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Catacombic Theology | The World Produced by the Imagination of God

Nicholas K. Roerich

But open Bergson, and new horizons loom on ever page you read. It is like the breath of the morning and the song of birds. —William James

Henri Bergson writes that humankind suffers from the habit of asking poor metaphysical questions. His claim is that by proceeding from emptiness to fullness; from non-being to being, we raise non-existent problems that imprisons our minds, and consequently prevents us from recognizing the continuous creation of unforeseeable novelty. What is at issue here is the natural proclivity of the human mind to work upon a phantom of duration rather than duration itself. The overwhelming tendency to confuse the less with the more has thus, according to Bergson, resulted in a quest for a supra intelligence outside of time, when in truth our understanding is already disconnected from the mobility of the real. The task Bergson set out for himself was therefore to aim for higher precision in philosophy by getting back into duration. Since being is not seen by Bergson as given once and for all, he does not consider movement as the space covered between privileged actualizations of ideas (the ancients), or between immanent material elements (the moderns), but as a qualitative transformation of the whole. Real movement is thus perceived as concrete duration, and as Deleuze points out in Cinema 1, ”the duration or the whole [is] a spiritual reality which constantly changes according to its own relations.”

One of Bergson’s favorite images to explain this is Zeno’s paradox involving Achilles and the Tortoise, in which the apparent paradox depends on movement being understood as the space covered between Achilles and the Tortoise. Since the whole is presupposed as given, movement is seen as divisible, but as should be clear by now, according to Bergson all real change is indivisible change—a qualitative transformation of the whole.  This move by Bergson implies a firm rejection of representational thinking and it opens up not only ever new horizons for the future but also a space in which difference can be assigned its own concept, which means that difference will no longer be subordinated to any logic of the One.

What Bergson is looking for is simplicity, since as he says, ”the complication of the letter must not allow the simplicity of the spirit to be lost to view.”  What he is getting at is that there is a discrepancy between our simple intuition of the real and our means of conceptual expression since our minds naturally understands novelty by what is already familiar to us. And as previously noted, our conceptual expressions are limited to work on phantoms of duration rather than duration itself. This is why Zeno’s paradox expresses an infinite complexity which according to Bergson will be surpassed should we only allow for the race between Achilles and the Tortoise to take place. The moving beyond the paradox is thus similar to the moving beyond the One and the many and takes us to a non-place where we are indifferent to the eternal complexity of the paradox. However, the Bergsonian notion of intuition is not simply a mere feeling, it is a rigorous philosophical method which begins with the application of the test of true and false problems. False problems are constituted by the mistaken assumption that there is less in the idea of being than in the idea of non-being since the idea of non-being includes the idea of being, the negation of being and the intellectual reasoning for making that negation. Deleuze therefore writes in Bergsonism that if we ask why there is something rather than nothing we mistake the more for the less, as if non-being existed before being. Hence the catacombic critique of the notion of inherent lack.

Is this not how we should also read Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God? Mere atheism is in truth nothing other than the idea of God, the negation of God and the intellectual reasoning for making that negation. It accomplishes nothing but a challenge of the priests’ authority in the Cathedral. From a Bergsonian perspective such atheists are mistaken since their faculty of conceiving eliminates a great number of qualitative differences from the real. The Nietzschian proclamation is rather a call for a different world than a confused claim about God’s existence. As Barber spells out in Deleuze and the Naming of God, the death of God has ”less to do with God’s existence than with the world produced by the imagination of God’s existence.” Nietzsche and Bergson thus moves us to a space of spirit and truth where we are indifferent to the binary root-tree logic of the Cathedral, where we are free to constitute our own problems and thus call for a different world, which is what true freedom means. We have chosen to name this anarchical, indeterminate place the catacombs, and it is a third draw beyond theism and atheism where, as Deleuze puts it, the forces of man has entered into relation with other forces in such a way that they make up something else which will no longer be either God or man.

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