The Book That Changed My Life: Bergsonism by Gilles Deleuze

By Litt, Toby | New Statesman (1996), August 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Book That Changed My Life: Bergsonism by Gilles Deleuze


Litt, Toby, New Statesman (1996)


It took me quite a while before I overcame my aversion to Blackwell's bookshop on Charing Cross Road, after it opened in 1998. One thing most Oxford undergraduates of my generation had in common was their "Blackwell's Bill". Often in excess of a thousand pounds, the bill was a measure of one's intellectual seriousness. Rumour had it that there were mysterious communications between the university and the bookshop, meaning you wouldn't be allowed to graduate until you had paid off your bill in full.

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So, although I had long ago cleared my debt, I always felt anxious and undergradish and obscurely burdened on entering the Charing Cross Road branch. But when I finally started to go regularly, I discovered one of the best philosophy sections in London. The high bookshelves radiated around a central column as if they were the petals on a great flower. Living philosophers were stocked almost entire.

I took my English degree during the bitter final engagements of the Theory Wars. "Continental philosophy" was forbidden fruit. Perhaps because of this, it became extremely enticing to me, and has remained so. Also, I found it extremely convincing.

Perhaps the first book I bought from the philosophy section was Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. It was one of the oddest things I had ever read--and I had made a point of seeking out odd books. But once I started to decode its language, I went back for more.

At this time, I was beginning to work on the novel that ended up as Journey into Space. I knew I wanted space to overwhelm the book, but I was finding it very difficult to think about what space is.

I had heard of the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941), but knew very little about him. Most of the references I'd come across were slighting. Bergson didn't deal in the Wittgenstein-derived examination of common speech. He was a metaphysician--no practical use whatsoever. In fact, philosophically unfounded, nonsensical, etc.

I'm fairly sure when I picked up Bergsonism I first checked in the index for "Space" (yes, quite a few mentions), and then turned to the translators' introduction. …

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