Monday, December 1, 2008

Tradition and perception

A thought on perception from Merleau-Ponty:
"My first perception, along with the horizons which surrounded it, is an ever-present event, an unforgettable tradition; even as a thinking subject, I still am that first perception, the continuation of that same life inaugurated by it." (PP 407)

I think this is interesting because
1. it's confusing !
2. the tradition is "unforgettable." are all traditions? living traditions?
3. the perception is tradition ... perception seems like a personal act, but it's actually participation in a collective, worldy meaning. So it's "traditional" rather that "private."


Noah said...

Nice passage, K. As I understand it, Merleau-Ponty is talking here about the same things I've been writing about in these last few posts.

Perception is a bodily tradition, because it is habitual, something I have learned to do, a power or powers that I have developed over time.

But as you point out, this is not merely personal to me, because we learn to perceive from other people, and so our habits are ways of taking up traditions much older than ourselves.

The issue of remembering or forgetting is complicated in this context, for the reasons I've been trying to articulate in recent posts. My past, right back to that first act of perception, is unforgettable in the sense that I carry it with me in the form of habits; but on the other hand, to remember the past through habit is not to remember it explicitly or transparently, but rather to carry it forward as sedimented and forgotten.

Mlle. Le Renard said...

yes that post was for you! just thought it was a juicy quote.

Noah said...

okay cool yeah

Neal said...

How come I don't get a post?

Don said...

There's something profound about the way that we cross thresholds into traditions. First perception is not some kind of event followed by other events, not one in a series, but the forging of a dimension on the basis of which events (perceptual ones) this time, will make sense. Events become unforgettable because they become that by which other events of a style will have their sense. Later lovers are always some kind of divergences from earlier, first loves. My first teachers, the first books I read... Aristotle writes that the first part of our lives make all the difference later. So the carrying forward Noah speaks of is doubled: we carry the habitual past as we surpass it, yet it carries us from behind us, ballasting the dimensions of any sense we have now. This is really interesting because we overcome a passivism of the past: the past isn't just over and recreated in the present, but rather the past is at work in the present in the changing dimensions of sense there. The past, our past, my past is a living tradition, a kind of dialogue whose first phrases and subsequent twists and turns are 'unforgettable', which open a direction for what is to come. It's interesting too that as a tradition changes and grows, so too does its relation to its past. The past turns out to mean more than it ever could have meant when it "happened" in a present. There is a past that is unforgettable because of a difference it marks, because of a field it opens, because it continues to be and become in all that comes after it.

Don said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.