lds-herm blog

Discussion of hermeneutics, esp. as it pertains to LDS scripture

Chapter 1, Part 2: “A Phenomenological Sketch of Memory” and “Memories and Images”

Posted by joespencer on February 29, 2008

All through the process of reading this section of the text, I found it vital to keep quite in mind what Ricoeur’s declared purpose is in this first chapter: to think about the what of memory, on the way toward the task of thinking about the how of memory. The real “meaning” of this passage from the what to the how is made clear only in the last paragraph of the chapter. There Ricoeur draws to a point all that he has accomplished in this first chapter: “This is the question of the reliability of memory and, in this sense, of its truth.” (p. 54) Thus, “At the end of our investigation, and in spite of the traps that imagination lays for memory, it can be affirmed that a specific search for truth is implied in the intending of the past ‘thing,’ of what was formerly seen, heard, experienced, learned.” (pp. 54-5) To walk the same trecherous road I wandered down last week (that of lumping the thought of different thinkers together… perhaps a bit too facilely), I might point out the remarkable extent to which Ricoeur here sounds like Badiou. Inasmuch, that is, as the “what” to which Ricoeur refers can be connected with the thematized “event” in Badiou. Indeed, Badiouian subjectivity might be read into Ricoeur’s “More precisely, in the moment of recognition, in which the effort of recollection is completed, this search for truth declares itself”; and Ricoeur almost employs Badiou’s technical language in this: “Let us call this search for truth, faithfulness.” But let me not get too carried away here.

The comparison with Badiou is helpful here because it grounds a necessary defense and an important clarification. The defense first: because Ricoeur points, through his analysis of Bergson and Sartre primarily, to the unavoidable possibility of hallucination/hauntedness at the root of memory, he does not, for that reason, slide off into a kind of vague, fashionable postmodern position that denies (or redefines beyond recognition) anything like “truth.” And hence, the clarification: Ricoeur, having opened himself to the, let us say, realities of the postmodern condition, and having pressed right through the aporiae resultant therefrom, is able somehow to break with Cartesian thought without therefore sacrificing a robust sense of truth (and without having to root himself in a fully hollow subjectivity… though that should be little surprise after Oneself as Another).

These preliminaries, I think, make it possible to see much more clearly (at least for me) what Ricoeur is doing in the second half of this chapter. The theme that runs through the whole chapter—beginning with the analyses of Plato and Aristotle in last week’s section—is that of the presence of the absent. It is, of course, the very question of the what that makes this the theme throughout the chapter: the what of every memory is a present absent, is an absent that somehow presents itself. And this basic structure of the memory inevitably entangles it in the problematic of imagination (even of hallucination), since the imagined (the phantasy) is always also a present absent. The simplest way to summarize Ricoeur’s movements through the whole of the chapter, then, is this: he is trying to show how the absent present of imagination is at once distinct from and yet undeniably parallel to the absent present of memory, a distinction/parallel that is best (only?) articulatable with (ultimately quite brief) reference to the structure of fidelity, of fidelity in a “search for truth” (a “truth procedure”?).

Much can be said about the particularities of Ricoeur’s journey along this pathway… perhaps especially concerning his (fascinating) explanations/interpretations of Husserl (I am constantly amazed by the sheer massiveness of the Husserlian project… and I’ll confess that I greatly appreciate Marion’s rather straightforward roadmap for navigating one’s way through that massive project). But I will leave the details of the chapter for the discussion I hope to see follow. I shall myself be content with the above orientation, so far as this post goes.

On, then, to the how!


28 Responses to “Chapter 1, Part 2: “A Phenomenological Sketch of Memory” and “Memories and Images””

  1. joespencer said

    Let me add this about the closeness and distance between Ricoeur and Badiou:

    It would be very interesting to think about this closeness/distance by looking carefully at, say, Badiou’s brief discussion of the Holocaust in Infinite Thought, pp. 189-90, with Ricoeur’s also brief discussion of the same in Figuring the Sacred, pp. 289-92, especially in light of the connection I’m seeing in the last paragraph of this first chapter of Memory, History, Forgetting.

  2. Clark said

    My copy just arrived today: Dang. That’s a big book!

    We’ll see if I get a chance to read the first chapter this weekend.

  3. Jim F. said

    Clark, yes, it is a very big book. I hope that Ricoeur’s book and Taylor’s Secular Age aren’t the first moments of a trend.

    Joe, you won’t be surprised to discover that I continue to be bothered by your propensity to compare. I find the road along which Ricoeur is like A as well as B as well as C as well as . . . too frightening a road to walk. Indeed, I am concerned that this way of proceeding is methodologically unsound because it runs the high risk of making us hear Ricoeur speak in voices other than his own. The first task is to listen to what he says, holding for later the question of how what he says compares to what others say. If we don’t hold that question for later, it is likely that we will find the thought of others in places where it is not.

    And a small question: What roadmap of Husserl by Marion do you have in mind? I bet there are readers of this blog who would like such a roadmap.

  4. Justin W. said

    Although from what I’ve read of A A Secular Age , I doubt the length will bother me too much. At least so far, it is very readable.

  5. joespencer said

    I too hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend. I’ve much appreciated the 150-page trend that has obtained for some time… though it is nice, I suppose, to get more for one’s dollar, since the 150-page books often cost the same as the 600-page books when they come out in hardback.

    Jim, I hope you won’t be surprised when I say that I’m quite glad you continue to be bothered by my comparison of Ricoeur to others. I can’t help but desire (though it is likely unnecessary) to defend my doing so on three accounts, just briefly. First, I hope it is clear that I’m finding this in Ricoeur as like A, and that in Ricoeur as like B, etc. This is important because, second, I find that it easiest for me to allow an author to differentiate her thought from others only once I’ve been able to make these kinds of connections: now that I’ve seen a point of contact between Ricoeur and Badiou, I’m excited to watch Ricoeur completely convince me otherwise. I’ve found that if I don’t make these points of contact early in a study—and explicitly, consciously—that I tend not really to let the author speak for herself at all. Hence, third, I can promise that the comparisons are either over or almost over: I’ve got in mind the thinkers that seem closest the project and from whom I’d like to see Ricoeur disambiguate himself.

    As for the roadmap: I’ve got Reduction and Givenness and Being Given in mind. There are, obviously, those who disagree with Marion’s more-Husserlian-than-Husserl reading, but I find it remarkably convincing—both at the textual and the conceptual level.

  6. Clark said

    To put myself perhaps between jim and Joe might I say putting Ricoeur in a kind of virtual dialog with other authors is useful? To interrogate his work? After all this is Ricoeur’s own method in chapter one starting his phenomenological investigation with Plato and Aristotle.

  7. joespencer said

    Clark, I think that is precisely what I’m saying in my threefold “defense.” After I submitted by #5, the same point you mention also occurred to me: Ricoeur is doing just this with his intertwining, for example, Sartre and Bergson, or Husserl and Casey (he brings them together in order to allow one to illuminate the other, or in order to show the real distance between them, etc.).

  8. Jim F. said

    Clark and Joe: excellent point. Yet it seems to me different to compare two philosophers whom one assumes the audience knows already and to compare two philosophers when reading one of them for the “first” time. Of course, one cannot read without already having ideas, many of them philosophical ideas from other philosophers, so the question is where one draws the line rathe rather than whether one does that. As I said, mine is a worry rather than a criticism.

  9. Robert C. said

    OK, I’ve finished reading the chapter, but there were several passages I marked with at least one very basic, reading-comprehension level question. As I have time, I’ll post some of these very basic questions first, at least the ones I struggle to answer myself as I review the reading. After I (hopefully) find time to review the reading I’ll try to make some deeper-level comments (or at least bigger-picture types of comments!)….

    Page 23: Perhaps this is ultimately only a minor point, but I was confused on the 8th line from the bottom when Ricoeur referred to “states of affairs” as the “opposite pole” of “‘things’ we have learned and so acquired.” This confused me because about 2/5 down on that same page Ricoeur basically defines states of affairs as “unfold[ing] between the two extremes of singular events and generalities.” So in what sense can “states of affairs” be in the middle of the singular event vs. generality axis and yet be at the “opposite pole” of “‘things’ we have learned and so acquired”? This latter phrase seems to prefigure the habit (and memorization) vs. memory discussion (pp. 24ff), but how can “states of affairs” be distanced from “singular events” and still comprise the opposite pole of habit-like memorization, as it seems Ricoeur is implying?

    To try and answer my own question, it seems “states of affairs” can be thematized (per the discussion at the bottom of p. 22 and in accordance with the kind of “typical resemblance” Ricoeur mentions 3/5 of the way down on p. 23), so “states of affairs” is not referring to an infinitely singular event, but a particular instance of a finite thematization. In this finitely thematized world, then, the two extremes are a particular state of affairs vs. the universal structure of the thematization itself, like Latin declensions vs. a particular Latin declension employed in a particular instant..?

    (For those of your receiving rss email updates, you’ll notice I keep abusing my privileges as an editor here by editing my comments as my understanding improves—sorry for any confusion.)

  10. Robert C. said

    Page 24: “I propose a series of oppositional pairs, constituting something like a rule-governed typology.”

    What does Ricoeur mean by “rule-governed typology”? I don’t follow the rest of this paragraph that well either, and I think it’s a rather important paragraph b/c it seems he’s declaring his purpose here for what he’s doing in the rest of the section.

    I gather he’s making explicit that he’s using the phenomenological method to his own hermeneutical end, making sure we don’t get seduced into taking any one set of oppositions, or even the sum of them, too seriously, as a totalizing phenomenology. But I don’t understand what Ricoeur means by characterizing “homonymy” as a “dispersion of meaning” or, especially, what is meant by characterizing “polysemy” as a “structure by a semantic core that would be identified by a genuine semiotic reduction.”

    Anyway, here’s an outline of the rest of the section that lays out the “oppositoinal pairs”:

    * pp. 24-26: habit vs. memory, drawing on Bergson
    * pp. 26-30: evocation vs. search, drawing on Bergson again
    ** p. 30: an interlude note on forgetting
    * pp. 31-36: retention (“primal” memory) vs. recall (“secondary” memory), drawing on Husserl
    * pp. 36-40: reflexivity vs. wordliness, drawing on Edward Casey
    ** pp. 40-44: some thoughts on how, in thinking about memory, space relates to (and interacts with) time

    Although I’m hoping to find time to review his discussion of all the oppositional pairs, I’d like esp. to spend some time on the double-starred sections, since it wasn’t that clear to me what Ricoeur was trying to do in these sections (I generally understood what he was saying, but not why).

    While I’m at it, the final section, “Memories and Images,” can be outlined as follows:

    * p. 44: introductory paragraph
    * pp. 45-50: Husserl
    * pp. 50-53: Bergson
    * pp. 53-55: Sartre

    I’m also hoping to find time to review this final section carefully, esp. since this seemed to get more directly to some of the issues raised in the first section on Plato and Aristotle than the middle section did.

  11. Clark said

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the art of memory in this chapter.

    I’m not sure Ricoeur is entirely fair to the art of memory here. It’s true that it is both a kind of “machine memory” and tied to imagination. And arguably what is most interesting about the art of memory is the creative aspects rather than the memory machine aspects. Yet I think that because it’s roughly a kind of “place” with objects (more than just images) that through allegorical associations allows a string of connections to retrieve a memory. But there’s a lot of possibility of error (that can also generate creativity).

    I’m sure Ricoeur will get to external memory in depth. But it seems to me that the art of memory is an interesting middle ground.

  12. Clark said

    Whoops. Put that in the wrong place.

  13. Clark said

    Back to what is in this chapter since we’ve not moved on to chapter 2 yet.

    The issue of habit vs. memory is in one sense silly. If there is one thing that is clear it is that memory access of the various kinds involves capacity via habit. That is you can lose it and you can improve it. I don’t mean via the art of memory we encounter in the next chapter (although that can help) but via simple techniques. It’s like riding a bicycle.

    What Ricoeur wants to do with the oppositions is create something like the “do you love them because of who they are or because of their attributes” whereas the answer is a bit more complex (although some would say the truth is in the border) Ultimately though he wants to separate what is created or volitional from what is innate or non-volitional. I’m not sure I agree with the approach ultimately.

    In one sense though there is some truth to it. Being more of a Peircean though I think the better answer is to say everything is a habit but argue some habits are innate due to our system and some under more volitional control and some under indirect control. To me the best example of this isn’t memory but belief. If I go out under a sunny day I can’t by pure act of belief believe that it is raining. Yet I can have indirect control over beliefs by the environments I put myself in. Then there are probably some beliefs out of my control due to the biological structures of my brain. (Not necessarily structures in the Kantian sense but innate beliefs of a sort) This, to me, is the analogy that is more useful.

    Ricoeur quotes Bergson a lot and I know he was influenced by the pragmatists so I’m curious as to what his view is. I confess I’ve not read it though.

  14. Robert C. said

    Clark, I actually thought the habit vs. memory distinction was quite interesting, but more in terms of hermeneutics or the question of truth/faithfulness than, say, the mechanics of remembering. For example, I think this is interesting to think about in terms of music: if we remember music or an event of listening to music “only” as a (representational) memory, than it seems we are missing what is (arguably) most profound about music, namely that it moves us. To be moved, then, is importantly different than any memory of being moved, but that movement might be preserved in a kind of habit form.

    And so the tension is ultimately between “action and representation” (bottom of p. 25), and it seems that habit might be a way to think about preserving/recovering the Sayingness of the past in a way that (Said-)representations of the past could not, a way of being faithful to the past that is different than what is possible with memory….

  15. Clark said

    That’s an interesting way of thinking about it Robert. That would tie in more to the memory vs. memories dichotomy he brings up elsewhere.

    I’m not really sure it works though. But I’ll reread that part tonight to see if I still think that.

    Part of my problem is of course that “habit” has a pre-established meaning in the pragmatic tradition that is kind of a way of bridging the “said/saying” opposition. Grice comes closest to it in his alternative to speech act theory. The idea being that the meaning of anything (and thus the said) is the collection of habits that could establish it as true. So saying a diamond is hard is wrapped up with all the ways we’d verify it is hard. This tends to take the “said” and always essentially a saying.

    An other way to take this is that the pragmatists reject the idea of truth being “in” the proposition and rather talk about assertions being true. And the truth of an assertion is always tied in with the saying of the assertion and its broad role as a sign process. In other words there never is a “said” in the way that some assert. Representation is always a representing and thus always an action and wrapped up in actions.

    Of course you can find movements towards that position in the analytic tradition as well. Grice is obviously one example although arguably Davidson heads in that direction as well.

  16. Rich Knapton said

    I have to agree with Clark about the oppositions of habit and memory. However, my conclusion is 180 degrees from Clark. But then I approach habit and memory from a behavioral/evolutionary perspective and not a philosophical one. Habit is simply one type of memory. Habit is the construction of behavioral maps within the brain which help determine future behavior. This method takes habit and memory out of the truth seeking paradigm.

    It is only one of several memory systems used by the body. Memory, at the molecular level, provides the efficacy of immunology. Our own autobiographical memory system is affectively established. Then there is memory about persons, places and things such as the example Clark gave earlier:

    “In simple terms, new memories start life as the temporary excitation of synapses in a network of neurons. If you recall a memory, the same neural pathways are reactivated. The more times this happens, the more important the brain deems the memory to be and the more likely it is to be converted into a long-term memory, by forming permanent connections between the neurons.”

    Autobiographical memory, by comparison, can be established in an instant and be extinguish resistant. Memories that are fear established are almost impossible to extinguish.

    The impression I get, as I read, is Ricoeur’s ‘memory’ is recallable memory. Recent neurological studies indicate recallable memory requires a linguistic component (even if the memory is a picture). This becomes important in trauma cases (which are by definition autobiographical). Pre-linguistic children who sustain trauma have memories of the trauma, which will affect their future behavior, but which are not recallable because of the lack of a linguistic component. Adults who had sustained trauma at the age of the onset of language will only be able to recall the memories using the language level they were able to use at the time of the trauma. A little boy of five years was raped by the son of the daycare owner. He was only able to recall it fifty years later and then could only describe it in terms of sensations and some not very distinct pictures. He could not provide a narrative of the event.


  17. Jim F. said

    I am sure that Ricoeur is aware of Merleau-Ponty’s research on amputees and other wounded after WWI which resulted in him arguing that habit is a form of “bodily memory.” (See The Phemenology of Perception.) As a result, I would be surprised if he is arguing for a sharp distinction between the two.

  18. Clark said

    Rich I think we’re saying the same thing. I’m just saying that memories are part of functional behavior and thus habitual in the same way that knowing how to ride a bike is.

    Jim, if so, then that section seems rather odd. (Not as odd as the Freudian section coming up, mind you)

  19. joespencer said

    Odd? Ricoeur has been dealing with Freud for a long time… and always with his remarkable ability to read.

  20. Clark said

    I’ll admit an anti-Freudian bias. The issue is primarily one of what is scientific rather than ones ability to read Freud. That is the problem is with Freud rather than Ricoeur’s readings.

  21. Rich Knapton said

    Clark Rich I think we’re saying the same thing. I’m just saying that memories are part of functional behavior and thus habitual in the same way that knowing how to ride a bike is.

    We are but only up to a point. Some memories operate on the level of habitualizaton. Others do not. Habituation is not relevant to memories within our immune system. Nor is it the case with the vast majority of autobiographical memory. This is why I said habit is a subset of memory rather than the other way around.

    I am sure that Ricoeur is aware of Merleau-Ponty’s research on amputees and other wounded after WWI which resulted in him arguing that habit is a form of “bodily memory.” (See The Phemenology of Perception.) As a result, I would be surprised if he is arguing for a sharp distinction between the two.

    Riceour does seem to make a sharp distinction between the two. The distinction is one of time. Habit is “the past adheres, so to speak, to the present”. Memory “is recognized in its pastness as over and done with.” Another distinction is habit “is incorporated into the living present, unmarked, unremarked as past, [memory], a reference is made to the anteriorty of the prior acquisition.” While coming from Bergson, I don’t think Riceour would see this as doing violence to Merleau-Ponty’s view of “body memory.” Body memory would also be the case of the past adhering to the present. It would also be unmarked and unremarked as past and thus unrecallable.


  22. Rich Knapton said

    Sorry, I meant to reference Jim F. on that second quote.


  23. joespencer said

    Hmmm. I’ll confess I’ve come to allow Freud a very central place in my thought (though it is seldom “pure” Freud: Freud as he is deflected by a number of interesting thinkers…). And I think there is a good deal to talk about in terms of Freud’s scientificity (not that I’m much enamoured with science as such…).

  24. Clark said

    Habituation is not relevant to memories within our immune system.

    Yeah, my Peircean terminology is getting the better of me here. Peirce would say what our immune system does is an example of habit. If one needs habit to be more a conscious or subconscious traditional mental habit then you are right.

    Relative to phenomenology though, which is primarily what Ricoeur is doing, is what the immune system does even a memory? Or is it merely a chemical reaction that we call memory by analogy? Much as one might say what a RAM in a computer does is memory even if it’s not conscious.

    I guess what I’m saying is that either we exclude as non-memory what is non-habitual or else we broaden our definition of habit.

  25. Clark said

    Joe I guess what my position is that the degree to which Freud is non-scientific he is perhaps not correct. One might see him as literature and thereby interesting semiotically. But then Freud is no more relevant in a certain way than any book of fiction. Why elevate him? I’d argue that even the places his thought contains useful notions – such as the unconscious – that these can be found in earlier figures and without the baggage Freud brings.

    Most problematically though to the degree Freud is wrong then appealing to Freud to structure our thinking tends to direct us away from the Truth.

  26. joespencer said

    But Freud brings a great deal more than the unconscious to the table! The analytic relation—which is precisely what Ricoeur is here privileging—is certainly an enormous step forward, both pragmatically and theoretically.

    But perhaps you and I shall have to take a walk through the same garden Freud and William James did almost a century ago… 🙂

  27. Clark said

    Want something like the analytic relation? (Only perhaps better done?) Go read Plato’s The Alciabiades.

  28. joespencer said

    Want the analytic relation itself? Go read Freud. 🙂

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