`The Memory of Life Itself':
Bénard's Cells and the Cinematography of Self-
Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu,
Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis6.
In 1900, the physicist Henri Bénard exhibited the spontaneous formation of cells in a layer of
liquid heated from below. Six or seven decades later, drastic reinterpretations of this
experiment formed an important component of "chaos theory". This paper therefore is an
attempt at writing the history of this experiment, its long neglect and its rediscovery. It
examines Bénard's experiments from three different perspectives. First, his results are viewed
in the light of the relation between experimental and mathematical approaches in fluid
mechanics, leading to a re-examination of the long-term reception of Bénard's results among
fluid dynamicists up to the chaos craze, whereby the traditional emphasis placed on
mathematical physics is counterbalanced by greater attention to experimental approaches.
Second, we focus on Bénard's own way of using his results as analogies that could help grasp
something about the reason why inorganic matter may structure itself in ways reminiscent of