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Husserl and the deconstruction of time.

IN A RECENT AND PHILOSOPHICALLY RICH STUDY, David Wood has undertaken the deconstruction of time through an engagement with the thought of Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, and, of course, Derrida.(1) The present essay is not intended to offer a sustained criticism of Wood's arguments or to canvass what he says about the quartet of philosophers noted above; rather, with his book as background, the essay's purpose is to say something about only one of the four philosophers--Edmund Husserl--and particularly about the place of presence and absence in Husserl's phenomenology of time and the consciousness of time. The results may supply ammunition both to those inclined to criticize Husserl from a deconstructive point of view and to those bold enough to defend him. In any event, what Husserl has to say about these matters is worth considering for its own sake. His discussion of the different ways in which presence and absence enter into our temporal experience is subtle and nuanced. He draws delicate distinctions and points to continuities and discontinuities that deserve the philosopher's careful and sympathetic attention. I will focus on a few of these, hoping that they will suggest something of the rich resources for reflection on this topic that are present in Husserl's texts.


Wood hazards the prediction that eventually philosophers will turn "to time as the focus and horizon of all our thought and experience,"(2) a view quite in keeping with Husserl's conviction that time offers not only the most difficult but also the most important of all phenomenological problems.(3) But if time is thus to come into its own as the one philosophical problem "that is truly permanent," a legacy of thought about the temporal must first be set aside: "time has to be freed from the shackles of its traditional moral and metaphysical understanding."(4) Now in the thought of Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger, Wood thinks, one can see this process of liberation unfolding, even if none of them finally succeeds in securing time's freedom. Derrida, however, takes the process to a conclusion, although not quite the conclusion one might have expected: "The concept of time belongs entirely to metaphysics and it designates the domination of presence."(5) If the concept of time is intrinsically metaphysical, as this text suggests, then to purge it of its metaphysical character is to eliminate it altogether;(6) or as Wood nicely puts it, rescuing the concept of time "from metaphysics would be like rescuing a fish from water."(7) There would be no concept of time left at all.

That is a conclusion, however, that Wood wants to avoid. He thinks that there are many times and many concepts of time rather than just one, as the tradition seems to hold, and that none of them is metaphysical. I will return later to this claim and its relevance to Husserl, but first it might be helpful to summarize briefly the reading of metaphysics at work here--a reading that receives a kind of canonical formulation in Derrida, but that the deconstructionist finds adumbrated in Nietzsche, Husserl (in some respects), and Heidegger. Wood's account is especially instructive for the Husserlian phenomenologist. So what are some of the key features of the "metaphysical," according to this way of reading the tradition?

The history of philosophy, we are told, has been largely the history of metaphysics. The history of metaphysics in turn has been the history "of the privileging of a certain temporal/evidential value, that of 'presence'."(8) If one retorts that the history of metaphysics has been the history of reflection on Being and beings, the reply will be that metaphysics determines "Being as presence."(9) This does not mean that "presence" is some thing; it might be better described as a condition or state of something. But it is the sort of condition that tends to dictate the kind of thing that can enter into it. That thing is usually taken to be an "object" standing over against a contemplative knower, a "subject." The paradigm of knowing in this tradition, then, is to have something present to the subject: standing before the subject in full and immediate self-evidence, but also standing forth in the temporal present, in the pure moment of the now. Hence the dual aspect of presence: as self-evidence and as temporal presence. Given the focus of this essay, I will take presence, for the most part, to mean temporal presence--and more specifically, to mean temporal presence in the sense of the now. It seems natural to take the now as presence in its most vivid and original sense. Absence will refer to temporal absence in the sense of past and future. Other senses of the terms, however, will intrude themselves from time to time.

The metaphysics of presence, thus understood, is also foundationalist. The metaphysician, intent on building up a theoretical structure, seeks a foundation for that structure; and for the foundation the metaphysician will look for something that presents itself self-evidently in the pure now. After all, only a firm foundation will do, and an absent foundation--a foundation that is elsewhere, that is deferred--would not be firm. A present foundation, on the other hand, would be primitive and original.

As for the specific nature of the present foundation, it may be anything the fertile metaphysical imagination can represent. Metaphysicians have, historically, tended to settle on some substance as the foundation. Such objectivizing or substantialist thinking is typical of the metaphysical tradition because substance appears to be just the sort of thing that can come to presence--be self-evident--in the temporal present. But whatever the arche or foundation may happen to be, it will be one and identical, further marks of the metaphysical. Thus if the self, or even more loosely, subjectivity, is taken to be the foundation, it will be conceptualized as primordial self-presence, and conceptualized in its self-presence as self-identical substance, or, if the transcendental turn has been made, as the original source of objectivity. In either case, however, it will be viewed as one and identical.

There are a few other aspects of this reading of the metaphysical tradition that might be mentioned. Metaphysics is said to be motivated by the desire that the edifice that rises from its foundations exhibits "formal and systematic completeness"(10) and universal applicability. In its endeavor to satisfy this and its other desires, it tends to evade radical self-criticism. Finally, metaphysics is said to be characterized by "logocentrism."(11) This term, as applied to the tradition, is supposed to capture the idea that metaphysics preeminently values the spoken word, or sees in the spoken word the privileged realization of linguistic presence. At least in the modern era, this spoken word comes to presence in "a conversation in inwardness."(12) The immanent word in its presence is there intuitively, immediately, before all signification, before difference and otherness. Indeed, the desire for presence that is metaphysics closes metaphysics off to otherness: the price of unity, identity, and so on, is a kind of entombment. Derrida's view, on the other hand, is that metaphysics in fact--a fact hidden from the metaphysician--dwells in public written words, in signs, not in the internal spoken word; it is a form of textual articulation and inscription. There is scripture, but no Word; or such Word as we may claim to have is the one that exists exclusively in the text. Specifically, "metaphysics is a theoretical writing organized around a privileged point--a presence,"(13) which, of course, means a merely alleged presence from the deconstructionist's point of view. But because it is writing organized around such an alleged presence, which it wants to capture, metaphysics exhibits "tendencies towards theoretical centering and congealment,"(14) which, again, are marks of presence and the present, as they are understood in the metaphysical tradition.


If these are the features of metaphysics generally, as the deconstructionist presents them, then we should expect their reappearance in one form or another in the metaphysical conception of time. Metaphysical interpretations of time previlege the present. They find in the present moment the foundation for time and for the understanding of time. Original, primordial, primitive time is built out of such moments, each of which is taken to be a self-contained unit--a distinct "now"--rock solid in its identity and unity, with nothing undecidable about it, a point-instant of pure presence. Such moments are thought of as arranged serially to form ordinary or universal time, which is one-dimensional and linear, stretching infinitely backward and forward, with every event having its place in the endless temporal series. This succession of discrete moments forms the one time to which all other times are reducible: the "original primitive time,"(15) as Wood puts it, the temporal foundation "containing within itself some fundamental power and evidential primacy."(16) As such, it shares in the metaphysical claims to absoluteness and universal applicability. It is time neutralized in the interests of generalization:(17) Whether one has in view the time of subjectivity or the time of objectivity, the time of the cosmos or the time of human existence, the same serial structure will prevail. Furthermore, while it itself embodies metaphysical values associated with presence such as unity and identity, this metaphysical time is also the locus of the unity and identity for everything that falls within it. It is this metaphysical conception of time that the deconstructionist intends to undermine.


Wood adopts a double deconstructive strategy. On the one hand, he deconstructs presence at the level of the moment, "the primitive event"; on the other hand, he deconstructs presence at the level of time's structure.(18) I will look first at the moment, and at the degree to which Husserl would or would not be in sympathy with its deconstruction.

We have already caught a glimpse of how the moment is understood in the metaphysical conception of time, as the deconstructionist presents it: if the moment is pure and uncontaminated presence, then it must be a single, identical point, closed up in itself and excluding all otherness. The "now" would be the moment's most familiar guise in ordinary as well as in philosophical language.(19) From Husserl's perspective, there is a cleavage in views about the now, or better, a pull in two directions. On the one hand, there is the conviction that one can be aware only of what is present, of what is there itself in the sense of the now. On the other hand, there is the conviction that one can be aware of anything except the present, that the now--if one can speak of it at all--will have vanished before consciousness can so much as register it. The first view would fit comfortably into the metaphysical tradition that the deconstructionist seeks to subvert. If the subversion is carried far enough, the second view results, a view that seems to be reasonably close to the one that the deconstructionist defends.


Consider first the view that one cannot experience what is now, that one cannot experience what is present in its presence. "Consciousness," Husserl writes, "is a perpetual Heraclitean flux."(20) One could take this to mean that one can indeed intend something as now but that it will immediately pass away and then be retained in continuously changing modes of the past. But the view that one cannot experience what is now goes further than that. It understands the flux to imply that one cannot be conscious of what is now in any significant sense at all: it is always gone before it can be fixed by consciousness.

One might argue in defense of this position that although one is aware of what the casual observer or incautious philosopher thinks one is aware of--the first part of a melody, say--the awareness one enjoys is not the presumed awareness of the object as now; one is rather aware of it as past. In an interesting text in which Husserl directly confronts this argument, he takes as his example the internal consciousness I have of an immanent content such as a present intentional act--the hearing of the melody mentioned above would be a case in point. (What Husserl says about the presence of the act would also be true, with a few qualifications, of its object.) Now one might be inclined to say that one is conscious of the initial phase of the act as now. On the view that Husserl is concerned to reject, however, I would never be aware of the initial phase of the act as now, although the phase would in fact occur. After its original occurrence, of which I would not be aware, it would come to be given, but "only on the basis of retention";(21) it would never cross the threshold of consciousness if retention did not make it conscious. This position, which directly challenges the possibility of experiencing the now in an original way, would presumably beckon attractively to the deconstructionist. It is no surprise, then, that Wood essentially adopts it: "What is actually perceived is not the now, but the now as it passes away into retention. And the now has no existence independent of its becoming a not-now."(22) He goes further: "It is tempting," he writes, "to treat retention as the primal phenomenon, with impressional consciousness as extrapolated or derived from it, or perhaps as only one of its abstract phases."(23) From this position, it is easy to take the next step and let the now-perception, and the now it would perceive, vanish entirely: "Put more strongly," Wood writes, "...there is no now-perception as such, and so nothing with which retention could be compared."(24) Here the deconstructionist's determination to open up the present moment--to which we will turn shortly--evolves into the conviction that one cannot be aware of the present at all.

Husserl, on the other hand, defends the view that the now enjoys a phenomenal reality in our experience, and even a privileged position. It is true, he observes, that the act's initial phase can become an object--as opposed to something experienced nonobjectively, as my acts always are when I am not reflecting on them--only by means of retention and reflection (or reproduction). "But if it were intended only by retention, then what confers on it the label 'now' would remain incomprehensible."(25) Retention confers the label "just past" on what it intends. Furthermore, if it were intended only in retention, the initial phase in its first occurrence would not appear at all: it would be unconscious. But, Husserl claims, "it is just nonsense to talk about an 'unconscious' content that would only subsequently become conscious."(26) The nonsense Husserl has in mind is double-barrelled. It is nonsense, first, because "retention of an unconscious content is impossible."(27) Retention's role is to retain, in the mode of the past, what has just appeared in the mode of the now. If the content never appeared in its presence, there would be no content for retention to intend in its absence. Second, it is nonsense to deny that one experiences things, whether immanent acts or their transcendent objects, as now: "The primal datum is already intended--specifically, in the original form of the 'now'."(28) This is a matter of experiential fact.

Husserl offers no quarter here. He simply affirms that some things appear to us as now. At a moment in philosophy's history when the willingness to deny that one ever experiences anything as present is seen by some to be a test of one's philosophical mettle, Husserl's claim may seem naive--and naivety, for the Derridean, is the most egregious of all philosophical sins.(29) A brief glance at experience, however, suggests that something might be said in expiation of the Husserlian transgression.

Husserl thinks that we are always conscious of something as now whether our experience is pedestrian and ordinary, as it usually is, or dramatic and exceptional. But perhaps experiences of the latter sort--the extraordinary ones--supply the most striking evidence that we can be aware of something as now. Imagine a perfectly still morning--say, Thanksgiving Day at 7:00 A.M. Imagine that no sound disturbs the stillness as you lie in bed. Then imagine that a tremendous boom rends the silence. Any denial that the sound is there in full and startling presence seems plainly and perversely false. The sound, it is true, will immediately sink into the past; it will be retained, and you will immediately sink into the reflection towards the retained sound and ask, "What was that?" But that presumes that it did stand before you as now. Consider another example. You are coming to rapid stop in a line of cars on a bridge. Your concentration is focused on the car in front of you and on bringing your vehicle to a halt. You succeed, and at that very moment there occurs a massive blow emanating from the rear and you are thrown violently forward against your shoulder harness. Someone in the car shouts, "We've been hit!" The statement is a report, and depends again on a natural reflection on a retained complex of experience. It will also strike everyone in the car as a statement of the obvious, because the blow was experienced--alarmingly so--in the mode of the now.

If someone perists in denying that anything is actually experienced as now in these cases, there is not much that one can do. As Husserl says about the experience of both now and past, "Here, in the unity of the consciousness that gives us something itself, the past pretends to be given itself only as past; the now, only as now. We state this honestly, just as we see it and have it."(30)

I suspect that one reason that one might question the possibility of experiencing what is now as now is that one has surreptitiously imported the model of reflection into the experience. The deconstructionist, so critical of objectivizing reflection, may in fact be uncritically assuming it when he or she rejects the now. But there is no more reason to claim that all presence is reflective presence than there is to claim that all consciousness is reflective consciousness. Husserl asserts neither and denies both.

It remains true, of course, that what is experienced as now is fleeting, that it is caught up in the Heraclitean flux of consciousness. As we have seen, this might supply another reason for denying that what is present is ever experienced in its presence. It would be something that dissolves into absence before ever announcing its presence; only its trace would be left behind in retention. Husserl, however, never suggests that what appears in the now is anything but fleeting. Any attempt to capture and fix what is now in its immediate presence is indeed doomed. One experiences what is now precisely as flowing: its presence ceaselessly giving way to absence. It is that character that the phenomenologist must "state honestly, just as we see it and have it." The very character of the now that some philosophers find so frustrating is precisely the character on which they, as philosophers, should reflect.


What is the now, as Husserl understands it? It is not something substantial in the metaphysical sense. It is not a thing or a part of a thing; it is not what is present. Nor is it a "time-point" in the sense of a place or location in a series of points forming "time," whether subjective time or objective time. It is not part of an object's duration, or part of an objective succession. The now, or presence, is rather a mode of appearance:(31) the mode of appearance of that which is present.(32)

This means that the now itself does not appear, apart from a peculiar kind of reflection. The now--"presence" in its preeminent and original form--is, one might say, "absent." But what appears in the mode of the now is not absent: it is there as present, as present "itself," "in person,"(33) in its fullness, as the explosive sound shattering the morning stillness was present. Not itself a temporal position, "the now. . . is the giveness of the present of the temporal position."(34) "Now" is the name or the "label"(35) for this irreducible way of appearing. If one reflects in the appropriate way,(36) which will not be a natural reflection, then one will be able to point philosophically to the difference between the object appearing--that which is present--and its temporal way of appearing, its presence, just as one can point to the difference between the spatial object and the spatial perspective in which it is given. What is said of the now is also true of the past and future: they too are modes of appearance and are not identical to what appears in them, which is why the same object can appear as future and then as now and then as past.

To say that the now is absent is to say that it is not itself a thing or a part of a thing, that it is not itself the sort of thing that appears in a temporal perspective. It is not absence in an absolute sense, but only absence of a particular sort of being. As mode of appearing, or as a mode in which something is given to consciousness, it is as transparent and yet as real as any spatial perspective.

That the now is absent in the sense of not being a thing or part of a thing accounts for two of its essential features: its oneness and its hospitality, both of which are expressive of the now's unique unity and identity. The now is one in the sense that everything of which I am conscious as present in a given moment has the same now,(37) that is, the same form or mode of appearance.(38) Simultaneity is, orginally, "same nowness" (Gleichjetzigkeit).(39) The sounds I am now hearing, the colored shapes I am now seeing, the memory I am presently entertaining do not severally possess their individual nows.(40) They rather share a common now: they all appear in the same temporal way. This in turn points to the now's hospitality. If the now were a thing in some sense, it could not simultaneously play host to such a rich and varied range of experience. Its presence as a mode and its absence as a thing enable it to accommodate whatever is compatible in a single moment. That does not mean, of course, that the now is infinitely hospitable; certain experiences cannot exist simultaneously with others. Beyond that restraint, however, the fact that the now is a kind of absence grants it a hospitality unmatched by, say, the spatial perspective, which can accommodate only what is spatial. The temporal perspective embraces what is spatial, including the spatial perspective, and much else besides. It is the "one" in which the "many" of experience first appear.


That the now is one and open suggests two of the reasons why Husserl speaks of the "privilege" of the now.(41) There are other reasons as well. One of these is again connected with the now as absence in the sense of its not being a thing, not even a present thing. The now, Husserl claims, is the source of the new. The now's absence as a thing is to consciousness as the window's absence as something opaque is to the wall of a house. The now is consciousness's aperture to the new. Indeed, the Husserlian monad not only has its window but is downright drafty with the new. The now, he writes, is "the living source-point of being" in which "ever new primal being. . . wells up."(42) What appears in the now is something "new" and "original," something "deposited 'from without,' 'alien to consciousness'."(43) It is in this mode that I hear sounds I have never heard before, read new texts about old texts, and wonder whether I ever experience anything as present. It is also--to turn from what fills time to time itself--the place in which time-points first appear: the now is "the source-point of all temporal positions whatsoever."(44) What is present is what is new, and the now is its mode of appearance.

Once the new has announced itself in the now, it slips away into the past. Having become present in that peculiar absence that is the now and that lets new things and events become present for the first time, the new becomes absent in the mode of the past. The new becomes old; it no longer appears in temporal presence but in temporal absence. This suggests a further aspect of the now's privileged status, one that involves past and future.

The now, Husserl claims, is the point of reference for consciousness, the point of orientation in terms of which what appears as absent in our temporal experience organizes itself. Any temporal object is originally given in the now; it then immediately slips into the past. "Past" here is not to be understood in terms of objective before and after, which would be a relative sense of past in which something could be past in relation to one thing and future in relation to another. The past we are considering is a past always "oriented towards the actually present now,"(45) the now that serves as an absolute standard determining the degree of pastness in which something appears. Moreover, what is past in this sense continually sinks further and further into the past in relation to the actual now; its mode of the past changes continuously. Thus considered, it has a "shifting orientation in relation to the living now."(46) The now is therefore "one" in a new sense. Not only is it the common form of appearance for everything that appears in it, it is also the single point of orientation for all of my temporal experience. Husserl, it is true, does sometimes speak of ever new nows replacing those that have become old,(47) but the stress in such statements is on the element of the new, on what appears in the now: the now itself is the abiding and formal mode of appearance that is always freshly filled in one way or another while preserving its identity as absolute point of reference. Here again we can say that if it enjoyed the presence appropriate to something given in perception, the now would not be able to fulfill its task: specifically, it too would recede into the past and could not be the orientation-point in terms of which we speak of something as receding in the first place.

Retention is one of the ways in which I experience something appearing as past in relation to the now. Recollection or secondary memory is another. In recalling the past object, the recollection always gives it a position in relation to the actually present now.(48) Indeed, authentic memory is distinguished from "mere" phantasy because the former posits its object in relation to the now while the latter does not.(49) The now is the mode in which the act of memory itself is experienced, and the present memory relates the past of which it is aware to its own position. It would not be memory otherwise. To fulfill such a memory, Husserl suggests, means to fulfill the nexus-intentions running from the remembered past perception right up to the now.(50) The now's privilege, then, consists in its hospitality, its openness to the new, and its position as absolute point of orientation for the life of consciousness. It is the mode of appearing thanks to which what is present can be experienced as present and in relation to which the absent can appear as absent. In these senses, apparent in the temporal phenomena themselves, the now and its privilege, rooted in its peculiar unity and identity, resist the subversive efforts of the deconstructionist.


The suggestion that we never really experience the present surely has more currency in our philosophical world than it did in Husserl's. It is the other conviction--that all we truly experience is the present or what is in the now--that seemed most seductive and formidable to Husserl. It appears in many guises in his texts on time, and in at least one respect and at one period in his career he fell victim to its charms. The struggle that Husserl wages in this case is not to rescue some vestige of presence from the threat of universal absence; it is rather to admit real absence into a realm of presence from which it seems to have been excluded. This is also the struggle the deconstructionist undertakes: in deconstructing the moment, for example, Wood proposes to replace presence by "time as the absolute openness to the other."(51) The moment, understood as the now, will be opened up to what is other than it; this, the deconstructionist thinks, will radically compromise the now's unity and self-identity, and thereby its capacity to be present purely and fully, or even to be present at all.

There are various ways in which the moment can be opened up. One is to point to its undecidability. The moment is undecidable in the sense that one cannot finally say that it is either one or many. Wood develops this theme in connection with Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal recurrence, but one confronts it also in the case of Husserl's conception of the now. As mode of appearance for whatever is actual, the now is one: a single form in which many different things and events can appear simultaneously. Yet each one of these simultaneously appearing items might also be said to be (a) now. So even in the present moment a certain undecidability between one and many occurs, and with the metaphysical understanding of time as a linear succession of now-moments, the actually present moment finds itself attended by myriads of other moments that precede or follow it. Each may be a unity considered in itself, but the point is that no one of them by itself could compose time--time demands that there be many such unities--and so the value of the sheer presence of a single moment is compromised.

One might argue that the undecidability of the moment in these senses does not really crack the hard shell of the self-identical instant; it just confuses the matter of the privilege of that instant by multiplying it. But with Nietzsche and then with Husserl, Wood claims, the integrity of the now-moment itself is compromised. "Nietzsche's 'moment', so far from being the reworking of the metaphysical value of presence, is the scene of its explosion."(52) Husserl's understanding of the moment is perhaps less pyrotechnical, but it is certainly subtle, and introduces into the now a deeper sense of undecidability. Wood cites Husserl's statement that "even this ideal now is not something toto coelo different from the not-now but is continuously mediated with it."(53) This, Wood observes, "is a momentous remark."(54) Why momentous? Because "the true ideality of the now is itself a dynamic ideality, a continuous accommodation of the now to the not-now."(55)

Hence the deconstructionist, in seeking to open up the now, the moment, finds in Husserl a sympathetically. The Husserlian now is inherently connected to its others, to past and future; its integrity is seen to be relational and not hermetic. The now is not a self-enclosed and perfectly discrete instant. It is rather a way of appearing--true, a way that enjoys certain privileges over against its temporal others, but also one that shades off into past and future, that is penetrated by past and future. Husserl knows that now and past exclude one another, but he also knows that now and past (and future) are relative to one another.(56) This is the deeper undecidability that affects the now: it cannot simply be dissolved into past or future, but it cannot be thought apart from them either. All three elements will be in play at any moment, however arbitrarily we may choose to carve the moment up. This is precisely the sophistication of Husserl's conception of the now: he realizes that to open up the now does not entail its loss. That the now stands in perpetual relation to past and future, that this presence--the now-- is always interwoven with absence, does not compromise its integrity. Indeed, from Husserl's perspective it is integral to its integrity: it constitutes, rather than subverts, the now's unity and self-identity. We have already seen that the deconstructionist, in the concern for exploding the hermetic now of the metaphysical tradition, tends to lose sight of this subtle way in which the now opens out to its others without itself vanishing.


There are still other ways in which Husserl opens up the moment. One of these is his many-faceted critique of what might be called the "prejudice of the now."

On the face of it, any temporal object we experience appears in both presence and absence. Consider a succession of tones: first tone A appears as now and tone B and C as yet to come, then B appears as now and A as just past and C as yet to come, then C as now and B as just past and A as still further past. The tones that no longer appear as now have sunk into the past, but not into "the abyss of the ... past"(57) in the sense of disappearing from consciousness althogether. This sort of abysmal absence may well occur, but not in cases such as this. What is past here, or what is future, is not simply absent. I am aware of the tones that are past in their absence, as I must be if I am to be aware of their succession at all. One might be tempted to say here that the absent tones are somehow still present, but I think it would be safer and more accurate to say that they appear in appropriate modes of absence. In Husserl's language, the elapsed tone phases "are still intended, they still appear, but in a modified way."(58)

Now none of the theories Husserl contends with in his writings on time denies that we experience enduring or successive objects--temporal objects--and that they appear to us in something like the way I have just described. The differences arise over how the consciousness of such temporal objects is constituted, and it is here particularly that the prejudice of the now asserts itself. The prejudice takes somewhat different forms. One version involves the conviction that one can be conscious of something only if it is in some sense present or now. Another version is based on the notion that the consciousness of what is temporally extended can occur only in a phase of consciousness that is actually now and that is not itself temporally extended.

Brentano's view, at least as Husserl presents it,(59) would represent an example of the first version. From the Husserlian perspective, Brentano's theory offers a double difficulty with respect to presence and absence.

One difficulty is that Brentano thinks that in the actual perceiving of a temporal object one is aware of the object's just-past phases in the same way as one might be aware of an object one perceived in the more distant past. Thus the elapsed phases of a passage of music I am now hearing on the radio would be intended in the same way as a concert I remember attending last week. In both cases I am conscious of what has become absent, but Husserl wants to insist that I am aware of them in their absence in quite different ways. The difference is the difference between retention and recollection, which are species, respectively, of impression and re-presentation (Vergegenwartigung), the two distinct modes of consciousness that, according to Husserl, divide the whole of conscious life. In retention, "the past object is 'given' as past";(60), it is presented(61) or "perceived."(62) In recollection, the past is not presented but re-presented; it is not there "in person," but intended as if "seen through a veil."(63) In both cases, the mode of absence is that of the past, but the modes let their objects appear in fundamentally different ways. Thanks to retention and its mode, I can be said to perceive a melody and not just those tones that appear as now; in more general terms, I can be said to perceive a succession or duration. That Brentano cannot account for such perception, that he restricts perception to what appears as now and leaves to recollection the consciousness of what is past, suggests one of the ways in which he is subject to the prejudice of the now.

The other sense in which he is subject to it is revealed in his account of the way in which the consciousness of past or future phases of the perceived object is constituted. Brentano holds that one can be conscious of a past phase of a temporal object only on the basis of a present content now in consciousness. What this amounts to saying is that one can really experience only what is now. The tone I seem to be conscious of as past is really present.

Husserl replies to this position by saying that past and now exclude one another, that what is past is really past.(64) What appears as past, what appears in this fundamental mode of temporal absence, is not, clandestinely or overtly, present in the sense of the now. If it were, it could not appear as past, and Husserl insists that it does appear as past: "The past pretends to be given only as past; the now, only as now."(65)

The view that the consciousness of something that is not now can be had only on the basis of some content that is now appears in at least two other forms in Husserl's texts. One of these is the image theory of secondary memory. The image theory Husserl criticizes assimilates recollection to pictorial consciousness, that is, to the representation of something absent by means of a present painting, sculpture, or other kind of image.(66) Husserl is not concerned to deny that pictorial consciousness does occur (he knows that it does); his point is only that it is not the same kind of consciousness as recollection. Pictorial consciousness is an appealing candidate for explaining memory if one is convinced that one cannot be directly conscious of what is past itself, that the consciousness of what is past, precisely because what is past is absent, must depend on a present surrogate, the pictorial image. This raises the question about whether one is aware of the past itself in secondary memory. In some texts, Husserl suggests that forms of re-presentation, including recollection or secondary memory, do not give the past object "itself";(67) in other texts, however, he indicates that re-presentation does give the object itself,(68) and that its difference from retention or other impressional forms of awareness rests in the way in which the object itself is intended. The latter, I believe, is clearly Husserl's settled view. Thus when I remember the illuminated theater I experienced yesterday, it is the past, the absent theater itself that I am remembering: I intend something absent in the manner appropriate to it, that is, in the manner of recollection as opposed to retention. No present content stands between me and the past object I intend; the past object itself stands before me in its absence.

The prejudice of the now also appeared in Husserl's own interpretation of the constitution of time-consciousness before about 1908. During this period, Husserl thought that the retention or primary memory of just elapsed phases of the perceived object and protention or primary expectation of the phases yet to come depended on the presence in the "now of consciousness"(69)--in the actually present phase of the perceptual act--of appropriate contents and appropriate temporal apprehensions. This would mean, for example, that the retention of elapsed tone A would be constituted by the animation of an "A" content now present in consciousness by the appropriate apprehension of the past. That the prejudice of the now is at work in this interpretation should be clear enough: the awareness of the not-now must, in effect, be the consciousness of something that is now, on the underlying assumption that one cannot be directly conscious of what is absent. Husserl eventually came to criticize this interpretation of the constitution of time-consciousness on the grounds that a content that is actually present in consciousness must appear in its presence, as now, and could not also be apprehended as past.(70) If the consciousness of the past is made to depend on the consciousness of what is now, then one will never be conscious of the past at all, and one will then have no experience of time or temporal objects--or even of the now, since now and past are relative to one another.

When Husserl rejects the interpretation we have discussed, he comes to understand retention, primal impression, and protention as intentional moments that transcend the actually present phase of consciousness to which they belong. Retention, for example, simply is the consciousness of what is just past and does not include in itself any present content, not even an echo of what is past.(71) In its retentional and protentional moments, consciousness transcends the present toward the absent. In doing so it makes no attempt to transmute the absent into the present, the not-now into the now. Time-consciousness is no alchemist. It lets what is absent appear as what it is. Husserl thus comes to conceive of consciousness as self-transcending intentionality and not as a kind of bag(72) stuffed with really present contents that are supposed to make do for things now abysmally and irrecoverably absent: "Retention, which is an act now living ..., transcends itself and posits something as being--namely, as being past--that does not really inhere in it."(73)

Husserl, we said, insists that consciousness must reach out beyond the now to what is not-now in the sense of what is past and what is future. Time-consciousness, then, is the awareness of what is present and of what is absent, and of the two as bound together always and in various ways. The present's privilege is equally the privilege of the absent. But there is another dimension of this awareness that deserves attention, and it too may be seen against the background of the prejudice of the now.


Husserl reports that it is a common conviction in his own day that the perception of a temporal object--of a succession, for example--must occur in a single now of consciousness. The consciousness of succession would not itself be successive; the consciousness of a duration would not itself endure. Husserl finds this "dogma of the momentariness of a whole of consciousness"(74) in Lotze and Herbart, but one suspects that it applies equally to his own rejected interpretation of time-consciousness in terms of contents and apprehensions. The prejudice of the now shapes this view in the sense that the view assumes that only in the immediate present could consciousness do its constitutional work; past phases of consciousness are gone, absent, and so could play no role in constitution. Consciousness is shrunk to its immediate now-phase; the succession of consciousness cannot be the consciousness of succession.

Husserl, on the other hand, comes to argue that consciousness reaches out beyond the now to the past and future phases of the temporal object precisely through consciousness's own succeeding phases, and therefore through its absent phases as well as its actual phase. On this view, the succession of consciousness is the consciousness of succession, and the two are inseparable. Absence, then, is an ingredient not only of the temporal object but also of the consciousness of the object.

It is only with the maturing of the notion of the "absolute time-constituting flow of consciousness"(75) and its double intentionality that Husserl is able to give a satisfactory account of the sense in which the succession of consciousness is, or makes possible, the consciousness of succession. In this and the next section, I only want to make a few comments about how the theme of presence and absence enters into it, and what connection it might have with the deconstructionist's project.

Husserl acknowledges that he employs a metaphor when he calls the absolute consciousness a flow,(76) but, like all good metaphors, it conveys a number of important truths. In this case, the metaphor points to the continuous character of time-consciousness: it is continuous in the sense that its phases ceaselessly well up and pass away, and it is continuous in the sense that its phases dovetail with one another. There are no beginnings and no endings in the flow. Through the flow's phases, one becomes conscious of acts as immanent temporal objects, and, if the acts have transcendent objects, of those transcendent objects as well. The absolute consciousness, then, is a continuous flow in which objects and (as we shall see) the flow itself are intended in presence and in absence.

One might point to two ways in which the flow is involved with presence and absence. The first echoes the peculiar absence we saw earlier in the case of the now as mode of appearance--or of past and future as modes. Considered in itself, the actual phase of the absolute flow, with its primal impressional, retentional, and protential moments, is the absence of anything except sheer experiential consciousness. Just as the now is absence in the sense of not being any particular thing but only a mode of appearing, so the flow's primal impression is not an act or content but just the consciousness of acts and contents as now. The primal impression is the intentional source-point(77) for what appears as now and as new in the life of consciousness. Thanks to it, one can experience all at once sound and color contents, kinesthetic experiences, a feeling of anxiety, and the judgment that 2 + 2 = 4. That the actual phase of the flow is the absence of anything but presenting makes possible the great variety of experiences I live through at each moment. It is an absence in the center of conscious life that, through its moment of primal impression, allows us to have acts and contents in their presence and, through its moments of retention and protention, in their absence. As source of the temporal modes, the flow itself is beyond them: we have no names for the absolute flow,(78) Husserl says, by which he means no temporal names.

The second way in which presence and absence are involved in the flow is through what Husserl calls the Langsintentionalitat(79) of the flow, the flow's intending of itself. The actual phase of the flow will elapse and be replaced by a new actual phase, and this will happen continuously; I will be conscious of this "succession" of phases of the absolute flow, not through another flow, but through the flow's very consciousness of phases itself. Furthermore, it is through the flow's consciousness of its own elapsing phases that it is conscious of the immanent temporal objects that endure and succeed one another. It is in this sense that the flow's succession is the consciousness of succession, of its own succession and of the succession of immanent objects. The flow lets itself go but recaptures itself, becomes absent but overcomes its absence intentionally. Each actual phase of the flow intends retentionally the just-past--the "just-absent"--phase of the flow and is open protentionally to phases yet to come. It recaptures itself not by making its own absent phases present but by intending them (retentionally) in their absence. The retained phase is also preserved with its reference to the now-absent moment of the immanent object originally given in it; the immanent object is therefore constituted in its temporal extension. This "double" intending(80)--of phase of the flow by phase of the flow, and thereby of phases of the immanent object--goes on until retention fades. The temporal object and the flow itself are thus woven out of presences and absences. The consciousness of object and flow is equally a complex process of presenting, of letting go, of letting become absent, and yet of intending what has become absent in its very absence.


There are interesting connections and parallels between Husserl's absolute time-constituting flow of consciousness, as we have just described it, and Derrida's deconstructive notions of differance and trace. Wood notes that when Husserl pushes the question of the constitution of time back to the absolute flow as its ultimate foundation, time itself seems to vanish.(81) It is true that Husserl claims that temporal predicates do not apply to the flow--recall that he says we have no names for it. Similarly, Derrida says that we have no names for what differance--itself not a name--tries to capture.(82) But Husserl also refers to the flow as "quasi-temporal."(83) In point of fact, if one sees the metaphysical conception of time as wedded indissolubly to the image of a line of phases automatically succeeding one another, then Husserl may fairly be said to be maintaining just such a metaphysical conception when he describes the absolute flow. He views the flow precisely as a series of phases, marching along in perfect succession, one of which will be actual, with others having preceded it and still others to follow it. Whether or not this apparent adherence to a linear conception of time is a case of fatal metaphysical backsliding is something we will discuss later. What it indicates now is that we must probe more deeply if we are to uncover affinities between Husserl's conception of the absolute flow and the deconstructive notions mentioned above.

From the discussion in the previous section, a number of things about the absolute flow should be clear. The actual moment of the flow--the "present" phase of internal time-consciousness--is a moment of intentional consciousness; it is nothing but intentionality. Certainly it is not any sort of present substance, or even a mental content present within consciousness. This present or actual moment of the absolute flow, while possessing a unity and identity, is also intrinsically many, and that in two important respects: first, internally it is many; second, through its internal manyness it is open to the many other phases that make up the flow and, through them to what they intend. Put another way, the flow's internal complexity opens it up to multiple otherness: to other phases of the flow, to the many other moments of conscious life that the flow constitutes, and to the other in the sense of objects transcendent to consciousness.

The phase of the absolute flow is internally complex in the sense that is possesses a threefold intentionality in the form of primal impression, retention, and protention. Now what is significant is that while there is "now-perception,"(84) or, more precisely, primal impression, it is simply one of three intentional moments constituting the phase of the absolute flow. The whole, then, is not the primal impression, the intending through which a phase of an object appears as now; the primal impression is only a dependent part, along with retention and protention, of a larger whole. Primal impression thus escapes the net of the metaphysical conceptualizing that wants to think of distinct though dependent parts as discrete units. In addition, as intentional phase it also escapes self-containment: it opens out onto something else. Indeed, the whole, the actual momentary phase of the flow, is no more self-contained than its moment of primal impression; for, through retention and protention, a given phase of the flow also reaches out to past and future phases of the objects, immanent and transcendent, that one experiences. It does this, as we have seen, by opening out intentionally onto phases of the flow itself that are no longer or have not yet become actual. Finally, the flow is precisely flowing--in a process of continuous movement or becoming. Whatever difficulties may attend Husserl's notion of the absolute flow of time-constituting consciousness, it is very difficult to read it as something that gives itself in simple, sealed moments abiding in static presence.

With these considerations in mind, we are in a position to explore the affinities between Husserl's flow and Derrida's differance and trace. Certainly the least one can say is that the sort of consciousness Husserl's flow has of itself and of temporal objects is much closer in spirit to the deconstructionist's standpoint than it is, say, to the Cartesian's way of understanding the ego's presence to itself and its objects.

Differance and trace, Wood observes, "make meaning possible without themselves having meaning."(85) Of course, one can say something about them, as we are now doing; and one can add, as Wood does, that differance has the dual aspect of differing and deferring.(86) Yet they are not themselves meaningful contents. A sign in an airport indicating the direction of restaurant facilities has meaning or content. Differance does not have meaning in that way, but it does make possible meaning in that way, according to Derrida. In Husserlian terms, differance and trace are, or make possible, the awareness of contents or of objects, without themselves being contents or objects; specifically, with respect to time, they make possible the consciousness of temporal objects. Now this is precisely what occurs in and through the phases of Husserl's absolute flow. The phases themselves are not contents, nor is the threefold intentionality that makes up each phase a matter of content. The phases make possible the awareness of contents precisely by highly complex differing. Thus the phases differ from the contents of which they are aware, and only by so differing can they be aware of them. Then, within a momentary phase of the flow the intentional moments that make up the intentionality of that phase differ from each other--primal impression is not retention and it is not protention, nor is retention protention, and so on; again, only through these differences can the temporal object appear in its temporality. Finally, each phase of the flow is different from every other phase of the flow, though intentionally interwoven with them through retention and protention. Again, it is only through that difference that one is conscious of the flow as a flow of succeeding phases, and as one and identical; only if one is thus aware of the flow's succeeding phases will one be aware of temporal objects in their temporality. Difference, then--moving and widely distributed difference--marks Husserlian time-consciousness. Here one might apply what Wood says of Heidegger's "primordial temporality" to Husserl's absolute flow: it "is difference rather than identity."(87) Or perhaps, since Husserl's flow does indeed possess identity (and unity as well), one would be more faithful to Husserl if one said that the flow is "identity constituted through difference." Since Husserl views the absolute flow as the deepest level of subjectivity--even as beyond the subject as that which constitutes it--one can reasonably say that Husserl meets, as did Heidegger in his own way, "the task of substituting for any atemporal sense of self, a radically temporalized interpretation."(88)

Differance also carries with it the idea of deferring, of postponing. If one takes this to mean that there is no present in the sense of a place of final closure in which something or perhaps everything will be there in pure presence, then Husserl's flow is surely marked by deferring; for the protention built into each phase ensures that time-consciousness is always incomplete and is intrinsically aware of being incomplete. One could equally well argue that retention, which presents what it intends in ever-decreasing fullness, also points to the incompleteness of time-consciousness: to be aware of temporality is to be aware that the fullness of presence is always deferred.

As for trace, it is said not be the trace of anything,(89) which again detaches it from any particular content or meaning. Perhaps saying that the trace is not the trace of anything is analogous to saying in Husserl's case that retention--the actual retaining--is not what is retained. There can be something retained only because retention differs from it. The point is that ongoing retaining, "tracing," is part of the primitive movement that makes the experience of time possible.

Wood formulates nicely the point of these discussions, at the same time betraying the sense in which, from the Husserlian perspective, deconstruction tends to overreach itself:

What Derrida does is to draw out of Husserl, with renewed force and determination, the recognition that temporality fundamentally undermines and does not sustain the idea of presence, and the very possibility of the interiority by which subjectivity has been traditionally thought possible. For Derrida, this will not only open up the present primordially to what is not present, but also open up the "inside" of subjectivity to the "outside" of the world.(90)

Derrida can draw out of Husserl this "opening up" because it is precisely what occurs in Husserl's absolute flow. In this respect Wood is surely on firm ground when he wonders "whether the distance between Husserl and Derrida is not in part mirage."(91)

For all their affinities, however, there remain deep differences between the two. Husserl, as we have seen, does not take the opening up of the moment as undermining the idea of presence: to open up the present, whether in the sense of the now or in the sense of the actual phase of the time-constituting flow, is not to lose it, as the deconstructionist may think, but to see it for what it is. Husserl may well say that retention "transcends itself" towards the past, but he also insists in the same sentence that retention is "an act now living"(92)--a presence, that is, essentially open to absence. Furthermore, as we suggested at the beginning of this section, Husserl does not simply reject the standard linear conception of time as a succession of moments, nor does he draw back from the traditional notion that there are certain basic temporal concepts or forms that will be found wherever time is found. In all of these respects Husserl would remain, from the deconstructionist's perspective, a "metaphysician" in what he says about time. Now to this point we have been defending, from various perspectives, Husserl's complex understanding of the temporal moment. Is it also possible, in the face of deconstructionist criticisms, to say something in defense of his apparent allegiance to a linear conception of time, and of his related conviction that there are certain fundamental and universal temporal features?

The liberation of the moment from its isolation in the metaphysical chamber of perfect self-identity and unity was only one of the deconstructive tasks Wood set for himself. The other was to deconstruct presence in connection with time's structure In his pursuit of this strategy, Wood argues against the traditional view that there is only one concept of time, specifically, "the standard model of time as a single linear sequence of moments."(93) This concept of time, we know, is metaphysical: it would either found all other concepts of time, or it would be the concept to which all others could be reduced. Derrida, recall, suggests that this or any other concept of time would be inherently metaphysical and therefore could not survive the deconstruction of metaphysics. Wood certainly thinks that the concept of time should be eased out of the metaphysical quagmire, but he also thinks that it can survive the extraction. More precisely, he claims that what he took to be a single concept of time--for that is what it appeared to be when sunk into metaphysical obscurity--turns out, when deconstructively scrubbed down and rinsed off, to be plural. What remains are many times and many concepts of time, and none of them is metaphysical, none is original and primitive. Wood aims, therefore, at a nonmetaphysical, nonfoundational "pluralization of time and its structures."(94)

What sorts of time might be involved here? Wood makes no claim to give an exhaustive list, but he does make suggestions about what some of these plural temporal structures might be: he discusses, for example, phenomenological time, existential time, and the time of signification. What marks each of these times taken in isolation, that is, taken as their proponents have usually taken them, is a claim to universality, or at least to priority. But that is precisely what Wood denies to them. He rather gives them "local" significance, and describes them in terms of "models" of time with restricted scope but hermeneutical utility. This, he observes, fits better with our intuitions about the range of applicability of any one of them.(95) Thus, we may appreciate the existential dimension of temporality, but we know intuitively that it does not exhaust the possibilities of time. However much we may appreciate Husserl's investigations of phenomenological time and time-consciousness, we sense that it can hardly claim to provide a complete account of temporality; we know, for example, that it would need to be supplemented by something like Heidegger's existential temporality.(96)

The assertion that there are many times and concepts of time rather than only one is inherently plausible. But it also raises the question whether there is any inner unity among these many times. Certainly Wood makes no claim to have discovered one,(97) and I suspect that he thinks that it would be futile even to look. There are arguments for his position. Among the strongest is that the phenomenological temporarilty Husserl investigates is not able to account for the "structures of signification"(98) that belong to many of the objects of time-consciousness. Mahler's First Symphony, for example, has an internal structure that is not brought into being, or created by, time-consciousness. This is true even if one describes the symphony in terms of a succession of notes, measures, or movements. Such sequences form the stuff of the object, what it is. One might appropriately refer to them as constituting the specifically musical temporality of the work. It is true that one will not be aware of the symphony unless it is intended through the structures of time-consciousness, and in that sense time-consciousness may be described as a necessary condition for the experience of the symphony. It is not a sufficient condition, however. So there we have two times, and two concepts of temporality, already: the temporal structure of the intending consciousness and the time of the musical object of consciousness. Husserl was quite aware of this distinction; he does not view time-consciousness idealistically, that is, as somehow generating the structures of signification of the objects of which it is conscious.(99) True, one might observe that Husserl himself does not undertake a phenomenology of the unique temporalities of music or of the visual arts or of a multitude of other regions. All that means from the Husserlian perspective, however, is that plenty of tasks remain for phenomenology to take up. But even if all of them were brought to fruition and we had arrayed before us a myriad of diverse times, the central position of time-consciousness, alluded to above, would not have been usurped; for it is difficult to imagine a single time, including the quasi-temporal structure of time-consciousness itself, that does not involve time-consciousness in some way as a necessary condition. This may not bestow on time-consciouness a foundational role in the metaphysical sense, and certainly it does not deny that there are multiple conceptions of time; but it does point to the ubiquity of time-consciousness.

Whether or not there are still other universal aspects of temporal experience will become clearer if we look briefly at Wood's chief strategy in developing his notion of "a pluridimensional and delinearized temporality."(100) That strategy consist in a turn to discourse, or better, to textuality. "The text," Wood claims, "is a privileged site for the liberation of time."(101) In examining textuality's structures of signification, Wood is not claiming that "life is a text, but that it is textured. And that man is a tissue of times."(102) Both the written text and human existence "can display some of the most commonly recognized features of the narrative. The claim will be that these features offer us a model by which discontinuity, nonlinearity, and pluridimensionality can each be thought of as dimensions of both existential and textual temporality."(103)

What would some of these features of narrative be? Wood discusses seven "levels of time narrative"(104) that might appear in a text: the times of the reader, narrator, plot, actions, events, characters, and narrative discourse. That these times may differ is illustrated most simply by the familiar case in which the time of the telling of the events in a story differs from the chronology of the events themselves. Wood goes on to point out how our lives are fabrics woven out of similarly diverse times.(105)

Now Wood, one will recall, does not claim to find anything unifying these many times, no "primitive 'elements'"(106) that might pull them all together. I want to suggest, however, that there may indeed be such elements, and that they are basically the ones that Husserl discusses in his phenomenology of temporal experience. To assert that there are certain fundamental temporal features that appear wherever any of the many times appears clearly runs the risk of signalling a metaphysical retreat and a shameless yielding to the metaphysical desire for unity, but perhaps Wood would grant me the license to use in a nonmetaphysical way what had been metaphysical concepts--a use that he allows, at least in principle.(107)

What sort of fundamental features do I have in mind? Start with past, present, and future, and before and after, and succession and simultaneity, indeed, with the very concepts implicated in that rather decrepit, and certainly ordinary, linear conception of time. It may be true that the time of the telling of a story will differ from the time of the events narrated; but in either case, if temporality is present at all, there will be sequence--before and after--and in the telling and in the events told there will be past, present, and future, and temporal beginnings and endings. It is true that what is in sequence in the two times will not coincide, which is why we have two times and not one. The point here is not that there is only one time, but that wherever there is time in any form, certain primitive features will be in play. Another way of saying this is that these features will always be there as background, and it is only against the constant background they provide that the differences among the various times can appear. Thus the claim that there are a plurality of histories or a plurality of futures presupposes and would not undermine linearity as a form.(108) One might venture still further (dangerously so!) and say that to speak of a plurality of histories may assume something more: the background concept, and perhaps even the reality, of a single linear history, even if it is not something that we will ever capture, or inscribe, in its overwhelming complexity.

Consider the existential dimension, which phenomenology, Wood argues, cannot adequately handle with the categories at its disposal. Now it may be true that, existentially speaking, what most deeply characterizes the past for us as living beings is not that it is no longer now, but that it cannot be changed.(109) It may furthermore be true that the future enters our lives not as a reservoir of new nows, but as a projection of possibility,(110) and perhaps as the anticipation--not merely the expectation--of death. Yet is it not built into the notion of the past as that which cannot be changed that it is no longer now or future, that it is, as Husserl says, something over with and fixed?(111) What defines the future, for Husserl, is precisely its openness.(112) In protention, consciousness is perpetual project, could one have such a project without such sheer openness as a necessary condition? If death is something to be anticipated in Heidegger's sense, if it is something in realtion to which one can assume an authentic or inauthentic existence, might this not pre-suppose, again as a condition, the collision of protention's unqualified openness to more conscious life with the profound realization of that life's ultimate closure? I am not suggesting that Heideggarian temporal ekstacies can be reduced to Husserl's senses of past and future, retention and protention; I am suggesting that existential temporality presupposes them as background.

Finally, it is part of the metaphysical conception of time, as the deconstructionist reads it, that the present is levelled and neutralized. The now in its unity and self-identity is a kind of neutral form that is indifferent to its contents. As opposed to this, Wood suggests a now that fuses with its content; if one is now hearing music then one has a unique time, a tuneful sequence.(113) The now is a sponge soaking up its contents, finally disintegrating into many nows and many times. This is a compelling phenomenological observation, but the notion of the now's neutrality should not be jettisoned entirely. After all, my now may be tuneful, but may also be, if less intensely, other things as well: headachy, warm, dark, anxious, and so on--and it will be all of these things without losing its unity and identity. Simultaneity is something we live all the time, and the neutrality of the now--the now's hospitality, as we called it earlier--is its background.

With regard to time's structure, then, one might put the following suggestions before the deconstructionist: There may be plural times and concepts of time, but they will share certain fundamental features; these times may not fit the pattern of a single, unified, linear time, but they do presume the conception of such a time in certain respects; finally, the possibility that all particular times may implicitly have a place in a single all-embracing time should not be foreclosed by an a priori conception of what is metaphysical and what is not.


The Husserlian account of time and of temporal presence and absence that I have attempted to defend, because it accepts both the possibility of many times and of a common basis for all of them, might be charged with naive pluralism. Naive pluralism, in Wood's formulation, takes the following position with respect to the linear conception of time: "Plurality could leave linearity untouched. What is still required is an account of the complex subversions of linear order--of . . . inversions of order, structures of repetition, substitution, . . . and so forth."(114) The latter account would presumably yield the galaxy of radically plural times that the deconstructionist desires. My suggestion is that all such subversive efforts come to embody, in some way or other, the very values or features that they intend to subvert. In so arguing, I am not attempting to silence time's "Babel of voices,"(115) but simply to find something their many expressions might share. Husserl offers the example of a philosopher of time who respects equally the one and the many, the present and the absent, and, above all, their connections and relationships.(116)

(1) David Wood, The Deconstruction of Time (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1989).

(2) Wood, Deconstruction, xi.

(3) Edmund Husserl, Zur Phanomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins (1893-1917) (hereafter "PIZ"), ed. Rudolf Boehm, in Husserliana 10 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), 276, 334. English translation: Edmund Husserl, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917) (hereafter "Internal Time"), trans. John Barnett Brough (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), 286, 346. In subsequent citations, page numbers of PIZ will be followed by the corresponding pages from the translation.

(4) Wood, Deconstruction, xi.

(5) Jacques Derrida, "Ousia et Gramme," in Jacques Derrida, Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972), 23. English translation: Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 63. This passage is quoted in Wood, Deconstruction, 2.

(6) Wood, Deconstruction, 1.

(7) Ibid., 147.

(8) Wood, Deconstruction, 1.

(9) Derrida, "Ouisa et Gramme," 23; quoted in Wood, Deconstruction, 2.

(10) Wood, Deconstruction, 223.

(11) Ibid., 303.

(12) Ibid., 198.

(13) Ibid., 303.

(14) Wood, Deconstruction, 304.

(15) Ibid., xi.

(16) Ibid., 6.

(17) Ibid., 86.

(18) Wood, Deconstruction, xii.

(19) See for example Ibid., 264.

(20) PIZ, 349; Internal Time, 360.

(21) PIZ, 119; Internal Time, 123.

(22) Wood, Deconstruction, 94.

(23) Ibid., 95.

(24) Ibid.

(25) PIZ, 119; Internal Time, 123.

(26) Ibid.

(27) Ibid.

(28) Ibid.

(29) See for example Wood, Deconstruction, 305-6.

(30) PIZ, 344; Internal Time, 355.

(31) PIZ, 24; Internal Time, 25.

(32) See Thomas Prufer's discussion of the difference between presence and that-which-is-present in his "Heidegger, Early and Late, and Aquinas," in Edmund Husserl and the Phenomenological Tradition, ed. Robert Sokolowski (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988).

(33) PIZ, 60; Internal Time, 62.

(34) PIZ, 66; Internal Time, 68.

(35) PIZ, 119; Internal Time, 123.

(36) PIZ, 275; Internal Time, 285.

(37) PIZ, 71, 207; Internal Time, 73, 214.

(38) PIZ, 77; Internal Time, 81.

(39) PIZ, 117; Internal Time, 120.

(40) PIZ, 207-8; Internal Time, 214-15.

(41) PIZ, 35; Internal Time, 37.

(42) PIZ, 69; Internal Time, 71.

(43) PIZ, 88; Internal Time, 93.

(44) PIZ, 72; Internal Time, 74.

(45) PIZ, 106; Internal Time, 111. See also PIZ, 214; Internal Time, 221.

(46) PIZ, 55; Internal Time, 57.

(47) PIZ, 275; Internal Time, 285.

(48) PIZ, 51; Internal Time, 53.

(49) PIZ, 104; Internal Time, 110.

(50) PIZ, 301; Internal Time, 313.

(51) Wood, Deconstruction, xii.

(52) Wood, Deconstruction, 34.

(53) PIZ, 40; Internal Time, 42.

(54) Wood, Deconstruction, 94.

(55) Ibid.

(56) PIZ, 68, 179, 318; Internal Time, 70, 185, 330.

(57) PIZ, 349; Internal Time, 360.

(58) PIZ, 275; Internal Time, 285.

(59) Ibid. See also, for example, secs. 3-6, and no. 14.

(60) PIZ, 311; Internal Time, 322.

(61) PIZ, 97; Internal Time, 102.

(62) PIZ, 39; Internal Time, 41.

(63) PIZ, 48; Internal Time, 50.

(64) PIZ, 318, 152, 320; Internal Time, 330, 156, 332.

(65) PIZ, 344; Internal Time, 355.

(66) PIZ, 59, 309; Internal Time, 61, 321.

(67) PIZ, 41, 45; Internal Time, 43, 47.

(68) PIZ, 59; Internal Time, 61.

(69) PIZ, 321; Internal Time, 333.

(70) PIZ, 322-3; Internal Time, 334-5.

(71) PIZ, 31, 311-12; Internal Time, 33, 323-4.

(72) PIZ, 279; Internal Time, 289.

(73) PIZ, 344; Internal Time, 355-6.

(74) PIZ, 20; Internal Time, 21-2. Husserl takes the phrase from William Stern.

(75) PIZ, 73; Internal Time, 77. See also PIZ, 371; Internal Time, 382.

(76) PIZ, 75, 371; Internal Time, 79, 382.

(77) PIZ, 133; Internal Time, 136.

(78) PIZ, 75, 371; Internal Time, 79, 382.

(79) PIZ, 81, 379; Internal Time, 85, 391.

(80) PIZ, 80, 379; Internal Time, 85, 390.

(81) Wood, Deconstruction, 109. See also PIZ, 78; Internal Time, 83: "We can no longer speak of a time that belongs to the ultimate constituting consciousness." On the senses in which Husserl's internal time-consciousness is not internal, not temporal, and not consciousness, see Prufer, "Heidegger, Early and Late, and Aquinas," 200.

(82) Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 159.

(83) PIZ, 83, 381; Internal Time, 88, 393.

(84) PIZ, 226; Internal Time, 233.

(85) Wood, Deconstruction, 114.

(86) Ibid., 112, 261.

(87) Wood, Deconstruction, 217.

(88) Ibid., 223.

(89) Ibid., 116.

(90) Wood, Deconstruction, 128.

(91) Ibid., 109.

(92) PIZ, 344; Internal Time, 355.

(93) Wood, Deconstruction, 354.

(94) Ibid., 11.

(95) Wood, Deconstruction, 332.

(96) Ibid., 58-9, 325.

(97) Ibid., 332, 374.

(98) Ibid., 344, 347.

(99) PIZ, 362-3; Internal Time, 372-4.

(100) Wood, Deconstruction, 276.

(101) Ibid., 331.

(102) Ibid., 334.

(103) Ibid., 354. This is a theme nicely developed by David Carr in his Time, Narrative, and History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).

(104) Wood, Deconstruction, 354.

(105) Wood, Deconstruction, 358-9.

(106) Ibid., 291. Wood suggests, under the inspiration of narrativity, that at least some varieties of time may share certain primitive features (p.352), but this does not seem to run counter to his rejection of universal primitive elements deriving from the linear conception of time. He seems to be aware that he is in danger of substituting one set of universal features for another. From Husserl's perspective, the set offered in substitution (if it is) would be demonstrably less primitive than the one it is intended to displace.

(107) Ibid., 276-7.

(108) As Wood suggests; Wood, Deconstruction, 373.

(109) Ibid., 80.

(110) Ibid., 214.

(111) PIZ, 64; Internal Time, 66-7.

(112) PIZ, 106; Internal Time, 111.

(113) Wood, Deconstruction, 121-2.

(114) Ibid., 375.

(115) Wood, Deconstruction, 358.

(116) Portions of this essay were read at the annual meetings of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in October 1990 and October 1991. I am grateful to the Executive Co-Directors of the Society for permitting them to be published here.
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Author:Brough, John B.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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