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«by Kristian Bankov Acta Semiotica Fennica IX International Semiotics Institute at Imatra ACTA SEMIOTICA FENNICA IX Editor Eero Tarasti Assistant ...»

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Intellectual Effort and Linguistic Work

Intellectual Effort

and Linguistic Work

Semiotic and Hermeneutic Aspects

of the Philosophy of Bergson

by Kristian Bankov

Acta Semiotica Fennica IX

International Semiotics Institute at Imatra




Eero Tarasti

Assistant Editors

Paul Forsell

Richard Littlefield

Editorial Board

Honorary Members:

Juri Lotman †

Thomas A. Sebeok

Pertti Ahonen Oscar Parland † Henry Broms Pekka Pesonen Jacques Fontanille Veikko Rantala André Helbo Hannu Riikonen Marja-Liisa Honkasalo Kari Salosaari Altti Kuusamo Sinikka Tuohimaa Ilkka Niiniluoto Vilmos Voigt International Semiotics Institute Imatra This book is a publication of International semiotics Institute http://www.isisemiotics.fi/ Telephone orders +358 5 681 6639 Fax orders +358 5 681 6628 E-mail orders maija.rossi@isisemiotics.fi Copyright 2000 by International Semiotics Institute and Kristian Bankov All rights reserved Printed by Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 2000 ISBN 951–98654–0–3 (paperback) ISBN 951–98654–1–1 (PDF) ISSN 1235–497X ACTA SEMIOTICA FENNICA IX Dedicated to my mother, my father and Giuseppe Contents Acknowledgments............................................... 13 Preface........................................................ 15 A few words on the method of this study............................. 18 Part One Intellectual Effort in Bergson’s Philosophy I. The Interpretative Character of the Philosophy of Bergson and the Role of Intellectual Effort............................. 32 I. 1. Psychology or Philosophy?.................................. 32 I. 2. The “Bergsonism”......................................... 34 I. 3. Polarisation of the interpretations............................. 34 I. 4. Philosophical advocacy..................................... 37 I. 5. Bergson as Columbus...................................... 39 I. 6. Bergson and Saussure..................................

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III. Hermeneutics of Intellectual effort and Linguistic Work. 131 III. 1. Intellectual Effort and Strong Hermeneutics.................. 131 III. 2. Intelligence and Contingency.............................. 134 III. 3 Ontological Commitment as Intelligence..................... 137

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References.................................................... 148 Acknowledgments Everything began with a not entirely casual encounter on the Black Sea, near Varna, Bulgaria. There, in 1996, the Second Early Fall School in Semiotics took place, and I was one of the organizers of the event. One of the guest lecturers was Prof. Eero Tarasti from the University of Helsinki, and I had the chance to attend his unforgettable lectures on Existential Semiotics. This entirely new semiotic perspective appeared to me as a bridge between my philosophical interests (related mainly to Henri Bergson) and my beginning career as a lecturer in semiotics at New Bulgarian University. This was also the right moment for me to think more concretely about the inevitable doctoral research.

Thus, all the pieces were in place.

Three and a half years later, I can report that everything went in the best possible way, and the present work is the result of a successful international and inter-university exchange. All of this would not have been possible without the selfless and continuous help of Eero Tarasti, to whom I wish to express my deepest gratitude. Thanks to him, I twice received scholarships that enabled me to work in ideal conditions for almost a year in Helsinki. In addition to his expert guidance, his friendship and cordiality made the distant Finland a second home for me. I would also like to thank the Center for International Mobility (CIMO) for their generosity in twice granting me a scholarship. I owe much to my second tutor, Ugo Volli; his advice and comments since my graduation from the University of Bologna have greatly helped me to organize my philosophical views. I also want to acknowledge the readiness and openness of my supervisor, Esa Saarinen, and the benevolence of Ilkka Niiniluoto, both of whom welcomed me into the Department of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. My participation at the semiotic seminar there, in the Department of Musicology, brought me into contact with other doctoral researchers and students, whose acquaintance helped sharpen my own thinking. I am also grateful for my discussions with Tarja Knuuttila, whose critical insights helped me to solidify many of my philosophical positions. In Bulgaria, I am most indebted to Maria Popova and the South-Eastern European Center for Semiotic Studies, for their interest and participation during the course of my work, and to my parents, who have supported me in all possible ways. Last but not least, I would like to thank the two people who put my text into readable English – Elena Alexieva and Richard Littlefield.


This study was inspired by the philosophy of Henri Bergson – not so much by the enormous success of his books, nor by the unmerited decline in the popularity of his doctrine, which began so soon after he had been a major figure in both French and world philosophy. Rather, the present study draws its inspiration from the philosophical truth contained in Bergson’s works, and more precisely, from the difficult challenge of communicating that truth to others.

Numerous theoretical questions arise in the course of such an enterprise, to which I hope to give at least partial answers.

Bergson treats the question of philosophic truth in a way that allowed me to frame my research in terms of contemporary semiotic and hermeneutic discourses. In his famous essay “Philosophical Intuition” (CM1: 107–129), he defines this kind of truth as “something simple, infinitely simple, so extraordinarily simple that the philosopher has never succeeded in saying it” (109). This dialectic between intuition and its “saying” is examined in terms of the hermeneutic dialectic between understanding and interpretation.

At the same time, this study has the programmatic aim of sparking renewed interpretations of Bergson’s philosophy, and especially his notion of Intellectual Effort. I see this notion not only as central to Bergson’s philosophy, but also as constitutive for the sign-character of our being and for the very possibility our

Those are the abbreviations of the works of Bergson:

“Le bon sens et les études classiques” (1895) (BS) “Intellectual Effort” (1902a) (IE) “Introduction to Metaphysics” (1903) (IM) Time and Free Will. An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1960) (Essai) (Mélanges)Henri Bergson. Mélanges (1972) Mind Energy: Lectures and Essays (1975) (ME) Matter and Memory (1988) (MM) The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics by Henri Bergson (1992b) (CM) Creative Evolution (1998) (CE) persisting in the world. For me this hypothesis is so true and obvious that I would compare it with truths such as “the Earth revolves around the Sun” and “man must keep his dignity”. The problem comes, of course, when I have to defend this view. Contrary to the two truths just mentioned, mine is not susceptible to deductive proofs. There are no logical positions or experimental facts on which to base the credibility of this study. For this reason, it was necessary to provide the brief introduction which follows, entitled “On the Method of This Study”. There I try to justify the viability of an entire doctoral dissertation that discusses philosophical questions in a hermeneutic and interpretative way.

After the comments on methodology, the study unfolds in two main parts.

Part One is dedicated to the philosophy of Bergson and, specifically, to his notion of Intellectual Effort. In Part Two, I read some central semiotic and hermeneutic problems from the point of view of Bergson’s “theory” of Intellectual Effort.

In Part One: Chapter I, my aim is to describe both the intellectual context in which Bergson’s philosophy appeared, and its interesting interpretative fate thereafter. I pay particular attention to those authors whom I call “advocates” of Bergson, and, in the course of taking their side, I further clarify my own interpretative method. I also examine the problem of philosophical authority and its relation to the concept of intellectual effort, to the extent that philosophy is a mode of “authorizing” concepts by putting them into play as discourse.

Part One: Chapter II presents an analysis of Bergson’s philosophy and reveals the fundamental role that the concept of intellectual effort plays in it, despite the limited number of pages he explicitly dedicates to this topic. Of great interest are Bergson’s earliest public speeches, which submitted to analysis demonstrate a well-developed ethics of intellectual effort. In this chapter I also consider Bergson’s many-sided concept of language and how intellectual effort determines its creative use. Most importantly, this chapter systematically presents what I call the “theory of intellectual effort”. Here I try to develop the full phenomenological and hermeneutic potential of Bergson’s concept of temporal “duration” (durée) as constituted by the memory (especially in his work Matter and Memory). My interpretation includes a discussion of how language participates in this phenomenological process.

In Part Two: Chapter I, I relate the theory of intellectual effort to Italian philosopher Ferruccio Rossi-Landi’s attempts to establish a homology between material work (labor) and linguistic work. In Chapter II of Part Two, I discuss the mostly ignored, yet rich parallels between Bergson and the father of semiotics, Charles Peirce. I attach considerable importance to the parallels between Bergson’s duration of consciousness and Peircian semiosis, and between the former’s “immediate data of consciousness” and the latter’s “iconism”. These parallels allow me to propose a new version of the famous semiotic triangle; my version includes the role of intellectual effort in semiosis.

Chapter III of Part Two develops a hermeneutics of intellectual effort that is based on the distinction between Strong and Weak hermeneutics made by Nicholas Smith (1997). Here I defend my position on the pertinence of a hermeneutics of intellectual effort and on its contribution to the “strong” branch of that discourse. I do this by enlisting human intelligence on the side of “strong” hermeneutics. Chapter IV ends the book with some speculations concerning the status of intellectual effort in today’s “consumer” society. With these speculations, I hope to turn what might be considered only a theoretical and philosophical truth – intellectual effort – to the useful practice of understanding the world in which we now live.

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Any study of someone’s intellectual efforts that are expressed in words, if that study is to meet certain academic standards, itself becomes an intellectual effort expressed in words. This “circular” fact makes the present study its own closest referent. Such a situation is no novelty in the fields of semiotics and philosophy of language, which is precisely where our interest lies. A similar situation to our own is the case of a famous author. He stands out from other authors crucial to this study, in that he poses a problem relevant to our own, in his analysis of how a dissertation should be constructed. We are speaking of Umberto Eco, and his well-known book, How to Make a Graduate Thesis (Eco 1977). Readers wellacquainted with Eco’s writings might object that the book mentioned does not speak of semiotics at all, and thus that my analogy fails. Yet it is exactly this objection that is worth focusing on, because our response to it contains our interpretation of Eco’s text and, correspondingly, the positioning of our method in relation to the one prescribed in his book.

Eco’s directions for making a dissertation are imbued with the spirit of encyclopaedism, in the sense that the basic part of the scholar’s work consists in getting to know what scholars before him have said on a given issue. Eco’s book thus speaks of preparing a comprehensive bibliography that omits none of the published works on a given problem. Eco offers valuable advice on how to orient oneself in various kinds of libraries, and how to use their resources to one’s best advantage. He also provides a detailed description of the ways to cite references, so that the sources can be followed easily by anyone interested in the subject.

In the same spirit, Eco goes on to define the scientific character of a thesis, which can be attained if one follows these four rules: “1) The study should have an easily recognizable and well-defined subject so that it is distinguishable by others, as well; 2) the study should say things about this subject which have not been said yet, or review things already said, but from a different perspective; 3) the study should be useful for others; 4) the study should offer all elements needed to check and confute the proposed hypotheses, as well as the elements necessary for development of these by others” (Eco 1977: 37–41; his italics).

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