DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V020-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 14, 2020, from

4. Contemporary work: challenges to fixed ideas of present and past

These approaches, both through everyday concepts and by speculative scientific hypothesis, take for granted memory as reviving an already given past. The phenomenology of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, too, takes the past as real in itself, not to be reduced in Augustinian fashion to the process of recollection. Nevertheless, their work emphasizes how much what we call past and present owe each other. The past does not so innocently create memories which then we deem to be valid. Perhaps half-consciously, we make nothing of aspects of our past in order to make something of other aspects. We might create a favourable past or, alternatively, one which embodies a harsh vision of our lives. What we remember is not entirely accidental. How we remember and what we recall partially constitutes our present and, conversely, what we countenance as part of our present bears on what we are prepared to recall.

The themes of memory are recalled in a classical enigma. When the present was present, it could not be remembered. Now it is past, its presence is only in recall. This presence in recall cannot be the presence it had when first it occurred. It is in this sense that remembering is, in Derrida’s phrase, the raising up of ‘a past that was never present’.

Citing this article:
Deutscher, Max. Contemporary work: challenges to fixed ideas of present and past. Memory, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V020-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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