History as Soil and Sediment: Geological Tropes of Historicity in Heidegger, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty

Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 48:139-152 (2013)
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Many twentieth-century accounts of history have used geological tropes to describe the phenomenon of historical knowledge, and such terms have been of particular importance in the phenomenological tradition. In Heidegger's references in Being and Time to the "soil of history," Husserl's account in his later work of "sedimentation" in the lifeworld, and the reformulation of this notion in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, geological tropes are used to illustrate important insights into the relation between contingency, a priority and historicity. This paper seeks to contribute to an understanding of history understood phenomenologically as historicity through an analysis of these geological tropes. I argue that such geological tropes help the phenomenologist to describe the way in which history is always determined within a complex interplay between only temporarily fixed determining structures - such as riverbanks, insoluble sediment, soil, etc. - and free-flowing praxis, a situation in which historical events are at once determinant of and themselves determined by human activity. Paradoxically, the constant and "grounding" element in such conceptions of history is not the sediment and hard rock of historical fact, but the the constant change and variability-despite the sense giving continuity - of human experience structured by historicity. I begin with a brief overview of the landscape on the philosophy of history in which these views arose, and then continue to an analysis of the tropes themselves.
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