10 Sep 2011

Our Deepest Time. §d, ch.2, prt.3 of Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

by Corry Shores
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Our Deepest Time

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Phénoménologie de la perception
Phenomenology of Perception

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

Ch. 2. La temporalité
Ch. 2. Temporality


What does the deep time of our lives got to do with us?

We think of the time of our lives as being a series of events. We also have a feeling of the passing of time. But maybe time is somehow more deeply at the core of who we are and how we experience our lives.

Brief Summary

Viewing the past and future as being a part of our immediately present awareness strips the past and future of their real temporal qualities, since they are by definition not present. Merleau-Ponty is seeking an awareness of a temporality that is more at the core of our being.

Point Relative to Deleuze

Likewise for Deleuze, time is at the basis of our existence and selfhood, yet perhaps we will find it is very very different reasons.

Memories are not a series of past nows stored up in our nervous system like images waiting to be retrieved. They are already and are always being 'retrieved' in the sense of perpetually being virtually implicit in our bodily behaviors. The structure of our awareness makes it such that we continually constitute time in terms of what we are attend-to as having passed and what we are aware of as coming into our awareness. In this way, consciousness actively constitutes phenomenal time. The directedness of our awareness in a way helps produce our sense of the contents of our awareness flowing in and out of existence.

Paragraph §d, Summary

So we have just considered a sort of temporal awareness that regards the past and future as being immediately a part of our present consciousness. Merleau-Ponty wonders now if that implies we are not being sensitive to a real past and future that would be truly absent from the present. And also, this sort of temporal awareness would regard the present completely in terms of its relations to the past and future and would thus also deprive us from experiencing a true and pure present? Also, is not the motion implied in this sort of temporal awareness still based on an objective series of nows?
Time as the immanent object of a consciousness is time brought down to one | uniform level, in other words it is no longer time at all. There can be time only if it is not completely deployed, only provided that past, present and future do not all three have their being in the same sense. (1945: 476d / 1958: 481-482)
Time as constituted by our mind is like the possible relations of before and after. This is not time as it really is, but more as it is recorded by an awareness as it passes. Because past present and future coexist simultaneously, they are spatialized. Also, it is something like a form or structure of time, and thus is distinct from us and unchanging. So Merleau-Ponty concludes "There must be another true time, in which I learn the nature of flux and transience itself." (477a / 482b)

He admits firstly that if we only attend to past, present, or future each on its own, we are not attending to time itself. Thus time involves a synthesis of them. But such a temporality is always ongoing and thus such a time is never fully given or complete. A completed time might be something like time understood in its eternity, yet for consciousness to be aware of it would require it not be an actual finite consciousness. Merleau-Ponty is looking for a way to become phenomenally aware of time as it makes up our living existence and who we are.
The problem is how to make time explicit as it comes into being and makes | itself evident, time at all times underlying the notion of time, not as an object of our knowledge, but as a dimension of our being. (477bc / 482-283)

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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