The Poetry of Habit: Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty on Aging Embodiment

In Silvia Stoller (ed.), Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophy of Age: Gender, Ethics. DeGruyter Publishers69-81. pp. 69-82 (2014)

Helen A. Fielding
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.
Keywords Merleau-Ponty  Beauvoir  aging  habit
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1515/9783110339147.69
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 41,583
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

This Sex Which Is Not One.Luce Irigaray - 1985 - Cornell University Press.

View all 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Merleau-Ponty and the Bodily Subject of Learning.Maria Talero - 2006 - International Philosophical Quarterly 46 (2):191-203.
The Habit of Inhabitation.Kascha Semon - 2009 - Environment, Space, Place 1 (1):101-119.
4 Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty on Ambiguity.Monika Langer - 2003 - In Claudia Card (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir. Cambridge University Press. pp. 87.
Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty.Gail Weiss - 2012 - In Shannon M. Mussett & William S. Wilkerson (eds.), Beauvoir and Western Thought From Plato to Butler. pp. 171.
Existentialism, Phenomenology and Philosophical Method.Felicity Joseph & Jack Reynolds - 2011 - In Felicity Joseph, Jack Reynolds & Ashley Woodward (eds.), Continuum Companion to Existentialism. Continuum.


Added to PP index

Total views
26 ( #318,390 of 2,249,264 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #1,031,023 of 2,249,264 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature