Bergson, Henri. "The Recognition of Images," in Matter and Memory. New York: Zone, 1991.
annotation by Diana Brenscheidt gen. Jost (Theories of Media, Winter 2003)

In the second chapter of Matter and Memory , Henri Bergson further develops his ideas about matter in referring it to his theory of memory.

He starts out from the notion of the body as a conductor or office to receive and transmit movements to motor mechanisms with a memory existing independently of it. This statement is the basis for the elaboration of three propositions on memory to be verified in the following part.

I The past survives under two distinct forms: first, in motor mechanisms; secondly, in independent recollections. (Bergson, 78) Bergson distinguishes between two forms of memory: the memory of the lesson and the memory of each reading as two extreme forms of pure memory. The former one can also be called habit-memory. Bergson describes it as an automatic movement, an action, which is built up by repetition. It consists of motor mechanisms developed through an adaptation of the nervous system. In contrast to this, the memory of the reading is built up of memory-images or representations, which emerged during a definite event in history and, therefore, cannot be repeated. Also called spontaneous or image-memory, this type of recollections providing personal memory-images, can be the basis of the association of ideas. Bergson further stresses that there are intermediate states of memory and “how the two memories run side by side and lend to each other a mutual support.” (Bergson, 86)

II The recognition of a present object is effected by movements when it proceeds from the object, by representation when it issues from the subject. (Bergson, 78) In the process of recognition, Bergson differentiates between the role of memory-images and the role of movement. On the one hand, recognition can mean to associate past images with a present perception, to refer a present perception mentally with surroundings of a past perception. In this view, recognition is a bringing together or blending of perception and memory. On the other hand, Bergson describes that there exists also an instantaneous recognition, a form of recognition the body does without referring to memory-images. The latter is based in movement and directed towards action or the use of an object. Bringing these two forms together, Bergson states that “we commonly act our recognition before we think it.” (Bergson, 95) Recognition, therefore, starts with an automatic or mechanical movement, the so-called recognition by inattention, which in one way hinders, in the other encourages the recognition by memory-images as attentive recognition.

III We pass, by imperceptible stages, from recollection strung out along the course of time to the movements which indicate their nascent or possible action in space. Lesions of the brain may affect these movements, but not these recollections. (Bergson, 79) Bergson's starting-point is attentive memory and the question, if it is perception which determines the automatic recollection or memory which comes first and unities with a present perception. In this context, he first examines the three terms attention, perception, and memory and their relation to each other. In Bergson's definition, attention means a reflection on perception for which memory is needed as an agent to choose past images which are analogue with the present perception. Reflective perception forms a circuit including different circles of memory as states of intellectual expansion as well as states of depth in the reflection on the object perceived. Elaborating his examination of attentive memory, he further looks at the relationship between brain and memory, as manifested in philosophy, and uses diseases of the faculty of auditory recognition as concrete examples in order to prove his conception of divided faculties for movement and recollection. Complete conscious recognition, then, starts from ideas or virtual images, which develop over different stages into memory-images giving rise to a motor reaction as an action or movement in space.