19 Jan 2011

Is Time Glue? Merleau-Ponty's Integrated Temporality and Deleuze's Temporal Disjunctions

Is Time Glue?
Merleau-Ponty's Integrated Temporality and Deleuze's Temporal Disjunctions

What does time's composition got to do with you?

We live in the present. But one thing that makes the present so rich is that our pasts continue to speak into the current moment. We see our loved ones, and we don't just see them as if they appeared out of no where; rather all those memories we have of them in a way hover around our perception of them, not in our immediate awareness, but nearby somehow, which is why we feel so dear to them. We feel all those binding experiences even though they might not flash in our minds.

This would suggest that the moments of time are all linked together and found in one another. We don't just feel the prior moment that we just spent with the loved one we are with. We feel all the others, all the way back to the first one.

But perhaps we can see things a different way. The reason all these other moments are able to stay alongside the present one is not because they glue together somehow. It might rather be because they do not fit together. We feel a past memory of someone not because what we experience now is identical, but because we know it was a unique moment all its own, one that cannot be reduced to the present one or to any others. The warmth we feel when seeing a loved one might not be from us also implicitly being aware of a mesh of interwoven past impressions. The warmth might instead come from us feeling that there is so much of this person there before us; we have seen so many different sides of this person; the person has an incredible depth on account of all her differences all packed there into one moment of experiencing her. We are warmed to the person because we can see so deeply into her, we know her more intimately than many other things in our life, because we see so much of her differences all packed together inside her.

Brief Summary

Each moment of time in our awareness has all the others on its horizon. They are all integrated like a fabric.

Points Relative to Deleuze

Yet for Deleuze, temporally distinct moments have the phenomenal content now only because they stand-out differentially from the present. It is the incoherence of time that makes it phenomenal

In previous entries we have been discussing an important idea for Merleau-Ponty. The phenomenal world around us is made of parts that all integrate with one another. They interweave like a thick fabric, like the tissues of our flesh. There is a reason for this. When we focus on one thing, all the other things in the periphery hover on the horizon of our awareness. Even things which we cannot see are on the horizon. Consider when we open presents. The outer appearance often expresses something about the contents. We perceive the gift inside in an indeterminate way. It begins on the horizon of our awareness. Then we open the gift. We see contents that called for a certain kind of wrapping, which we just tossed aside. But because the contents we see call-for the wrapping, we now have the wrappings on the horizon of our awareness, even though they are out of view. The inside speaks the outside all while the outside speaks the inside. All the phenomenal world given to us is made of these interwoven relations.

Merleau-Ponty explains now why this holds for time too. A moment of our past does not go away, but is rather integrated into our present. The past is on the horizon of the present moment. This is just like with perceiving objects. To see one object is to have all other related objects on its horizon given to us indeterminately. So when we are aware of the temporal moment during which we perceive an object, we have on the horizon of our awareness the way the object just looked a moment ago. On that moment's horizon is its previous moment, and so on [For more, see
this entry on Husserl's time consciousness]. Hence the whole of all the time of our consciousness, past and present, is given in the present moment. Now let's consider when the present moment moves to the next moment. The next moment will have our present moment on its horizon. But likewise, the present moment has this future moment on its horizon. So all moments have the others on their horizon.
The present still holds on to the immediate past without positing it as an object, and since the immediate past similarly holds its immediate predecessor, past time is wholly collected up and grasped in the present. The same is true of the imminent future which will also have its horizon of imminence. But with my immediate past I have also the horizon of futurity which surrounded it, and thus I have my actual present seen as the future of that past. With the imminent future, I have the horizon of past which will surround it, and therefore my actual present as the past of that future. Thus, through the double horizon of retention and protention, my present may cease to be a factual present quickly carried away and abolished by the flow of duration, and become a fixed and identifiable point in objective time. (80a.b)
Le présent tient encore dans sa main le passé immédiat, sans le poser en objet, et comme celui-ci retient de la même manière le passé immédiat qui l'a précédé, le temps écoulé est tout entier repris et saisi dans le présent. Il en va de même de l'avenir imminent qui aura lui aussi son horizon d'imminence. Mais avec mon passé immédiat j'ai aussi l'horizon d'avenir qui l'entourait, j'ai donc mon présent effectif vu comme avenir de ce passé. Avec l'avenir imminent, j'ai l'horizon de passé qui l'entourera, j'ai donc mon présent effectif comme passé de cet avenir. Ainsi, grâce au double horizon de rétention et de protension, mon présent peut cesser d'être un présent de fait bientôt entraîné et détruit par l'écoulement de la durée et devenir un point fixe et identifiable dans un temps objectif. (93c.d)

For a Deleuzean phenomenological temporality, what lies at the heart of time is the exact opposite of this. The parts of time do not all integrate in such a way that the one implies the other. It is the contrary to this. Moments are forced together despite their incompatibilities. If the past intrudes on the present, it is on the basis of it being different. Consider when we recall a past event. If for some reason it were completely indistinguishable from the present moment, we would not feel any sort of temporal relation. If we see something today, then perfectly recognize it the next day, it is as though no time passed in between, because it is exactly the same. This for Merleau-Ponty might be an example of the past intentions integrated with the present by being on the present's horizon. But for Deleuze, this would be an example where the recollection has no
phenomenal content to it. The complete recognition means we do not notice any difference between it now and then, or at least, none of those differences appear to our awareness. But consider instead when we recall something, and that recollection is phenomenal. If our friend's face was horribly mangled in an accident, we will be forcing our past recollections of him on to the current ones, but they will not cohere. We feel intense differential forces between what we see and what we remember. The past, then, only appears in the present to the extent that it differs, for otherwise it will be too indistinguishable from it to appear as something else than it.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Transl. Colin Smith. London/New York: Routledge, 1958.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1945.

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