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Dr. Louis N. Sandowsky



Time and the Constitution of the Self





Husserl’s Lectures on Temporalizing Consciousness



1.                 The Continuity of Experience and the Marking Out of Temporal Difference


We take the continuity of experience and the arrow of time for granted. That which is now, slips into the past, while the future becomes actualized in the present vacuum that is left behind. Time flows. The linearity of temporality, its uni-directional order of successivity, is the condition of the possibility of any intelligible form of experience. But, how is the linearity of time itself constituted? Entropy and the second law of thermodynamics generally serve as the basis for discourse on the arrow of time in the physical sciences. However, such discourse is incomplete. A phenomenological description of the arrow of time must aim to take into account ‘how’ it is given.

Therefore, phenomenology does not so much concern itself with the objective time of the sciences, as such. It rather seeks to describe the temporalizing structures of consciousness and the ways in which Objectivity is constituted in and by the flow of experience. So, the question becomes:


How is it that consciousness is a continuum?


In the lectures on time-consciousness of 1904-5 (and the appendices of 1910), Edmund Husserl asked how the living-through of linear temporal experience was constituted. This was a question of intentionality. He originally studied the concept of intentionality under the tutelage of Franz Brentano and went on to deepen the field of study. Husserl realized that there were certain outstanding problems with regard to the continuity of consciousness that still needed to be addressed. Most efforts to explain continuity were based on the question of how objects were constituted as identical objects through time. But, the important issue of how they give themselves as temporal objects that are stretched out in time is irreducible to this orientation. The temporality of any object is the alteration in the givenness of the same. In other words, what is crucial is the multiplicity of different modes in which the same object may be given – where the three temporal horizons of past, present, and future are always announcing themselves in the manner in which it appears. Without the structurality of this manifold everything would appear as if occurring “all at once.” The principal question of the phenomenological interrogation of the temporality of experience may be expressed in these terms:


How is the signification of temporal differencegiven within experience?


This question constitutes something like the trunk of a tree. Naturally, it must turn back upon the root system that nourishes the trunk and the branches above. We may ask some of the most fundamental questions that announce themselves here in the following terms:


What problems are associated with the conception of the present or now as a ‘point-like’ moment?


Is the present distinguished from the past and the future by its immediacy, its presentation?


How is the present given?


How is the past given?


What are the forms of presence of that which has not yet come to pass?


Are we to understand the future and the past purely in terms of re-presentation?


How is it that consciousness can differentiate between past, present, and future?


In what sense is consciousness related to itself in the present as distinguished from its past and its future?


How is it that past, present, and future can be present all-at-once without the erasure of their different temporal signatures?


If consciousness of difference already presupposes a continuous consciousness, in what does such continuity inhere?


How is continuity possible?


What is the relation between the continuity of experience and the continuity of that which is given?


How is it that a Thing has continuity through time as-the-same-Thing?


Is time something distinct from the perception of it?


Is this a question that phenomenology is qualified to ask?


Is intentionality, as temporalizing consciousness and the consciousness of temporality, time itself?


In this dimension, can we actually continue to speak of ‘time’?


Are we directed to a horizon that is constitutive of time, but irreducible to the language of time?


How can we address such an Ur-region or primordial horizon for which names are lacking?


All these questions are tantalizing. At the same time, they are familiar. What is exceptional about Husserl’s temporal analyses is the clarity with which he describes the phenomena at hand. The lectures on time-consciousness do not seek to explain time in any cosmological sense (although the phenomenological studies are elegantly complementary to Einsteinian discourse on relativity), but to unearth the structures of experience through which temporal extension is given. They carefully describe the intentional forms of interplay that are necessarily constitutive of the Living-Present (lebendige Gegenwart) of temporalizing consciousness. The analyses unfold to show that, ultimately, temporalizing consciousness is its own temporalization. There are echoes of St. Augustine here.




2.       The Three Principal Intentionalities of Lived-Time


Firstly, what is important is the way in which the continuity of experience announces itself through temporal transition and how objects (in the broadest phenomenological sense) of perception are continuous through movement, change and rest. There are three intentional moments in play in the constitution of the Living Present (lebendige Gegenwart).


1.      Primary impression

2.      Retention

3.      Protention


Primary impression is one particular node of the tri-horizonal matrix of the Living Present. It is the fulfilment of what was a protention and the index to the passing-over of a present-perception into a retention. It is also the site of the fulfilment, non-fulfilment, or degree of fulfilment of that which was anticipated as given in the horizon of protention.


Retention is the retaining of what was once present as it passes over into the past. It is primary memory, which gives the vertical sinking-down of experience into the past – a giving of has-beenness (as a constant background to the present). However, retention is not simply the retaining of ‘objects,’ it is the retention of a retentional train. In other words, it is the giving of the horizon of the past / pastness. Retention is retention of retention: continua of continua. In this sense, we do not speak of discrete retentions because they are not strung out side by side along the temporal continuum. They rather embody this continuum. Each retention retains former retentions within itself. This is why the intentional form that is designated by retention or primary memory is to be understood in terms of continua of continua.

In addition to understanding that primary memory is irreducible to the mere retention of past ‘objects,’ there is also another important sense in which it is irreducible to the retention of that which was once ‘present’ – as if retention is always first preceded by a present that it then represents. Retention is not a past perception, but the originary perception of the past. Retention is an original horizon of the Living Present. It is not a mere re-presentation of a former now – a present that has become past. Retention signs itself in the present as that which has always already preceded it. In these terms, since retention is an originary intentional horizon of the present, we speak of the tracing of a horizon that has never actually been present (where the word ‘present’ means that which is now and that which is manifest / visible).


Protention is the giving of the horizon of futurity. It first makes possible that opening into which objects can be projected as determinate expectations. In this sense, it is a useful device to distinguish between what we call expectation and that which we call anticipation. Protention is primary anticipation and it produces the conditions of the possibility of the projection of objects of expectation. In these terms, protention is the giving of an open horizon of possibilities. In existential phenomenology, futurity signifies a vacuum, a lack. And, it is the principally objectless character of the not-yet that is constitutive of anxiety.

In these terms, protention is the originary opening of the horizon of that-which-is-not-yet. It is not merely the projection of a possible present. It is a primary condition of the possibility of the present itself as overflowing / a waiting-towards. Protention gives the space in which to project possibilities.


The present is not simple. It is fundamentally complex. The structuralizing interplay of retention, primary impression, and protention is a primordial intentional matrix, which traces itself out at the heart of the Living Present. This dynamical play of negotiation is the unfolding of temporality itself.




3.       Memory as Presentation and Re-presentation


The word memory conjures up a number of different functions of repetition. It is vital to be clear about what kind of memory-function we are concerned about when we use the expression. Husserl distinguishes between two fundamentally different kinds of memory.


Primary memory = retention / presentation

Secondary memory / re-presentation or presentification.


The second form is what we might call common memory – although there is nothing common about it when one begins to examine the multiple forms that it may take. However, it falls into the category of re-presentation, which distinguishes it from primary memory.


Primary memory or retention gives the has-been, the horizon of pastness from which retained objects can stand out precisely as past objects. Retention is not a past perception. It is a present-perceiving of the ‘pastness’ of that which is past. In these terms, retention is not a reproductive intentionality. It is an originary giving.

The presentness or immanence of protention is similar to that of retention in the sense that it is the present-anticipation of that which has never actually been present. Both intentionalities are forms of presentation and not re-presentation (in any sense of substitution or reproduction).

It is vital to understand that Primary Impression is not synonymous with the consciousness of the Present itself. The Living Present means a waiting-towards (protentional / projecting / futural), whose structure is regulated by its having always already-been-waiting (retentional / projected / past). All three intentionalities are present-perceptions of different horizons of temporality. The Living Present (lebendige Gegenwart) is constituted by the interplay / intertwining of these three intentionalities. This weaving of transversal intentionalities provides the horizon and the frame of time in the constitution of memory as re-presentation.


The secondary or re-presentative form of memory is what we usually refer to when we speak of remembering as an act of evocation, e.g., I now remember such and such a moment…

This secondary form of memory is an ‘act.’ Primary memory, in the form of retention, is not an act as such. It is pre-egologically constitutive of what we call acts. All acts are intentional, but not all intentionalities are acts.


The consciousness of the duration of ‘things’ must not only involve the retention of the same thing that one is perceiving in the present, it also necessarily involves the retention of ‘the passing-away’ of its moments as they slip away from the present.

In other words, the principal function of retention is not so much about retaining previous present moments as the retaining of the retaining: the consciousness of the passing-over of the present into the past. Memory means that there must be memory of remembering. This is not a doubling as such, which would lead to an infinite regress – it means that the memory of events must also involve the memory of their passing-over into memory. This is the tracing out of ‘continuous-alteration,’ which gives successivity.


Retention is a double intentionality that constitutes the extendedness / duration of temporal objects on the one hand and, on the other, it constitutes the extendedness / duration of the ‘flow’ of experience itself. The first is a transversal intentionality (Querintentionalität) that is essentially intertwined with the second (Längsintentionalität) longitudinal intentionality of retention. It is this second intentionality that has the most significance here, since it actually gives the flow itself (where pastness is always already a constant background of the flow). Therefore, what is given is a ‘continuum’ of lived / living experience. Both intentionalities always already imply one another since the consciousness of the temporal necessarily coincides with the temporalization of consciousness itself. While the transverse intentionality is directed towards the immanent temporal object in its extendendness, thus cutting across the direction of the flow, it is the longitudinal intentionality that gives the flow itself – thus, we find a movement of sinking-down, which marks off the passage of time, thereby providing the horizon of the extendedness of objects as they are stretched out within the flow. We find a kind of scan of the past that permits the recovery of past moments all together without annulling their differences in relation to one another. In other words, just because these past moments are retained as ‘no-longer,’ this is not a generic leveller or a kind of compression. It does not mean that they share the same temporal positions as one another in the past as simply past. An intuition may involve the re-actualization of different past moments in such a way as to make them appear ‘simultaneously.’ However, this does not cancel their respective temporal positions in relation to one another in the past. The record of their duration is still on hand. They were originally experienced as periods of duration that had their own positions in relation to the life-project as a whole. So, even though they can give themselves to an intuition simultaneously (after all, their recall does not necessitate that one go through the same degree of duration, successively) they do not lose their respective temporal indices. Even when different moments are given up to one’s noticing regard all-at-once, their independent temporal signatures are still, to some degree, attached.


The play between primary impression and retention also involves a certain kind of forgetting. This is the other meaning of what it is to experience the passing-over of primary impression into retention.


In sum, retention, primary impression, and protention are fundamentally intertwined components of the unfolding of the present. The living Present, as Merleau-Ponty said, is like a ‘bulb of time.’ Its contours are made up of the horizons of past, present, and future. As always, when we adopt the phenomenological orientation, we have to be aware that we are not speaking so much about ‘objects’ as the horizons of objects, the contextualization of their content.


Temporal signification is not simply added to objects. It is the tracing out of the condition of the possibility by which they stand-out in the first place. Time is the structuralizing of their presence – the unfolding of the contours of their presencing. However, since it is always Other to presence (not simply non-presence), there is also a sense in which the word time is inadequate to the task of naming this pluridimensional temporalizing.




4.                 Primordial Flux


The inter- intra-play of these longitudinal and transversal intentionalities is that which constitutes lived-experience at the most primordial level. Husserl calls this dimension of temporal constitution, Primordial Flux. The expression refers to the proto-region that is constitutive of time as we know it. However, it is not time, itself. Neither is it that which can be said to be ‘in’ time (since it is not a process that can be said to have duration). It is an Ur-region for which names are lacking – a flux that is constitutive of time without being reducible to the same set of significations.


All one can really say is that this dimension is the extendedness of consciousness itself – the fundamental form of its being as intentionality. It is intentionality in its most primary and general structurality. This is why Martin Heidegger maintains, in his editor’s introduction to Husserl’s Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, that intentionality remains the name of a problem.

However, this is not a problem in the sense of something that needs to be surmounted. Rather, it raises the urgency of a need for a return to a project that is far from being exhausted.








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Derrida, Jacques

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