This week in the War, 30 Dec 1940–5 Jan 1941: Death of Henri Bergson

No food, no fuel, no freedom—and precious little to laugh about in the Nazi Paris of 1941.

Santa was dead—maybe the Boches had shot him!—and the lump of coal in the stocking of anyone more naughty than nice would have been a pleasant treat, given the goings-on.

Maybe Henri Bergson would have enjoyed that joke. France’s greatest living philosopher, famous for his theory of comedy, laid it all out in a rib-tickling treatise titled Le Rire: un essai sur la signification du comique (Laughter: an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic). Alas he died, this week in the war.

His father was Polish, his mother English, and both were Jews. The opportunities for Polish-British-Jewish humour would have boggled the mind. His overly-serious math professor had little patience with his pupil’s choice of career, famous remarking: “You could have been a mathematician; you will be a mere philosopher.”

The quote above appears in the Soulez and Worms book Bergson (Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2002). For an equally serious tome that gives Bergson his due as one of France’s most influential philosophers, see Bergsonism by Gilles Deleuze. Its publication in 1966 signalled a renaissance in the study of Bergson’s work.

Henri Bergson died in Paris, 4 January 1941.

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