The Uses and Abuses of Bergson in Critical Theory
Keywords:critical theory, vitalism, social ontology, Henri Bergson, Maurizio Lazzarato
Maurizio Lazzarato has provocatively argued that "while Marx indicated the methodology with which to discover living labor beyond work, he is of no help in analyzing the forces that lie beneath ... the conditions of contemporary capitalism." Lazzarato then goes on to make the rather startling claim that it is in fact Henri Bergson who "should be understood as the conceptual personae who has constructed an ontology” adequate to post-Fordism and immaterial labor." But this is a Bergson who has been stripped of any remnants of spiritualism by reading him through Gilles Deleuze and Walter Benjamin. Lazzarato suggests that Benjamin and Bergson must be reciprocally supplemented by each other: the former's ambiguous notion of Jetztzeit should be understood through the lens of the Bergsonian concept of virtual memory at the same time as Bergson's temporal metaphysics should be given a historical and political sense derived, at least in part, from Benjamin. Lazzarato's Bergsonian reading of Benjamin is deliberately meant to contribute to the construction of a critical theory beyond the negative dialectics of Adorno and Horkheimer, who at least outwardly dismissed Bergson's philosophy as a form of pre-critical vitalism. This article attempts to highlight the conditions under which Lazzarato is able to make such a theoretical move by revisiting the historical debate around Bergson and then constructing a kind of counter-lineage to the normal reception of vitalism in critical theory.
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