Thomas Ernest Hulme



Bergson's Theory of Art

(Notes for a Lecture.)





23. Creation of imagery to force language to convey over this freshness of impression. The particular kind of art we are concerned with here, at any rate, can be defined as an attempt to convey over something which ordinary language and ordinary expression lets slip through. The emotion conveyed by an art in this case, then, is the exhilaration produced by the direct and unusual communication of this fresh impression. To take an example: What is the source of the kind of pleasure which is given to us by the stanza from Keats' "Pot of Basil," which contains the line

"And she forgot the blue above the trees."

I do not put forward the explanation I give here as being, as a matter of fact, the right one, for Keats might have had to put trees for the sake of the rhyme, but I suppose for the sake of illustration that he was free to put what he liked. Why then did he put "blue above the trees" and not "sky"? "Sky" is just as attractive an expression. Simply for this reason, that he instinctively felt that the word "sky" would not convey over the actual vividness and the actuality of the feeling he wanted to express. The choice of the right detail, the blue above the trees, forces that vividness on you and is the cause of the kind of thrill it gives you.

24. This particular argument is concerned only with a very small part of the effects which can be produced by poetry, but I have only used it as an illustration. I am not trying to explain poetry, but only to find out in a very narrow field of art, that of the use of imagery, what exactly the kind of emotion you call æsthetic consists of. The element in it which will be found in the rest of art is not the accidental fact that imagery conveys over an actually felt visual sensation, but the actual character of that communication, the fact that it hands you over the sensation as directly as possible, attempts to get it over bodily with all the qualities it possessed for you when you experienced it.

The feeling conveyed over to one is almost a kind of instinctive feeling. You get continuously from good imagery this conviction that the poet is constantly in presence of a vividly felt physical and visual scene.

25. You can perhaps trace this out a little more clearly in a wider art, that of prose description, the depicting of a character or emotion. You are not concerned here with handing over any visual scene, but in an attempt to get an emotion as near as possible as you feel it. You find that language has the same defects as the metaphors we have just been talking about. It lets what you want to say escape. Each of us has his own way of feeling, liking and disliking. But language denotes these states by the same word in every case, so that it is only able to fix the objective and impersonal aspect of the emotions which we feel. Language, as in the first case, lets what you want to say slip through. In any writing which you recognise as good there is always an attempt to avoid this defect of language. There is an attempt by the adding of certain kinds of intimate detail, to lift the emotion out of the impersonal and colourless level, and to give to it a little of the individuality which it really possesses.

26. Certain kinds of prose, at any rate, never attempt to give you any visual presentment of an object. To do so would be quite foreign to its purpose. It is endeavouring always not to give you any image, but to hurry you along to a conclusion. As in algebra certain concrete things are embodied in signs or counters which are moved about according to rule without being visualised at all in the process, so certain type situations and arrangements of words move automatically into certain other arrangements without any necessity at all to translate the words back into concrete imagery. In fact, any necessity to visualise the words you are using would be an impediment, it would delay the process of reasoning. When the words are merely counters they can be moved about much more rapidly.

Now any tendency towards counter language of this kind has to be carefully avoided by poetry. It always endeavours, on the contrary, to arrest you and to make you continuously see a physical thing.

27. Language, we have said, only expresses the kind of lowest common denominator of the emotions of one kind. It leaves out all the individuality of an emotion as it really exists and substitutes for it a kind of stock or type emotion. Now here comes the additional observation which I have to make here. As we not only express ourselves in words, but for the most part think also in them, it comes about that not only do we not express more than the impersonal element of an emotion, but that we do not, as a matter of fact, perceive more. The average person as distinct from the artist does not even perceive the individuality of their own emotions. Our faculties of perception are, as it were, crystallised out into certain moulds. Most of us, then, never see things as they are, but see only the stock types which are embodied in language.

This enables one to give a first rough definition of the artist. It is not sufficient to say that an artist is a person who is able to convey over the actual things he sees or the emotions he feels. It is necessary before that that he should be a person who is able to emancipate himself from the moulds which language and ordinary perception force on him and be able to see things freshly as they really are.

Though one may have some difficulty at first sight in seeing that one only perceives one's own emotions in stock types, yet the thing is much more easy to observe in the actual perception of external things with which you are concerned in painting.

28. POETRY. I exaggerate the place of imagery simply because I want to use it as an illustration.

In this case something is physically presented; the important thing is, of course, not the fact of the visual representation, but the communication over of the actual contact with reality.

It is because he realises the inadequacy of the usual that he is obliged to invent.

The gradual conclusion of the whole matter (and only as a conclusion) is that language puts things in a stereotyped form.

This is not the only kind of effect produced on one by verse but it is (if one extends the same quality to the other aspects of verse I have left out) the one essentially æsthetic emotion it produces on us. Readers of poetry may attach more importance to the other things, but this is the quality the poets recognise among each other. If one wants to fix it down then one can describe it as a "kind of instinctive feeling which is conveyed over to one, that the poet is describing something which is actually present to him, which he realises visually at first hand."

Is there anything corresponding to this in Painting?





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The New Age. A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, and Art.
30. März, S. 287-288
6. April, S. 301-302
13. April, S. 310-312.

Unser Auszug: 13. April, S. 311.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

Entstanden: 1911/12.

The New Age   online



Kommentierte Ausgabe






Hulme, T. E.: The Collected Writings.
Hrsg. von Karen Scengeri.
Oxford: Clarendon Press 1994.
S. 479-483: A Bibliography of Hulme's Works.

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Hulme, T. E.: Belated Romanticism. To the Editor of "The New Age".
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Hulme, T. E.: [Rezension zu:]
L'Attitude du Lyrisme Contemporain.
By Tancrède de Visan. (Mercure de France.)
In: The New Age. A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, and Art.
1911, 24. August, S. 400-401.

Hulme, T. E.: German Chronicle.
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Hulme, T. E.: Bergson's Theory of Art (Notes for a Lecture.) [1911/12].
In: The New Age. A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, and Art.
30. März, S. 287-288
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Edited by Herbert Read. With a Frontispiece and Foreword by Jacob Epstein.
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Hulme, T. E.: Speculations. Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art.
Edited by Herbert Read. With a Frontispiece and Foreword by Jacob Epstein.
London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: Harcourt, Brace 1924.
URL:   [Reprint 1960]

Hulme, T. E.: Further Speculations.
Hrsg. von Sam Hynes.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1955.

Hulme, T. E.: The Collected Writings.
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Oxford: Clarendon Press 1994.

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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer