Anna-Lena Renqvist – Husserl and the Being of Time

Husserl and the Being of Time

Anna-Lena Renqvist

In his investigations on the intricate relation between time and consciousness from1907-08, Husserl proposes a conception of time in which the “now” –in line with the Aristotelian analysis of time – is the fundamental category. Time is thought of as something rooted in the the original object of consciousness – the object of perception – since, as it is percieved, will always be presently percieved, that is, percieved in a “now”. As Husserl says: “perception (Wharnemung) constitutes the now”. (1) Being in time is being percieved, and vice versa, because being percieved is being present, and being present is a temporal quality.
     Due to the significance attrubuted to the perceptive act within the phenomenological project – “consciousness is nothing without an impression” (2) – the investigations will subsequently be circling around a clarification of the nature of this “now”. With Husserls own words, “all objectivation takes place in time-consciousness, and no clarification of the identity of an Object in time can be given without a clarification of the identity of temporal position.” (3) As opposed to the Aristotelian physics, and more in line with the Agustinian approach, the called for identity of the temporal position will henceforth (by art of memory as “retention”) be understood in terms of temporal extention, of duration. It will furthermore be of such a kind that it stands forth as a quality inherent in the percieved object itslef; or with Husserl, “duration is before us as a mode of objectivity”. (4) This means that even though the “now”, in one sense, is subordinated to the law of constant modification – known as the flux of time – it can also appear as objectively the same (due to the continuity of apprehension). (5)    
    Ten years later the Husserls investigations have taken on a slightly different course. When they reach us in the Bernauer Manuscripte (1917-18), the focus is placed upon the underlying conditions of possibility of what is presently percieved in such a way that it indicates a former time. (6) As Husserl puts it: “How are we to understand the conditions of possibility of perception of an immanent object in general. (7) When the object is percieved, it is obviously percieved in a constituting process, and here it is (esse est percipi). But must it not also be without being thus percieved? (8)
   In as far a this pre-intentional object is a constitutional part prior to the constituted Cogito, the question arises as to the eventual time of that which is prior: is it to be considered a timeless stratum of the ego, prior only in a material or logical sense, or is it to be considered prior in the sense of time? (9) If the “prior” is to be understood in terms of time, we would be witnessing a sliding operation such that the fundamental category of time may no longer be understood as the present dimension but rather as the past.
   The question of time and time consciousness stands forth as a key question, and will so remain. Husserl never finds the conclusive answer regarding the intricate nature of time, of its relation to consciousness and to the genesis of its object, though in his search for clarification he brings us insights of a lasting kind, inspiring and illuminating. In order to get an idea of the profundity of the issue at stake, I would like to repass some of its clue remarks as they appear in the BM, and to interpret them in the light of a similar proposal, posthumely elaborated some 75 years before Husserls own intent, in the doctrine of time of F.W.J.Schelling.
   Is there such a thing as a non conscious (unbewusste) perception (Vorstellung)? Is there such a thing as a life of the I (Ichleben), which is not itself conscious, or even that is not itself perceived? (10) In the BM, Husserl formulates the hypothesis of an original process (Urprozess) of such a kind that it is, in principal, percievable even though it is not actually percieved. Herupon follows the disitinction between perceptions that can be conceptionally grasped, and perceptions that can not. (11) And, as Husserl observes, does not an original process necessarily belong to every perception as a process that constitutes the givenness of the temporal object (Zeitgegenstände) but is not itself percieved? As a matter of fact, is not the constituted object quite unthinkable without the being of this constitution (Sein der Konstitution) which, as such, would be prior to the object thus constituted? In other words, does not every grasping conception (Erfassen) presuppose a former (Vorgängiges)  non-grasping percieving (Wharnemen ohne Erfassen)?  Doubtless! (12)
    Within the framwork of phenomenology, where it would be correct to speak of “constitution” (of intentional objects) only in a following reflection over the original process, it seems inadmissible to understand the original process as a constitutional process of timeobjects (13) and, so, to consider it as a kind of intentional consciousness. But then again, when we pay attention to the way in which it is given (die Gegegenheitsweisen desselbe), this line (Reihe) is a temporal line. (14) As Husserl says: “Must not these Lebensreihen, in some sense or another, remain either we pay attention to them or we do not? In other words, does not the process remain (verharrt) in its time?” (15) If the latter is the case, we would have to admit something prior to the reflection of the first stage (erster Stufe) of immanent experience, understood in terms of an unconscious process as a series (Urfolge) of  ‘hyletic’ moments which, again, would not themselves have the structure of a “consciousness-of”. (16) Given that the field assigned to the phenomenological investigation is precisely the objects of consiousness, this would suggest, furthermore, two quite different orientations within the transcendental reflection: the one that turns to the constituting stream, and the one that turns to the constituted line of events. (17) But – as Husserl exclaims – is it really possible for the immanent events (Ereinisse) to be (to have being) through a constitution based on a comprehension (Auffassung) of a mere potential kind? (18) The confusion thus expressed, which runs through the BM, is linked to the presumptive independence of such an original process, that is, understood as an autonomous stage within the selfsame intentional consciousness.  Such an admission would threaten the very bases of phenomenology: that the object is what it is through an act of consciousness. The question of whether the relation between the original process  and the temporal events (Ereignis) is a matter of a constituting relation. (Konstitutionszusammanhang) (19) remains a question that will never be completely solved.
  According to the Husserlian postulate that the constitution of an (intentional) temporal object is due to an act, and given that the power to act is a function exsclusively found in consciousness, or that it is originated in the “ego based conception” (”ichlichen Erfassung”) as an act of reflection, (20) the question of the constitutive function of the pre-consious original process turns out to be a semi-question as much as a key one. At the same time as the independent and intentional character of the original process must be denied, the original process itself cannot be denied. Any alternative determination of the original process remains hopelessly entangeled with the problem of the consciousness here involved. Because how is this prior („Voraussetzen“) to be understood if not in terms related to consiousness? As Husserl puts it in a marginal note: On the one hand the impression (Auffassen) is not to be considered an art of Attention (Aufmerksamheit), yet on the other hand it is “a spontaneous act of the I” (Spontaneität des Ich). (21) Or as he goes on clarifying: What would the existence of an event as time event (Ereginisses als Zeitereignis) mean “vor der Zuwendung und eigentlichen Konstitution”? Nothing else than the ideal possibility for the I to exercise its spontaneous functions, based, that is, on the original process prior to the objectivation (auf Grund des der Objektivation vorauslegenden Urprozessus, bwz. In der Wiedererinnerung). (22)
   A suggestive complement to the Husserlian ambivalence regarding the temporality of the original process is found within the so-called “real- idealism” elaborated by the German philosopher Schelling (1775-1854). Well rooted as he was in the idealist tradition, Schelling shares the husserlian point of departure. The beginning of knowledge is to be found in an act of consciousness, and this act has a “before” of a generically different kind. What is brought to knowledge through a reflective act, is bound to have a pre-conscius material or, with Husserl, its hyletic stratum. They furthermore coincide in the idea that this something (=x) prior to consciousness may not be constituted as such until grasped in reflection, through the reflective act.   
   The difference between these two, in many ways closely related, German philosophers, in my view illuminating, is to be found in the place – and time – assigned to the act in question. While acording to Husserls thinking, this place is a reflective act, in Schellings philosophy it is a pre-reflective act; an act, that is, apt to offer what Husserl is searching for and can not find: a “Halt” in the stream of  “unconconsiouss life-moments” through which the “Uremfindungsdatum” could be given to apperception. (23) In other words, both Husserl and Schelling presuppose the hyletic process in terms of what is potentially (not actually) as a “nacheinander” or a flow – all according to Aristotelian dynamics – and both of them claim the reflective act as the beginning of knowledge, but while Husserl thinks of this step as an immediate step leading from what is potentially knowable to the reflective act, Schelling proposes an intermedium, a metaxy in the form of a pre-reflective actualisation.
     In Schellings conception of the dynamics underlying the reflective act, we have not one but two stages: on the one hand we have the hyletic “urprozess” in terms of what is potentially – as a non-constituted, though potential “being”, with its lack of unity and identity –, on the other hand we have the actualisation of this scattered, manifold  being as a unified, selfidentical all. In the philosophy of Schelling, this all is understood by way of  the old image, reintroduced in modern philosophy by Spinoza and operating as a key concept within the romantic and german idealistic tradition, “hen kai pan”, one and all.
    The prereflective act is an all inclusive act in the precise sense that it includes the subject and the object. Since there is nothing – no subject and no consciousness – outside this relation, there is no eye in which this unity could be reflected, thus differentiated and judged (teilen, “ur-tailen”). As a matter of fact, in this act we have the genesis, the conception or creation of two things: of the consciousness itself (and the consious self) in the precise sense of a becomming conscious (here Bewusst-sein is above all Bewusst-werden), and of the object (Gegenstand) in relation to which this consciousness stands forth.
    This pre-reflective, all-inclusive act offers the material for – a later – differential act proper to reflection; here we find the unity on the basis of which knowledge is possible and scientific system could be edified.
     As for the question at stake: time and the constitution of time, Schelling and Husserl coincide in as far as they consider the act of consciousness as the outcome of a process prior to the act itself; either it would be called an original process, an original life or a pre-history which, moreover, is not yet as such. It is not, nor could not be as such, since it is not yet constituted. Though according to Schelling, and as opposed to Husserl, it could become constituted as what it was. In other words, it is surly not constituted in its own potential time, though through the act, afterwords so tho speak, it may become what it was and remain what it is: a potential time in the key of the past.
    My proposal is that this very intuition is present within Husserls own work., at the same time as he is forbidden to draw the conclusion of his own insights. Due to the postulate of the cartesian cogito, of the “absolute consiousness” and the “identical, “über-zeitliche” I, Husserl can not admit a time that is not conscious time, and with that he lacks the categories to think an original life (Urleben) in terms of temporal life, or of such a kind that it would bring temporal objectivity into consiousness. (24) Meanwhile he is well aware that the intentional object requires a pre-conscious “stratum” which is – in some way or another – before the constitution of the object in consiousness and, in so far as “before” is a temporal quality, it is also due to be considered, in one way or another, as a timly event.
   Given Husserl’s many references to such a time he leaves us with the inspiring target to develop a phenomenology of time based on Husserl’s own writings which would not, necessarily, coincide with the conclusions drawn by Husserl himself. As he himself shows us: If we consider a process which itself is unpercievable (unwahrgenommenr), a perception of it must still be thinkable (according to the principle that everything that is, have its origial possible apperception, its possible “Wahrnehmung”). Furthermore, this latter process must be a new kind process, different from the one appercieved”. (25)


(1) E. Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, 1905 – 10 82.
(2) Ibid. 131.
(3) Ibid.  88.
(4) Ibid. 90.
(5) Ibid. 89.
(6) Already in the earlier work this problem is announced in relation to tha absoluta consiousness. How is the Wesensbestimmung of the “absolut” consiousness as “urprozesses” to be understood relation to the therin known (bewussten) “immanenten Zeitgegenständen” or “Ereignissen”? (See BM XXXVI).
(7) Bernauer Manuscripte, 1917-18, 191.
(8) Ibid. 191.
(9) In the last case it is bound to have a time quality of its own – and in that case it will put into question that the foundation of time is to be found in the “presentification” of the thing perceived. It is not coherent with the decribtion, or the view, of the subject as the absolute: “an absolute timeless subject”.
(10)  Ibid. 205, note 1.
(11)  Ibid. 191.
(12)  Ibid. 191.
(13)  Ibid. 203.
(14)  Ibid. 196.
(15)  Ibid. 204.
(16)  Ibid. 200.
(17)  Ibid. 262.
(18)  Ibid. 200.
(19) To put it otherwise: does the Ereignisse in the original process, understood as an (immanent) object, really reach (gelanen) the Abhebung und Erfassung? (See text 10 and 11).
(20) The Aufmerksamkeitsstrahl ist Richtung des Ich auf den Gegenstand und setzt hier das Gegenwartsbewusststein voraus. (BM, p. 255).
(21) Ibid. 255, note 2.
(22) Ibid. 257.
(23) Ibid. 201.
(24) Ibid. 195-196.
(25) Ibid. 206.

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