11 Sep 2011

Triangular Time. §e, c.h2, prt.3, Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

by Corry Shores
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Triangular 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 continuous retentional regressive awareness got to do with you?

The moments in our past in a way seem to have one constant truth to them, as if they were constant facts. Or perhaps not. Do we not also return to past moments in our lives and change how we see them, like if we had 'plot twists' in our lives that make us suspect someone in the past that we trusted, for example? It might also be that there is a continual modification of our awareness of the things we noticed in the past.

Brief Summary

There is a horizonal structure to our temporal awareness. We normally live currently in a 'field of presence' during which our awareness is directed not only to what is going on now, but we also turn our awareness to what we expect to enter our consciousness, and we also retain an awareness of what has passed out of our attention. This is Husserl's three-part time-consciousness consisting of intentional consciousness along with retentional and protentional awareness. A current intention passes into a retention when a new intention enters our awareness. Then when a second new intention enters, that first retention becomes the retention of a retention. There is a continuous link throughout all the moments of our flowing consciousness, but the layer of time between our present and the these passing retentions continually thickens as time goes on.

Points Relative to Deleuze

A Deleuzean phenomenal time consciousness also involves an awareness of the past. But would a Deleuzean phenomenal retentive awareness be the same sort of continual modification that we see in Husserl's model? Would the difference be that Deleuze's time is not a continuous passage, on account of continuously passing time being partly bloated and hence an extensive present, rather than an instantaneous and immediate sort of temporal awareness?

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.

Summary §e

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.

(Animation is my own, made with Open Office Draw and Unfreeze)

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.

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

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