What do clocks have to do with it?

John Banville

  • BuyThe Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time by Jimena Canales
    Princeton, 429 pp, £24.95, May 2015, ISBN 978 0 691 16534 9

Fama is a fickle goddess. In the early decades of the 20th century the French philosopher Henri Bergson was a worldwide celebrity, ranked as a thinker alongside Plato, Socrates, Descartes and Kant. William James thought Bergson’s work had wrought a Copernican revolution in philosophy. Lord Balfour read him with great care and attention; Teddy Roosevelt went so far as to write an article on his work. People climbed ladders merely to catch a glimpse of the great Frenchman through the windows of university halls, and Parisian society figures sent their servants ahead to secure seats at his lectures. When he gave a talk at City College in New York in 1913, so many people turned up in the hope of hearing him that the Manhattan traffic was brought to a standstill.

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[*] John Ziman reviewed Subtle is the Lord in the LRB of 3 May 1984.