THE LIVING PRESENT

Time is commonly conceptualized as a series of now-points. That kind of time is dead and inert. Call it punctuality. It is a mathematical abstraction for making calculations. But we want to understand the living present. As we are about to see, this living present does have a describable structure. To this end, I quote Husserl scholar Klaus Held. Because of the length of the quotation, I reserve my commentary till next time.

Klaus Held:

“Temporality makes up the form of how consciousness exists, and, strangely enough, it does this in such a way that consciousness simultaneously innerly ‘knows’ this as its own form. This is ‘inner time-consciousness’…

“We imagine objective time as a straight line. Every point on this line is a now, a present. With this image, we take all of the nows to be equal. But this does not correspond to our originary experience of time. There is originally always one now that has priority for my consciousness: the present. We arrange the rest of the nows into certain relations with the current present: they are earlier, that is, they belong to the past, or they will come later, in the future. The past or future nows further organize themselves according to their greater or lesser distance from the current now. In this way, originarily experienced time is always oriented with the current present as its central reference.

“The manners of givenness of time oriented in this way are rememberance and expectation. Through them, I re-present the past and [envision] the future, that is, the ‘surroundings’ of the current present that are temporally closer or further away…The manners of givenness of ‘remembrance’ and ‘expectation’ are related back to their manners of givenness as ‘presenting’…If a lived experience has taken place, then, from that point on, it retains an immovable position in the past of my stream of consciousness…

“Present consciousness is originary time-consciousness, and thus the first project for [the] constitutive analysis [of phenomenology] is to ferret out within this dimension [i.e., within present consciousness] any types of manners of givenness that are unthematic [i.e., inexplicit] for consciousness in the natural [i.e., usual naive] attitude.

“The unthematic manners of givenness we seek come to light when we reflect and pay attention to the fact that present consciousness is in no way consciousness in a ‘now,’ lacking extension, taken as a punctual incision between past and future, but instead, consciousness has a certain extension in itself — an extension which is variable according to the experience. I experience the ‘present’ concretely as the space of time of a soccer game, of writing a letter, of listening to a melody, etc. Within this extended present, there is a peak of actualization which Husserl calls the primordial impression, which is then surrounded by a ‘halo’ of just-having-been and just-coming. That which just-has-been is immediately still present to me in slipping away. I retain it in its fading, unthematically, that is, without my attention being directed specifically toward this holding-on-while-slipping-away. Similarly, that which is just entering the now is also co-present. Only in this way, for example, are the beginning and end of a sentence present to us over and beyond the actually spoken sounds we hear in the flow of speaking, allowing us to hold on to a train of thought. Two unthematically functioning manners of givenness, retention and protention, make this possible, stretching present consciousness so that it has a certain width, so to speak.

“Retention develops our ability to re-present explicitly that which has passed. My momentary retention sinks — such is the originary form of the continuous ‘flowing’ of time — into the least distant past, and the now which was just actually taking place becoms a new retention. In this new, immediately actualized retention, however, the prior retention also remains immediately co-present, and so on. This interlocking of retentions into one another goes on continually, so that a ‘comet’s tail of retentions’ arises. This chain of retentions is thus preserved beyond the limit of current present consciousness, like something that has sunk down beneath the surface, and this makes it possible for me to rediscover what took place in the past through re-presentation. Husserl calls this explicit re-presentation ‘recollection,’ in order to differentiate it clearly from the immediate and early form of remembrance, namely, retention. When I recollect, I ‘wake up’ what has sunk down — we might call them ‘sedimented presents’ — and I am able to locate them in the past because I have a ‘sleeping,’ unthematically functioning consciousness of the chain of retentions from their place in the past up to the present, and I can refer to this consciousness. With this ability, my past-horizon is constituted as an accumulation of my past experiences that is linked to my present. The same goes for the development of my future-horizon. In this way, consciousness acquires its inner temporal horizon and thus a pre-objective, formal basis for the objectvity of all things.

“Consciousness of the objective time of perceived objects is thus based upon this foundation…Primordial synthesis is ‘transitional synthesis,’ known to me unthematically in every presenting while the chains of retentions continually push on. Pre-objectively, I am aware of the sliding, sinking away of what is retained as well as of its complement, the continual coming-upon me of what is protended, and I experience how every present stretches through this transitional period into a ‘field of presence.’ The consciousness that protention, primordial impression, and retention are inseparably bound together in this transition period of the extended present is the first consciousness of unity-in-multiplicity, and thus it is the primordial form of any synthesis that I may carry out. The originary constitution of the form of time in inner time-consciousness is repeated and modified on every level of constitution, a process which Husserl occasionally calls ‘temporalizing.’ Given this, Husserl explains programmatically in his later work, the Crisis, that ‘all constitution, of every type and level of existence, is a temporalizing.’ In this way, the analysis of the original development of time has a meaning that surpasses all else for Husserl…

“In the second chapter of his analyses of inner time-consciousness, a certain problematic thrusts Husserl into a dimension even deeper than the constitution of the inner time-horizon outlined above. We are dealing here with the most difficult — although the most fascinating — problematic of Husserl’s phenomenology, one which repeatedly captivated him, from his early anayses of time into his last years.

“Consciousness owes its unity to the ego, which allows me to recognize all of my lived experiences as ‘mine.’ In reflection, I can direct my attention to my own ego, making it my theme, making it an object facing me — and this is precisely the work of transcendental phenomenology. Meanwhile, however, I — the I who is reflecting — remain always and irremovably on this side of this objective representation. Thus there is a ‘primordial ego’ that can never be objectified. In fact, because this primordial ego is not at all an objectivity, the character of phenomenology is finally established as transcendental philosophy. The ego can only reflect on itself, though, because it already ‘knows’ of itself as ‘primordial ego’ before any explicit reflection. This pre-objective self-consciousness, however, is nothing other than time-consciousness in the primordial form of its originarity: I slip away from myself into the past in every moment of my conscious life, and yet at the same time, I am constantly retentionally aware of myself. This primordial retention is the most original sythesis. In this synthesis I have always already identified myself with myself — prior to any type of objectification — and simultaneously, I have also always already gained the first distance from myself. Through this pre-objective self-identification, my primordial ego, on the one hand, is something unchanging, that is, it is standing and remaining; on the other hand, through this pre-objective self-distancing, it is something living and streaming, that is, something that can become something different in comparison to what it was before. Thus my ego, in its deepest dimension, is a living being wherein ‘standing’ and ‘streaming’ are one.

“Husserl calls this dimension the living present…”

husserl

Edmund Husserl

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