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Ecstasis, memory, otherness - Phenomenologies of Time

Lecturer: Marilyn Stendera

Originally Taught: Summer School 2017

Time is at the heart of phenomenology. Reflections about the nature of temporality weave a bright trail through the diverse projects that comprise the phenomenological tradition. For many of its participants – as well as thinkers more loosely associated with the discourse – time is a vital part of what makes us who we are, as well as always more than we are. To be human means to have an ineluctable past and a future that is as radically open as its final ending is certain. Thinking about time means thinking about the very conditions that make our experience possible; about the difference between the time of our lives and the time of our clocks; about remembrance, history, choice and mortality; about what it means to be social, to join others in the intertwining of memory and anticipation.

In this course, we will pick up the thread of temporality and follow it through the history of phenomenological thought, exploring the roles – both starring and supporting – that it has played in the work of the tradition’s key figures as well as thinkers more loosely but nonetheless meaningfully associated with the tradition. Tracing out this significant but often underappreciated concern will give us a way of contextualising the connections and disparities between the different conceptions of phenomenology. The way that phenomenologists have engaged with our experience of and in time offers us a distinctive perspective from which to explore what they can tell us about meaning, finitude, sociality, possibility and death.

Course Schedule

Lecture 1: Opening up the problem of time: James, Brentano, Bergson

After briefly introducing some key themes and thinkers, the first couple of lectures will look at three accounts that shaped how the problems associated with time and time-consciousness would be discussed in the 20th century. Bergson, Brentano and James set the scene for us by highlighting how puzzling and important our experience of continuity is, and by problematizing the notion of the simple instant or now.


  • Bergson, “Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness”
  • Brentano, “On What is Continuous” and “On the Measure of What is Continuous”, selections 1
  • 2 in Philosophical Investigations on Space, Time and the Continuum
  • W. James, “The Perception of Time”, Ch. 15 of The Principles of Psychology

Lecture 2: Husserl: Time and intentionality

According to Husserl, time – our experience of and in it; its role in shaping and enabling consciousness – constitutes one of the most “important and difficult of all phenomenological problems” (On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time). For Husserl, consciousness is intentional, and intentionality is temporal. These lectures will explore what this means, providing an overview of what remains one of the most influential accounts of time-consciousness.


  • Husserl, §1-2 and 7-33 of Part A, “Lectures on the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time”, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time

Lecture 3: Heidegger: Ecstasis, history, death

For the early Heidegger, the temporality that makes us what we are – purposive, historical, social, mortal – is ecstatic, an ever-dynamic erupting towards a horizon. This bursting outwards of the entangled past-present-future that structures every aspect of our experience is what enables us to be in the world; it is reflected in and shaped by our capacity for authenticity, by our finitude, by the inevitability and incomprehensibility of death. We will discuss the conception of temporality that Heidegger sets out in Being and Time and contemporaneous works, with a focus on recovering the importance of time to understanding this period’s model of Dasein.


  • Heidegger, §65, 67-71 (and, if possible, §48-53), Being and Time

Lecture 4: Sartre and Merleau-Ponty: Being and perception

This part of the course sees us turning towards the French tradition, broadening our scope to engage with thinkers whose work is less obviously part of, but nonetheless influenced by and important to, the phenomenological discourse. The first two lectures in this section will explore Sartre’s often-overlooked reflections on the temporal relations of the for-itself and in-itself, as well as Merleau-Ponty’s cryptic, poetic meditations about time, perception and subjectivity.


  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Temporality”, part 3/section 2 of The Phenomenology of Perception
  • Sartre, “Temporality”, part 2/section 2 of Being and Nothingness

Lecture 5: Levinas/ Beauvoir: The Other and the instant and The time of our lives; Concluding reflections

Here, we will survey the complex, often-elusive role that temporality plays in the work of Levinas. Problematizing previous phenomenologies of time, and rejecting Heidegger’s ecstatic model, Levinas reconceptualises the nature of the instant, transcendence and memory within the framework of alterity. Temporality is, he suggests, radically shaped and transformed by the dimensions of the encounter with the Other. To conclude we will discuss Beauvoir’s philosophy of temporality, focusing on her discussions of the relationship between time, embodiment, gender, labour and age. We will explore both her non-fictional and fictional text to draw out her rich, complex conception of what it means to live in and against time, especially in an unequal world. The lecture will conclude with a few reflections on the course.


  • Levinas, “On the Way to Time”, from Existence and Existents;
  • “The Infinity of Time”, section G in Totality and Infinity
  • “Time and Discourse”, section 3/chapter 2 in Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence
  • Beauvoir, “The discovery and assumption of old age” and “Time, activity history”, Ch. 5-6 in The Coming of Age “The Present and the Future”, from Ethics of Ambiguity
  • She Came to Stay (novel)