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"A Past Which Has Never Been Present": Bergsonian Dimensions in Merleau-Ponty's Theory of the Prepersonal

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image of Research in Phenomenology

Merleau-Ponty's reference to "a past which has never been present" at the end of "Le sentir" challenges the typical framework of the Phenomenology of Perception, with its primacy of perception and bodily field of presence. In light of this "original past," I propose a re-reading of the prepersonal as ground of perception that precedes the dichotomies of subject-object and activity-passivity. Merleau-Ponty searches in the Phenomenology for language to describe this ground, borrowing from multiple registers (notably Bergson, but also Husserl). This "sensory life" is a coexistence of sensing and sensible—bodily and worldly—rhythms. Perception is, then, not a natural given, but a temporal process of synchronization between rhythms. By drawing on Bergson, this can be described as a process in which virtual life is actualized into perceiving subject and object perceived. Significantly, this process involves non-coincidence or delay whereby sensory life is always already past for perception.

Affiliations: 1: McGill University


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