Bergson et Marcel Proust. Paris : José Corti, 1941, pp.15-65. 

[32] Camille Mauclair, Puvis de Chavannes. Paris : Libraire Plon, 1928, p. 23.

[33] Henri Bergson, “Introduction à la métaphysique (1903).” La pensée et le mouvant- essais et conférences (1934). Paris : Quadrige- PUF, 1938, p.181.

[34] See George L. Mauner, The Nabis: Their History and Their Art 1888-1896. New York and London: Garland, 1978, pp. 224-63.

[35] Maurice Maeterlinck, “Le tragique quotidien.” Le trésor des humbles. Bruxelles : Editions Labor, 1986 [1896], pp.101-10.

[36] For example: “Une forme, une couleur n’existe que par rapport à une autre. La forme seule n’existe pas. Nous ne concevront que de rapports” (Vuillard’s private journal, an unpublished manuscript to be found at the Institut de France, Paris, 20.11.1888), quoted in Guy Cogeval, Vuillard- Le temps détourné. Evreux : Découvertes Gallimard, 1993, p.114. The notion of rapport is raised also by Mallarmé, in his interview with Jules Huret.  See Stéphane Mallarmé, Igitur-Divagations-Un coup de dés. Paris: Gallimard, 1976, p.395.

[37] Édouard Vuillard, Journal, 2.4.1891: “L’émotion contenue ([dans] l’observation) … est la première condition d’une œuvre d’art.” (The journal text is often indecipherable and grammatically obscure.) Quoted in Elizabeth Wynne-Easton, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard. Houston, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989, p.132.

[38] For Bergson’s articulation of dualism, see Matière et mémoire – Essai sur la relation du corps à l’esprit (1896). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1939. On qualitative differences, see Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism. (Translation of Le Bergsonisme, PUF, 1966.) Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books, 1991., pp.18-19, 21-6, 73-113. For qualitative change, see Bergson, Matière et mémoire, p.77.

[39] Camille Mauclair, Eleusis, Causeries sur la cité intérieure. Paris: Perrin, 1894, pp.80-1.  Quoted in Lehman,  The Symbolist Aesthetics in France, p. 273.

[40] Henri Bergson, Le rire – essai sur la signification du comique (1900). Paris, Quadrig-PUF, 2002, pp.116-17.

[41] Camille Mauclair, Eleusis, p.273.

[42] G. W. F. Hegel, “Das Prinzip der inneren Subjektivität.” Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, pp. 565-6.

[43] See Claude Bernard, Victor Cousin ou la Religion de la philosophie. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1991. 

[44] Mark A. Cheetham, Rhetoric of Purity, p.16. 

[45] Ibid.

[46] Victor Cousin, Du Vrai, du Beau et du Bien (1818). Paris: Librairie Académique, Perrin et Cie, Libraires-Éditeurs, 1917 [ 1853]), pp.54ff. 

[47] Ibid., pp. 2-4.

[48] Maurice Denis, Théories 1890-1910 – Du symbolisme et de Gauguin vers un nouvel ordre classique. Paris: L. Rouart et J. Watelin Editeurs, 1913, p. 33.  

[49] See, for example, Auguste Comte, Cours de philosophie positive. Paris: Rouen Frères, 1830.   

[50] That was the opinion of Maurice Denis as well as of Félix Fénéon. See Maurice Denis, Théories, p.33.  “J’ai toujours attaché beaucoup d’importance à l’idée symboliste. C’était vraiment une lumière pour des esprits navrés de naturalisme, et en même temps trop épris de peinture pour donner dans les rêveries idéalistes.” On Fénéon’s identification of Cézanne as a prominent Symbolist, see Michael Marlais, Conservative Echoes in Fin-de-siècle Parisian Art Criticism, pp.95-6.

[51] Remy de Gourmont, “Les racines de l’idéalisme.” Promenades philosophiques vol. 3. Paris: Mercure de France, 1925-1931 (1905), pp.79-106.   

[52] Ibid., p.105.

[53] Ibid., p.104.

[54] Henri Bergson, L’évolution créatrice (1907). Paris: Quadrige-Puf, 2003, p.128.

[55] Maurice Denis, Théories,  p.51 & p. 55: “Le Symbolisme s’appuie donc tout entier sur une de ces vérités très simples, que confirment à la fois, depuis les temps les plus reculés, la tradition et l’expérience.”

[56] Mark A. Cheetham, Rhetoric of Purity, pp. 20-4.

[57] Immanuel Kant, “Analogien der Erfahrung.” Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2003, 1781, 1787, pp.274-313, p.274: “Erfahrung ist nur durch die Vorstellung einer notwendigen Verknüpfung der Wahrneminger möglich.”  

[58] Edmund Husserl, “Natürliche Erkentnis und Erfahrung.” Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch (1913). Tübingen: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950, pp.10-12.

[59] Walter Benjamin, “Erfahrung (1913).” Gesammelte Schriften II-I, Herausgegeben von Rolf Tiedemann und Hermann Schweppenhäuser. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1999, pp. 54-6.

[60] Maine de Biran, Influence de l’habitude sur la faculté de penser (1802). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954; see also Dominique Janicaud, “L’habitude selon Ravaisson et Maine de Biran.” Une généalogie du spiritualisme français. La Haye : Martinus Nijhoff, 1969, pp.15-35.

[61] Félix Ravaisson, De l’habitude (1838), Métaphysique et morale (1893). Paris: PUF, 1999, pp.120-9; Dominique Janicaud, Une généalogie du spiritualisme français, pp.37-50.

[62] Henri Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1888). Paris: PUF, 2003 (1927).

[63] Dominique Janicaud, Une généalogie du spiritualisme français, pp.135-43.

[64] Maine de Biran, ‘Introduction,’ Influence de l’habitude, pp.7-45; Ravaisson, De l’habitude, pp.105-6, 130-5,154.

[65] Félix Ravaisson, De l’Habitude, p.141. 

[66] Maine de Biran, Influence de l’habitude, pp.49-50, 117-29.

[67] Henri Bergson, “L’effort intellectuel (1902).” L’énergie spirituelle (1919). Paris: PUF, 1949, pp.153-90.

[68] Maurice Denis, Théories, p.37. In her Mallarmé, Manet and Redon-Visual and Aural Signs and the Generation of Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), Penny Florence points out, through an examination of Mallarmé’s aesthetics, the intimate relations between Symbolism and Impressionism, sense perception and the vicissitudes of appearance. See especially pp.3 & 5. Also, Richard Shiff, in his Cézanne and the end of Impressionism (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984, pp.39-52), notes the reciprocity between Impressionism and Symbolism, relating to the matter of sensation.   

[69] The use of Intuition replaces the Baudelairian emphasis on the use of the Imagination, which was still a Romantic feature, and which Dee Reynolds, in the 20th century, still used as her key concept in referring to Symbolism. See Dee Reynolds, “Imagination and Imaginary Space.”  Symbolist Aesthetics and Early Abstract Art, pp.8-41.

[70] Camille Mauclair, Eleusis, p.99, as quoted in A. G. Lehman, Symbolist Aesthetics in France, p. 272.  

[71] Jean-Luc Marion, “L’ « intuitus », opérateur de la certitude.” Sur l’ontologie grise de Descartes. Paris : Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1975, pp. 47-53. 

[72] Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, pp.145, 401- 4; Edmund Husserl, Ideen, Erstes Buch, pp. 13-17; Emmanuel Levinas, Théorie de l’intuition dans la phénoménologie de Husserl . Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1978. 

[73] Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, System des transzendentalen Idealismus (1800). Hamburg: Meiner Verlag, 1957, pp.66-170; see also Martin Heidegger, Schellings Abhandlung über das Wesen der menschlischen Freiheit (1936). Tübingen: Max Niemezer Verlag, 1971, pp.52, 54.

[74] This particularity of intuition is present already in Descartes’s philosophy, as Jean-Luc Marion shows. See Jean-Luc Marion, L’ontologie grise de Descartes, p. 49.

[75] See Gilles Deleuze, “Intuition as Method.” Bergsonism, pp.13-35.

[76] Henri Bergson, “Introduction à la métaphysique.” La pensée et le mouvant, p. 200.

[77] Gilles Deleuze, Proust et les signes (1968). Paris: PUF/Quadrige, 1994, pp.66-82; Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism, pp.51-71.

[78] Henri Bergson, “L’effort intellectuel,” p. 184:   “On s’accorde à reconnaître que l’effort donne à la représentation une clarté et une distinction supérieures. Or, une représentation est d’autant plus claire qu’on y relève un plus grand nombre de détails, et elle est d’autant plus distincte qu’on l’isole et qu’on la différencie mieux de toutes les autres.”

[79] Remy de Gourmont, “La dissociation des idées.” La culture des idées (1900). Paris: Mercure de France, 1910, p.73.   

[80] Henri Bergson, “Le possible et le réel (1930).” La pensée et le mouvant, pp.101, 115.

[81] Maurice Denis, Théories, p.1.

[82] See, for example, Friedrich von Schlegel, “Of the Symbolical Nature and Constitution of Life with Reference to Art and the Moral Relations of Man.” Philosophy of Life. Trans. A. J. W. Morrison. London: H. G. Bonn, 1847, pp.236-60.

[83] Penny Florence, Mallarmé, Manet and Redon; Elizabeth Prelinger, “The Art of the Nabis: From Symbolism to Modernism.” Ed. Patricia Eckert-Boyer. The Nabis and the Parisian Avant-Garde. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1988, pp.82-5; Natasha Staller, “Babel: Hermetic Languages, Universal Languages, and Anti-languages in Fin de Siècle Parisian Culture.” The Art Bulletin Vol. 76 (June 1994), pp. 331-54.

[84] Analytical reason is characterized by Bergson as artificial and instrumental. It aspires to achieve clarity, rationality and communication. Analytical reason divides reality into regular, homogeneous, countable atoms, differentiated by empty space; that is why Bergson calls this reason “spatial,” in as much as intuition is temporal and durational. See Henri Bergson, Essai sur les donneés immédiates de la conscience, pp.56-73.

[85] Maurice Denis, Théories, p.167.

[86] Ibid., pp.33-4.

[87] Henri Bergson, “Introduction à la métaphysique,” p.187.

[88] Maurice Denis, Théories, p.10.

[89] Ibid., p.34. 

[90] Henri Bergson, L’évolution créatrice, p.128.

[91] Stéphane Mallarmé, Igitur-Divagations − Un coup de dés, p.392.  

[92] Henri Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion. Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan, 1932, p.39. See also p. 41: “Création signifie, avant tout, émotion.”

[93] For Vuillard, see note 37.

[94] Maurice Denis, Théories, p.34.

[95] As Descartes describes a rather mechanical and regulated nature of the emotions in his Les passions de l’âme (1649). Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1990.

[96] Remy de Gourmont, “La création subconsciente.” La culture des Idées, pp. 44-66; Henri Bergson, “De l’inconscient.” Matière et mémoire, pp.157-63.

[97] Henri Bergson, “Les deux aspects du moi.” Essai sur les données immédiates, pp.95-104.

[98] Ibid., pp.123-9.

[99] On the nuance, see Maine de Biran, Influence de l’habitude, pp. 20, 35, 137; see also Henri Bergson : “Il faudra donc évoquer l’image d’un spectre aux mille nuances, avec des dégradations insensibles qui font qu’on passe d’une nuance à l’autre.”  “Introduction à la métaphysique.” La pensée et le mouvant, p. 184

[100] F. W. J. Schelling , System des transzendentalen Idealismus, p.621.

[101]  “Introduction à la métaphysique.” La pensée et le mouvant, pp.185-186:

Nulle image ne remplacera l’intuition de la durée, mais beaucoup d’images diverses, empruntées à des ordres de choses très différentes, pourront, par la convergence de leur action, diriger la conscience sur le point précis où il y a une certaine intuition à saisir. En choisissant les images aussi disparates que possible, on empêchera l’une quelconque d’entre elles d’usurper la place de l’intuition qu’elle est chargée d’appeler, puisqu’elle serait alors chassée tout de suite par ses rivales. En faisant qu’elles exigent toutes de notre esprit, malgré leurs différences d’aspect, la même espèce d’attention et, en quelque sorte, le même degré de tension, on accoutumera peu à peu la conscience à une disposition toute particulière et bien déterminée, celle précisément qu’elle devra adopter pour s’apparaître à elle-même sans voile.

[102] Henri Bergson, Le rire, p.120.

[103] Félix Ravaisson, De l’habitude, p.159.


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