Welcome back to Philosopher Fridays. This week, I’ll be continuing to explore Husserl’s Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness as a part of my thematic mini-series on Literary Time Consciousness. Last time, I set up some vocabulary terms – specifically “protention” and “retention”, and this time, I’ll be looking at what this means for Husserl in greater depth. Additonally, for this post, I draw heavily from my undergraduate philosophy thesis on time, and as such I owe much of my understanding to the professors who guided me.
For Husserl, the act of knowing is dependent on a temporal construction of consciousness, since meaning is derived only in reflection and expectation and cannot be ascribed to an isolated moment, which in itself has no “real” existence as anything other than a conscious reconstruction of the streaming present. We perceive “real” objects in a stream of primal impressions that exist in a fleeting way, their coherence half dependent on the fact that something came before, and half dependent on the fact that something will come after. It’s like a string of twinkling lights; when one is lit, it casts a dim light on those to which it is immediately adjacent. There is nothing fundamental in this casting that indicates which light will light up next and for how long, nor does it tell you which light came before. It’s not random, but is also is not (while we’re perceiving it) bound by any teleological causal order.
Recalling a past event (or remembering which light came on before), and looking forward to what you expect to happen in the future requires an act of intention. Knowledge only makes sense for Husserl in terms of teleological intentionality, which is the meaningful stringing together of otherwise meaningless moments. What time objectively is and how we intentionally perceive it are two different things, laden with hidden assumptions and assertions, under which we operate every day, and it’s not entirely clear for Husserl whether or not we can read an “essence” of time outside of our own subjective, temporal perception.
The question, simply stated: Is temporality a mere trapping of the act of consciousness, or does it have objective existence outside of the act of perceiving?
In other words, which is more real – some notion of “pure truth” which exists outside of the perceptive quality of duration (i.e.: “the essence of time itself”), or the intention of the act, which is defined by that streaming quality? When examining the nature of a teleologically structured temporality, under which we all generally operate on a day to day (if we’re to be productive at all) basis, what exactly are we looking at, for Husserl? Are we examining a pure truth? And further, can such a pure truth exist without the act of consciousness that intends it? When Husserl works to make the “distinction between the temporal act of knowing and the atemporal nature of ideality,” under which category does he place that very temporality?
The teleological purpose that we give to perceived time is as an “object” of our knowledge, broken free from its streaming perception and held apart from time so that we might examine it, as we examine any object we seek to know. An object of knowledge is in this way atemporal, its durative qualities frozen in favor of some evaluation.
However, the act of knowing cannot be anything but durative, since it is an act that requires intentionality (reflection and expectation). But this doesn’t mean, for Husserl, that there is no reality outside of our psyches; in fact, he soundly rejects psychologism, which is a method of epistemology that says that all that we know is rooted in the psyche, including those things that are considered to be purely theoretical in nature – math, logic, and ontology. Husserl says instead that there is a difference between the empirical and what he calls the “ideal,” (the “pure truth”) but he draws the line between empirical phenomena and the objective real in a fairly unique way. To Husserl, “Real” phenomena are those which can be empirically sensed, while psychical knowing is merely a subjective, nonempirically valid (aprioristic) entity. So far, not so unique.
However Husserl goes on to argue that the conscious act of perceiving requires both in a way that suggests interdependence, rather than a hierarchy. Dan Zahavi writes in his work, Husserl’s Phenomenology :
Although the principles of logic are grasped and known by consciousness, we remain conscious of something ideal that is irreducible to and utterly different the real psychical acts of knowing.
This isn’t – as it is for others with similar views (in his time and before) – something we can overcome by using our rational minds, but a necessary entanglement. The very qualities which allow us to engage in the act of knowing are the same qualities which prevent us from examining our own knowing powers. Its a struggle that can be seen in Augustine’s attempts to know himself as made in the image of God, in Aquinas’ exploration of self-knowledge, and Rousseau’s frustration with philosophy. As the latter says in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, “It is by dint of studying man that we have rendered him unknowable.”
So what does this mean for Husserl’s understanding of internal time consciousness?
Essentially, it means that we don’t just perceive time as it is – first we intend it. In order for us to know time as an object, it must be held separately from its “pure truth”, which is inescapable as we perceive ourselves in act, and then it becomes something which we then perceive. As Husserl puts it, “a value has no position in time,” and so any time we take a perception and add something to it, we remove it from its position and effectively reposition it as a new perception for our knowing selves. Says James M. Edie in his critical commentary on Husserl:
This is the realm of fundamentally experienced and irreversible temporal synthesis (phenomenal time) on the basis of which we objectify our perceptual realities….
All recollections and expectations are made up of the content we have perceived in this way, requiring some conscious revision in order to allow us to take that which is perceived and make it into an object of our knowledge. The notion of time as an inescapable measure of the perceptual world is still just a part of the perceptual world. According to Barry Smith and David Woodruff Smith in The Cambridge Companion to Husserl:
…whatever apodicity might seem to be present in reflection on experience, all phenomenological analyses of structures of experience are in principle revisable.
While the process itself is ontologically fixed and passively received, that which is objectified by the teleological structuring of recollection and expectation is not. It is important to note the inherent revisability of objectified perception. It isn’t simply a single revision, that is to say, this does not mean that there is a “real” version and then we make up a new one. Instead, there is a “real” version that has no fixed meaning that we passively receive as an impression, and then as we come to know it, we turn it into something that is fixable by our own active determination. No valuations are “real” and as such cannot be passively received – only built. And naturally, the same can be said for our perception and examinations of time itself, giving rise to the distinction we create between fixed time and streaming temporality.
However, that doesn’t mean we can override this passive streaming – our internal time consciousness is what sets us up for us a model which we can follow intentionally through reflection. Even as is causes a separation between the “real” that we perceive and the “object” that we know, Zahavi says:
It is, as [Husserl] writes, because of the retention that consciousness can be made into an object.
Through the act of knowing, we are able to reflect on past acts of knowing as atemporal bits of knowledge because of the linear model. Reflection is dependent on this relationship with passive retention and protention, and is indeed made by it. Because of our internal streaming temporality, we are able to construe “objects in subjective time,” and according to Zahavi:
It is only the moment we start to thematize these acts, be it in a reflection or recollection, that they are constituted as object in subjective, sequential time.
We use one to create the other within our conscious flow, leaving room not for wholesale rejection (as many philosophers argue) of our temporal nature, but for suggestibility. The very revocability that our streaming consciousness enables is one that can be reapplied to itself, leaving us somewhat in control of how we perceive that very streaming.
And I wonder: could we construe a subjective reality and intentionality without expanding the streaming model to a thematically teleological phenomenon? Could we exist in the present moment (as I suggest in my dance example from last week’s post and as is promised by proponents of meditation) and allow ourselves respite from the inexorable march of active revision? Does the subjectivity of time, so dependent on our conscious intention diminish the power of its hold on the way we live our lives, and the way we think and write, leaving the possibility open for more than just the deadline driven, phase driven, clock driven, order driven experienced reality?
And that’s that for Husserl! *phew*. I’ll continue this exploration next Wednesday, when I will tackle these questions in terms of literature, and in particular, the literature of Franz Kafka.
 Dan Zahavi. Husserl’s Phenomenology. Standford : Standford University Press. 2003. 9
 Zahavi 9
 Edmund Husserl. The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness. Ed. Martin Heidegger. Trans. By James. S. Churchill. Intro. By Calvin O. Schrag. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1964. 126
 James M. Edie. Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology: A Critical Commentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. 97
 Barry Smith, and David Woodruff Smith. “Introduction.” The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. Ed. By Barry Smith and David Woodruff Smith. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. 1995. 35
 Zahavi 89
 Zahavi 89