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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
We might regard the past and the future as being parts of our immediate awareness, but this strips them of the real temporal meaning as not being a part of the present. Instead, Merleau-Ponty is seeking an awareness of a truer time that lies at the core of our being.
We have a 'field of presence' which has one side of its awareness toward the beginning of the day, and the other side toward its end. It is within this field of presence that we encounter real time. Past moments only have such a temporal meaning when they are brought into the present through recollection. Then, we reawaken their own past and future horizons. Thus the field of presence is the primary location for our awareness of temporal meaning.
Everything, therefore, causes me to revert to the field of presence as the primary experience in which time and its dimensions make their appearance unalloyed, with no intervening distance and with absolute self-evidence. (1945: 478a / 1958: 483b)Yet past and future are not always explicitly a part of our awareness. Rather, we feel their weight implicitly, and we are aware of them like how we are implicitly aware of the back of the house when only seeing its facade. Our progress into the future is not completely unannounced, because we at least are given the 'style' of what will be happening.
Ahead of what I see and perceive, there is, it is true, nothing more actually visible, but my world is carried forward by lines of intentionality which trace out in advance at least the style of what is to come (although we are always on the watch, perhaps to the day of our death, for the appearance of something else). (478b / 483d)Husserl explained these temporal horizons in terms of retentions, intentions, and protentions. It is not that we undergo a series of nows whose images we string together into a line of time. It is somewhat more complex. Consider what is going on as the present moment recedes into the past. It begins to take on a different character from the new now phase. We are still connected to it, but it has been modified. What was previously our intentional awareness then gradually becomes something we are retentionally aware of. Then, when a third moment arrives, the first moment becomes not just a retention, but a retention of a retention, and in that way, "the layer of time between it and me thickens." (478d / 484c)
Merleau-Ponty shows us Husserl's famous diagram of this process.
We try to animate it here.
The first 'A' moment continually slips into deeper and deeper layers of retentions upon retentions. Merleau-Ponty also notes that to make this diagram complete, we would need a symmetrical portion on the other side showing the layers of protentions.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Transl. Colin Smith. London/New York: Routledge, 1958.