12 Sep 2011

We are the Fountain of Time. §h Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty, prt3, ch.2

by Corry Shores
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We
are the Fountain of 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 your subjectivity's creation of time got to do with you?

Our life is a story. Each of its parts matter to the other parts. What we did as children has influenced what we do now. And what we will do now influences how we perceive and understand our childhood. Likewise for what we will do in the future. Who are we? We are the diversified time of our lives. Why is it one life we live?: because our minds see and feel all the parts, past present and future, together in their thoroughly intertwined interrelation. Why is it diverse?: because our awareness is finite in the sense that we are explicitly aware of what is happening now, and from this current perspective, we are aware implicitly of the contents and meanings throughout the diverse parts of our pasts and futures. It is our unified life, because of our temporal subjectivity, our being situated now with a marginal awareness of the past and future. And it is our diverse life, also because of our temporal subjectivity, our limited personal temporal perspective happening now and not some other time. Our subjectivity itself is what makes-up the time of our lives, in a living thriving dynamic way. Becoming phenomenologically aware of our experience of time allows us to more profoundly understand who we are.


Brief Summary

The parts of time integrate. A moment in the future is future only from the perspective of now, but much much later it will be the past. Each moment in a way sees and speaks the others, in fact is the others. What gives time its relations are our active phenomenal awareness of the parts of time, situated from our finite dynamic perspective that continually alters the relations of past present and future. We are like a water-fountain, and time's motion continually springs out of our conscious awareness. Time's motion is not a river that keeps flowing past us. It is a gushing that comes out of us. For time to exist, it requires temporal relations of before and after. These relations find expression only through our finite temporal perspectives that on the one hand make the dynamic distinctions between past, present, and future, but also on the other hand, on account of all these relations intertwining through our phenomenal awareness, we ourselves are as well the reason why past present and future are pregiven in a timeless sort of unity.


Points relative to Deleuze

For Deleuze as well, our subjectivity lies at the seat of temporality. But we are a self that is cracked within ourself. Time is self-differentiation. The logical form of time is 'A is -A', 'I am an other unto myself'. If something stays exactly the same, nothing has transpired, time has not passed, at least not phenomenally. When we look in the mirror and see signs of age, we suddenly do not recognize ourselves. We feel years have passed, but we feel it in an instant. We at age x (the age we remember ourselves looking) appear simultaneously with we at age y (the age we look-like in the mirror). Here time stands out before us; time itself appears as a self-differential relation. Before we can have time, we need the intensity of simultaneous and instantaneous self-differentiation. Because we are from the beginning already different from ourselves in our continual self-awareness; our differential selfhoods lie at the source of time-consciousness. Thus Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty both locate the self at the fount of time. But it is on the basis of two sorts of self-hoods. Self-differentiation in Merleau-Ponty would require time, whereas time for Deleuze requires self-differentiation.




Time appears to us as the passing of moments A to B, but also as the motion of A to its retentional modification as A' while B displaces A out of the present. The future and the past are actually absent from the present moment, and this is why succession is possible. However, the present moment speaks the past and future, so in that way every moment contains the others on their horizons, and thus there is one time.


Summary §h

The past and future are implied in the movement of the present. They are absent from the present only from the finite perspective of conscious beings like us who can only be explicitly aware of the phenomena given in the present moment (and only marginally aware, retentionally and protentionally aware, of the phenomenal contents of the past and future, with this protended and retended contents being under modifications A', A'', and so forth).
The past, therefore, is not past, nor the future future. It exists only when a subjectivity is there to disrupt the plenitude of being in itself, to adumbrate a perspective, and introduce non-being into it. A past and a future spring forth when I reach out towards them. (1945: 483bc / 1958: 489ab, boldface mine)
We are phenomenally alive not merely in a punctual present. Our phenomenal temporal outreach takes us equally to morning and night while we pass through midday; [we for example go about our afternoon as a partially planned response to our morning activities and we act now with our anticipated future in mind.] Each moment is given pre-bled into the others.
There is no need for a synthesis externally binding together the tempora into one single time, because each one of the tempora was already inclusive, beyond itself, of the whole open series of other tempora, being in internal communication with them, and because the ‘cohesion of a life’ is given with its ek-stase. (483c / 489bc, boldface mine)
We are so much a part of the interlacing of time's motion that we would not so much think of time as something that flows past and away from us, but rather as a motion that springs continually right here in our immediate experience of it.
The passage of one present to the next is not a thing which I conceive, nor do I see it as an onlooker, I effect it; I am already at the impending present as my gesture is already at its goal, I am myself time, a time which ‘abides’ and does not ‘flow’ or ‘change’, which is what Kant says in various places. (483d / 489c, boldface mine)
[...]
We say that there is time as we say that there is a fountain: the water changes while the fountain remains because its form is preserved; the form is preserved because each successive wave takes over the functions of its predecessor: from being the | thrusting wave in relation to the one in front of it, it becomes, in its turn and in relation to another, the wave that is pushed; and this is attributable to the fact that, from the source to the fountain jet, the waves are not separate; there is only one thrust, and a single air-lock in the flow would be enough to break up the jet. Hence the justification for the metaphor of the river, not in so far as the river flows, but in so far as it is one with itself. (484a.b / 489-490, boldface mine)
Common sense misconceives time. Time has a certain permanence. Thus science misconceives it as a variable of nature. Also, time is over rich with the real content of the past and future, and so it is not like Kant's pure form of time that is ideally separable from matter. Each moment that ever was or ever will be is thoroughly integrated relationally with all other moments, all organized around the nexus of our immediate phenomenal consciousness. Our subjective phenomenal temporal awareness is at the very basis of the integration of time. Time itself in the way it appears to us phenomenally is virtually indistinguishable from we ourselves.
There is a temporal style of the world, and time remains the same because the past is a former future and a recent present, the present an impending past and a recent future, the future a present and even a past to come; because, that is, each dimension of time is treated or aimed at as something other than itself and because, finally, there is at the core of time a gaze, or, as Heidegger puts it, an Augen-blick, someone through whom the word as can have a meaning. We are not saying that time is for someone, which would once more be a case of arraying it out, and immobilizing it. We are saying that time is someone, or that temporal dimensions, in so far as they perpetually overlap, bear each other out and ever confine themselves to making explicit what was implied in each, being collectively expressive of that one single explosion or thrust which is subjectivity itself. We must understand time as the subject and the subject as time. What is perfectly clear, is that this primordial temporality is not a juxtaposition of external events, since it is the power which holds them together while keeping them apart. (484c.d / 490b.d, boldface mine)

So what's this got to do with you?

Consider if each moment of consciousness were a new one in a succession. But this is just consciousness of each state. The whole sequence itself is something else to be conscious of. So that means an additional consciousness would be needed to be conscious of the sequence of states. Yet, that creates another state in the sequence that requires yet another inclusive consciousness, and so on to infinity. This cannot be so. There must be a pre-reflective consciousness. It does not exist in terms of other things; it exists in terms of itself.
We are forced to recognize the existence of ‘a consciousness having behind it no consciousness to be conscious of it’ which consequently, is not arrayed | out in time, and in which ‘being coincides with being for itself ’. (484-485 / 490-491)
Because consciousness is not just in time, but is like the glue of time, we might say it is 'timeless.' But this is us. It is us living time in the entirety of its integrated cohesion.
We may say that ultimate consciousness is ‘timeless’ (zeitlose) in the sense that it is not intratemporal. ‘In’ my present, if I grasp it while it is still living and with all that it implies, there is an ek-stase towards the future and towards the past which reveals the dimensions of time not as conflicting, but as inseparable: to be now is to be from always and for ever. Subjectivity is not in time, because it takes up or lives time, and merges with the cohesion of a life. (485a.b / 491a, boldface mine)


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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