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  • Writer's pictureDon Landes

Bergson's Bestiary Artist Statement

Organisms in Creative Evolution, a multimedia art project with Ben Lanz


The past hangs over the present, virtually. Continuously taking up the past toward the future, each new moment is a sort of creation in the overall trajectory of a life. French philosopher Henri Bergson had long held that this characterizes our mode of existence as conscious beings: “for a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, and to mature is to go on endlessly creating oneself.” He named this durée, the inner experience of temporal thickness, creative and organic becoming.

But what if durée was also at work precisely where we expected to find mere repetition and mechanical causality? What if durée was in the things themselves? And what if things that seemed unconscious—from individual organisms to life to the material universe itself—turned out to exist in and as durée, as “invention, the creation of forms, and the continuous development of the absolutely new”? This would explain the continuity between matter, life, and consciousness as a progression of degrees. And for life, we would sense the thread of an élan vital: “this current of life, passing through the bodies that it had organized one after the other, passing from generation to generation, … divided among species and distributed to individuals without losing anything of its force, and rather intensifying as it advances.” This is life’s expression of the principle of ascent that struggles against entropy, against the forces of disintegration and dissipation that threaten our fall back into the play of mere forces.


Thus exploring the movement of life, Bergson parades before his readers an entire bestiary populated with organisms from the past and the present, from the simplest to the most complex. He shows how each organism has crystallized into existence from the virtual forces and potentials as they negotiate the material conditions of their milieu, overcoming obstacles and canalizing capacities into organs and behaviors.

In short: in Bergson’s 1907 book Creative Evolution, the human condition, the meaning of life both individual and as a whole, and the nature of reality as becoming are all at stake. Given all that is at stake today, 2022 needs this book too.

In collaboration with composer and musician Ben Lanz, Bergson’s Bestiary aims to mark the release of my new translation of Creative Evolution. Across nearly 50 entries in this bestiary, visual and sonic trajectories crystallize into a series of videos, creating a new organism irreducible to its parts. In watercolors and in sound, these organisms come to life and fade back into the virtual march of the élan vital itself.

Be sure to check out the videos and music on the Bergson's Bestiary page!

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