Thinking Time: Ricoeur's Husserl in <I>Time and Narrative

Jane Chamberlain

Edmund Husserl

Edmund Husserl

Some go so far as to say that the a priori ... is extratemporal, supratemporal, timeless. [It is] characterized by a time-determination, the earlier, because in this a priori nothing of time is supposed to be present, hence lucus a non lucendo? Believe it if you wish. (Martin Heidegger) 1
According to Paul Ricoeur, the "principal ambition" characterising Husserl's phenomenology of internal time-consciousness is that of "making time itself appear"; an ambition doomed, Ricoeur thinks, to run up against "the essentially Kantian thesis of the invisibility of time." 2 This unbridgeable gulf between Husserl's approach and that of Kant forms one of the main backdrops to Ricoeur's argument, in Time and Narrative, that inescapable 'aporias' will always afflict any theoretical or speculative engagement with the problem of time; that "speculation on time is an inconclusive rumination to which narrative activity alone can respond." 3 In what follows, I want to raise a number of doubts about Ricoeur's reading of Husserl. After a preliminary section introducing Husserl's understanding of his phenomenological project in relation to the work of Kant, I will sketch out the main lines of his analysis of time-consciousness before going on to confront Ricoeur's interpretation of it. Having shown Husserl's work on this matter to be more subtle than Ricoeur supposes, a final section will briefly consider how Ricoeur's own inquiry into the consciousness of time lacks an adequate account of the time of consciousness. The way in which Husserl's analysis might help resolve this difficulty will be indicated in these closing remarks.

Time and Consciousness

Inconclusive philosophical engagement with the question of time has a long and distinguished history. Indeed, anyone pondering the problem cannot fail to be bewildered by the enigma of time. One of the most sincere formulations of this experience can be found in Augustine's aptly titled Confessions: "What, then, is time? I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me," he admitted, "but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled." 4

Kant's was one of the most valiant and influential efforts to lay this puzzle to rest. Taking his stand against what might be labelled the relationist and absolutist conceptions of time and space, represented in his day by Leibniz and the followers of Newton, he argued that space and time are neither simply real nor simply ideal but a third alternative: the forms imposed on experience by the human mind. This is the doctrine of the Transcendental Aesthetic in the Critique of Pure Reason, which argues that space and time are subjective conditions of sensibility – the pure forms of intuition – and necessary conditions of the possibility of experience. "We can extract clear concepts of them," Kant argues, "only because we have put them into experience, and because experience is thus itself brought about only by their means." 5

His point is that our cognitive framework both makes possible and at the same time limits our experience. Given these limitations, on his account, we can understand space and time to be real features of the world as we know it, but only of the world as we know or experience it. Because we necessarily encounter objects within this subjectively imposed spatio-temporal framework, we can never know things as they are 'in themselves': "The true correlate of sensibility, the thing in itself, is not known, and cannot be known, through these representations" (CPR, A30/B45). There can be no direct grasp of naked reality, then; Kant is never more insistent, and consistent, than on this point: "How things may be in themselves ... is entirely outside our sphere of knowledge" (CPR, A190/B235).

This doctrine involves a re-definition of the objective: objective reality is that which we experience, distinct from the 'noumenal' realm assumed to underlie the phenomenal world yet never experienceable as such. And this effective doubling of the object has as its consequence a theoretical doubling of the self or ego into an empirical and transcendental subject. As Kant observes, "Inner sense, by means of which the mind intuits itself or its inner state, yields indeed no intuition of the soul itself" (CPR, A22/B37), since in seeking to 'know' ourselves in this way we make of ourselves an object, and therefore employ time as the form of intuition. He emphasises this point to deflect the possible Cartesian objection that even though knowledge of outer objects may be open to question, still the transparency of our inner selves is evident to consciousness. Denying the simplicity of such a view, Kant insists that we can know nothing about our selves as they are in themselves, since all knowledge is only of appearances. Knowledge of our inner states is as conditioned by time as all other empirical intuitions, and therefore all we can ever have or hope for is empirical self-consciousness – knowledge of the appearance of ourselves, and no knowledge of ourselves as we 'really' are.

No matter what the object of our attention may be, therefore, we necessarily experience it – and our consciousness of it – in a succession of separate representations occurring as subjective events in time. But this raises the question, of course, of how these representations are experienced as related, and Kant accounts for this with the idea of 'synthesis' – experience presupposes, he argues, that the manifold of intuition has been synthesized, for "if this manifold is to be known, the spontaneity of our thought requires that it be gone through in a certain way, taken up, and connected. This act I name synthesis ... [which is] the act of putting different representations together, and of grasping what is manifold in them in one [act of] knowledge" (CPR, A77/B103).

The act of synthesis is first introduced in the Transcendental Logic, the opening section of which explains the distinction between Aesthetic and Logic as concerned with intuitions and concepts, respectively. Intuitions and concepts make up the elements of all knowledge, on Kant's account, and experience therefore requires the co-operation of the faculties of sensibility and understanding. Understanding yields knowledge by means of concepts, and what it does with these concepts is judge by means of them. Judgement is essentially the unification of representations under one common representation, and it is synthesis that holds the representations together so that a unifying judgement can be applied. The role of the understanding in the cognitive process is, then, to bring the synthesis to concepts, "and it is through this function of the understanding that we first obtain knowledge properly so called" (CPR, A78/B103).

If judgement unifies the synthesis of the manifold – clothes it, so to speak, in a thought form – enabling the single apprehension of a plurality, however, still the relation of the perceptions that result from this remains a question. It is in the Subjective Deduction of the first edition that Kant offers his most detailed and persuasive account of how this occurs. Here he discusses the "threefold synthesis" which "must necessarily be found in all knowledge": the syntheses of "apprehension ... in intuition," "reproduction in imagination," and "recognition in a concept" (CPR, A97). Each synthesis unifies a temporal series: synthesis of apprehension unites the successive apprehension of the sensuous manifold; synthesis of reproduction unites the succession of resultant perceptions; and the synthesis of recognition unifies the series of those representations into one consciousness: "this unitary consciousness is what combines the manifold, successively intuited, and thereupon also reproduced, into one representation" (CPR, A103). This consciousness is necessary, moreover, and since all necessity requires a transcendental ground there must be "a transcendental ground to the unity of consciousness ... and so of all objects of experience" (CPR, A108). This is, he writes, "no other than transcendental apperception" (CPR, A106).

Kant borrowed the term 'apperception' from Leibniz, who drew a distinction between "perception, which is the inner state of the monad representing external things, and apperception, which is consciousness, or the reflective knowledge of this inner state...." 6 But he draws a further distinction between the empirical apperception thematized by Leibniz – which, as Kant observes, is "always changing," since "No fixed and abiding self can present itself in this flux of inner appearances" (CPR, A107) – and pure or transcendental apperception: the original, unchanging "unity of consciousness which precedes all data of intuition, and by relation to which representation of objects is alone possible" (CPR, A107). By situating the unity of consciousness in an atemporal transcendental dimension, therefore, Kant is able to retain the idea of a "fixed and abiding" because essentially noumenal and atemporal 'subject': "The abiding and unchanging I" (CPR, A123). The 'threefold synthesis' makes possible our experience of a unitary time within a unitary consciousness, but like all constitutive transcendental operations it is itself "not subjected to the form of time, nor consequently to the conditions of temporal succession" (CPR, A551/B579). For just as, on Kant's account, that which makes experience possible cannot itself be experienced, similarly that which makes time possible cannot itself be temporal.

Husserl, however, opposes these elements of Kant's thinking: in particular, his labelling the transcendental dimension as noumenal and therefore atemporal. Because it remains, for Kant, entirely beyond experiential reach, Husserl accuses him of being led into "his own sort of mythical talk, whose literal meaning points to something subjective, but a mode of the subjective which we are in principle unable to make intuitive to ourselves...." 7 On Husserl's view, by contrast, there can be no thing-in-itself lurking unknowably behind the appearance, for to affirm the existence of something that cannot present itself to consciousness as a phenomenon is absurd. Although he believes Kant was on the right track in indicating "a transcendental subjectivity through whose concealed transcendental functions, with unswerving necessity, the world of experience is formed," 8 he rejects Kant's overall conclusions for their reliance on entities which are by definition not phenomena. The thrust of his own work, he insists, "leaves no room for 'metaphysical' substructurings of a being behind the being intentionally constituting itself in actual and possible achievements of consciousness, whether it be a matter of an in-itself of nature or an in-itself of souls...." 9

In opposition to Kant, Husserl argues that the transcendental domain "can be made accessible to scientific understanding, through a method of disclosure appropriate to it...." 10 This method is, of course, phenomenology – an essentially descriptive approach based on that radicalization of Cartesian doubt known as phenomenological reduction. The 'bracketing' of all assumptions and ontological commitments presupposed in the 'natural attitude' effects the shift to an altogether different 'phenomenological attitude' which gives access to the immanent realm of intentionality, and therefore allows us a glimpse of the transcendental processes Kant had consigned to the concealed and inaccessible. Constitution need not, as Kant concluded, remain forever hidden; Husserl's method will enable reflection on the constitutive act itself.

Despite applauding Kant's recognition of the constitutive function of the transcendental domain, then, Husserl opposes the residual empiricism of his method which prevents him from achieving theoretical reconciliation of the empirical and transcendental ego. Moreover, his rejection of the distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal self leads him to emphasize that the realm of intentionality "itself appears and must be able to appear as temporal." 11 Whereas Kant's final recourse was to describe the constitutive transcendental dimension as atemporal, Husserl admits temporality into the constituting act: "what we called 'act' or 'intentional experience' in the Logical Investigations is in every instance a flow in which a unity becomes constituted in immanent time (the judgement, the wish, etc.), a unity that has its immanent duration and that may progress more or less rapidly" (PCIT, p. 80). It was therefore perhaps inevitable that Husserl's attempt to lay bare the constitutive structures of consciousness led him early to confront "the enigma of the consciousness of time," 12 for this problem is inseparably bound up with his claim that adequate evidence is achieved in a single momentary intuition. His entire theory of evidence and intuition, indeed the validity of the phenomenological project itself, requires him to account for the perception of temporal extension – for the possibility or consciousness of a temporally extended 'moment' of givenness or presence. Hence his concern with time. Husserl calls time-consciousness a "wonder," "rich in mystery," and "the most difficult of all phenomenological problems." 13 But if phenomenology is to offer itself as a ground-breaking "new science," and fulfil its promise in that regard, this is a question he cannot avoid.

His inquiry into this most fundamental and enigmatic phenomenological problem will reveal that "The transcendentally 'absolute' which we have brought about by the reductions is, in truth, not what is ultimate; it is something which constitutes itself in a certain profound and completely peculiar sense of its own and which has its primal source in what is ultimately and truly absolute." 14 This 'ultimately and truly absolute' is absolute consciousness or primal flux. It is "absolute subjectivity" itself (PCIT, p. 79). And whereas Husserl concedes to Kant the insight that as the condition of possibility of objects this transcendental subjectivity can never be perceived as an object, nevertheless he insists that it is experienced (erlebt) in an oblique way, and that its oblique manifestation renders it open to phenomenological scrutiny. The initial problem of the apprehension of temporally extended objects is therefore transformed into the question of time-constituting consciousness as such: "it is a matter of investigating more closely what we are able to find and describe here as the phenomenon of time-constituting consciousness, of the consciousness in which temporal objects with their temporal determinations become constituted" (PCIT, p. 28).

The Absolute Flux

Husserl elaborates the basic problem of time-consciousness by taking the simple example of a melody. Observing that what we perceive endures – i.e., a melody is experienced as a unity of discrete tones, with each tone and the melody as a whole grasped as unified enduring objects – he sets out to examine how this can occur. Clearly, more than one tone must be retained in consciousness, since if each disappeared entirely after it had sounded then their succession, and therefore the melody as a whole, could never be grasped: "in each moment we would have a tone, or perhaps an empty pause in the interval between the sounding of two tones, but never the representation of a melody." And each tone must also undergo some form of modification in consciousness, enabling it to appear "as more or less past, as pushed back in time, as it were," since otherwise "instead of a melody we would have a chord of simultaneous tones, or rather a disharmonious tangle of sound, as if we had struck simultaneously all the notes that had previously sounded" (PCIT, p. 11). It is in order to account for our ability to experience such temporally extended objects as temporally extended that Husserl takes an immanent tone as his phenomenological datum.

In the characteristic phenomenological move Husserl proposes, at the outset of his lectures, "the complete exclusion of every assumption, stipulation and conviction with respect to objective time" (PCIT, p. 4). This suspension of the "natural attitude" towards time leaves – as the phenomenological residue – the indisputable immanent time (succession and duration) of lived experience (erlebnis). And immanent temporal objects within the immanent time of the flow of consciousness will enable reflection of the phenomenon of temporal experience free of all transcendent presuppositions. Husserl can therefore declare his task as being to "exclude all transcendent apprehension and positing and take the tone purely as a hyletic datum" (PCIT, p. 24).

Posing the question of "How, in addition to 'temporal objects,' immanent and transcendent, does time itself – the duration and succession of objects – become constituted?" Husserl points out that these are "different lines of description...." For example: "When a tone sounds ... [we] can make the tone itself, which endures and fades away, into an object and yet not make the duration of the tone or the tone in its duration into an object" (PCIT, p. 24). Focusing on the latter, we can observe that the tone appears in "a continuity of 'modes' in a 'continual flow'" – that is, appears in the mode of (as) 'now' or as 'immediately past' – even though "'Throughout' this whole flow of consciousness, one and the same tone is intended as enduring, as now enduring" (PCIT, p. 26). Because the tone itself is the same but the manner in which it appears is continually different, then description of the tone itself must be distinguished from description of "the way in which we are 'conscious' of ... the 'appearing' of the immanent tone" (PCIT, p. 27). It is this latter that the phenomenology of time-consciousness will analyze.

Husserl accounts for our experience of the duration of the tone by distinguishing the intended temporal determinations of 'now,' 'just-past,' and 'about-to-be' from the consciousness that intends them: the impressional, retentional and protentional consciousness which constitute present, past, and future, respectively. As he describes it, the "source-point" (Quellpunkt) of the enduring object in the flowing stream of consciousness is the "primal impression" – consciousness of the (constantly changing) "tone-now" (Tonjetzt). And as this 'tone-now' is modified into 'something that has been,' so the primal impression passes over into retention: "the tone-now changes into a tone-having-been; the impressional consciousness, constantly flowing, passes over into an ever new retentional consciousness" (PCIT, p. 31). Retention not only "holds in consciousness what has been produced and stamps on it the character of the 'just-past'" (PCIT, p. 88) – ensuring that consciousness is always "consciousness of what has just been and not merely consciousness of the now-point of the object that appears as enduring" (PCIT, p. 34) – but each retention is also retention of the elapsed tone retention, including in itself "the entire series of elapsed intentions in the form of a chain of mediate intentions" (PCIT, p. 123). In this way, retention "extends the now-consciousness" (PCIT, p. 47) such that the "now-apprehension is, as it were, the head attached to the comet's tail of retentions" (PCIT, p. 32).

This description of the extended moment is completed with the addition of protention as the symmetrical futural counterpart of retention. Protention, the intuition of the immediate future, is "just as original and unique as the intuition of the past," Husserl writes (PCIT, p. 59). "Every process that constitutes its object originally is animated by protentions that emptily constitute what is coming as coming" (PCIT, p. 54). Retention and protention together combine to form "the living horizon of the now," (PCIT, p. 45) for every primal impression "has its retentional and protentional halo" (PCIT, p. 111) ensuring that "The now point ... [always] has for consciousness a temporal fringe" (PCIT, p. 37). The punctual now is therefore only an ideal limit, which cannot be phenomenologically given or encountered. And this description of the now as an ideal abstraction therefore applies equally to the primal impression of which it is the correlate: "In the ideal sense ... perception (impression) would be the phase of consciousness that constitutes the pure now.... But the now is precisely only an ideal limit, something abstract, which can be nothing by itself" (PCIT, p. 42).

The temporal phases of the immanent object are, then, on a different stratum of analysis than the consciousness of those phases; the impressional, retentional, and protentional consciousness which, in intending the object as 'now,' 'just-past,' or 'about-to-be' "constitute the very differences belonging to time" (PCIT, p. 41). Husserl reaches the heart of his phenomenological account of time-consciousness with his description of how these "acts that create time" (PCIT, p. 43) – primal impression, retention, and protention – "can be understood as time-constituting consciousness, as moments of the flow" (PCIT, pp. 79-80). The 'flow' is made up of these partial intentions which are not fully fledged acts as such because their correlates are not objects but the temporal phases of objects. Retention, for example, "is an intentionality" but it "is not an 'act' (that is, an immanent duration-unity constituted in a series of retentional phases)" (PCIT, pp. 122-23). The intentionality of these elements of the primal flux differs from that of apprehending or perceptual acts – they in fact constitute as a unity the apprehending act: "In perception a complex of sensation-contents, which are themselves unities constituted in the original temporal flow, undergo unity of apprehension. And this unitary apprehension is again a constituted unity" (PCIT, p. 96).

Husserl can therefore distinguish and outline the three levels of his analysis of time and consciousness as follows: Firstly, "the things of empirical experience in objective time"; secondly, "the constituting multiplicities of appearance ... the immanent unities in pre-empirical time"; and lastly, "the absolute time-constituting flow of consciousness" which, as that which "lies before all constitution," is the ultimate stratum of the constitutive process (PCIT, p. 77). This absolute consciousness "is not itself content or object in phenomenological time" (PCIT, p. 89). It is a 'flow' of "continuous 'change'" (PCIT, p. 78) which cannot be described as having constancy or duration, nor even as a 'process,' since the concept of process presupposes persistence and a 'something' that persists and endures through change. However, the flow does possess, in a sense, something abiding: "What abides, above all, is the formal structure of the flow, the form of the flow" (PCIT, p. 118). This unchanging form of the absolute flux is the retentional/impressional/protentional structure by which "a now becomes constituted by means of an impression and ... a trail of retentions and a horizon of protentions are attached to the impression" (PCIT, p. 118). The question remains, of course, of how we can know this flow which is neither content nor object:
Every temporal appearance, after phenomenological reduction, dissolves into ... a flow. But I cannot perceive in turn this consciousness itself into which all of this is dissolved. For this new percept would again be something temporal that points back to a constituting consciousness of a similar sort, and so in infinitum. Hence the question arises: How do I come to know the constituting flow? (PCIT, p. 116)
To deal with this question Husserl recalls the 'double intentionality' of retention. One of these is the "'primary memory' of the (just sensed) tone" which "serves for the constitution of the immanent object" (PCIT, p. 88). But there is also the other, the second retentional intentionality which "is constitutive of the unity of this primary memory in the flow" (PCIT, p. 85). This "retention of retention" (PCIT, p. 31) ensures that "each past now retentionally shelters within itself all earlier stages" (PCIT, p. 116) and also therefore that "there extends throughout the flow a horizontal intentionality [Längsintentionalität] that, in the course of the flow, continuously coincides with itself" (PCIT, p. 85). By means of this, the unity of the flow becomes itself "constituted in the flow of consciousness as a one-dimensional quasi-temporal order" (PCIT, p. 86). The absolute flux is, therefore, self-constituting. It constitutes the unity of immanent objects in a unitary immanent time and thereby, "as shocking (when not initially even absurd) as it may seem," (PCIT, p. 84) also its own unity:
two inseparably united intentionalities, requiring one another like two sides of one and the same thing, are interwoven with one another in the one, unique flow of consciousness. By virtue of one of the intentionalities, immanent time becomes constituted.... In the other intentionality, it is the quasi-temporal arrangement of the phases of the flow that becomes constituted.... This prephenomenal, preimmanent temporality becomes constituted intentionally as the form of the time-constituting consciousness and in itself (PCIT, pp. 87-88).
And it is this second retentional intentionality that gives us our oblique self-awareness of the flux, removing the problem of infinite regress whilst simultaneously resolving the difficulty of knowing the flow. "The self-appearance of the flow does not require a second flow: on the contrary, it constitutes itself as a phenomenon in itself" (PCIT, p. 88). It requires no second flow because this is a non-objectivating awareness – experienced in the same way as we experience acts, in a perceptual objectivation, without thematizing them. Unlike such acts, however, it cannot itself be made an object of reflection. Because there is no object or substance that endures, and no 'time' here as such, our ability to speak of the absolute flux runs up against the limits of language and conceptual thought. "We can say nothing other than the following: This flow is something we speak of in conformity with what is constituted, but it is not 'something in objective time.' It is absolute subjectivity and has the absolute properties of something to be designated metaphorically as 'flow'." Husserl is blunt about the inescapable inadequacy of his vocabulary here: "For all of this, we lack names" (PCIT, p. 79).

In a sense Husserl's project in the lectures on time-consciousness can be understood as an inquiry into the constitution of constitution; into the way in which intentional acts of consciousness are constituted as temporal unities able to have as their correlate the transcendent temporally extended object. As he observes: "It is certainly evident that the perception of a temporal object itself has temporality, that the perception of duration itself presupposes duration of perception, that the perception of any temporal form itself has temporal form" (PCIT, p. 24). Yet Ricoeur writes that "The fact that the perception of duration never ceases to presuppose the duration of perception did not seem to trouble Husserl" (TN3, p. 25), implying that Husserl was blind to the significance of his own observation. This rather offhand remark plays little role in Ricoeur's argument for the conflict between Kant and Husserl's respective treatments of time, but given that Husserl was clearly sorely troubled by this 'fact' – that it is arguably the very observation that led him beyond Kant's standpoint to explore the temporality of the constitutive act itself – then Ricoeur's casual comment invites closer examination of his interpretation.

Ricoeur's Husserl

Ricoeur refers us to the early sections of the lectures on time-consciousness where, on his account, Husserl "clearly states his ambition of submitting the appearance of time as such to a direct description." If that description is to be made possible, as he describes Husserl's approach, "time-consciousness must be understood in the sense of 'internal' (inneres) consciousness" (TN3, p. 23). It is in relation to this alleged ambition to offer a direct description of a purely internal time that Ricoeur attempts to place the inevitable downfall of Husserl's entire project. As he understands that project, internal time-consciousness is to be "produced" (for inspection, presumably) by means of the "exclusion" of "objective time"; an exclusion carried out "in order to lay bare time and duration ... appearing as such" (TN3, p. 24). Quoting in a footnote, apparently in support of this assertion, Husserl's remark that "What we accept ... is not the existence of a world-time, the existence of a concrete duration, and the like, but time and duration appearing as such" (TN3, p. 281 n.3), Ricoeur takes this statement to mean that Husserl seeks "to make time per se appear" (TN3, p. 45), and that his thinking therefore stands in stark contrast to Kant's demonstration that "time does not appear. It is the condition of appearing" (TN3, pp. 44-45). Time is, for Kant, apprehended only on the basis of the relation between objects, and Ricoeur is suggesting that Husserl believes he can make "time itself appear" (TN3, p. 23) in abstraction from all apprehension of objects.

However, this interpretation sits uncomfortably with Husserl's definition of "time itself" as "the duration and succession of objects," as well as with his declaration that "a phenomenological analysis of time cannot clarify the constitution of time without considering the constitution of temporal objects" (PCIT, p. 24). Moreover, at no point does Husserl actually attempt to analyze 'time as such' in abstraction from all intuition or experience of objects. At best, then, the contrast between Husserl's analysis and that of Kant is more complex than Ricoeur allows.

It should be emphasised that what enables Ricoeur to present Husserl's project in this way is his neglect of the context of the remark he relegates to a footnote; disregarding its role as one element of Husserl's laying out the method of approaching the task he has set himself, rather than as an explicit and focused description of that task itself. This method would later (this lecture dates from 1905) receive more detailed formulation under the label of 'phenomenological reduction,' here called the "exclusion" or "suspension" (Ausschaltung). This is the methodological move which, on Ricoeur's view, is the basis for Husserl's alleged ambition of "making time as such appear" (TN3, p. 23). Not only is the attribution of that ambition itself dubious, but the sense in which Ricoeur understands the "exclusion," at least at this point in his argument, is equally problematic.

Attention to the context of the remark Ricoeur quotes in support of his interpretation reveals that the emphasis falls not on the contrast between 'invisibility' (or non-appearance) and 'appearance,' as Ricoeur's chapter title suggests, 15 but rather on that between 'existence' and 'appearance.' For what Husserl excludes is not some distinct 'objective' time "from the field of appearing" (TN3, p. 24), as Ricoeur argues – implying that Husserl intends to shut his eyes, so to speak, to one 'kind' of time in favour of examining another – but rather all assumptions about 'world' or 'objective' time, in particular all ontological commitment regarding the reality or existence of such a 'time.' The exclusion, then, is an exclusion of all prior assumptions and preconceived ideas, as befits a phenomenological inquiry. Husserl states this clearly at the outset of his lectures (§1), explaining that inherent in his project is "the complete exclusion of all transcending presuppositions concerning what exists," which – in the case of this analysis of time-consciousness – must include "the complete exclusion of every assumption, stipulation and conviction with respect to objective time...." 16 What is at issue is what he will take as his data: "Just as the actual thing, the actual world, is not a phenomenological datum, neither is world time, the real time, the time of nature in the sense of natural science" (PCIT, pp. 4-5). Husserl is bracketing the objective reality or existence of a 'world' or 'objective' time in favour of inquiring into what he can, like Kant before him, accept as admitting of no doubt:
Now when we speak of the analysis of time-consciousness, of the temporal character of the objects of perception, memory, and expectation, it may indeed seem as if we were already assuming the flow of objective time and then at bottom studying only the subjective conditions of the possibility of an intuition of time and of a proper cognition of time. What we accept, however, is not the existence of a world time, the existence of a physical duration, and the like, but appearing time, appearing duration, as appearing [erscheinende Zeit, erscheinende Dauer als solche]. These are absolute data that it would be meaningless to doubt. To be sure, we do assume an existing time in this case, but the time we assume is the immanent time of the flow of consciousness, not the time of the experienced world. That the consciousness of a tonal process, of a melody I am now hearing, exhibits a succession is something for which I have an evidence that renders meaningless every doubt and denial (PCIT, p. 5).
Ricoeur is surely wrong, then, to suggest that Husserl's analysis of time-consciousness requires him to scrub the phenomenological slate clean of all transcendence and exteriority. The immanent/transcendent relationship is not equivalent to the inside/outside opposition; indeed, the structure of intentionality that Husserl works with prevents any such simple polarities. The relationship of immanence and transcendence is the essence of intentionality, and therefore of consciousness itself. There are not two realities – one (the phenomenon) meant or intended by consciousness, and another that 'really' exists. The phenomenon – that which presents itself to consciousness – is the real or actual world; bracketed only to be regained, after reduction, as lived experience.

And this holds for time, too. Time – never an 'object' of experience as such – can be understood, as in the natural attitude, as the transcendent time of the physical world. But in 'bracketing' this to examine the 'immanent' time of objects and experience, Husserl is not shifting his attention from the experience of an external time to that of an internal, but rather altering his attitude – undertaking the suspension of ontological commitments and presuppositions which enables him to describe the lived experience of time and the time of lived experience. Indeed, his argument for objective time being constituted in this way dissolves any final doubts on this score, for constitution is a relation of inseparability and interdependence. Ricoeur's dualistic assumptions are at the very least problematic, and he seems to have elaborated this vocabulary of 'exclusion' into something quite substantially different from what is justified by Husserl's text.

Moreover, having suggested that Husserl claims to have 'excluded' objective time in this way, Ricoeur then goes on to argue that the phenomenological purity of Husserl's analysis is contaminated by what it excludes. This contamination is effected by language, and the attack here is essentially two-pronged.

Firstly, remarking on homonymies between the way 'objective' and immanent time are described – for example, in terms of 'succession,' 'flow,' 'continuum,' and so on – Ricoeur promises that "we shall continually encounter comparable homonymies, as though the analysis of immanent time could not be constituted without repeated borrowing from the objective time that has been excluded" (TN3, p. 24). The objection here seems to be that Husserl is inadvertently flouting his own methodological rules by using the same terminology to describe both immanent and objective time. And yet rather than having recourse to some distinct excluded realm – surreptitiously introducing a methodologically forbidden language of 'objective time' – Husserl is simply identifying 'flow,' 'succession,' and so on in the phenomenological experience of immanent temporality. And although the question of the linguistic resources at the phenomenologist's disposal is a thorny one, at this most simple level the utilization of such a vocabulary does not invalidate his analysis. In fact, Ricoeur seems to concede this point himself when he observes that the conversion to immanence effected by the reduction "consists in a change of sign" which "does not exclude our using the same words" (TN3, p. 25).

The charge is made, in effect, only to be withdrawn. And Ricoeur's first objection therefore seems to function as little more than a strategic preliminary to the levelling of a second important criticism against Husserl's analysis: that his misguided attempt to focus purely on the "raw impression" ensures the impossibility of his analyses making good "their claim to be free of any reference to an objective time and to attain, through direct reflection, a temporality purified of any transcendent intention" (TN3, p. 44).

For Ricoeur is also making a stronger point – that this illegitimate 'borrowing' from the 'excluded' realm is necessary because Husserl's project is "to work out a 'hyletics' of consciousness"; described as "the supreme wager of the phenomenology of internal time-consciousness" (TN3, p. 24) and defined for us in a footnote: "By hyletics, Husserl means the analysis of the matter (hyle) – or raw impression – of an intentional act, such as perception, abstracting from the form (morphe) that animates it and confers a meaning on it" (TN3, p. 281 n.4). Highlighting Husserl's proposal to analyze the consciousness of a tone considered "not as a perceived object, placed before me, but as a sensed object" (TN3, p. 23), Ricoeur argues that the problem of linguistic contamination in Husserl's analysis is therefore compounded because a further bracketing has been attempted from the perceived to the sensed (hyletic) level "in order to dig ever deeper into the innermost layers of a hyletics from which the yoke of the noetic has been removed" (TN3, p. 25). On his account, this indicates a devastating contradiction at the heart of Husserl's project, for as he understands it "the situation is as follows. On the one hand, objective time is assumed to have undergone reduction ... on the other hand, if the discourse on the hyletic is not to be reduced to silence, the support of something perceived is necessary" (TN3, p. 26).

However, this idea that Husserl attempts to describe the 'raw impression' entirely divorced from all intentionality is open to question. Put in very general terms, Husserl's theory of constitution claims that objects are constituted by the two elements of hyle (sensation) and morphe (intention); the element of intentionality 'animating' or 'bestowing sense' upon a complex of sensations, thereby functioning as the 'form' of the sensuous 'matter.' 17 From this perspective, the hyle is the non-intentional element of the objectivating apprehension, and this distinction between hyle and morphe allows Husserl, at least in his early work, to describe the sensuous content as the essentially neutral material which enables the same tone C, for example – which has in itself no pregiven transcendent reference – to make up part of both Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, say, and Mozart's Don Giovanni. Such sense-data are experienced (erlebt) but not perceived in the objectivating apprehension, as Husserl made clear in the Logical Investigations:
The perceptual presentation arises in so far as an experienced complex of sensations gets informed by a certain act character, one of conceiving or meaning. To the extent that this happens, the perceived object appears while the sensational complex is as little perceived as is the act in which the perceived object as such is constituted. 18
In such an intentional act, then, we both perceive an objectivity and at the same time we experience – are obliquely aware or conscious of – our perceiving it. And necessarily so, for were it not the same stream of consciousness in which acts are both formed and experienced, we would have to be standing somehow outside our acts in order to experience them, and would be hit with the infinite regress of our experience occurring in a different stream from that of the acts. We can then thematize those acts and their sensuous contents; they can be made objects of reflection, at which point the hyle can become phenomenological data. But Ricoeur is wrong to suggest that this involves recourse to the objective. As Husserl emphasizes: "To grasp a content – specifically, to grasp it with evidence, just as it is experienced – does not yet mean that one has grasped an objectivity in the empirical sense" (PCIT, p. 8).

Furthermore, because the tone becomes a hyletic datum in a new reflection, Husserl cannot be aiming to analyze the 'raw impression' entirely divorced from all intentionality, though this is how Ricoeur understands his proposal to "exclude all transcendent apprehension and positing and take the tone purely as a hyletic datum" (PCIT, p. 24). As the opposition between 'transcendent' and 'hyletic' in this statement suggests, Husserl intends to focus on the immanent temporal datum isolated or abstracted from its empirical context and taken just as a tone. Other remarks in his Lectures support such an interpretation, 19 and it therefore seems fair to read this not as an effort to examine a 'raw impression,' which involves a phenomenologically illegitimate appeal to the objective, but rather as the simple and unproblematic analysis of an immanent sense datum. In transcendent perception, the tone is an 'aspect' of the transcendent object – the melody – but in immanent perception, abstracted from that context, it is simply a tone.

Time and Narrative

Rather than pursue the antithesis Ricoeur has constructed between Kant and Husserl's respective inquiries into time, a more productive way to proceed is to focus on an element of their analyses which is entirely missing from Ricoeur's: the way in which, for both Kant and Husserl, the inquiry into the consciousness of time raised the problem of the time of consciousness. For Ricoeur's reading of Husserl as having illegitimate recourse to an 'objective time' in trying to realise his ambition to make time as such appear overlooks the importance Husserl accords to the fact that "every act of apprehension is itself a constituted immanent duration unity" (PCIT, p. 123). And it is this aspect of Husserl's work that has the greatest implications for Ricoeur's argument, in Time and Narrative, that "time becomes human to the extent that it is articulated through a narrative mode, and narrative attains its full meaning when it becomes a condition of temporal experience" (TN1, p. 52). Narrative, Ricoeur argues, provides a "poetic" (rather than speculative) response to the mysteries of temporal experience. But this narrative activity, as he understands it, is constituted by a neo-Kantian "act of configuration," the temporality of which is left obscure. Husserl's account of the temporality of constitution is therefore significant for Ricoeur's 'poetic' solution to "the speculative aporias of time"; indeed, it may be that Husserl's phenomenology of internal time-consciousness provides a 'speculative' basis for Ricoeur's poetics.

Ricoeur's investigation of narrative is framed by the Aristotelian concepts of muthos and mimesis which have, he insists, been rendered too static in translation; muthos – the organization of events – must be understood as the dynamic activity of organizing, and mimesis – the imitation or representation of those events – as the active process of imitating/representing. From this starting-point, he constructs his narrative theory around an idea of three-fold mimesis, with the mimetic process defined in phenomenological terms as the practical noesis which has 'action' as its noematic correlate. The "meaning effect" or semantic innovation of narrative arises, on Ricoeur's account, from its bringing about a "synthesis of the heterogeneous" whereby "goals, causes, and chance are brought together within the temporal unity of a whole and complete action" (TN1, p. ix). This is "emplotment," designated as mimesis2 and described as the "configurating operation" which mediates between mimesis1 (the preunderstanding of the practical field or world of action) and mimesis3 (the refiguration of that practical field). It is by establishing the mediating role of emplotment that Ricoeur believes the relation between time and narrative can be 'poetically' understood. Its mediating function, as he describes it, "derives from the dynamic character of the configurating operation that has led us to prefer the term emplotment to that of plot...." 20 The emphasis is on configuration as an activity or process, then, and it is the nature and temporality of that activity that Husserl's work could help to illuminate.

In elaborating 'the dynamic character of the configurating operation,' Ricoeur effectively generalizes from the textual level to the wider, all-encompassing field of temporal experience as a whole:
The dynamism lies in the fact that a plot already exercises, within its own textual field, an integrating and, in this sense, a mediating function, which allows it to bring about, beyond this field, a mediation of a larger amplitude between the preunderstanding and, if I may dare to put it this way, the postunderstanding of the order of action and its temporal features (TN1, p. 65).
His hesitation over his vocabulary is understandable – although he nevertheless maintains it throughout his analysis 21 – for he here introduces a narrative element into his description of the activity of configuration such that we could speak of Ricoeur's story of the activity of emplotment. Now on one level, of course, this provides implicit support for, rather than grounds for an objection to, his argument that we must make sense of our experience in narrative terms. But it is also this feature of his argument that reveals the weakest link in his otherwise highly plausible theory. What Ricoeur is proposing is, in essence, a transcendental argument for the act of configuration making possible the experience of time as/and narrative. And as such, this act could not be either temporal or understood in narrative terms; could not be an object of experience at all. The inadequacies of Kant's attempt to account for the atemporal constitution of temporality will also be found in Ricoeur's, since although Ricoeur takes his lead on this notion of a 'configurational act' from the work of Louis Mink, 22 his impetus is essentially Kantian:
The configurational act consists of "grasping together" the detailed actions or what I have called the story's incidents. It draws from this manifold of events the unity of one temporal whole. I cannot overemphasize the kinship between this "grasping together," proper to the configurational act, and what Kant has to say about the operation of judging. ...for Kant the transcendental meaning of judging consists ... in placing an intuitive manifold under the rule of a concept. [...] The act of emplotment has a similar function inasmuch as it extracts a configuration from a succession (TN1, p. 66).
And if the 'grasping together' characteristic of the configurational act is comparable to the Kantian act of judgement, "we ought not to hesitate in comparing the production of the configurational act to the work of the productive imagination." This latter is, Ricoeur points out, the transcendental faculty which schematizes the categories and can do so because "the productive imagination fundamentally has a synthetic function. It connects understanding and intuition by engendering syntheses that are intellectual and intuitive at the same time." Ricoeur suggests that the same operation underlies narrative: "Emplotment, too, engenders a mixed intelligibility between what has been called the point, theme, or thought of a story, and the intuitive presentation of circumstances, characters, episodes [etc.].... In this way, we may speak of a schematism of the narrative function" (TN1, p. 68). Through this operation, "the entire plot can be translated into one 'thought,' which is nothing other than its 'point' or 'theme'," whilst still maintaining the temporality of its content. For Ricoeur emphasizes that "we would be completely mistaken if we took such a point as atemporal. The time of the 'fable and theme,' to use Northrop Frye's expression, is the narrative time that mediates between the episodic aspect and the configurational aspect" (TN1, p. 67).

But this narrative time must be the product of a configurational process whose temporality remains unconsidered. What is missing from Ricoeur's analysis, that is to say, is an examination of the temporality of the configurational act. Why does Ricoeur liken this act to the Kantian act of judgement, when he has already described narrative as effecting a "synthesis of the heterogeneous"? To be sure, the distinction within Kant's work between the act of synthesis and that of judgement is perhaps not as clear-cut as he would have liked. But still judgement has none of the subversive temporal connotations which we might now associate, in the light of Heidegger's work, with the act of synthesis. 23 In emphasising the "kinship" of the configurational act with the Kantian act of judgement, Ricoeur appears to situate this act outside time (and narrative). His theory would thus be grounded on an atemporal transcendental operation.

And it is Husserl's phenomenology of internal time-consciousness, ironically, that could resolve this residual problem in Ricoeur's narrative theory. For if Husserl's analysis dissolves the difficulty, in Kant's work, of the constitution of time occurring in some noumenal, atemporal 'beyond,' it would surely perform the same service for Ricoeur's neo-Kantian conception of the configurational act by accounting for the constitution of the (temporality of the) mimetic process. Although Ricoeur may well be right to claim that "there can be no thought about time without narrated time" (TN3, p. 241), perhaps he should think again before discarding Husserl's analysis of the time of thought.


1. Martin Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, translated by Albert Hofstadter (Revised edition, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 324-5.

2. Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), vol. 3, p. 23; hereafter TN3.

3. Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, translated by Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), vol. 1, p. 6; hereafter TN1.

4. Saint Augustine, Confessions, translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin, 1961), p. 264.

5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan, 1990), A196/B241; hereafter CPR.

6. G.W. Leibniz, 'Principles of Nature and of Grace, Founded on Reason,' in Philosophical Writings, translated by G.H.R. Parkinson and Mary Morris (London: Dent, 1973), p. 197.

7. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Philosophy, traslated by David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), p. 114; hereafter Crisis.

8. Ibid., p. 118.

9. Edmund Husserl, 'Kant and the Idea of Transcendental Philosophy,' Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 5, 3 (Fall 1974), p. 14.

10. Husserl, Crisis, p. 119.

11. Edmund Husserl, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, translated by John Barnett Brough (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991), p. 16; hereafter PCIT.

12. Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book, translated by F. Kersten (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1982), pp. 193-4; hereafter Ideas 1.

13. Husserl, PCIT, pp. 290, 286.

14. Husserl, Ideas 1, p. 193.

15. See TN3, p.23: 'Intuitive Time or Invisible Time? Husserl Confronts Kant.'

16. PCIT, p. 4, emphasis added.

17. See Husserl, Ideas 1, 97f.

18. Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, translated by J.N. Findlay (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), vol. 1, p. 310.

19. For example, Husserl writes that in an 'objectivating apprehension' "The tone stands before me as the sound of a violin string that has been struck," but note the contrast "If we ... disregard the objectivating apprehension and look purely at the material of sensation, then, as far as its matter is concerned, it is constantly tone c...." (PCIT, p. 69.) And see also: "We have a tone-appearance; we focus our attention on the appearance as appearance. Like the violin tone (thought of as something physical), the appearance of the tone has its duration.... I can focus my attention on one phase or another of this appearance: appearance here is the immanent tone or the immanent tonal movement, apart from its 'signifying'." (PCIT, p. 117.)

20. TN1, p. 65, emphasis added.

21. He tells us, for example, that "narrative activity already has its own dialectic that makes it pass through the successive stages of mimesis, starting from the prefigurations inherent in the order of action, by way of the constitutive configurations of emplotment ... to the refigurations that arise due to the collision of the world of the text with the lifeworld." (TN1, p. 180) In this dialectic, narrative configuration is said to hold a "median position ... between that which comes before and that which comes after the poetic text." (Ibid.) His aim is, he writes, to "establish the mediating role of emplotment between a stage of practical experience that precedes it and a stage that succeeds it." (Ibid., p. 53, emphasis added.)

22. See Louis Mink, 'Philosophical Analysis and Historical Understanding,' Review of Metaphysics 20 (1968); 'History and Fiction as Modes of Comprehension,' New Literary History (1970); 'The Autonomy of Historical Understanding,' History and Theory 5 (1965).

23. For Heidegger's brilliant, if controversial, development of Kant's idea of synthesis into an analysis of the primordial temporality of Dasein, see Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, translated by Richard Taft (Fourth edition, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990).

Copyright © 1998 Minerva. All Rights Reserved.

Jane Chamberlain teaches Philosophy and the History of Ideas at Kingston University, London.

Mail to: Jane Chamberlain

Return to Minerva (Volume 2) Main Page   Return to List of Articles   Go to Top of This Page