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Contribution to Book
The Poetry of Habit: Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty on Aging Embodiment
Simone de Beauvoir's Philosophy of Age (2014)
  • Helen A Fielding, The University of Western Ontario
As people age their actions often become entrenched—we might say they are not open to the new; they are less able to adapt; they are stuck in a rut. Indeed, in The Coming of Age (La Vieillesse) Simone de Beauvoir writes that to be old is to be condemned neither to freedom nor to meaning, but rather to boredom (Beauvoir 1996, 461; 486). While in many ways a very pessimistic account of ageing, the text does provide promising moments where her descriptions do capture other possibilities for aged existence. In particular, I turn to Beauvoir’s suggestion that habit can take on a “kind of poetry” since it merges past, present and future in a sense of eternity that the present moment now lacks with its limited futural horizon (468; 492). In this paper, I draw out, delineate, and further explore this phenomenological reconfiguration of the present that she gestures towards through a consideration of the intensification and modification of the present through habit. Drawing as well upon Merleau-Ponty’s insights into the phenomenal body, I argue that poetical habit is an active passivity that allows for the spontaneity of the new out of the sedimentation of corporeal memory, and for the attentive perception of what appears in the present. To disrupt someone’s habitual life is to unanchor that life from the world, from an identity shaped by repetition, by the constancy of a shared reality of things, that is, from the spatial-temporal process of inhabitation, and thus from her ability to engage with others and to disclose the world.
  • Aging,
  • Beauvoir,
  • Merleau-Ponty,
  • habit,
  • poesis
Publication Date
Silvia Stoller
De Gruyter
Publisher Statement
De Gruyter Publishers, Simone de Beauvoir's Philosophy of Age, edited by Silvia Stoller (2014).
Citation Information
Helen A Fielding. "The Poetry of Habit: Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty on Aging Embodiment" BerlinSimone de Beauvoir's Philosophy of Age (2014)
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