26 Sep 2011

Feeling & Time. §i, Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Prt.3, Ch.2


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Feeling & Time

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Phénoménologie de la perception
Phenomenology of Perception

Troisième Partie : L'être-pour-soi et l'être-au-monde
Part III. Being-for-Itself and Being-in-the-World


Ch. 2. La temporalité
Ch. 2. Temporality



What does the non-eternity of phenomenal time and your temporalized conscious being got to do with you?


There is you. Who is he or who is she? We are this self immediately immersed in the world. We have a past and a future that makes us who we are today. But that past and future really exist now in us only because they come alive in our present awareness. Within your consciousness now contains your entire life. But this does not necessarily mean your life is somehow eternalized. It all can be here now only because your finite durational self is present aware of it implicitly.



Brief Summary

The different moments of time throughout past present and future are all thoroughly intertwined phenomenally, and they obliquely imply one another. This is one reason to think phenomenal time stands outside the actual flow of consciousness and is thus eternal. Also, there is a continual thrust of time that transitions the moments between temporal statuses, and this thrust is ongoing. Because it is like a fixed nozzle for a water-fountain jet, we also might think phenomenal time stands outside the flow of changes and is thus in this way eternal as well. However, the relations between past present and future are possible only by means of the dynamic present awareness which is immediate to time and is finitely limited, thus the basis of phenomenal time is not eternal but durationally active in a lived presence. And it is not the stasis of the present that gives the flow of phenomenal contents its motion, but rather its dynamic action in the present moment. And thus again phenomenal time is not eternal.

For past and future to have being as past and future, they need to come into existence in the consciousness of a finite being who can be aware of the phenomenal contents of his past and his anticipated future. And our own being is our 'being-at,' our integrated phenomenal immersion in the world. So our consciousness and our being coincide in the present, because being present means being aware (being phenomenally integrated actively with the world).


Points relative to Deleuze

Our present is an explosion of difference. What we notice in the present is whatever stands out from its temporal context, what is discontinuous from its past and future. Perhaps we might be inclinded to say that in the present moment some thing stands out and not a differential relation. But that thing alone is not itself the temporal content of the moment. What gives the present its temporal character are those affective shocks it endows us, shocks from things not being like they just were. These shocks provide us with the phenomenon of presence, that aspect of immediate experience that impresses itself on us with an intensity that tells us it is 'now'. So it is not our immersion with the world which is presence, but our breaks from it. As well, the fount of time is our selfhood. And also as with Merleau-Ponty's theory, this Deleuzean self is there immediately to itself. Yet for Deleuze this self is immediate to itself because it is cracked from within. If we find ourselves doing something we do not identify with, like cruel behavior when under grave threats, we are there as ourselves but not identical to ourselves. In a way, we are continually different from ourselves, because we are always under modification. This means that at the basis of our experience of time's passage is our pre-given self-differentiation. First we are shocked by being different from ourselves, then secondly we synthesize time out of those differences. You might think that time is needed for us to change. Or is it not maybe that change is needed for there to be time? Might our phenomenal world be generated by a continual cracking? We lift a bottle of beer to our mouths. It phenomenally cracks from the table. We tip it and let the beer flow out. The beer cracks from the bottle and reaches our mouths. We created the phenomena of table and bottle by cracking the table apart. We obtained the phenomenon of beer by cracking the contents from the bottle. We had the phenomenon of beer in our mouth, by cracking within one instant the prior moment of emptiness in our mouth from the succeding moment of beer in it. We are not affected by time as a continuous motion, but rather as a series of breaks in continuity. Time lurks in the phenomenal cracks of our world and experience. It is concievable that there is a real time that is passing, but we do not feel it. This would be the case if we are not affected in a way so as to feel time. If we noticed no changes within us or in the world around us, we might not be aware of temporal differences like past and present. We need our world and ourself to crack for time to appear to our awareness.



The parts of time interrelate and imply one another. We at the phenomenal source of the flow of time, like the jet nozzle of a water fountain, have a limited finite position that gives the parts of time's temporal relations like past and future. These parts on the one hand are unified in the water's one continuous motion, but separated by their temporal positions relative to the moving present. Both the unity and the relational separations of the flow of phenomenal time are based on our finite subjective perspective. Subjectivity itself is fount of phenomenal time.


Summary §i

Our life has time. And there are moments of our life. But time for us is not so much these moments as much as it is the continual thrust of intertwined phases of our experience. They all interrelate so thoroughly that the future for example was already implicitly given phenomenally in the past. Back then, our antipations of the future affected the way we were aware of things. So when regarding phenomenal time as the continual thrust of interwoven moments, we might come to see it as timeless and eternal in a way, as if the jet nozzle of time stood outside the flow of phenomenal experiences shooting out from it.

Recall how we are retentionally aware of the past moments of our lives. One moment passes into the past. We remain aware of that past moment now. Then a new moment comes. We are no longer immediately aware retentionally of that first moment. But we are still aware of it, because we are aware of the awareness we just had of it. Each past moment of our awareness is nested in our current one. It has not gone away.
I belong to my past and, through the constant interlocking of retentions, I preserve my oldest experiences, which means not some duplicate or image of them, but the experiences themselves, exactly as they were. (485bc / 491ab)
Despite this unity of moments in our present awareness, this chain was built up not in simultaneity but rather in succession. Each retended moment happened actively only while the others were not happening. And consider if we do want to recall some event long ago in our past. When we bring it into our mind, it is not one solid image, but rather we must play it back out like a movie scene, keeping it in the dynamics of the "tempo" of its original changing; "to retain is to hold, but at a distance." (485 cd / 491c) Recall how Merleau-Ponty called the synthesis of time a 'transition synthesis'. [It is a synthesis not as identification, but as the continual thrust of transitions, Moment A happens, then B, then C. At C, we are not retentionally aware of B itself, because it has passed; but we are aware ofit not as present but as just having past, and following Husserl's diagram, we call it B'. We are not aware of first moment A. Instead, we are aware of the prior moments awareness of A, so we call it A''. The moment from A to A' to A'' is not passed on their all being identical, because they are parts of different moments of awareness, and are not the same. But we give them the same name, because they are a part of the same transition synthesis, the motion of A' becoming A'', B becoming B', all while B turns into C as C takes Bs place.] Thus although time is synthetically interwoven, it cannot be stripped of its dynamic temporal character.
Once again, time’s ‘synthesis’ is a transition-synthesis, the action of a life which unfolds, and there is no way of bringing it about other than by living that life, there is no seat of time; time bears itself on and launches itself afresh. Time as an indivisible thrust and transition can alone make possible time as successive multiplicity, and what we place at the origin of intratemporality is a constituting time. (485d / 491d)
Previously we noted how the future is a past as well, but it is a past to come. This made it seem as though phenomenal time is eternal. But we may say the future is past only because there is a continuous motion of time's thrust that makes the future pass to the present then to the past, and also on account of this motion, each moment gets thoroughly intertwined with the rest such that each moment implies indirectly and ambiguously all the others in our phenomenal awareness. So we were only able to portray time in a quasi-eternal manner by looking at the continuous motion of change in the actual and finite present moment.
What does not pass in time is the passing of time itself. Time restarts itself: the rhythmic cycle and constant form of yesterday, today and tomorrow may well create the illusion that we possess it immediately, in its entirety, as the fountain creates in us a feeling of eternity. (486a / 492a)The fountain retains its identity only because of the continuous pressure of water. (486a / 492a)
What we are calling eternity is really just the action of time in its fullest extent, and thus the phenomenon of time in its eternal expression is parasitic upon the phenomenon of time in its continuous thrust of transition synthesis. Thus we obtain the phenomenal illusion of temporal eternity only on the basis of our ongoing finitude, with its infinitely open temporal horizons on the past and future.
Of what nature, then, is that waking time in which eternity takes root? It is the field of presence in the wide sense, with its double horizon or primary past and future, and the infinite openness of those fields of presence that have slid by, or are still possible. Time exists for me only because I am situated in it, that is, because I become aware of myself as already committed to it, because the whole of being is not given to me incarnate, and finally because one sector of being is so close to me that it does not even make up a picture before me—I cannot see it, just as I cannot see my face. Time exists for me because I have a present. It is by coming into the present that a moment of time acquires that indestructible individuality, that ‘once and for all’ quality, which subsequently enables it to make its way through time and produce in us the illusion of eternity. (486b.c / 492b.c)
['To be' walking. It means we are presently in the status or action of walking. 'To be or not to be'; it is a choice of life or death, a question of our existence. We might think of our 'being' as our present status or activity of existing, of just being here, being alive, currently standing within and being in touch with the world we are immersed in.] When we recall a past event, the event itself is represented in our mind, however the act of that recollection and representation is absolutely immediate in the present. In order for past and future moments to come into being as past or future, they need our present consciousness. Thus the present in its horizonal openness is the field in which consciousness and being coincide, Merleau-Ponty writes. (486cd / 492d)

Our 'being' in this sense is our immediate immersion in the world, and because we are immersed by means of our phenomenal relation with the world - its appearing to us as we appear to it - consciousness is being in the sense of 'to be at' (être à). (487b / 492b)
It is by communicating with the world that we communicate beyond all doubt with ourselves. We hold time in its entirety, and we are present to ourselves because we are present to the world. (487b / 493bc)
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1945.

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

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