Kierkegaard and the problem of writing


Material Information

Kierkegaard and the problem of writing
Physical Description:
Bigelow, Pat
University Presses of Florida : ( Tallahassee )
Florida State University Press
Publication Date:

Record Information

Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 15318034
System ID:

Full Text





Points of View: Readings of Kierkegaard
by Louis Mackey (1986)
A Question of Eros: Irony in Sterne, Kierkegaard, and Barthes
by John Vignaux Smyth (1986)
Aparte-Conceptions and Deaths of Soren Kierkegaard
by Sylviane Agacinski, translated with introduction
by Kevin Newmark (1987)



University Presses of Florida






University Presses of Florida is the central agency for scholarly pub-
lishing of the State of Florida's university system, producing books
selected for publication by the faculty editorial committees of Florida's
nine public universities. Orders for books published by all member
presses of University Presses of Florida should be addressed to Univer-
sity Presses of Florida, 15 NW 15th Street, Gainesville, FL 32603.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bigelow, Patrick.
Kierkegaard and the problem of writing.
(Kierkegaard and postmodernism)
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Kierkegaard, Soren, 1813-1855. I. Title.
II. Series.
B4377.B54 1987 198'.9 87-6182
ISBN 0-8130-0856-5 (alk. paper)

1987 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
@ Printed in the U.S.A. on acid-free paper.
For permissions acknowledgments, see the page following the index.


Foreword by Mark C. Taylor vii

Preface 3
Introduction: The Phenomenology of Antiphenomenality 9
1. The Praxis of Parapraxis 59
2. The Poetic Poaching of Silence 89
3. The Ontology of Boredom 114
4. Repetition and the Petition for Time 133
5. Kierkegaard and the Unthought(-)of Difference 176
Bibliography 211
Index 219

For my beloved Colleen
To my beloved Colleen


One of Kierkegaard's first French translators, Georges Bataille,
insists that "every profound life is heavy with the impossible."1
For many of the most important thinkers who write in the wake
of Hegel's proclamation of the advent of absolute knowledge,
questions raised by the impossible notion of "the impossible"
point to the impossibility of philosophy itself. Explaining the
importance of Bataille's insight, Jacques Derrida writes:

And one can already foresee. . that the impossible medi-
tated by Bataille will always have this form: how, after hav-
ing exhausted the discourse of philosophy, can one inscribe
in the lexicon and syntax of a language, our language, which
was also the language of philosophy, that which neverthe-
less exceeds the opposition of concepts governed by this
communal logic? Necessary and impossible, this excess had
to fold discourse into strange shapes.2

If "something" exceeds conception, philosophical knowledge is
incomplete. If this excess is irreducible, the lack of knowledge
can never be overcome. If the lack of knowledge can never be
overcome, the completion of Hegel's System is impossible.
To think after Hegel is to struggle to think the lack of knowl-
edge. Neither temporary nor penultimate, this lack eternally re-
turns to disrupt and displace every concept and all conception.

1. Georges Bataille, L'Experience interieure, 73.
2. Jacques Derrida, "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hege-
lianism without Reserve," 252-53.


The thinker must, therefore, think what philosophy leaves un-
thought by thinking the impossible thought of "nonknowledge."
Such thinking is, of course, impossible. The impossible is the
condition of both the possibility and the impossibility of thought.
Unless the impossible is (impossibly) possible, Hegel is right. The
only remaining question would be whether the System has al-
ready come to completion or will (necessarily) come to completion
in the future. If, however, it is impossible to "inscribe in the
lexicon and syntax of a language, our language, which was also
the language of philosophy, that which nevertheless exceeds the
opposition of the concepts governed by this communal logic,"
the System itself is impossible. As Derrida stresses, to think this
impossibility it is necessary "to fold discourse into strange
The strange shapes of Kierkegaard's texts are, in effect, various
folds in discourse written to solicit an Other that can never be
represented. The pseudonymous authors of the works Kierke-
gaard eventually attempts to claim or reclaim are obsessed with
the impossible. Repeatedly returning to the impossible task of
conceptualizing that which resists conception, these authors, who
bear no proper names, ceaselessly ironize the philosopher who
claims to know it all. Kierkegaard realizes that a radical critique
of philosophy cannot be philosophical. Long before the current
preoccupation with ecriture, Kierkegaard insisted that the impos-
sibility of philosophy can only be exposed in and through certain
styles and strategies of writing.
In this remarkable book, Patrick Bigelow approaches Kierke-
gaard's critique of the western philosophical tradition by consid-
ering the problem of writing. Bigelow argues that Kierkegaard,
throughout his entire career as a writer, relentlessly pursues "one
lone thought."

This one lone thought is the affirmation of human existence
as the nonsimple synthesis of reflection and immediacy; the
two meet and are contradicted in it. This is neither a simple
difference nor a simple identity: existence is not a simple
disengaging of the radical alterity between reflection and
immediacy. There is no resolution of each into the other;
there is no reconciliation of the two, only the tension, the



tightrope tension between the torpor and the terror of living
in the zone of the breach. (55-56)

Hegel's whole philosophical enterprise can be understood as an
effort to demonstrate that the breach between immediacy and
reflection can be overcome through a dialectical process in which
differences are mediated and opposites reconciled. In his various
nonphilosophical writings, Kierkegaard attempts to show the im-
possibility of the Hegelian solution. Bigelow maintains that
"Kierkegaard forges his thought in the abysmal hollow of this
breach [between immediacy and reflection]: in radical disconti-
nuity, and in deflection, dissimulation, and defeasance, in the
intractable resilience and the inexhaustible reserve of what cannot
appear, in thoroughgoing deferment and indefinite undecid-
ability" (57).
In order to think the breach as breach, Bigelow concentrates on
what Bataille labels "les mots glissants." These slippery words
point to (but do not represent) the "appearance" of that which
can "appear" only in and through its disappearance. Bigelow
focuses his analysis on the phenomena-or, more precisely, the
nonphenomena-of silence, forgetfulness, boredom, time, rep-
etition, and difference. To glimpse the direction of his argument,
it is helpful to consider the problem of silence. What is silence?
Does silence exist? Is it possible to speak about silence? Admitting
of no simple answers, such questions are sensu strictissimo unde-
cidable. As Bataille explains, to say "silence" is to break silence.

I will give only one example of a slipping word [mot glissant].
I say word: it could just as well be the sentence into which
one inserts the word, but I limit myself to the word silence.
It is already, as I have said, the abolition of the sound that
the word is; among all words it is the most perverse, or the
most poetic: it is the token of its own death.3

The perversity of le mot glissant is a function of its inescapable
ambiguity. Speech and silence are not simple contraries or mere

I 3. Bataille, L'Experience interieure, 28.



opposites. Rather, silence "appears" only insofar as it slips away
from speech, and speech is speech only insofar as it silences
silence. Speech and silence constitute themselves in and through
each other. This reciprocal constitution, however, is at the same
time a mutual deconstitution. While silence is always the silence
of speech, speech's effort to silence silence is repeatedly silenced
by that which forever slips away from speech. The impossibility
of saying silence without unsaying speech reduces the philoso-
pher who claims to say it all to silence.
Every mot glissant exhibits the paradoxical structure of the word
silence. "These phenomena are," according to Bigelow, "intracta-
ble in their retracting from discourse. As intractable, they are
refractory to discourse. This is to say. . there is no speaking
strictly about these phenomena. They cannot, to speak truly, be
mentioned in passing; they cannot be spoken paraleptically.
Rather, although they are in and of themselves retracting intract-
ability they are not completely refractory to discourse, for they
are metalepses: to write about them is simply to refer to the fact
that one cannot write about them. In fact, these phenomena [i.e.,
silence, difference, boredom, forgetfulness, and time] are all
metaleptic reformulations of the problem of writing." From Bige-
low's point of view, to write is to inscribe that which resists
signification. Writing, therefore, is, in a certain sense, insignifi-
cant. While the philosopher seeks to erase or repress every vestige
of insignificance, the writer traces and retraces a nonsense that
is not simply irrational. Always slipping and sliding, the words
of the writer elude philosophical mastery.

(1) Silence: to name it is to break it; (2) difference, which
Hegel says is "in itself a contradiction"; (3) boredom, which
is, if anything, nothing but the abrogation of any sense to
the question of the meaning of boredom; (4) forgetfulness,
the nature of which is that the one thing always forgotten
in forgetting is forgetting itself, a forgetting that it is a
forgetting; and (5) time, the appearing of which consists in
the fact that it withholds its appearance so that time is the
allegory of its own unintelligibility. (11)

Following Kierkegaard, Bigelow concludes that it is impossible
to think silence, difference, boredom, forgetfulness, and time


apart from the question of writing. In this context, writing is not
simply the translation of thoughts into words on a page, but it is
the mise-en-scene of that which escapes reason. 'So understood,
writing is performative utterance, which expresses nothing. The
nothingness of writing is the paradoxical passion of thinking.

But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox
is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the par-
adox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow. But
the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will
its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of
the understanding to will the collision, although in one way
or another the collision must become its downfall. This,
then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover
something that thought itself cannot think.4

To think what thought itself cannot think obviously is impos-
sible. And yet precisely this impossibility is the paradoxical pas-
sion of the thinker who is not a philosopher. Under the guise of
different pseudonyms, Kierkegaard explores the possibility that
the unthinkable can be written. To write the Other of thought, it
is necessary to devise alternative strategies of writing. Having
recognized the impossibility of writing about the impossibility of
thought, Kierkegaard develops a style of indirect communication,
which has as its aim the communication of the incommunicable.
In the strange folds of Kierkegaard's pseudonymous texts, dis-
course "communicates" the lack of language.
If writing implies the failure of the word, it is possible, perhaps
likely, that when all has been said and done, nothing has been
said and done. Bigelow freely admits that it is as impossible for
him to write, about Kierkegaard's writing as it is for Kierkegaard
to write about the impossibility of knowledge. These are actually
two aspects of the same impossibility. In the face of this com-
plex and finally indecipherable impossibility, it gradually be-

4. Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, or a Fragment of Philos-
ophy, 37.



comes apparent that one cannot write about Kierkegaard but
can only rewrite the Kierkegaardian text. This is the task Bigelow
sets for himself in Kierkegaard and the Problem of Writing. To read
this extraordinary text is to confront the possibility that "on
the eve and aftermath of philosophy" writing has become (the)
Mark C. Taylor

In the ignorance that implies impression that knits
knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the
wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that
drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs
death that bitches birth that entails the insurance of
James Joyce
But how could I know in my torpor and panic that
this was the simple solution, that the brook and the
boughs and the beauty of the Beyond all began with
the initial of Being?
Vladimir Nabokov


The Kierkegaardian gambit: to say by unsaying and unsay by
saying. In writing. That is the deconstructive force of Kierke-
gaard's "indirect communication."
The Kierkegaardian gambit: it can neither be accepted nor
declined; but it must either be accepted or declined. It has the
logical structure of the questions that the aesthete of Either/Or I

If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you
will regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret
both. Laugh at the world's follies, you will regret it; weep
over them, you will also regret that; laugh at the world's
follies or weep over them, you will regret both; whether you
laugh at the world's follies or weep over them, you will regret
both. Believe a woman, you will regret it, believe her not,
you will also regret that; believe a woman, or believe her
not, you will regret both; whether you believe a woman or
believe her not, you will regret both. Hang yourself, you
will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will also regret
that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself you will regret
both; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself,
you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the sum and sub-
stance of all philosophy. It is not only at certain moments
that I view everything aeterno modo, as Spinoza says, but I
live constantly aeterno modo. There are many who think that
they live thus, because after having done the one or the
other, they combine or mediate opposites. But this is a mis-
understanding; for the true eternity does not lie behind
either/or, but before it. Hence, their eternity will be a painful


succession of temporal moments, for they will be consumed
by a two-fold regret. My philosophy is at least easy to un-
derstand, for I have only one principle, and I do not proceed
from that. It is necessary to distinguish between the suc-
cessive dialectic in either/or, and the eternal dialectic here
set forth. Thus, when I say that I do not proceed from my
principle, this must not be understood in opposition to a
proceeding forth from it, but is rather a negative expression
for the principle itself, through which it is apprehended in
equal opposition to a proceeding or a non-proceeding from
it. I do not proceed from my principle; for if I did, I would
regret it, and if I did not, I would regret that. If it seems,
therefore, to one or another of my respected hearers that
there is anything in what I say, it only proves that he has no
talent for philosophy; if my argument seems to have any
forward movement, this also proves the same. But for those
who can follow me, although I do not make any progress, I
shall now unfold the eternal truth, by virtue of which this
philosophy remains within itself, and admits of no higher
philosophy. For if I proceeded from my principle, I should
find it impossible to stop, I should also regret that, and so
forth. But since I never start, so can I never stop; my eternal,
departure is identical with my eternal cessation. Experience
has shown that it is by no means difficult for philosophy to
begin. Far from it. But the difficulty, both for philosophy
and for philosophers, is to stop. This difficulty is obviated
in my philosophy; for if anyone believes that when I stop
now, I really stop, he proves himself lacking in the specu-
lative insight. For I do not stop now, I stopped at the time
when I began. Hence my philosophy has the advantage of
brevity, and it is also impossible to refute; for if anyone were
to contradict me, I should undoubtedly have the right to call
him mad. (1:37-39)

The Kierkegaardian gambit: both necessary and impossible to
accept; both necessary and impossible to decline; both necessary
and impossible either to accept or decline; both necessary and
impossible neither to accept nor decline.
But: what is the gambit?
It is hard to say: to say what the gambit is about requires learning


to unsay the saying that says that every saying is always a saying-
about. Though all saying is inwardly involved with this gambit,
though all saying testifies to this gambit and is a cryptic and
decrepit documentation of this gambit, no saying could ever say
what this gambit is about-for that there is this gambit means that
there is a way of saying that is not about anything.
Yet it is irresistible to try to insist that this way of saying is
nonetheless about something, about, perhaps, what takes place
both before and after thinking, both before and after saying. And
this would be about a way of saying in which we say something
about what no saying could ever say anything about, yet what
every saying implicates. This way of saying would be about a way
of saying that carries no reference, while simultaneously describ-
ing those phenomena that carry references to what is exterior to
all reference.
It is as if we all conspired never to speak about one particular
thing, a thing that no one knows anything about, since we agreed
never to mention anything about it. And anyway, our little con-
spiracy took place so long ago that we have forgotten that we
agreed not to speak about this one particular thing and so have
forgotten that there is this one particular thing we no longer
speak about. Yet it is as if all our speaking, all our writing, our
incessant and insistent describing of the world, always suggests
that there is this one particular thing that we are not talking
about. It is as if language, all language, bears in itself the un-
avoidable, necessary, and peremptory ending concluding all dis-
course: ". . type of deal situation sort of thing language-speak-
ing-wise." It is as if each word in our language is a hole-word,
hollowed out in its center by a hole in which all the other words
should have been buried, in which all speaking should have been
silenced-but was not. We cannot speak this hole to the word,
but we can make it resound-immense, endless, an empty gong
sounding the echo of snow falling on a bell. When the suspicion
arises that each word is a hole-word, we realize that no word is
a thing-word; rather by virtue of the hole hollowing out the center
of the word, the meaning of every word collapses in upon itself,
so that each thing is absorbed in the void of its reflection in the
hole-word. Here we would search in vain for the meaning of the
word, for here meaning does not escape into another meaning,
but into the other of all meaning. Here, because of the ascendancy


of the hole-word over the thing-word, it is entirely undecidable
whether nothing has meaning or whether everything seems to
have infinitely profound and ultimately untappable meaning,
meaning so weighted with profundity that any attempt to say it
is mocked, testimony only to the impoverished state of saying,
confirming its destitution.
As soon as language becomes the question of language, the
thinker appears as a coroner laying down a chalk outline around
a corpse. As the thinker lays the chalk outline, he ponders the
corpse. He sees that the corpse is its own image. He sees that the
corpse no longer has any relations with the world in which it still
appears, except those of an image, an obscure possibility, a
shadow and shade, constantly behind the living form, that now,
far from separating itself from that form, completely transforms
it into a shadow. He sees that the corpse is reflection making
itself master of the reflected life, absorbing it, substantially iden-
tifying itself with it by making it lose its value, by neutralizing
it. It is nothing but resemblance. It resembles nothing.
Philosophy has always referred to a saying teleologically turned
to the kerygma of the said, absorbing itself in it to the extent of
being forgotten in it. It has always referred to a saying not just
correlative with the said but isomorphic to the said. The saying
would then constitute the identity of the said, thematize the
entity, ascribe a meaning to it, and inscribe the entity in its
meaning. The saying extended toward the said and absorbed in
it, isomorphic to it, names an entity. This naming, of course, can
in turn be identified in another said. And this isomorphism be-
tween the saying and the said is only possible on the basis of the
already said, which enhorizons the world and each entity, sustain-
ing and situating them.
The gambit, then, has something to do with whether there can
be a saying that is not absorbed into the said, that cannot be
taken up as a part of the history and sedimentation of the already
said. In writing: for writing is the inscribing of saying into the
said and of reabsorbing the said into the already said; and if there
is to be a saying the signification of which goes beyond the said,
it must be located in writing. For only in this way could this
gambit become a meaningful exercise in understanding language
and the limits of language and that the two always and every-
where coincide. Writing, as the inscription of saying into the said,


stabilizes the identities constituted by the saying; yet at the same
time writing maintains the domination of the saying over the
said-even if it is the business of saying to be absorbed in the
said. In writing there is a faint and fugitive fissure separating the
saying and the said. We are all more or less clearly aware of all
the reasons for which writing does something to saying, making
a difference in how discourse gets treated thematically. For these
reasons, which have been marshaled before us just one time too
few, writing introduces a fissure, a fault line, a reticulation be-
tween saying and the said, keeping the process of absorption, of
correlation, of isomorphism, from ever being fully carried out. It
is in writing that saying escapes the fate of the said, that the said
sinks into the already said. And it is in writing that saying escapes
the world enacted by and to the said, escapes to the hither side
of the said.
With the advent of literature, of writing proper, language dis-
closed itself as the failure to maintain an immediate relationship
to the immediacy of being. With this advent language achieved
self-consciousness. With this emergence of self-consciousness
language identifies itself with a suspicion, barely voiced, that it
is the exceeding of being and the deficiency of language with
respect to this exceeding that indicates a yonder tucked into
language, a linguistic yonder, a nameless, faceless something
other on the other shore of life, lodging deep inside language like
a little black-hole eddy of the antipredicative.J
Yet this suspicion dispels itself as soon as it arises, for it forces
language to search within itself for a purer but also more unob-
trusive language capable of calling into question-in order to
disappear in it-the very other of all language. This other, how-
ever, is nothing more than a language that also has the essential
task of searching within itself for its other in order to disappear
in it. As soon as we suspect that language is inadequate, we
recognize this inadequacy as the essence of all saying, so that it
runs the risk of never being inadequate enough. Every saying
testifies that language does not lack enough of its lack and that
language is itself this lack of language and the lack of this lack.
The lacking of language is language completing itself. With the
emergence of self-consciousness language consists of identifying
itself as the limits to itself. Within language, language and the
limits of language coincide.


The questions, then, to which the writings of Kierkegaard serve
as the gambit and entry, are these: Is there more to saying than
just what gets enunciated in the said? And is it possible to perform
the way of saying proper to this saying on the higher side of
thematization of the said before saying abdicates intoo the said?
These are the questions for which Kierkegaard's gambit enjoins
us to take responsibility, a responsibility for the enownment of
ourselves by means of the enownment of word and world to and
by one another. This enownment of word and world to and by
one another is prior to any saying yet is the source of all saying;
and as the source for all saying, it is itself a saying but a saying
that could never be absorbed, lost, and forgotten within the
history of the already said. In this sense this enownment is prior
to anything said and yet at the same time beyond the said.
Naturally, we could never deliberately set about owning up to
an enownment of ourselves by means of the enownment of word
and world to and by one another. This is because it is prior to
anything we could say or do, anything we are. It could never occur
to us that there was some such owning up to do. And this is the
force of the Kierkegaardian gambit: to offer a little uplifting story
in order to get us to want to say this unsayable saying before we
are even aware that something new and uncanny has suddenly
started upon us, suddenly startled upon us.
No doubt we will contest that this has something essential to
do with Christianity. No doubt. But as is befitting, I leave this




Poetry must resist the intelligence almost
Wallace Stevens
Opus Posthumous
For philosophical problems arise when language goes
on holiday.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations
FOur society needs at every single meeting a re-
newal and rebirth, to the end that its inner activity
may be renewed by a new description of its produc-
tivity. Let us then describe our purpose as an attempt
in fragmentary pursuits, or in the art of writing post-
humous papers. A completely finished work has no
relation to the poetic personality; in the case of post-
humous papers one constantly feels, because of the
incompletion, the desultoriness, a need to romance
about the personality. Posthumous papers are like a
ruin, and what haunted place could be more natural
for the interred?. . In a certain sense, everything
a poet has produced is posthumous.
Soren Kierkegaard
Either/Or I .
The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one
or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps
that the understanding has got by running its head
up against the limits of language.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations
But what follows from maintaining that wherever
language ceases, I encounter the musical? This is
probably the most perfect expression of the idea that
music everywhere limits language.
Soren Kierkegaard
Either/Or I


Understanding a musical phrase may also be called
understanding a language.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

This, then, was to have been a book, a writing that was to have
written itself as a book. But, even then, this, then, would have
been a peculiar piece of writing, a writing after what is intractable
to writing, a writing about what, as soon as one attempts to
specify its nature, retracts itself from discourse. So, a writing, if
it will not have remained an open question whether in fact this
will ever be claimed to be a book, given that its content is precisely
that which I have always already forgotten, for-and this is only
my heartfelt and maybe disheartening suspicion-it is about that
which could never have taken place. And yet this essay is the
attempt to place just this, to find its place in my heart, for it is
heartfelt even if I am disheartened by its withholding itself from
taking a place in my heart. This attempt entails recalling that I
have somehow forgotten this that could never have taken place,
that I have forgotten it and that I have forgotten that it could never
have taken place. This attempt, to write this book, which would,
then after all, have been a book, entails mastering the art of
remembrance. But a special kind of remembrance would have to
be mastered, and that is remembering that what could never have
taken place never could have taken place because I have always
already forgotten it.
What is this that I have always already forgotten, for I have
always already forgotten that it could never have taken place?
Before I say, or say that I cannot say, or even in the course of
saying that I cannot say come to say, let me read what I was to
have written.
This, then, will have been a writing about what could never
purely and simply take place in writing. So in writing about this
that could never have taken place in writing I will have repeated


the resistance to bringing what has been forgotten back to re-
membrance. This alone will have been remembered, then: that
there is a decisive problematic in writing, namely, that there are
phenomena which will not withstand an explication of their na-
ture. These phenomena-silence, difference, boredom, forget-
fulness, and time-could have been shown to frm the axes de-
termining the orbit of Kierkegaard's thought, for Kier-ergaard's
"authorship" is such that by its "indirect communication" dis-
course as a whole is rendered inadequate, overdetermined, even
perhaps indeterminate, but at any rate hypertextualized. But it
is only just such indirect written discourse that is, as we shall
see, up to the task of describing those phenomena, the nature of
which is to resist almost completely a specification of their nature.
These phenomena are, again, (1) silence: to name it is to break
it; (2) difference, which Hegel says is "in itself a contradiction"; (3)
boredom, which is, if anything, nothing but the abrogation of any
sense to the question of the meaning of boredom; (4) forgetful-
ness, the nature of which is that the one thing always forgotten
in forgetting is forgetting itself, a forgetting that it is a forgetting;
and (5) time, the appearing of which consists in the fact that it
withholds its appearance so that time is the allegory of its own
These phenomena are, strictly speaking, intractable in their re-
tracting from discourse. As intractable, they are refractory to
discourse. This is to say, however, that in a sense that will be
made clear in the course of this essay, there is no speaking strictly
about these phenomena. They cannot, to speak truly, be men-
tioned in passing; they cannot be spoken paraleptically. Rather,
although they are in and of themselves retracting intractability,
they are not completely refractory to discourse, for they are meta-
lepses: to write about them is simply to refer to the fact that one
cannot write about them. In fact, these phenomena are all meta-
leptic reformulations of the problem of writing. And it is no
accident that these phenomena are treated so incisively in the
Kierkegaardian text, for Kierkegaard's genius consists precisely
in his decisive sensitivity to the question of writing.
Let me try to make the problem of the identification of these
phenomena precise. All these phenomena are so well known that
they seem to have acceded to some kind of self-evident intelligi-
bility. But this accession to self-evidence turns into a recession


from intelligibility as soon as we try to comprehend these phe-
nomena. It is as St. Augustine says of time: "si nemo ex me quaerat,
scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio [I know what it is if no one
asks me what it is; but if I want to explain it to someone who has
asked me, I find that I do not know]."
All these phenomena have a common, peculiar, intentional
structure: they give themselves without giving themselves to any
intention; they are felt as a constant but distant and anonymous
(threat of) phenomenological pressure, a presence in which noth-
ing is directly presented but only made manifest as absent and
Take, for example, forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is unmotivated
and unintentional. It is nonetheless an intentionality-as we shall
see-but one that curiously undoes the structure of intentionality.
It is an intentionality that intends its object by depriving itself of
it. But if forgetfulness is the deprivation of its object, it can only
be this by simultaneously occluding the subjectivity doing the
intending. There is the phenomena of forgetfulness; but it is
known only as a lack-the lack of intentionality. And when there
is forgetfulness, there is only the "there is"; there is only the
presence of an unknown thereness without anything being there;
there is presencing but no dative of presencing and no accusative
of presencing. There is only the anonymous muffling rustling of
the "there is," the "es gibt," the "il y a," that steals in upon one
and steals away with one's self.
It is this peculiar intentional structure that I wish to recollect-
and, to be sure, it can only be recollected. To do this, and in a
preliminary fashion, let me make a few methodological remarks
about the nature of reflection, that it can, by reflecting upon
certain kinds of things, forfeit them. These remarks will follow
the unpublished manuscripts (collected in the Husserl Archives
in Louvain, Belgium, and Cologne, Germany) that Edward Hus-
serl wrote in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. In these manu-
scripts Husserl was driven to attempt a phenomenological de-
scription of just this intentional structure: that to reflect upon
these phenomena is to be deflected from them and to be deflected
from them is to reflect them.
This he attempted to do by attaining clarity about the nature
of time. Time is, it would seem, paradoxical, and the problem of
the constitution of time arises from the most basic problem in


phenomenology: How can the awareness of objects that are tem-
porally extended or successive be constituted by a consciousness
that is always "flowing"? The problem is posed decisively in
Husserl's second phase of thought concerning time (1908-17):
How, in a succession of consciousness, is a consciousness of
succession possible? This is the most basic problem, for every act
of consciousness "must necessarily exhibit the essential structure
of phenomenal temporality. In this sense, phenomenal temporality
is a necessary condition of every act of consciousness."' The problem
becomes expressed even more decisively in additional notes to
the main text of the lectures on inner time-consciousness taken
from manuscript notes dating around 1905: "Not time, rather the
originary time-consciousness, is the necessary form [Form] of
every originary intuition of objectivity."2
The problem of the constitution of time is the problem of the
possibility and limits of constitutionality.3 This, then, must be the
most important matter for phenomenology-"the further ultimate
problems of phenomenology: those pertaining to its self-criticism, the
range and limits and also the modes of apodicticity."4
Phenomenology is the most militant, virulent, and vigilant

1. Aron Gurwitsch, Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology, 347.
2. Edmund Husseri, Zur Phdnomenologie des inneren Zeitbewuf3tseins,
427. See also 136: "Explicit awareness of identity requires that of
3. Cf. Klaus Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 46: "Each constitution is a
temporalization [Zeitigung]."
4. Edmund Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen, 178; Husserl, Carte-
sian Meditations, translated by Dorion Cairns, 151-52. As to the nature
of apodicticity Husserl says (56; Cairns transl., 15-16): "An apodictic
evidence, however, is not merely certainty of the affairs or affair-
complexes (states-of-affairs) evident in it; rather it discloses itself to
a critical reflection, as having the signal peculiarity of being at the
same time the absolute unimaginableness inconceivabilityy) of their non-
being, and thus excluding in advance every doubt as objectlesss,'
empty. Furthermore, the evidence of that critical reflection likewise
has the dignity of being apodictic, as does therefore the evidence of
the unimaginableness of what is presented with apodictically evident
certainty. And the same is true of every critical reflection at a higher
level." Apodicticity is then complete and perfect adequation of mean-
ing to the givenness of the things themselves.


form of metaphysics, precisely because it is essentially a reflexive,
self-engaging gazing upon its own intrinsic possibility. In both
the closing pages of Formal and Transcendental Logic and in Carte-
sian Meditations Husserl calls into play the absoluteness of tran-
scendental subjectivity as providing the self-grounding ground
for the intrinsic possibility of the phenomenological enterprise.5
Moreover, the ownmost and uttermost possibility of phenome-
nology is the phenomenologyy of phenomenology" the radical,
phenomenological self-examination and self-explication of phe-
nomenology.6 This phenomenology of phenomenology, which

5. Whereas for Heidegger and Sartre the ground of all founding is
transcendence as the activity of freedom, which is by definition
groundless, Husserl insists-quite rightly, so far as his concern is for
the state and estate of metaphysics proper-that the ultimate ground
must ground itself. This difference is decisive, for (1) it seems correct
to say that Heidegger is not doing metaphysics inasmuch as he has
freed his thinking from all compulsion to ground things; (2) Sartre
is nihilistic because, although he has a concept of transcendence as
freedom from grounds, total freedom is indistinguishable from bad
faith (inasmuch as it is undecidable which is operative, good or bad
faith-each presupposes the other: to be in bad faith you have to
know that you are in bad faith, but to know that you are in bad faith
means that you are in good faith; while to be in good faith you must
already be in an act of bad faith about achieving good faith); and (3)
Husserl is preeminently the master of metaphysics.
6. Edmund Husserl, Formal and Transcendental Logic, 101, pp. 267-
68: "Are we not drawn into a game of endless questions? Does not a
new question immediately become urgent: How is a theory of logical
reason possible? But this question is answered by our last investigation:
Such a theory is radically possible as the phenomenology of logical reason,
within the frame of transcendental phenomenology as a whole. If this
science is then, as may be expected, the ultimate one, it must show
its ultimacy by showing that there is such a thing as an essential,
endlessly reiterated, reflexive bearing (of transcendental phenomenol-
ogy) upon itself, in which the essential sense of an ultimate justifi-
cation by itself is discernably included, and that precisely this is the
fundamental characteristic of an essentially ultimate science."
See also Cartesianische Meditationen, 63; Cairns transl., p. 152: "All
transcendental-philosophical theory of knowledge, as criticism of
knowledge, leads back ultimately to criticism of phenomenological knowl-
edge (in the first place, criticism of transcendental experience); and
owing to the essential reflexive relation of phenomenology to itself,
this criticism also demands a criticism. In this connexion, however,


necessarily forms the frame for the whole of phenomenology, is,
in its essence, a "self-examination on the part of transcendental
subjectivity," which shows "the ultimate grounding of all truth,"
the originary and therefore absolute ground in which all being
and truth is constituted (Formal and Transcendental Logic, 104, pp.
273, 274).
Moreover, not only is the phenomenology of phenomenology
"the intrinsically first criticism of cognition" (107c, p. 289), the
original grounding of all the sciences and of the ontologies of
both sorts that Husserl elaborates in Formal and Transcendental
Logic, but this originary ground "gives all of them unity, as branches
of a constituted production from the one transcendental subjectiv-
ity" (103, p. 272). Transcendental subjectivity, which explicates
and thematizes itself through phenomenological reflection, is,
then, not only the originating ground for all constituted objectiv-
ity, but, inasmuch as it constitutes itself, it is absolute being.
Let me retreat to the survey of the Husserlian literature to see
how the problem of time became for phenomenology the decisive
problem. (And my apologies for being pedantic here, but it is,
after all, a question of securing the mode of access to the phe-
nomena being investigated. Or is it that they are being invoked?
At any rate, if it is at all possible to describe what is refractory to
description, it would seem necessary first to ensure that we are
not idly speculating. But then the difference between speculation
and specularity will loom large on the Husserlian horizon. As
we shall see.)
In like terms Husserl recapitulates the dominant theme of Ideas
I: through the transcendental reduction consciousness gets ex-
hibited as absolute being, as "the sphere of absolute existence."
What the nature of this absoluteness of consciousness is needs

there exist no endless regresses that are infected with difficulties of
any kind (to say nothing of absurdities), despite the evident possi-
bility of reiterable transcendental reflections and criticisms."
See also 64; Cairns transl., p. 153: "But there is only one radical
self-investigation and it is phenomenological. Radical self-investiga-
tion and completely universal self-investigation are inseparable from
one another and at the same time inseparable from the genuine
phenomenological method of self-investigation, in the form peculiar
to transcendental reduction."


to be examined before we can begin to understand why inner
time-consciousness is absolute. That is to say, a genetic account
of time-consciousness emerges only after Ideas I, wherein he
deliberately avoids any discussion of time-consciousness. This
genetic account was developed when Husserl realized in 1893
that structural analyses produce irresolvable contradictions in the
constitution of time, and that as long as consciousness is under-
stood according to the schema first set forth in 1903 in the Logical
Investigations-apprehension-content-of-apprehension-time is
rendered incoherent.
In Ideas I Husserl elaborates the structural analysis of conscious-
ness. Consciousness, as phenomenology discovers it in its purity,
is, one might say, the opening through which the world is opened
up and set free as world, as the throwing open of the appearing
of being. The essence of consciousness, phenomenology tells us,
lies in intentionality, in being consciousness of. .... 'Jedes Erleb-
nis ist 'Bewultsein', und Bewut1tsein ist Bewuf3tsein von. . .
Jedes Erlebnis ist aber selbst erlebt und insofern auch 'bewu1It'.
Dieses Bewuftsein ist Bewultsein von Erlebnis [Every experience
is 'consciousness,' and consciousness is consciousness of. . .
Every experience is, however, itself experienced and insofar is
also 'conscious.' This consciousness is consciousness of experi-
ence]" (Zur Phdnomenologie des inneren Zeitbewuf3tseins, 291). Con-
sciousness: the dwelling within itself only by transcending itself;
present to itself as the self-perception of presence only by stand-
ing before the presence of the world, only by standing out into
the presence of the world. Consciousness: the outstanding phe-
nomenon, since it is the standing-out-of phenomenon as the out-
standing of phenomena.
In indicting and countermanding the naturalistic attitude from
which arises the fundamental problem of how consciousness can
transcend itself to have knowledge of transcendent objects, Hus-
serl brings into explicitness a basic distinction between appear-
ance and what appears. A basic distinction, but once achieved by
such radical means as the epochi, philosophy can attain to think-
ing the appearing of what appears in its appearance. For if we
query things, if we solicit them responsibly and responsively,
then we find that a thing is only insofar as it can be intimated in
a manifold of appearances, only insofar as it appears: "A thing is


an object which is given to consciousness as one and the same in
the continuous, regular flux of the multiple perceptions which
continuously pass off into each other."7 "It can appear only from
a certain angle, in which are already inscribed systematic possi-
bilities of ever new perspectives [Abschattungen]" (Ideas I, 42, p.
But no matter how fluid a series a subjective phenomenon is,
it gives the intimation of a stable and objective thing that lays
claim to having an independence transcending the flux of per-
ception. The thing, constituted through its manifold of appear-
ances, is the intentional unity transcending the intentional acts
of consciousness by and through which it is presented as a thing.9
When we perceive one side of the thing, the thing as a whole is
intended as something which, through the relativity, multiplicity,
and flux of its appearances, presents itself as "the temporal unity
of enduring or changing properties."10 "It pertains to the essence
of this object that it is dependent, that it cannot be without 'its'
mode of exhibition, i.e., without the ideal possibility of making
this an object, and again to pass over from this to the object. It is
again part of the essence of the 'one and the same' object of which

7. Ideas I, translated by W. R. Boyce Gibson, 41, p. 118. This trans-
lation is notoriously poor; I am told a new translation is in process.
8. See also Ideen I, 42, p. 77: "Das Ding nehmen wir dadurch wahr,
dafi es sich abschattet [We perceive the thing through its perspectival
9. Note that because of the structure of consciousness, that it is,
despite Husserl's insistence on the heterogeneous realms of being-
immanence and transcendence-(but this distinction, this insis-
tence, is precisely the problem in and with phenomenology and
specifically emerges in the characterization of intentionality as "dou-
ble intentionality"), given the Derridean formula "Inside 1Outside,"
this sentence also reads: perception is the self-giving of the thing.
10. Cf. Ideas I, 42, p. 120: "It is not an accidental caprice of the thing
nor an accident of 'our human constitution' that 'our' perception can
reach the things themselves only and merely through their Abschat-
tungen. On the contrary, it is evident, and it follows from the essence
of spatial things. . that a being so constituted can, in principle,
only be given through Abschattungen." I add: and they exist only by
giving themselves.


I am conscious in a series that my regard is to be directed towards
this very series of modes of exhibition."11
Not only is that which appears dependent upon its appear-
ances, but, more pointedly, there is a certain identification of
what appears with its appearances. The mode of appearing con-
stitutes this identity: by it is instituted the belonging-together of
what appears and its appearances, the abiding difference between
the two that holds them together in an essential but nonsimple
unity. Nonsimple, since what appears is an identity transcendent
to the manifold of appearances even though it is a moment
founded on this manifold. The transcendence of what appears
means that it itself is always more than its presentation and
that it can be itself again in another appearance or series of ap-
pearances. It is not exhausted by its appearances, nor is it the
sum of the whole manifold of Abschattungen through which it is
Moreover, the manifold in which an identity appears is never
limited to a series of appearances that has in fact already taken
place, nor, indeed, to any finite series. In principle the manifold
can be extended to infinity; the thing is always already open to
be given in new Abschattungen. In point of fact this openness to
further profiles is constitutive of the identity of what appears and
is designated by the term horizon: every objectivity gets consti-
tuted as an identity within a horizon of possible appearances.12
Also, an objectivity is open not only to further appearances but
is essentially open to the possibility of having been constituted by

11. Husseri, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, Appen-
dix 3, p. 180.
12. Cf. Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phe-
nomenology, 48, pp. 166-67: "No matter where we turn, every entity
that is valid for me and every conceivable subject as existing in
actuality is thus correlatively-and with essential necessity-an in-
dex of its systematic multiplicities. Each one indicates an ideal general
set of actual and possible experimental manners of givenness, each
of which is an appearance of this one entity. . The total multiplic-
ity of manners of givenness, however, is a horizon of possibly real-
izable processes, as opposed to the actual process."
Also cf. Formal and Transcendental Logic, 104, p. 272: "Something
Objective is nothing other than the synthetic unity of actual and
potential intentionalities."


another series of appearances. This possibility is necessarily in-
scribed into the structure of objectivity and inscribed as the es-
sential opening of objectivity. An object is determined by its
opening to the ways in which it can, could, and could have been
given: "This leaving open prior to further determining (which
perhaps never take place) is a moment included in the given
consciousness itself; it is precisely what makes up the 'horizon'-
the 'I can and do, but I can also do otherwise than I am doing' "
(Cartesian Meditations, 45). This opening or "leaving open" is the
transcendence of the object with respect to the ways in which it
has been given and therefore the ways in which it has been
So far this talk of an object seems to involve consciousness of
it in its direct presence or, at the very least, consciousness of the
object meant in its presence. The former is, of course, called
intuition, while the latter Husserl designates by the term filled
intention. But we can be conscious of the object meant in its absence;
we can intend it emptilyy." Moreover, inscribed into any encounter
of an object is the possibility that it can be meant in its absence.
The possibility of an object being meant in its absence is the
enabling condition for intending the object expressively, that is,
in language. Given the primacy of language in experience, this
absence, this possibility of absence inscribed necessarily into the
structure of objectivity in general, should probably be given
The identity of the object comes to be presented only within
the difference between presence and absence: the recognition of
identity is the proper whole within which empty and filled inten-
tions take place. Only when we are able to experience an object
in its presence and in its absence do we encounter its identity. Its
identity is a moment "founded" on presence and absence. Also,
though, presence and absence are founded on each other, and
the two taken together are founded on identity.13
When the object under regard is a material thing, its essence
is given through perspectives of it. In this way it can be said that
it is in the nature of things that the totality of each is essentially

13. Cf. Robert Sokolowski, Husserlian Meditations, chap. 2, 7; chap.
4, 33.


withheld from appearing, from being given fully in its appear-
ances-even though each thing is constituded in its identity, that
is, in its totality and wholeness as ideally one and the same, through
its given appearances. This self-withholding of a thing in its
giving of itself is the opening up of the horizon-might we
tentatively call it the world?-in which the thing can be consti-
tuted as a thing. This self-withholding characterizing the self-
giving of a thing moreover implies that in appearing it conceals
itself marginally so that it can appear. This means: its marginal
concealment is the opening up of the horizon that enables it to
appear and is the opening of itself within a horizon of appearing.14
The term opening, when used in speaking of the phenomeno-
logical constitution of a thing, designates a certain excess, a cer-
tain overflowing of a thing, its reserve, and noncontainment
within the constitution that determines it as a thing. This deter-
mination is the inscription of the thing within its constitution,
within its phenomenality. This inscription bears within itself an
irreducible mark of a certain necessarily nonphenomenal supple-
ment, an unclosable openness to an exteriority.
The fundamental insight of phenomenology is the discovery
that consciousness cannot be subsumed under the standard on-
tological categories by which we come to comprehend things.15
The non-thingness of consciousness, its nothingness in terms of
the traditional categories, reduces the being of things from pre-

14. Cf. Husseri, Experience and Judgment, 34-35: "In this way a tran-
scendence of sense clings to every particular apperception, to every
complex of particular apperceptions. On the one hand, this tran-
scendence is relative to the continuously anticipated potentiality of
possible new individual realities and of groups of such realities which
are to be experienced in the realization of the process of their entering
into consciousness from the world; on the other hand, this transcen-
dence is the internal horizon, the complex of characters not yet per-
ceived, associated with every real thing offering itself to experience.
Every novel reality entering into experience does so within the ho-
rizon of the world and as such has its own internal horizon.... [The
real thing] is provided with a sense which continuously confers on
it its 'internal horizon'."
15. Cf. Ideas I, 33, p. 102: "Consciousness has in itself its proper
being. . It constitutes a region of being original in principle." See
also 42, p. 120: "Thus a basic and essential difference arises between
being as experience [Erlebnis] and being as thing."


sumed absoluteness to an essential contingency. Here contin-
gency is not a relation between the essence and the existence of
a thing but a determination of its very existence. As soon as we
recognize the difference between appearance and what appears
we are on the way to appreciating the role of transcendental
subjectivity in the worldplay of manifestation, noting here only
that this transcendental subjectivity is nothing worldly. Whereas
what appears is what it is only by virtue of its manifestation,
transcendental subjectivity is what it is only by being that for the
sake of which what appears appears, that which "stands in the
presence of" the manifest. In this sense perhaps the most re-
vealing way of speaking here is to say that that which appears is
the accusative of manifestation and transcendental subjectivity is
the dative of manifestation, while other egos, as other origins of
the worldplay, are the vocative of manifestation.
But such terms serve only to designate the problem, which
might be indicated here in a provisional way as: If consciousness
constitutes the transcendental origins-and what this means is
precisely the problem (Ideas I, 152)-how can it become the
object of phenomenology? How can consciousness be both the
constituting ground of being and that which is (already) consti-
tuted? Of course, such a question is shown by phenomenology
to be specious, or at least misguided, for the duality between the
activity of constituting and that which is constituted pertains
strictly to worldly being, including psychological phenomena,
and not to the transcendental origins of worldly being. Such a
question neglects entirely the transcendental dimension of ex-
perience, which Husserl claims is known apodictically, indeed, is
apodicticity itself. Even so, this question addresses "the most
important [matter] in all of phenomenology," the problem of the
self-constituting time-consciousness.'6

16. See The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, 40, p. 110:
"All are contents of consciousness, contents of primal consciousness
which is constitutive of temporal objects. Primal consciousness, it
would be noted, is not in this sense again a content, an object in
phenomenological time."
Also cf. Appendix 6, pp. 150-51: "Subjective time is constituted in
absolute, timeless consciousness, which is not an Object. Let us


In Ideas I Husseri studies subjectivity as the condition for the
possibility of the emergence of sense and reality, not as the ade-
quate cause and sufficient reason for what is constituted. But the
analyses of the types of constitution carried out in Ideas I remain
purely formal. They do not explain the origin of the content of
what is constituted. The objects and senses that are given as
intentionally constituted are simply accepted as given-or more
pointedly, as self-given; their origins are not explained totally by
subjectivity. There is a certain givenness or facticity in them that
is not entirely the work of consciousness. If this is the case, it
must be so because the contents of meanings or objects cannot
be accounted for by means of subjectivity. Again, consciousness
does not "create" them; it allows them to emerge as real but does
not make them.
What reality is in itself can be reached by consciousness even
though it must remain in principle radically distinct from and
transcendent to consciousness. Reality is not reducible to con-
sciousness; it remains transcendent and separate from subjectiv-
ity and yet, in its very transcendence, is accessible to conscious-
ness. This is what Husserl calls the riddle or enigma of
transcendence. This is at the same time the enigma of constitu-
tion, for intentionality constitutes an object that transcends it,
which requires an existence and a sense that become independent
of subjectivity. The theory of intentional constitution is not an
attempt to dissolve this enigma but an endeavor to see what can
be said about it. Unlike Hegel, who identifies reality and con-
sciousness, Husserl maintains both terms in the paradox. Both
are kept as irreducible to one another: "[B]etween consciousness
and reality there yawns a true abyss of sense" (Ideen I, 44, p.
Consciousness, the claim goes, is the "sphere of absolute exis-
tence." The term absolute is gleaned from Husserl's primitive

reflect now as to how this absolute consciousness attains givenness."
Also p. 154: "Even if reflection is not carried out ad infinitum and if,
in general, no reflection is necessary, still that which makes this
reflection possible and, in principle (or so it seems at least) possible
ad infinitum, must be given and here lies the problem."
17 Throughout the text, unless a specific translation is cited, the
translations are my own.


operative insight that in the realm of consciousness, in "imma-
nent perceptions," there is no duality between what is intimated
and what is present, as there is in "external" transcendent per-
ception. "Ein Erlebnis schattet sich nicht ab [An experience is not
given perspectivally]" (Ideen I, 42). "For any being in this region
it is nonsense to speak of appearance [Erscheinung] or of repre-
sentation by Abschattungen" (44).
Consciousness-and this term has yet to be comprehended as
the "flux of consciousness"18-is always given in immanent per-
ception as something absolute, as something that is what it is
and not as an object that is anticipated on the basis of a sequence
of phenomena that may further contradict or destroy one another
and consequently disappoint our expectations. Immanent per-
ception, in a word, is adequate: it is the giving of consciousness
to itself as being given over to itself or, more precisely, the giving
to itself of the self-giving.19

18. In Ideen I Husseri mentions the problem of time, in which the
absolute self-constituting flux of consciousness is first evinced, only
to state that he will not discuss it. "Time is furthermore. . a title
for a completely, self-contained problem sphere, and one of excep-
tional difficulty" (81, p. 236; my trans.). His presentation of phenom-
enology as a rigorous science has to neglect the question of time "in
order to keep free of confusion that which first appears only in the
phenomenological attitude" (236). Yet in a decisive remark following
these Husserl notes that the apodicticc" field of experience, which
we have won by phenomenological reduction, is not really the ulti-
mate absolute: "The transcendental 'absolute' which we have set up
through the reductions is in truth not the ultimate; it is something
which constitutes itself in a certain profound and wholly unique
sense, and which has its primal source in an ultimate and true
absolute" (236). This "final absolute" is the "lebendige Gegenwart," the
"living present," as the source of the flow of inner temporality con-
stituting subjectivity. In this way, the remarks made in Ideen I about
the absoluteness of consciousness are merely provisional.
19. Cf. Ideas I, 44, p. 126: "Experience [Erlebnis], we said, does not
present itself. This implies that the perception of experience is plain
insight into something which in perception is given (or to be given) as
'absolute', and not as an identity uniting modes of appearance
through Abschattungen continue. . The appearance of a feeling
has no Abschattungen. If I look upon it, I have before me an absolute;
it has no aspects which might present themselves now in this way,
now in that."


This is the first word on the absolute being of consciousness,
and from the adequation of immanent perception to its object
Husseri derives the truth that

everyy immanent perception necessarily guarantees the ex-
istence [Existenz] of its object. If reflective apprehension is
directed to my experience, I apprehend an absolute self
whose existence [Dasein] is, in principle, undeniable, that
is, the insight that it does not exist is, in principle, impos-
sible. (Ideas I, 46, p. 130)

The connection between Husserl's ego cogito and Descartes' is
clear here. But Husserl's claim is much the stronger. For him, the
absoluteness of consciousness means more than the indubitabil-
ity of internal perception. This absoluteness does not concern
only the essence of consciousness, the certainty of those truths
pertaining to it, but also the very existence of consciousness
In winning access to the absolute being of consciousness, the
"sphere of the absolutely established [absoluter Position]" (Ideas I,
46, p. 131),21 the activity of reflection is broached only and ex-

20. Ideas I, 49, p. 139: "But my empathy and my consciousness in
general is given in a primordial and absolute sense, not only essen-
tially but existentially."
21. See also 49, p. 139: "Consciousness, considered in its 'purity',
must be reckoned as a self-contained system of being, as a system of
Absolute being into which nothing can penetrate and from which
nothing can escape." But does not this metaphor of self-containment
and of an inviolable "inside" separated absolutely from an "outside"
put into question the phenomenological enterprise while at the same
time organizing and regulating its discourse? Or at least during what
Ludwig Langrebe, the Husserlian archivist at Cologne, calls Husserl's
Cartesian period? It can be said in this regard that phenomenology
is the state of seizure in metaphysics, the state where metaphysics is
put under too much tension to maintain its usual form of discourse.
It is worthwhile noting that, as we shall presently see, Husserl over-
turns this notion of self-containment fifteen years later when he says
in Cartesianische Meditationen that because I am (constituted by) the
difference between my own transcendental ego and that of another,
"not all my modes of consciousness are modes of my self-consciousness"


plicitly as that by which the absoluteness of consciousness is
disclosed and established. And inasmuch as the "phenomenolog-
ical method proceeds entirely through acts of reflection" (77, p.
197), bringing into explicitness the activity of reflection would
seem to offer the promise of establishing critically, securely, rig-
orously, the intrinsic possibility of phenomenology in constitut-
ing itself as its own ground and in legitimating the possibility,
the intrinsic possibility, of metaphysics.
In Ideas I Husserl claims that 'all experiences are conscious
experiences'" (45, p. 128), and in his Phenomenology of Internal
Time-Consciousness he has it that "every act is consciousness of
something, but every act is also that of which we are conscious"
(Appendix 12, p. 175). Husserl himself puts the first sentence
cited above in quotes to indicate thereby the possibility and con-
stant presence of a nonfocal, nonthematic consciousness. He con-
tinues by adding:

[T]his tells us specifically with respect to intentional expe-
riences that they are not only the consciousness of some-
thing and as such present not merely when they are objects
of a reflective consciousness, but that when unreflected they
are already there as a "background," and therefore in prin-
ciple, and at first in an analogical sense, available for percep-
tion, like unnoticed things in our external field of vision.
(Ideen I, 35)

If phenomenologyy proceeds entirely through acts of reflec-
tion," and if, as we learn, "jedes Erfassen ist ein Herausfassen" (Ideen
I, 35), and if "the stream of experience can never consist wholly of
focal actualities" (Ideas I, 35, p. 107), then decisive for questioning
phenomenology as to its possibility and promise is the possibility
of gaining phenomenological access to this "marginal" realm of
nonfocal, nonthematic consciousness. If this marginal realm is
not in itself phenomenologically accessible, if it is thoroughly
transformed by an act of phenomenological reflection into a "focal
actuality" so that its marginal character is essentially denied to
phenomenology and yet makes possible (as can be documented
in Husserl's work on time-consciousness) the identity of tran-


scendental subjectivity22 and therefore phenomenology; if, fur-
thermore, the subject of phenomenology is constituted in its iden-
tity and self-presence by its essential openness to the nether-edge
of its experience and by the trace within its selfsame self-presence
of something beyond this nether-edge-if all this, then either
phenomenology is menaced from within by this critical difference
from the tradition (which excludes and suppresses the availability
and involvement, the possibility, of this realm)-in which case
phenomenology is more of a vestige than a venture-or phenom-
enology calls philosophy to account by accounting for this mark
of this nether-edge, this trace of nonpresence in self-presence. In
either case the issue is whether phenomenology can sustain itself
in the face of and by virtue of this mark and trace.
Consider this statement by Husserl:

Even an Erlebnis is not, and never is, perceived in its com-
pleteness, it cannot be grasped adequately in its full unity.

22. It is perhaps time to state what Husseri understands by "tran-
scendental subjectivity": "this world which is ours is only an example
through which we must study the structure and the origin of a possible
world in general from subjective sources. . We then understand
ourselves, not as subjectivity which finds itself in a world ready-made, as
in simple, psychological reflection, but as a subjectivity bearing within itself,
and achieving, all of the possible operations to which this world owes its
becoming. In other words, we understand ourselves in this revelation
of intentional implications, in the interrogation of the origin of the
sedimentation of sense from intentional operations, as transcendental
subjectivity, where by 'transcendental' nothing more is to be under-
stood than the theme, originally inaugurated by Descartes, of a
regression inquiry concerning the ultimate source of all cognitive
formations, of a reflection by the knowing subject on himself and on
his cognitive life, the life in which all scientific formations valid for
him have been purposefully produced and are preserved as available
results" (Experience and Judgment, 49ff.). For a variant of this definition
cf. The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology,
97-98. Three comments here: World is "the universal ground of all
particular experiences" (Experience and Judgment); it is the horizon-
not itself an entity-of that within which objects are given and of
which we are conscious only as the horizon of particular objects
(Crisis, 143). Sense is, quite simply, the appearing of being (Experience
and Judgment, 268). It necessarily involves transcendence (cf. Experi-
ence and Judgment, 34f., and footnote 14 of this chapter). Transcendental
means, then, achieving truth, coming into the presencing of things.


It is essentially something that flows, and starting from the
present moment we can swim after it, our gaze reflectively
turned towards it, while the stretches we leave in our wake
are lost to our perception. Only in the form of retention or
in the form of retrospective remembrance have we any con-
sciousness of what has immediately flowed past us. And in
the last resort the whole stream of my experience is a unity
of experience, of which it is in principle impossible "swim-
ming with it" to obtain a complete perceptual grasp. (Ideas
I, 44, p. 127)

There are at least four problems involved in this passage: the
nature and role of retention in the constitution of phenomena;
the nature and role of reflection; the nature of consciousness,
given its independence from reflection and given the division of
it introduced by reflection; and, the main issue, the problem of
the constitution of the flux of consciousness into a self-abiding
unity. These four problems can be seen to form the axes which
determine the orbit of Husserl's thought.
It is not only as an object of reflection that consciousness, being
given adequately, necessarily exists; the meaning of its existence
lies precisely in not existing as an object of reflection only. Con-
scious life exists even when it is not an object of reflection.

Living in the cogito we have not got the cogitatio consciously
before us as an intentional object; but it can at any time
become the possibility of a "reflexive" directing of the men-
tal glance towards itself in the form of a new cogitatio and
by way of a simple apprehension. In other words every
cogitatio can become the object of a so-called "inner percep-
tion," and eventually the object of a reflexive valuation.
(Ideas I, 38, p. 111)

"What is perceived in [reflection] is precisely characterized as not
having existence and duration in perception only, but as having
been already there before becoming an object of perception" (45,
p. 128). This notion rests on the absoluteness of consciousness,
for here the existence of consciousness reveals its independence
from internal perception, as opposed to external objects, the very
existence of which entails a reference to consciousness as their


necessary condition. It is no longer a reflection on consciousness
that constitutes its existence; the former is made possible by the
latter. Reflection has its foundation as its object, its intentional
correlate as its own necessary condition.23
Husserl characterizes the existence of consciousness (and it is
here that the traditional dichotomy between essence and exis-
tence is at least called into question) and its independence from
reflection by saying that consciousness "is ready to be perceived
[Wahrnehmungsbereit]" (Ideas I, 45, p. 129). So the specific mode
of existence of consciousness-its absoluteness and its indepen-
dence from reflection-consists in its existing for itself, prior to
being taken in any way as an object of reflection. The suggestion
Ideas I puts forth is that consciousness exists in such a way that
not only is it essentially standing (out) before the presence of
things, but it is itself present to itself. To exist in the way con-
sciousness exists does not mean to be perceived but to be continu-
ously standing out into its own presence. In this sense the absolute-
ness of consciousness signifies that consciousness is self-
presence. For this reason the very possibility of reflection is
founded in the being of consciousness. Moreover, reflection pre-
supposes that consciousness is not an object of reflection only
but has its condition of possibility in its virtual independence
from reflection. But since reflection is itself a mode of conscious-
ness, the condition for the possibility of reflection is a division
within consciousness itself; reflection introduces a gap into con-
sciousness, separating it from itself. Whereas Husserl is preem-
inently a master of description, it is precisely on this score, as we
shall see, that he is forced to speculate. He resolves the riddle of
reflection-that consciousness, the unification of experience, is
split within itself-by positing a "Selbstvergemeinschaftung," a com-
munity or communion of selves each relating to the others in the
process of the decrepitation (Hinfdlligkeit) of the original tran-
scendental ego. But even though Husserl abandons his method-
ological injunction of a purely descriptive science, he is the most
provocative when he goes off on a speculative track.
Husserl gradually approaches the riddle of reflection. The

23. Ideas 1, 46, p. 130: "Every immanent perception necessarily guar-
antees the existence of its object. . The insight that it [the im-
manent object] does not exist is, in principle, impossible."


problem of reflection always coming on the scene after the fact
and in fact swimming after the fact gets intensified in his lectures
and notes on time. These lectures were first published in 1928
and were edited by Martin Heidegger under the title Vorlesungen
zur Phdnomenologie des inneren Zeitbewuf3tseins. Heidegger, how-
ever, had little to do with the form of the text. He was responsible
only for a brief editorial preface.
Edith Stein was the real editor of the text, and in fact was
authorized in 1917 by Husserl to produce an "Ausarbeitung" of a
group of writings dating from 1893 to 1917 Her production com-
prised three groups. First, it embraced a number of texts devoted
to various aspects of time-consciousness that were written prior
to 1904 and were used to some extent in the lectures of 1905 (the
course to which Heidegger refers in his foreword) and in the
elaboration of the lecture texts in subsequent years. Second, it
included pages written explicitly for the fourth and final part of
the course mentioned by Heidegger. Third, the bundle of writings
available to Edith Stein included various sketches on the general
problems discussed in the lectures originating from 1905 through
at least 1911. Certain texts may have been written as late as 1917,
and Husserl apparently wrote one of them specifically for Edith
Stein's Ausarbeitung.
The 1928 text was a patchwork of writings edited and selected
from all three chronological phases of Husserl's thought. As such
it is incohesive, disconnected, and maybe even incoherent, and
it must at least be examined in the light of Rudolph Boehm's
critical edition of 1966, Zur Phdnomenologie des inneren Zeit-
bewuj3tseins, to sort out the different phases in the development
of Husserl's reflections on time.
There are three different phases. The first, written in 1893, is
an incoherent account of "the specious present." In this account
of time, consciousness was conceived as an overlapping of its
own discrete, momentary states. This discussion of "the specious
present" is only of historical value, for Husserl quickly abandoned
it when he realized that the multiplication of acts of consciousness
overlapping acts of consciousness necessarily led to an infinite
The second phase of Husserl's thought is what interests me
now. Presented in his 1905 lectures and developed through 1907-8
when its inadequacy was recognized, this phase offers a sche-


matic representation of time, a Darstellung (presentation) of time-
consciousness, according to the schema first developed in Logical
Investigations, Auffassung-Auffassungsinhalt (apprehension-con-
tents-of-apprehension). Contents immanent to consciousness are
animated by "apprehensions." The contents themselves are tem-
porally neutral, and the apprehensions are specifically and es-
pecially temporal.
According to this schema, each momentary phase of conscious-
ness really contains those moments of contents and apprehen-
sions necessary for the constitution of the awareness of the tem-
poral object. These contents Husserl calls appearance, a term he
used from 1901 to 1917 as a synonym for the intentional act. But
if we adhere to this schema, this structuralism, then we must
distinguish among three kinds of temporal apprehension: pri-
mary remembrance, protection, and perception. Primary re-
membrance preserves and modifies the past, and protection
opens up the inbreaking of the future, while perception is always
a gegenwdrtigen, an originarily making-present, an enpresenting.
The past is directly perceived through retention and not repre-
sented. But according to this schema, primal remembrance, as
apprehension, is not past; rather it is now, along with perception
and protection. Husserl's criticism of Brentano's psychology of
time-consciousness applies to this phase of his own thought: that
we are confronted with the "obvious contradiction" that what is
supposed to be past is actually now and what is now is supposed
to be past (Zur Phdnomenologie des inneren Zeitbewu}3tseins, 18).
Husserl says: "Not every constitution has the schema, content of
apprehension-apprehension" (7).
Upon this clarification of the incoherency of his structural ac-
count of time-consciousness-that primal remembrance is sup-
posed to give us what is actually past, not a representation of
what is past in a present perception of it-Husserl realizes that
"[t]he perception of a temporal object must be a temporal object,
and both coincide with respect to their phenomenal extension"
(Zeitbewuj3tseins, 226). And upon this clarification Husserl notes
that we must distinguish "the temporally extended, full, concrete
time-consciousness, the complete perception, intuition of time"
and "the momentary time-consciousness" (229), which is a phase
of the full perception. There are, Husserl concludes, three levels
of time-consciousness: (1) things in worldly time; (2) my acts of


perceiving and their ingredient sensations, which are constituted
as inner objects; my acts of perceiving can give way to an act of
reflection that focuses on the act of perceiving or its sensations.
The act of reflection is itself an inner object and, like all inner
objects, is experienced and constituted by (3) the absolute flow
of inner time-consciousness.
By gaining this distinction between the different levels of con-
stitutionality Husserl is able to reject his schematic interpretation
of time, in which both past and future are thoroughly mediated
by present, temporally specific apprehensions, in favor of a direct
and immediate intending past, present, and future. Husserl re-
alizes that any given perceptual phase of consciousness is at once
a consciousness of what is now, of what is past, and of what can
come. In a single phase of the appearance (considered as inten-
tional experience) a plurality of appearing phases will be in-
tended in different temporal modes. In this light Husserl says,
"Certainly consciousness must reach out beyond [hinausgreifen]
the now" (Zeitbewufltseins, 266); "every perception breaks down
into a cross-section [Querschnitt]" (231). A Querschnitt has a "cer-
tain 'thickness'" (210): it contains in itself whatever is necessary
for-and thus becomes-the consciousness of what is now, of
what has elapsed, and of what is to come. It makes possible both
the perception of temporal objectivity and the experience of the
temporally extended act of consciousness-something the sche-
matic representation of time failed to do. Not only is the present
(Gegenwart) perceived through the Querschnitt, the present "sig-
nifies. . no mere now point, rather an extended objectivity
which, modified phenomenally, has its now, its before [Vorher],
and its after [Nachver]" (417). This is to say, however, that the past
itself is directly perceived-it gives itself to a presentation (and
not to a representation) in and through retention.
The Querschnitt is "direct," "immediate." The three forms of
intentional awareness-the retentional, the impressional, and the
protentional-radiate from it. The Querschnitt does not "really"
contain any contents of any kind. It refers to another phase or
Querschnitt directly and intrinsically. Accordingly, an awareness of
the flow of momentary phases will be built up within the flow
itself. The Querschnitt is the terminus technicus of a theory of "direct
intending." The Querschnitt contains within itself no contents,
just intentionalities, direct and immediate. Retention is con-


sciousness of momentary phases of consciousness and through
these the elapsed objective phases; it is a consciousness of a
Querschnitt that has gone before. But since each Querschnitt em-
braces retention, primal sensation (as impression gets called after
1908), and protection, in retaining an elapsed Querschnitt, reten-
tion may be said to retain the elapsed retention, primal sensation,
and so on. This whole "continuum of continue" is preserved and
modified in the process of elapsing. In this way the primal sen-
sation with its correlative object does not turn into a retention but
rather is retained by a retention as is the previous retention. The
Querschnitt produces, in a word, a "Zeitstreckenzugleich," an "ex-
tended altogetherness" (ZeitbewuJtseins, Nr. 54, pp. 368-69).24
That a single Querschnitt can refer through its retentional mo-
ment to elapsed phases of consciousness and, through these, to
elapsed phases of "immanent objectivity" means in effect that
retention possesses what Husserl calls "double intentionality":

Every shading off of consciousness [Bewujitseinabschattung]
of the mode "retention" has a double intentionality: one
serving for the constitution of the immanent object, of the
tone; this is the one which we call "primary remembrance"
of the tone just sensed, or more precisely just retention of
the tone. The other is constitutive for the unity of this pri-
mary remembrance in the flow . Hence, a horizontal
intentionality [Ldngsintentionalitdt] goes through the flux,

24. Husserl's development of this decisive insight into the Quer-
schnitt, i.e., its immediate and direct relationship with other Quer-
schnitt, the subsequent clarification of the problem of temporality, as
well as the abandonment during 1907-8 of the essentially inadequate
presentation of time-consciousness formulated in terms of the "pre-
phenomenological" schema of the Logical Investigations, Auffassung-
Auffassungsinhalt, are thoroughly and carefully analyzed by John
Brough in his dissertation, "A Study of the Logic and Evolution of
Edmund Husserl's Theory of the Constitution of Time-Conscious-
ness, 1893-1917." This is an important and scholarly study, and I am
indebted to Dr. Brough. A summary of his dissertation, a worthy
account in its own right, can be found in Man and World, vol. 5, no. 3
(August 1972): 298-326, under the title "The Emergence of an Ab-
solute Consciousness in Husserl's Early Writings on Time-Conscious-
ness," reprinted in Husserl: Expositions and Appraisals, ed. Frederick
A. Elliston and Peter McCormick.


which in the course of the flux is in continuous unity of
coincidence with itself.25

This horizontal intentionality is so called because it is directed
toward the flow or succession of momentary phases of conscious-
ness. The retentional consciousness directed toward the objective
dimension Husserl calls "vertical intentionality" (Querintention-
alitdt). It is so called because it refers to the objective, experienced
phases, which are, so to speak,26 "above" or "perpendicular" to the
phases of consciousness that intend them.
It should be clear that these two intentionalities of retention
are in no sense disconnected from one another, going off in
opposite directions like some sort of vectors. Rather, retentional
consciousness by preserving elapsed phases of consciousness
(horizontal intentionality) also preserves the elapsed moments
intended by these phases of consciousness. To have one inten-
tionality, then, is to have the other. Husserl writes:

25. Zur Phdnomenologie des inneren Zeitbewufltseins, 80; The Phenome-
nology of Internal Time-Consciousness, translated by James S. Churchill,
106-7. This is a slightly revised text of the important Nr. 54, p. 379.
Also cf. Appendix 7 of the 1928 edition (Churchill trans., 157): "In
the stream of consciousness we have a double intentionality. Either
we consider the content of the flux with its flux-form-we consider
then the series of intentional lived experiences, consciousness
of . .-or we direct our regard to intentional unities, to that of
which we are intentionally conscious as homogeneous in the stream-
ing of the flux . This unity is originally constituted through the
fact of the flux itself; that is, its true essence is not only to be, in
general, but to be a unity of lived experience and to be given in
intentional consciousness, in which a shaft of attention can go to the
flux (the shaft itself is not attended to; it does not enrich the stream,
nor does it alter the stream which is to be taken notice of but 'fixes'
and makes objective)." The shape of the shaft will shift sharply in
Husserl's later reflections.
26. But Husserl says: "Fur all das fehlen uns die Namen" (Zur Phdno-
menologie des inneren Zeitbewufltseins, 429). Also cf. p. 371: The flow of
consciousness is "absolute subjectivity, and has the absolute properties
of something to be designated metaphorically [im Bilde] as a flow . .
Fur all das haben wir keine Namen." That phenomenology is that state
of seizure of metaphysics is clearly evinced here.


There are accordingly two intentionalities inseparably
united, requiring one another like two sides of one and the
same thing, and which are interwoven into the one, solitary
flow of consciousness. (Zeitbewufltseins, 381)

Furthermore, he notes that retentionin is an expression which is
used to designate the intentional reference. . of phase of con-
sciousness to phase of consciousness" (333).

Retention is not a modification in which impressional data
really remain preserved only in an altered form. Rather,
retention is an intentionality, in fact, an intentionality of a
special kind. When a primal sensation, a new phase,
emerges, the preceding one is not lost but is "retained in
concept" (i.e., "retained" exactly), and thanks to this reten-
tion a looking back to what has expired is possible. Reten-
tion itself is not an act of looking back which makes an
Object of the phase which has expired . Retention itself
is not an "act" (i.e., an immanent unity of duration consti-
tuted in a series of retentional phases) but a momentary
consciousness of that which has expired and, at the same
time, a foundation for the retentional consciousness of the
next phase. (118; Churchill trans., 162)

This double intentionality is the "essential constitution of the
flow" of consciousness (378). And according to this interpretation
of the flow of consciousness, it is now possible to explain how
one momentary phase is related to another-something the sche-
matic view could not really do. By virtue of the double intention-
ality of retention the succession of consciousness is the conscious-
ness of succession-and in two interrelated senses. Through the
actual Querschnitt elapsed momentary phases of consciousness
are preserved-and this means that the flow of consciousness
constitutes its own self-appearance-and through these pre-
served phases elapsed objective phases are retained. Because
each succeeding Querschnitt intends or is directly conscious of
those that have gone before, the succession of consciousness is
the consciousness of succession. Successive phases of conscious-
ness can now be said to be intrinsically and intentionally related.
The retention of retention is, in effect, the flow's self-retention,


and thus would seem to indicate that the flow constitutes its own
appearance. Thus the absolute is finally broached. We need to
see how it is gained.
To speak of intentionality is, as Husserl notes early on in his
lectures on time-consciousness, "ambiguous [doppelsinnig], de-
pending on whether we have in mind the relation of the ap-
pearance to what appears or the relation of consciousness on
the one hand to 'what appears in its modal setting,' and on the
other to what merely appears" (27; Churchill trans., 47-48). This
ambiguity is essential to retention and constitutes its double
Retention is a kind of intentionality; that is to say, it is an
opening, a form of openness to .... But it is an opening to what
exceeds or escapes the presence of the present and the present
of the presence. Retention is not this excess and exorbitance, nor
is it the constitutional modification of such excess and exorbi-
tance. Rather, it is the opening of such within the presence of the
present and the present of presence. It is the opening of self-
presence, the opening of transcendentality that makes possible
something like self-presence in the first place. For without a rela-
tion to nonpresence inscribed within self-presence, without the
phenomenon of nonpresence appearing as such within the self-
perception of presence, that is, without such an opening of tran-
scendentality and without the transcendentality of such an open-
ing, self-presence could never be produced-constituted-as
selfsameness, as the self coming into its own presence, as being
present for itself. Without the opening of nonpresence and the
openness to nonpresence ipseity could never appear as such.
The opening of nonpresence, the openness to nonpresence,
inscribes within the punctuality of the present the trace of a
certain nonpresence. It is the mark of an irreducible alterity in
the present of presence and the presence of the present. Accord-
ingly Husserl speaks of the "now apprehension [that] is, as it
were, the nucleus of a comet's tail of retentions referring to earlier
now-points of the motion" (30; Churchill trans., 52); the "trace"
of the expired sound in the consciousness of the present sound
(12; Churchill trans., 30); "the now-point [which] has for con-
sciousness a temporal halo which is brought about through a
continuity of memory" (36; Churchill trans., 58); and most suc-
cinctly, "a punctual phase can never be for itself" (47; Churchill


trans., 70). Accordingly Husseri says that "retention constitutes
the living horizon of the now" (18, p. 43; Churchill trans., p. 66),
where we understand by horizon the infinite overflowing and
opening of that which is constituted, the reserve and supplement
of nonphenomenality and transcendentality from out of which is
constituted the present as phenomenon. Horizon is the opening to
the other and as such forms both the unity and the incomplete-
ness of every experience. Because of this "ecstatico-horizonal"
(Being and Time) structure of time-consciousness "the appearance
of sinking back, of withdrawing, arises" (31, p. 69; Churchill
trans., p. 94; italics mine). Only on the basis of such anappearance
can a temporal moment "enter into the now" as "now" (26;
Churchill trans., 46) and achieve the punctuality of the present.
Finally, in his unpublished manuscripts Husserl says retention is
the indissoluble unity of "entgleitenlassen-Behalten," a "retaining-
letting-slip-away," a "letting-slip-away-retaining."
In investigating the nature and possibility of reflection we are
led to an analysis of retention as double intentionality and thus
back to the "absolute temporally constitutive flux." This flux can-
not be constituted in time, and so "we can no longer speak of a
time of the final constitutive consciousness" (38, p. 78; Churchill
trans., p. 104).27 If anything, this flux would seem to be consti-
tutive of the temporality of time; it would seem to be temporal-
izing per se.
The problem is how this absolute flux of consciousness "attains
givenness." The duality in the intentionality of retention, Husserl
tells us, provides the clue, for it is "the one unique flux of con-
sciousness in which the immanent temporal unity of the sound
and also the unity of the flux of consciousness itself is consti-
tuted" (39, p. 80; Churchill trans., p. 106). In this way the flux of
consciousness constitutes its own unity.

The flux of the immanent, temporally constitutive con-
sciousness not only is but is so remarkably and yet so intel-
ligibly constituted that a self-appearance of the flux necessar-

27. Cf. p. 371: "This flow is something which we can speak of in
conformity with what is constituted, but it is nothing temporally 'objec-
tive'," since it is itself constituting.


ily subsists in it and hence the flux must necessarily be
comprehensible in the flowing. The self-appearance of the
flux does not require a second flux, but qua phenomenon it
is constituted in itself. The constituting and the constituted
coincide, yet naturally they cannot coincide in every respect.
The phases of the flux of consciousness in which the same
flux of consciousness are phenomenally constituted cannot
be identical with these constituted phases, and they are not.
What is caused to appear in the momentary-actual of the
flux of consciousness is the past phase of the flux of con-
sciousness in a series of retentional moments of this flux.
(39, p. 83; Churchill trans., pp. 109-10)

This passage, above all others, forms the key for understanding
the phenomenological absolute, for it is here that the essential
difference between the absolute flow of consciousness and its
phenomenal constitution as self-appearance is fully elicited.
The lack of a full and complete coincidence-the coincidence
best described as non-self-identity-delivers phenomenology
from a retrenchment in presence pure and simple and a con-
sciousness in absolute proximity to itself, which, if we are to
believe Derrida, forms the essence of metaphysical thought. The
non-self-identity intimated in this passage bespeaks the breach
of any closure of presence. It is, again, not a retrenchment that
is made possible by the exclusion and suppression of any kind of
non-self-identity of self-presence.
A phase or part of the flux, attaining prominence, can become
identified by a certain regard; the entire flux can itself be identi-
fied as just this one. But this identity is not a simple unity of
selfsameness, for it is constituted by and through alterity. Nothing
persists in this flux. Nothing, that is, except for the formal struc-
ture of the flux-the flowing is not just flowing in general; rather,
each phase is of one and the same form. "This form consists in
this, that a now is constituted through an impression and that to
the impression is joined a train of retentions and a horizon of
protentions" (Appendix 6, p. 114; Churchill trans., p. 153).
The absolute, temporally constitutive flux of consciousness is
the phenomenological absolute out of which I cannot go because
it is that in which, toward which, and starting from which every
going out is effected.


The flux of the immanent, temporally constitutive con-
sciousness not only is, but is so remarkably and so intelli-
gibly constituted that a self-appearance of the flux necessarily
subsists in it . The self-appearance of the flux does not
require a second flux, but qua phenomenon it is constituted
in itself.

The being of the flux, that it is, precisely this must be interrogated.
That the self-appearance of the flux subsists in the flux can only
mean, first, that it is not the flux itself but the flux as it constitutes
in itself its own phenomenality. Thus Husserl speaks of a "coin-
cidence" between the self-appearance of the flux and the flux,
which is not a simple identity. Yet the relationship of the flux to
its appearance is completely different from that of a thing to its
appearances, for it is only when speaking of the flux in its ap-
pearance that Husserl speaks of self-appearance. It is a question
of the relation of the constitutive to its own constituted unity, the
question of the phenomenalization of the absolute.
The problem of how this absolute flux "attains givenness" is
the problem of its self-appearing. If its self-appearance is ques-
tioned, then the suggestion is that what must be queried is the
difference between the flux as self-constituting and the flux as
constituting within itself its own unity. And this means that the
thinking of this difference must be questioned-how this differ-
ence announces itself without appearing as such.28
Not only is the flux constitutive of lived experience and there-
fore of phenomena-phenomenality in general-but it is consti-
tutive of its own unity. This unity of the flux is the form of lived
experience. By form nothing more is meant in phenomenology
than the mode of presentation. The flux in its constituted unity
is, then, the mode of presenting the presented (what appears) in
its presentation (as phenomenon, as appearing through appear-
ances). The flux as the temporally constitutive flux is the clearing

28. Cf. p. 370: No one phase of the flow can "perpetuate itself in
identity with itself." But yet we cannot describe this flow as change:
"This change has the absurd property that it flows exactly as it flows."
Achieving the absolute is the act of refusing the bewitchment of
language. We will see that Soren Kierkegaard truly thought this
thought through to its self-cancelling end.


for the appearing of phenomena; it releases the world to presence;
it is the releasing of presence, the shining in which the world
comes into presence. The constituted unity of the flux, its form,
then, and not the constitutive flux, is the form of phenomenality,
that which makes possible the phenomenalization of "things."
The constituted unity of the flux is the manifesting of the flux as
that which releases "things" into manifestness. And the mani-
festing of the releasing into manifestness, of the clearing of pres-
ence, sets free the appearing of "things" in their phenomenality.
For only by means of the manifesting of the releasing of presence
can "things" be presented; presence can only be released (from
out of obscurity) if this releasement manifests itself as the clearing
in which "things" get presented, as the appearing of this presen-
tation of the presence.
The constituted unity of the flux, then, is the manifesting of
the flux. The self-appearance of the flux is what is manifest in
the flux manifesting itself in its unity. It is the phenomenalization
of the flux, and without this phenomenalization there can be no
appearing as such. But what is manifested in this manifesting of
itself (to itself) is its own appearing and not only an appearance
of it. So the (self-)appearance of the flux is the appearing of the
flux. But the appearing of the absolute flux of consciousness is
this flux, since this flux, as the releasing of presence, releases
presence as such only by appearing as such releasement. Only
by the shining forth of the flux as the shining by which the world
is released into presence can the presencing of the world come
about. The flux in its appearing frees presencing to the presence
of its own phenomenalization. The presencing of the world be-
comes a phenomenon. Phenomenology as such is itself phe-
nomenalized. That is to say, for phenomena to appear it is not
enough that they are released forth into the presence of the world.
Rather, for there to be any appearing, that there is appearing
must itself appear: the phenomenalizing of the world must itself
be phenomenalized.
It is here that the point where thinking breaks with phenome-
nology is broached within phenomenology, and this despite the
letter of Husserl's text, as, for example, "primal consciousness is
nothing inferred [!] by reason but can be beheld in reflection on
the constituted living experience as the constituting phase exactly
in the case of retention" (Appendix 9, p. 119; Churchill trans., p.


163). Tentatively, let me say that thinking is the summoning of
this primal flux to its appearing; thinking delivers the flux (as
the releasement of presence) over to itself. This deliverance of the
flux unto itself presupposes that it has always already left itself
behind. But this self-deliverance is not only a self-departure or a
self-dissension but is the flux's own declension, that the flux is
only as its own enownment. This means that by enacting the
enownment of itself the flux retrieves itself as the manifest stand-
ing out in the presencing of the world, such that this presencing
achieves a kind of phenomenality. But if the flux is its own en-
ownment to and by itself, then this is possible only on the con-
dition that the flux is constantly out of phase with itself, a putting
out of phase and already a retention of the separated phase. In
this sense it is certainly clear that the flux appears in a phenome-
nalization of itself, yet this putting itself out of phase with itself
can never appear, for it is here that phenomenality is always in
deficit with itself, always trying to overcome the distance sepa-
rating itself from its appearance. This distance is untraversable
and irrecuperable-and so could never be an object of phenom-
enology. Yet all phenomenology and all phenomenality are en-
abled, empowered, and enacted on the basis of the staying,
streaming flux being out of phase with itself. Precisely at the
point where phenomenology should have won the absolute unity
attained by the collapsing of appearing, appearance, and what
appears into one another, precisely at this point thinking must
abandon the resources of phenomenology and be left to its total
lack of resources. Precisely at the point where we should have
attained that form of life where everything bears an internal
relationship to presence, precisely at this point we merely win
a relationship to nonpresence that is itself a term of that
All this suggests a serious difficulty within phenomenology
marking out its scope and guaranteeing its own vision. Having
attained to this phenomenological absolute-which late Husserl
will determine as the "living present"-it is seen as that which
manifests the pure indefiniteness, the opening to "the train of
retentions and the horizon of protentions." The living present
has the irreducible originality of the presence of the present and
the present of presence only if it retains the past appearing as such,
as the past present of an absolute origin. But this retention is not


possible without a protection, without an opening to being re-
tained. The absolute of the living present is only the indefinite
maintenance of this double enveloping. It is by virtue of the
maintenance of this indefiniteness and this openness to its tem-
porally other that the living present attains to its unity as an
absolute. It would seem that this maintenance is only the inde-
limitable, undeclinable relating to past and future and the horizon
in which the past and future emerge. It would seem to be only a
form of life with no inside, no in-itself, something like the op-
posite of a black hole. But Husserl has it that this maintenance
appears as such, it is the living present, and it has the phenomeno-
logical unity of a consciousness only if the unity of this movement
is given as indefinite and if its sense of indefiniteness is an-
nounced in the presence of the present and the present of pres-
ence as openness. The maintenance of pure indefiniteness, open-
ness in its transcendentality with respect to the enclosure of
something in its self-identity, constitutes a unity that forms the
condition for temporality. This unity is the unity of ecstasies and
horizons, as Heidegger has instructed us; it is the bestowal of
phenomenality by means of opening up the illuminating entry
into absences. And this entry, which is a drawing in of absences,
is necessary, for without it there would be nothing out of which
phenomena could emerge. This unity, the unity of the infinite
indefiniteness and the unity of the infinite openness, it would
seem, must then be thought, since it would seem to announce
itself without appearing and without being contained in a pres-
ent. This thought unity would then be seen to make the phenome-
nalization of time possible as such, but not only would it not be
"in" time, it could not be delivered over into phenomenality. It
would seem that we are denied philosophical closure precisely at
the point at which it is demanded. And all this somehow devolves
upon transcendental subjectivity.
So, what, then, is the transcendental ego, the absolute subjec-
tivity? To put the question in terms of Husserl's later unpublished
manuscripts, what is the livingness of the world-encountering
life? This is both the grounding problem and the guiding problem
of transcendental phenomenology. Each kind of world-encoun-
tering life is a forming-out of the transcendental livingness. Re-
flection is preeminently the form of this forming-out. It was with
reflection we began our query of transcendental phenomenology,


and it is with reflection that we are still concerned-for we are
still reflecting upon the absolute in an attempt to reflect it.
To regain reflection we must return to retention, for "it is thanks
to retention . that consciousness can be made an Object"
(Zeitbewufltseins, 119; Churchill trans., 162)29 of reflection. Reten-
tion is defined in Husserl's later manuscripts as the indissoluble
unity of "entgleitenlassen-Behalten," a "retaining-letting-slip-
away." So if we speak of an already-again-slipping-away and a
straightaway-incoming of a tone, then this presupposes that a
flowing or elapsing belongs "between" the clear and completely
uncovered presence of the tone and, over against this, the ego
with the entire structure of perception belonging to it. This flow-
ing between, this fliefjende zwischen, Husserl calls in the lectures
on time "Urimpression" (1905); but in later manuscripts of the
thirties he has renamed it "zentraler Erlebniskern," "Quellpunkt,"'30
"Quelljetzt,"'31 "Urprdsenz," "Kern eigentlicher Gegenwart."32 The
structure of the comprehensive, concrete unity, of the flowing
making-present of the originarily perceived in its flowing, Hus-
serl terms "lebendige Gegenwart." The "between" of the elapsing
designates that the flowing is not determinable as a mediation
point between incoming and outgoing impressions. Rather Hus-
serl notes that "to the flowing present [str6mende Gegenwart] itself
belongs always already a region of immediately known pastness,
known in the immediate echo of the just now sunken away per-
ception; just as there belongs to it a region of immediate future,
which as just now coming to be known, hastens towards the

29. Also cf. 120; Churchill trans., 163: "Because primal consciousness
and retention are on hand, the possibility exists in reflection of
looking to the constituted lived experience and the constituting
phases, and even becoming aware of the differences which exist, for
example, between the primal flux as we are conscious of it in primal
consciousness and its retentional modifications. All objections which
have been raised against the method of reflection can be explained
as arising from ignorance of the essential constitution of conscious-
ness." Furthermore, primal consciousness "is not an apprehending
30. Ms C 5, p. 9 (1930).
31. Ms C 3 III, p. 25 (1931).
32. Ms C 3 I, p. 9 (1930).


flowing perceiving."33 In a word, there is no phase of primal
impression existing for itself without a "Prdsenzfeldumgebung,"
without a field of presence encompassing it. Furthermore, there
is no field of presence, no making-present that exists for itself.
But there is the now, the present of presence. The now is,
however, just the standing form of the continuously self-gener-
ating primal impressionality, the staying centrality of the making-
present in one of its contents according to the elapsing primal
presentation. Although this content comes forward only by flow-
ing-into-flowing-away-from, the standing form of the now re-
mains a middle point and middle term of actuality. It is the living
present, which is "always the end, issue, and middle of the tem-
poral perspective."34 Gerd Brand notes that this present, this
Gegenwart, is a preparation toward becoming itself: "The being pre-
pared of the present, its being futural is not a tendency of the
now towards the 'future', rather [it] is in general the being [Sein]
of the future itself precisely as the being-futural or the futurity
of the ego."35
Given that the lebendige Gegenwart is the one staying form of
presentness and although its temporal position and perspective
is constantly shifting, perhaps there is some sense in claiming,
as Eigler36 and Held do, that Husserl exceeds and transgresses
the metaphysical tradition with his notion of lebendige Gegenwart;
for it is not Husserl's intention to develop a speculative construc-
tion, through which the established and fixed aporiae of the am-
biguous nun (now) can be mediated or sublated. "Lebendige Ge-
genwart" is rather "meant as a title for a newly to be questioned

33. Erste Philosophie, zweiter band, p. 149ff. A word here about the
Husserlian term Wahrnehmen. "Gegenwart" names the "liebhafte Ndhe"
of sensuous Wahrnehmen; and wahrnehmen is a gegenwdrtigen, a mak-
ing present originarily. Wahrnehmen is both "Urform" and "Ursprung-
dimension" of all world-encountering life. The former is structural,
the latter genetic. The most auspicious translation of "wahrnehmen"
is the literal one: "taking truly as the truth." To perceive is to take
truly the truth of perception.
34. Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 37.
35. Gerd Brand, Welt, Ich, und Zeit, 126.
36. G. Eigler, Metaphysische Voraussetzungen in Husserls Zeitanalysen,
91-92, referred to in Held's Lebendige Gegenwart.


region of philosophical encounter-an encounter for which Hei-
degger, under converted presuppositions of thinking, found an
appropriate language in Being and Time."37 Be this as it may, it
should be evident by now that a breakthrough such as that which
Husserl carried through is carried out by means of a breakdown
of metaphysical discourse: "'Fir all das fehlen uns die Namen."
The Gegenwart of the functioning ego is not to be understood
as a temporal place: the presentation of a succession of temporal
places is, with the radicalized reduction, through the epochi of
the flowing of life, definitively placed in brackets. It is not a
temporal position and cannot be said to be a temporal perspec-
tive. Rather, it is the taking time, the taking up of time by posi-
tioning oneself in the flow of time. It is, in Husserl's word, a
"Leistung," an achievement, an "Erwerben von Einheiten," an earn-
ing of unity. Husserl also calls it the "urtiumliche Urmodale," the
aboriginal mode, which is "vorzeitliche," before time.
What then is the kind of being of the ego itself that lets be
encountered what is made present by its positioning of time?
What is the kind of being of the ego that sets free the world by
taking time? A transcendental ego without a world to have of
some kind or another is not phenomenologically encounterable.
Even to speak this way is, as Heidegger notes, scandalous. Fur-
thermore, what the ego "before" or "outside of" its making-
present would be can also not be asked sensibly. We ask rather:
What is the ego as center of its living present? It is "the standing-
flowing present." It is the "Urphdnomenon": and lebendige Gegen-
wart is determined by Husserl to be the concrete primal unifying
reality of phenomenology, "to which all transcendental self-un-
derstanding must return in its endlessly ascending work of ex-
position,"38 and from which all self-experience comes forth.
In this sense the living present is the absolute, for it is that
without which no intentional, worldly encounter can be made.
And in this sense, phenomenological reflection understands itself
as a thinking "perception," as "Selbstwahrnehmung," as taking
oneself truly and as abiding in one's own truth. In this sense, the
"I function" is both staying with itself and flowing from itself. As

37. Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 31.
38. Ms B III 9, p. 9 (1931). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 68.


flowing, however, it is in itself a passage in a reflexively encoun-
terable present. It is its own pathway to itself; and at the same
time it is always what it encounters along the pathway to itself.
But because the ultimately functioning ego temporalizes by flow-
ing in and through its constancy, it is also temporalized. That the
temporalizing is itself temporalized is "a ground knowledge
[Grunderkenntnis] and a first of phenomenology, that in the I-am
of the phenomenological reduction my being is apodictically en-
countered, but then, that I must traverse the concretion of this
being that exposes the process of an iterable reflexion, and meet
with [vorfinde] my being as the identity of an iteratively ...
uniting self-temporalization, in which temporalizing itself is only
as temporalized."39
The constancy of the lebendige Gegenwart is given in reflection
in that it is known as the horizon of an endlessly reiterable "I
can": I can each time and always again reflect upon myself in my
"I function." Yet if I grasp myself in this way as object of my
iterable reflection, then I already understand myself as a temporal
object; for the always-again of the ability to reflect means nothing
more than that I will meet with myself in each possible temporal
point of my flow of life. My constancy shows itself as temporal
persistence over a duration of temporal phases, therefore as a
temporal givenness-and one which as such cannot be apodicti-
cally knowable. "No temporal being is knowable apodictically."40
On the other hand, however, the constancy of the lebendige
Gegenwart, according to the sense of Husserl's late "radicalized
reduction," should be more than my persistence from one tem-
poral point to another. The lebendige Gegenwart was won through
bracketing the succession of temporal places reaching into my
past and future; it unveiled itself in this way as the simple and
pretemporal "there" of my livingness. When I reflect upon this
"I am there," the "I am" is always already also encountered as a
flowing-with. This would seem to mean that it appears also as a
flowing phase of my life "between" past and future. The remark-
able result is that the reflexively seen "I function" is given at one
and the same time as standing and flowing.

39. Ms C 3 II, p. 7 (1930). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 74.
40. Husseri, Erste Philosophie, zweiter band, p. 398.


This clarification should explain how-and within what lim-
its-there can be this lifestream, if it is only temporally deter-
mined, that is, if it is only an adequate, and never apodictically
reflexive, evidence. The insight into the possibility of the essential
unity of staying with itself and flowing from itself, of standing
and streaming, in the lebendige Gegenwart would therefore be
appropriate to determine critically the conditions of possibility
and the limits of reflexion upon the intentional lifestream. But
the understanding of the original unity of staying-with and
streaming-away-from in the lebendige Gegenwart-and therewith
the insight into the condition for the possibility of the indissoluble
unity of temporalizing and being temporalized-remains before
we can achieve the apodictical self-critique of phenomenology
upon the coveted "absoluten Boden" (absolute ground).
What conditions must be fulfilled in order that the ego can turn
itself back reflectingly upon itself? This turning back upon itself
is not a reflexive, self-engaging gazing upon itself. It is more
specular than reflexive, given the duplicity in the lebendige Gegen-
wart of staying with itself while streaming away from itself.
In order to turn back reflectingly upon itself the ego must have
already put forth a distance, a cleavage, between the perceiving
and the perceived. It must come to recognize itself as just this
putting forward, as precisely this cleaving of itself. The reflecting
ego presumes itself to be (at) a distance from itself, but a distance
that is also spanned. Reflection presupposes a "being-one-in-
separation." It is a "Nachgewahren,"41 a perceiving itself by chasing
after itself. Despite this "self-estrangement," this "self-dissen-
sion," (Selbst-Entzweiung) the consciousness of the essential unity
of both egos should not have foundered, for the reflecting ego
"identifies" itself with the reflectively perceived ego. On the one
hand, "in the reflexion I attain [erreiche] myself [only] in the
temporal field in which I have just now functioned; [I attain only]
my concrete functioning retentionally"-but on the other hand,
"in the now-point [of reflexion] I touch upon [beriihe] myself as
Husserl claims-something, as we shall see, that Kierkegaard

41. Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 89.
42. Ms A V 5, p. 3 (1933). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 80-81.


peremptorily rejects-that the spanning of the distance, the re-
flexive unification with myself in the point of "touching upon"
the now, is only possible because I, in flowing away from myself,
am always already appropriate to myself; I have already appro-
priated myself as the I that I am flowing away from. Despite the
constant change and in virtue of the changing constancy I retain
myself and hold myself together as one and the same I: I am that
which retains, the retaining, and that which is retained. The
possibility of self-reflection persists, therefore, as much upon the
ground of the constant streaming-away-from as upon the flowing
constancy of the ultimately functioning ego. Already "before" all
reflection it has-in letting itself flow away from itself-held itself
together with itself in beholding this letting itself flow away from
itself. "I am as flowing present, but my being-for-myself is itself
constituted in this flowing present."43 "The I inherits itself from
itself, and its heir lies in itself as its remaining 'character', as that
which the I momentarily is."44
I can each time and always again reflect upon myself. If this
proposition is valid, and if, on the other hand, the ability to reflect
presents only the express articulation of a prereflexive streaming
making itself present, then the ego accomplishes in the living
present that makes present also a making-itself-present.
There is no ego that would not be both a Gegenwdrtigung and
a Selbstgegenwdrtigung. The ego is transcendent with respect to
itself. In each originarily perceived reflexion the ego encounters
the pretemporal lebendige Gegenwart already as an object over
against itself, that in temporalizing itself flows away from itself
and therewith creates an original distance from itself that pre-
sents itself to itself by keeping itself from merging with itself. It
is its own neighbor and its own neighborhood. In each wider
reflection the ego is encountered inevitably as a temporalized
object. Reflection never beholds the standing-streaming living
present in pure pretemporality, in what is "before" the process
that positions time with respect to the present or "before" the
process of persisting through time is run through. The ego has
itself always already in terms of being over against itself; it is

43. Ms C 3 III, p. 33 (1931). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 81.
44. Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 88.


itself transcendence pure and simple. A "purely" immanent ego
is not phenomenologically exhibitable: before the transcendence
of worldly encounters the lifestream is already temporalized as a
"first"-and only in this sense "immanent"-transcendence. For
this reason, Husserl writes, "In the primal phenomenal flowing
of the primal presence of this [the transcendental ultimately func-
tioning ego], life itself transcends itself, it constitutes as 'first
transcendence' the immanent time, the flow of lived experience
with its past and its future."45 Furthermore, this immanent tran-
scendence is the "absolute," and "the absolute is nothing more
than absolute temporalization [Zeitigung], and already its expo-
sure [Auslegung] as absolute, which I find directly as flowing
aboriginality [Urtumlichkeit], is temporalization."46
The riddle, then, is this: reflecting always remains nachgewah-
ren. The paradox, then, is this: the pretemporal present can only
be uncovered in and by means of reflexion, but precisely for that
reason it is always already concealed in its authentic essence. The
task, then, is this: to achieve a coincidence between reflection and
Despite Husserl's insistence to the contrary,47 these problems
are not soluble through reflection because (1) the reflecting "nach-
gewahrende Activitdt" (activity of becoming aware of the past)
refers in itself to an irretrievable, preaccomplished, primally pas-
sive flowing, within which lies (2) reflection, the phenomeno-
logically, peculiarly prevalent way of exhibiting self-experience,
necessarily giving rise to the thought of a prereflexive Selbst-
gewahrung (self-awareness) that has always already been set in
motion; and (3) the reflexion, which at best can make visible the
activity of self-temporalizing (if even that), and for that reason
can only make visible the temporal position, also already tem-
poralized, involved in the positioning of the Selbstgegenwdirtigung,
and which must address the present as pretemporal, that is, as
beyond its grasp.

45. Ms C 5, p. 12 (1930). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 90.
46. Ms C I, p. 6 (1934). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 90.
47. "Unlksbare Rditsel sind Widersinn," in Erste Philosophie, zweiter
band, p. 442.


In a word, the reflexive Selbstgegenwdirtigung knows itself as some-
thing supplementary. Although the pretemporal sense of this sup-
plementarity remains concealed, because the difference between
reflexivity and prereflexivity cannot positively be given an ac-
count of-without, that is, destroying just this difference-then
it is the case, as Thomas Seebohm says of this primal subjectivity,
that "it can also not be said of it, that it 'is'."48
Yet only by means of phenomenological reflection can the ego
encounter itself as the condition for the possibility of reflexion.
So if we are to say that the primal, originary flowing is inaccessible
and ineffable, then it is such only if "the ineffable and inaccessible
is reflexively exhibited,"49 only if its ineffability and inaccessibility
are reflexively exhibited. Reflexivity is precisely temporality. This,
then, is the paradox: temporalization temporalizes itself back into
the past at the same time as it is temporalizing; to be more precise,
temporalization temporalizes itself as the suppression of its own tempor-
ality and as the overcoming of its own temporalization. Phenomeno-
logical reflection must accordingly be understood as the attempt
of an unending approach to the site of its boundaries, as the
constantly renewed effort to refuse the temptation to posit itself
beyond them.
The standing-staying present is called anonymous because it
cannot be grasped from the reflecting ego in a distanceless near-
ness. Each reflection remains purely supplementary because the
ego that is reflected slips away from the ego that reflects and for
that reason functions as the staying of itself. In other words, the
ego cannot catch up with itself, and it cannot retrieve itself; it
cannot look behind its back, as Augustine says, to see itself as it
is when it is not looking at itself.
That the ego can never grasp itself in its actual functioning-
its essential anonymity-and that it flows away from itself-these
are one and the same (non)phenomenon. Yet the ego has some-
how recovered its sense of ownness, its sense of its own personal
destiny. In the last few years of his life Husserl felt obligated to

48. Thomas Seebohm, Die Bedingungen der Transcendental-philosophie,
66. See also 177
49. Ms C 13 II, p. 9 (1934). Cited in Held, Lebendige Gegenwart, 103.


explain how this recovery is possible and how it is effected. This
he does with his more or less speculative concept of Selbstverge-
meinschaftung, a community and communion of egos relating to
one another in the process of falling away from an original and
originary ego. The distance cleaving the ego is removed because
the ego overcomes its anonymity as lebendige Gegenwart by positing
a communion between itself as temporalizing activity, itself as
temporalizing agent, and itself as already temporalized. This self-
communion authentically gives the ego (back) its transcendental
The Selbstvergemeinschaftung is to be thought of as a "Pluralitdt,"
a "breadth" or "decrepitude" (Hinfilligkeit) in the standing "punc-
tuality" of the ego-a "dissolution" (Auflasung) of the "unique-
ness" (Einzigkeit) of the ego. It is not yet the spreading out of the
temporally constituting ego, rather it is the anonymous "Vorform"
(pre-form) of the temporal spread. It is an irreducible, nonthe-
matized, unobjectivated, and prereflexive connection "in the in-
side" of the ego with its life, and between the ego and the other.
This is the absolute. But it is at the same time the absolute dis-
integration of the absolute. With respect to the problem of bring-
ing the absolute to light we can see that because of its antiphe-
nomenal structure and its resistance to intentionality, the
requestt for the absolute is indefinitely deferred through the
unending struggle to achieve a coincidence of reflection and re-
flexivity. This struggle strives to give voice to the ineffability of
the absolute and to accede to the inaccessibility of the absolute.
But the surge toward this coincidence between reflection and
reflexivity finds itself as its own defeat, for its path is the una-
voidable one of conflating speculation with specularity.
So it is by now evident that productive philosophizing begins
with an appreciation of the faltering, faulting failure of reflection
to capture the immediacy of existence. Husserl attained to this
truth-that we can own up to truth only by owning up to the
truth that truth owns us in the course of its own aversion to
itself-only at the close of his career. Recognizing that the truth
was beginning to dawn only in the evening of his quest, he
commissioned Ludwig Langrebe to take up the task of delivering
truth from its own aversion to itself.
As we have seen, Husserl was, in the words of Natanson, "the
philosopher of infinite tasks," inasmuch as his work, phenome-


nology, became a task to be completed, a "dream"50 to be ful-
filled-even though, but precisely because, with him metaphys-
ics foreclosed on the outstanding possibility of achieving closure
by forestalling the immanence of its completion. That is to say,
as I have said, that Husserl's phenomenology, with its intention
of ending the history of speculative thought, gave rise to that
history's arriving into its own specularity.
With the arrival of the union of speculation and specularity,
the communion of reflection with its own reflexivity, came a new
and radical departure from Husserl's Cartesianism-and for nec-
essary reasons. The momentum of the new demand for opening
up the anonymous activity of constituting carried Husserl into
his late, unpublished, analysis of the process of temporalization
temporalizing itself. The anonymity of this process forced him to
recognize the primordiality of the passive genesis of conscious-
ness and the subsequent priority of the passively given object in
the pursuit of the phenomenological clarification of the world. It
became a problem that still persists: How can one gain evidence
of what can never open out into an evidence that does not destroy
its very possibility? So recalcitrant is this problem that it renders
problematic the possibility of achieving a standpoint by which
the ultimate level of constitution can make itself manifest. We
saw the problem become radical by recognizing that to the extent
that we have an immediate awareness of the ego, it is not pro-
duced through reflection-but to the extent that we reflect upon
the ego in its self-constituting, it cannot be encountered in its
immediacy nor exhibited in its entirety. Even as late as Cartesian
Meditations phenomenology complicates itself into a double di-
lemma: to the extent that it insists on apodicticity, it cannot
apprehend the transcendental ego as ego and cannot therefore
establish the absolute ground for any and all evidence; to the
extent that it wants to preserve the transcendental ego as ground,
it cannot know this ego through reflective intuition, and thus it
undermines its concept of evidence.
To face this double dilemma Husserl was called upon to desist
in the description of the worldly and direct his concerns toward
the origin of the world itself. Only at the end of his career, only

I 50. Husseri, Krisis, 508; Crisis, 389.


after going through the infinitely deep investigations into the
actively constituted worldly Sache (things), did Husserl broach
the problem of the constitution of the horizon per se. But as has
been remarked, there are only horizons of constitution, not con-
stitution of horizons. Such matters commanded Husserl to turn
toward the constitution of history, a history that delivers the world
over to us as always already given, as always already constituted.
It became a question of language, of the linguistic horizon deter-
mining the activity of appearing. It became a question of exposing
how language constitutes being as meaning. But as Lyotard has
argued, in 1954:

Insofar as this life-originating world is ante-predicative, all
predication, all discourse, undoubtedly implies it, yet is wide
of it, and properly speaking nothing may be said of it.... The
Husserlian description.., is a struggle of language against
itself to attain the originary .... In this struggle, the defeat
of the philosopher, the logos, is assured, since the originary,
once described, is thereby no longer originary.51

Husserl enlisted Langrebe's aid to give voice to the antepredi-
cative in its coming into its own inherent fulfillment in language.
The mediation of, on one hand, the historically achieved, and, on
the other, the unbounded originary that is the world becoming
appropriate to the human, always already lies in language, in the
linguistic destiny of the human world. It exhibits an experience
that is always linguistically bound but that nowhere encounters
a boundary at which something boundless is intended yet eludes
the word. The life-originating world becomes, then, the infinitely
boundless binding of being within the bounds of meaning. Lan-
guage confronts its other only as the history of its fulfillment in
language. In this manner history becomes "the absolute fact of
existence," since the meaning of history is that it is the history of
But if Husserl confronted the duplicity of reflection in its clan-
destine complicity with the immediacy of the shining up of the
world only at the end of his life, for Kierkegaard, thinking dawned

I 51. Jean-Francois Lyotard, La Phenomenologie, 45.


with the philosophical reflection that reflection abolishes the pos-
sibility of the world shining forth in its immediacy, that philos-
ophy begins by reflecting on this fact, that it is impossible to halt
by reflection the process of reflection, that it is therefore impos-
sible to return by way of reflection to the immediacy from which
reflection is the departure. Just as Socrates, for Kierkegaard,
thought but one thought and thought it through to its infinite
depths, so too Kierkegaard thought one thought throughout his
philosophically productive years and thought this one lone
thought through to its own necessary annihilation. Just as Soc-
rates held fast to one thought-and it is only by holding stead-
fastly and lovingly to one thought that the thinker can collect
himself forth into the eternal-so too did Kierkegaard.
As Kierkegaard has it:

Such is the criticism commonly passed upon Socrates in our
age, which boasts of its positivity much as if a polytheist
were to speak with scorn of the negativity of a monotheist,
for the polytheist has many gods, the monotheist only one.
So our philosophers have many thoughts, all valid to a
certain extent; Socrates had only one, which was absolute.52

So too with Kierkegaard. Like Socrates, Kierkegaard the thinker
thinks one thought and thinks this thought through to its end
until, in thinking this one thought, the thought has thought itself
out of thinking and can no more be thought. Kierkegaard the
religious sage invites us to take "offense" at this thought, this
thought that annihilates itself by announcing the "absolute par-
adox." He exhorts us to rejoice in the "shipwreck" of reason, in
the "crucifixion" of the understanding,53 that this thought betrays.

52. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 12n. 2.
53. Cf. especially Philosophical Fragments, pp. 46-67 Also cf., e.g.,
Papirer VIII1, A 11, 1847: "It is specifically the task of human knowing
to understand that there is something it cannot understand and to
understand what that is. Human knowing usually has been occupied
with understanding and understanding, but if it will also take the
trouble to understand itself, it must straightway posit the paradox.
The paradox is not a concession, but a category, an ontological qual-
ification which expresses the relation between an existing cognitive


Kierkegaard the prophet enjoins us to hearken to the absolute
loss of meaning disengaging the measured thinking of the phi-
losopher.54 Kierkegaard the poet summons the silence harboring
us from the wake of the withdrawal of the divine. Kierkegaard
thinks one thought throughout these stations. This thought is the
furtive, fugitive thought of the radical breach of thinking with

spirit and the eternal truth:' Also cf. Concluding Unscientific Postscript,
505: "The dialectical aspect of the problem [of encountering authentic
existence] requires thought-passion-not to want to understand it,
but to understand what it means to break thus with the understand-
ing and with thinking and with immanence, in order to lose the last
footnold of immanence, eternity behind one, and to exist constantly
on the extreme verge of existence by virtue of the absurd."
N.B.: "by virtue of the absurd" is the translation of the Danish "i
kraft af det absurd," which has a more literal and more evocative
translation: "in the power of the absurd." Virtue comes from the
Latin virtus, which has the sense of merit, commendability, illus-
triousness. That I encounter authentic existence by virtue of the
absurd means that I am sustained by the absurd commending itself
to me as illuminating me in meriting my response. But absurd comes
from the Latin ab + surdus. Surdus has the same root as susurrus, a
reduplication. Both comes from the Indo-European root SUR, mean-
ing whisper. Surdus means originally deaf, silent, mute. It is the
swarming in of silence that insists on an answer. The absurd is the
voice of the other that summons our voice, commands us to give
voice by delivering us over to our hearkening to it. The absurd deliv-
ers the world over to us from the eternal, deafening silence of con-
cealment. To exist "in the power of the absurd" is to silently hearken
to the command to deliver the world of its voice.
54. Cf. Papirer, X6 B80: "The absurd is the negative criterion of that
which is higher than human understanding and knowledge." Also
cf. The Sickness unto Death, translated by Walter Lowrie, 173-74: "..
for God is that all things are possible and that all things are possible
is God"; in conjunction with 171-72: "The decisive thing is that for
God everything is possible. This is eternally true, and true therefore
at each instant. In a way, this is commonly recognized and commonly
affirmed; but the decisive affirmation comes first when a man is
brought to the utmost extremity so that humanly speaking there is
no possibility. Then the question is whether he will believe for God
that all things are possible . But that is completely the formula
for losing one's understanding; to believe is precisely to lose one's
understanding in order to win God . Thus salvation is humanly
speaking the most impossible thing of all; but for God all things are


the immediacy of the world shining forth. A strange thought, for
if thinking is radically discontinuous with the immediate shining
forth of the world, then surely thinking cannot leave itself be-
hind to think the difference between thinking and this immedi-
acy. For certainly the radical alterity of thinking and immediacy
is unthinkable.
Thinking itself is strange, however, for not only is it ani-
mated by virtue55 of this radical alterity, but it is its pain and
passion, its power and provenance, to leave itself behind56 to
founder57 upon the unthinkable. On this Kierkegaard is insistent:
in thinking we cannot surmount or remove the breach of thinking
with the originary immediacy of the world shining forth, though
we can only too painfully discover this breach, for thinking always
and everywhere presses into this breach.
Kierkegaard pressed forward relentlessly this one lone thought.
In his words, "One who thinks only one thought must experience
this; he must experience the occurrence of a halting wherein
everything is, as it were, taken from him; he must risk his life, a
hazard which involves losing life in order to win it."58 This one

55. Cf. Papirer X6 B81: "Finally it is one thing to believe by virtue of
the absurd (the formula only of the passion of faith) and another to
believe the absurd. The first expression is used by Johannes de Silen-
cio, the second by Johannes Climacus." See also n. 53, above.
56. Cf. Philosophical Fragments, 46: ". . one should not think slight-
ingly of the paradoxical; for the paradox is the source of the thinker's
passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without
feeling: a paltry mediocrity. But the highest pitch of every passion is
always to will its own downfall; and so it is also the supreme passion
of the Reason to seek a collision, though this collision must in one
way or another prove its undoing. The supreme paradox of all thought
is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think."
57. Cf. Kierkegaard, Repetition, 53: ". . repetition [the interruption
of the breach in the order and register of the same, the positing of
radical alterity that consists in the recognition that one cannot have
posited it but must always already have presupposed it] is the interest
[inter-esse, one of Kierkegaard's favorite terms, meaning a claim upon,
usury, and being between or difference] of metaphysics, and at the
same time the interest upon which metaphysics founders."
58. Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 332. Also cf. 258: "For in this dash is
hidden the sleeplessness of anxiety, the night-tossing of labour, al-
most desperate exertion; in this dash is hidden a fear and trembling


lone thought is the affirmation of human existence as the nonsim-
ple synthesis of reflection59 and immediacy; the two meet and are
contradicted in it. This is neither a simple difference nor a simple
identity: existence is not a simple disengaging of the radical al-
terity between reflection and immediacy. There is no resolution
of each into the other; there is no reconciliation of the two, only
the tension, the tightrope tension between the torpor and the
terror of living in the zone of the breach. It is with Kierkegaard
that thought is first broached within the breach between reflec-
tion and immediacy.60 Thought is the nothing of the breach, and
the breach is the nothing that thinking cannot think. For this
reason the breach sets up an "acoustic illusion."61 To keep sight

which has never found an expression, and for this very reason is all
the more dangerous."
59. Reflection, as Kierkegaard's principal category, has all the ambi-
guity of human existence, for he invokes multiple uses. Sometimes
reflection means the reflected image and effect of the age in private,
domestic, and public life (the Danish Reflex), sometimes deliberation
(the Danish Reflexion, meaning Besindelse, akin to Heidegger's Besin-
nung). Kierkegaard's category of reflection, then, designates the un-
witting conflation of specularity with speculation-the source prob-
lem for Husserl.
60. Kierkegaard's philosophical adventure began with clarifying the
nature of this synthesis. This was developed in his first work after
his master's thesis, The Concept of Irony, and was entitled Johannes
Climacus; or, De omnibus dubitandum est. This work did not see publi-
cation in Kierkegaard's lifetime; he thought it too dense and had to
abandon revising it for more worthy works. But at the end of this
work we find that ". . consciousness implies collision and then
contradiction inevitably appears. Reality is not consciousness, any
more than ideality is. And yet consciousness is not present without
both and this opposition or contradiction between reality and ideality
is the origin and essence of consciousness . J. C. had not discov-
ered reflection, for consciousness presupposes reflexion." Johannes
Climacus; or, De omnibus dubitandum est, 149-50.
61. Philosophical Fragments, 63. "But precisely because the offense
[thinking the individual himself posits difference] is thus passive,
the discovery, if it be allowable to speak thus, does not derive from
the Reason, but from the Paradox; for as the Truth is index sui et falsi,
the Paradox is this also, and the offended consciousness does not
understand itself but is understood by the Paradox. While therefore
the expressions in which offense proclaims itself, of whatever kind


of this rupture, to stand forth into the sway its silence holds over
us, a synthesis is required in which difference as such, absolute
difference, can announce itself-without any simplicity, identity,
resemblance, or continuity-within the selfsameness of human
experience. When the other, the other as such, announces itself,
for Kierkegaard it does so in a self-occultation by presenting itself
in the dissemblance of itself. Kierkegaard forges his thought in
the abysmal hollow of this breach: in radical discontinuity, and
in deflection, dissimulation, and defeasance, in the intractable
resilience and the inexhaustible reserve of what cannot appear,
in thoroughgoing deferment and indefinite undecidability. It is
not that this breach resists appropriation-which Kierkegaard
calls "immanence"-for it does not impose any exterior limits
upon it. The rupture began by broaching self-estrangement, and
it ends by leaving reappropriation breached. In fact (again and
again: if it even makes sense to talk about facts here), the breach
is its own idea (in the Cartesian sense of the term), and as the
idea of the breach it breaches thinking, the thinking that pre-
sumes that meaning circulates along the circuitry of selfsameness.
That is to say, the idea of the breach breaches thinking: it is that
upon which thinking founders even as it founds thinking, so
that thinking is nothing but the disproportion between the idea
of the breach and the breach of which it is the idea.62 The idea of
the breach is the mode of being, the breaching, of the breach and
not its being broached. Thinking is the effect of the breaching
and not its production. Rather, the breaching of the breach pro-
duces the source, site, and sustenance of thought.
Kierkegaard was obsessed with this breach of reflection from
the immediacy of a world shining forth, a breach that is both
necessary and essential, for only by breaching immediacy can
immediacy be broached for the first time. Kierkegaard held stead-

they may be, sound as if they came from elsewhere, even from the
opposite direction, they are nevertheless echoings of the Paradox.
This is what is called an acoustic illusion."
62. Cf. Johannes Climacus, 148-49: "Immediacy is reality. Speech is
ideality. Consciousness is opposition or contradiction. The moment
I express reality, the opposition [between my speech and that about
which I speak] is there. For what I say is ideality."


fastly to this one lone thought, that the antepredicative is the
antipredicative and the antipredicative is the antepredicative-
that the infinite, infinitely indeterminate and infinitely boundless
sourcelessness to all that is is at the same time the source of
language, granting it its infinite resources for finding the source
of all that is. For Kierkegaard language is always and everywhere
coming fervently, furtively, futilely up against its fugitive other,
yet this other to language is always and everywhere the origin of
Such then is the task that commands Kierkegaard's thought.
This essay is an attempt to elicit the convoluting meanderings of
this thought as it gets played out in the Kierkegaardian text. It is
not a question of saying how this thought plays itself out or of
showing how it does; rather such is the nature of this thought
that it can neither be said nor shown-it can only be performed.
And performed by a writing concerned with phenomena such
that to write about them is to be deprived of them.



He wants to write lyrics without words that presents
a tough problem for a songwriter because as he
knows we live in words words are the water we swim
in he wants to move to the subverbs is the way he
puts it and he can't even move his vowels.
Ronald Sukenick

I can know nothing; I can have nothing; I must devote
my whole life to the pursuit of a shadow. It is as if I
were attempting to trace with the point of a pencil
the shadow of the tracing pencil. I am enchanted
with the shadow's shape and want very much to
outline it; but the shadow is attached to the pencil
and moves with it, never allowing me to trace its
tempting form. Because of some great need, I am
continually forced to make the attempt.
Nathanael West
The Dream Life of Balso Snell

. Die Seinsvergessenheit ist die Vergessenheit des Un-
terschiedes des Seins zum Seiendem.
Allein die Vergessenheit des Unterschiedes ist kei-
neswegs die Folge einer Vergeglichkeit des Denkens.
Martin Heidegger
"Der Spruch des Anaximander"

The difficulty of its [writing's] description is due to
the fact that writing defines and completes the am-
biguity of all language.
Jacques Derrida
Edmund Husserl's "Origin of
Geometry": An Introduction

Here there is such a thing as paying attention.
Whereas one cannot follow with attention the for-
getting of what one knew or the life. [MA4arginal note:
Not right, for one also cannot follow one's own men-
tal images with attention.]
Ludwig Wittgenstein



Traps are for rabbits; once they are got, traps are
forgotten. Words are for their intended meaning;
once the meaning is got, the words are forgotten.
How can I get a man who has forgotten words to
have a word with him?
Chuang Tzu

So this, then, would have been another book about S.K. if only I
had not chosen to illumine the Kierkegaardian text by an analysis
of the problematic of writing after (or over) what could never
have simply taken place in writing. But did I choose this? And,
if so, how? Already I feel compelled to bring to bear upon this
essay a notion of writing as the self-eliminating question of the
meaning of writing.
This, then, would have been another bit of writing about the
meaning of writing, if I had not forgotten what it means to write.
Or did I repress this knowledge? Or is it perhaps that this knowl-
edge is only a meconnaissance? In any event it does seem appro-
priate to those of us who have been reading Derrida that not only
have I forgotten what it means to write, but by writing this bit of
writing, a writing about the meaning of writing, I will have
repeated the resistance to bringing back to remembrance what
has been forgotten-and this alone will have been remembered:
that writing is accomplished as the repetition of the resistance to
disclosing the meaning of writing.
But what in fact-and what in act-has been forgotten? But,
then again, is to have forgotten something, to have something
forgotten-is this an act? Is this the same as to have let something
be forgotten? In fact and in act? (Do you too hear the rustling of
Nietzsche enjoining us to aktive Vergefllichkeit [active forgetful-
ness]?) In act, then, for this will have been an act of writing. So
what has been forgotten? Only this, that I am already writing
and will be writing henceforth, and that this will have been a
writing that will have been written in the wake of an obliviating
of the meaning of writing.
This, then, would be a writing about writing only if it per-


formed the recollection and interiorization, the Erinnerung, re-
capitulating the activity of writing, a recapitulation that in antic-
ipation would hold writing in relief, relieving me of writing. But
then, this will not have been writing. But if not writing, what?
A forgetting that, somehow, has always already and henceforth
encrypted writing, a forgetting that has always already and
henceforth renounced the question of the meaning of writing-
by means of writing. A forgetting that casually dismisses itself
as the indefinite and obtuse deferral of this question-so as to
carry on with our writing. Or is it a repression? It is certainly a
crisis, if we understand this term as Husserl did, as the falsifica-
tion of sense, the displacement of ground, and, above all, as the
forgetfulness of origins, fating us to write, to write not about the
meaning of writing but to write the retrieving and relieving of
writing, to write the having-been-written. But this, what is this
but a tactical doubling back upon the philosophical style, maneu-
vering it forth toward its limits and back and forth between the
indistinguishable but different notions of the limit to the concept
of writing and the concept of the limit to writing? Writing is in
the throes of a crisis. Certainly. But what is the crisis? It can only
be that now it is a question of the ontological import of writing,
for if writing is in a crisis, this has the precise sense of a Husser-
lian Umkehrung, a reversal; and this reversal comes upon the scene
as a fatefulness, a necessity, a necessity in three moments:

1. A moment of empirical necessity. The relation of writing to
ontology-the overturning of this relation and the infinitely
discrete disengaging from the ontological venture-is an ex-
trinsic necessity, one which is thereby contingent in compari-
son with the sense of ontology and which nevertheless sus-
pends reason over the abyss of nonsense-an abyss that,
however, can only be virtual.
2. A moment of radical philosophical fault, a faulting, faltering
failure of philosophical freedom and responsibility.
3. A moment of formal necessity, where writing produces the
pure threat that the traditionalization it has instituted as the
condition for historicity and the progressive adventure of rea-
son is possible only as a virtuality, and as a virtuality writing
promotes forgetfulness and all the phenomena that make crises
possible-forever imperiling precisely that which it institutes.



It is a matter of course that for Husseri these three significa-
tions, apparently irreducible to one another, are presentable
through one and the same intuition, an intuition promised as a
regulative idea but nonetheless indefinitely delayed. But also, we
note, history itself is what this intuition announces: history is the
unitary ground of these three significations, and history is this
only as the iteration of crises and reversals, as the itinerary of
these crises and reversals.
This, then, needs to be an exposition of the ontology of writing.
But for the reasons noted above, this, then, also needs to be an
exposition of its own long history, a history that begins with
Plato, but a history that nonetheless cannot (yet) be compre-
hended, so a history, a history of the ontologies of writing, that
is (still) forthcoming.
But, then, we have all been told that the history of philosophy
itself gets inaugurated, gets instituted, with and under the name
of Plato. And in this history we find an obscure and broken history
of the exposition of the history of writing. It seems that as long
as there has been a history of philosophy, there has been dis-
course on the history of writing. This is, however, all in good
order, for it is, as the Encyclopaedists noted, impossible to un-
derstand a language without going through its history; and phi-
losophy has always been, either furtively or explicitly, an attempt
to call language to account, to give an account of itself and to
account for itself-in writing.
Then, there has always been a study of writing, but such a
study has invariably been a history-and for essential reasons,
since writing was "naturally" debased, excluded and suppressed,
exteriorized, by a tradition engaged in the recuperation of a full
speech dreaming its own plenitude as the plenipotentiary of
presence. The tradition follows the path of the recapitulation and
anticipation of the bodily presence of being, a presence enunci-
ated and preserved by a pure and simple spoken word. Writing
is said to have come on the scene as the great usurper: as the sign
of a sign, writing is twice removed from that presence in the
flesh, that bodily presence; as the index of the absence of author,
audience, and referent, writing is disparaged as that "dangerous
supplement" to the voice. So each history of writing subscribes
to the felt necessity of recounting that history as the effacement


of its threat, as rendering writing an innocuous and artful
But along with this felt necessity there is a deliberate repression
of the essence of writing, a deliberate refusal to develop a science
of writing. And if we understand writing as Derrida has in-
structed us, as originarily the institution, the inscription, of the
unmotivated play of differences that engenders and commands
all systems of signs, as "spacing," as, that is, the "becoming-space
of time and the becoming-time of space" (Of Grammatology, 68),
then it seems that there could be no such thing as a science of
writing. For this play of differences is unmotivated, and a science
of play would be impossible since it would have to work out the
concept of play by working at play, by motivating it and trans-
forming it into work. Even more importantly, there can be no
science of difference that would not undo differences into iden-
tities. Inasmuch as science is the attempt to formulate laws con-
cerning identities, for there to be such a science of differences we
would have to say whether difference is identical with itself or
different from itself-but this could not be said; for if difference
were identical with itself, it would be the identity of difference
with difference, but this would abolish all difference, and thus
difference would be different from itself; but if difference were
different from itself, then difference would be the difference be-
tween difference and difference, yet there can be no difference
between difference and difference unless difference were identical
with itself.
If we understand writing as the difference between gramma
(writing) and gramme (line), as the difference between spacing
tracing and tracing spacing, how would an ontology (the science
of being qua being) of writing be possible? On the condition that
every ontologics (i.e., every specific attempt to elaborate an on-
tology) recognize that it has been made possible by writing-
and by forgetting that writing is its enabling condition. But writ-
ing as the inscription of nonpresence, the nonpresence of author,
audience, and referent, could never be recognized as the object
of a science. It is that very thing that could never let itself be
reduced to the form of a presence. And writing as the inscription
of difference, the difference between time and space, same and
other, trace and blank, gramma and gramme, as the encrypting of



spacing tracing and tracing spacing, would deprive its science of
its object, for, as I have noted, it is impossible to have a science
of difference, especially if, as I understand Derrida here, that
difference is the nonorigin opening up the relationship to the
origin by retracting it in lieu of the play of differences. Origin can
only be understood as the source for the resources of selfsame-
ness; and this difference can never be-by definition. Difference,
instead, is the sourcelessness of difference itself, in and by itself.
(But all this needs to be demonstrated. But how is that
On what conditions, then, would an ontology of writing be
possible? On the condition that it overturns the ontological ven-
ture. But then this condition of possibility turns into a condition
of impossibility. On the condition, then, that the condition for
the possibility of an ontology of writing would be the impossi-
bility of instituting such an ontology; and, perhaps, it would be
the impossibility of ontology (double genitive)-the impossibility
of successfully carrying out the ontological enterprise and the
impossibility of leaving forever behind the ontological venture
and adventure. On the condition, then, that ontology erase itself
in the play and production of paronomasia; that ontology learn
to recognize that it is made possible by an object that has its
condition of possibility in the impossibility of strict ontological
discourse about it and that yet is the hidden source of ontology;
that ontology learn to recognize that the forgetfulness and cov-
ering over of origins is little more than the self-forgetfulness of
origins-that with a slip of the pen (and the pen is always slip-
ping, always slip-sliding over the groundless veiling of unveiling,
and is this slip-sliding) the origin retracts itself almost completely.
It is this "almost" and this "little" that interest me here. This
almost and this little can be detected in the enactment of writing.
They are the virtuality that writing enacts; they are the virtuality
inhabiting everything, that writing enacts the stealing away of
everything, until all is only virtual, until all appears only in the
refractory slip-sliding away from the pen while it slips and slides
across the abyss. This virtuality cast over everything can be de-
tected but only in a dusty, dusky refractory light. It is a "secret
trap door through which one is suddenly hurled downward"
(Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, 63-64), to be lost in a labyrinth
of meaning, an abyss of virtualities. It is as Kierkegaard says of


love (I protest in citing this that surely there is some hidden
connection between the maieutic practice of Works of Love and the
feat or fact of writing):

The hidden life of love is in the most inward depths,
unfathomable, and still has an unfathomable relationship
with the whole of existence. As the quiet lake is fed deep
down by the flow of hidden springs, which no eye sees, so
a human being's love is grounded, still more deeply, in God's
love. If there were no spring at the bottom, if God were not
love, then, there would be neither a little lake nor a man's
love. As the still waters begin obscurely in the deep spring,
so a man's love mysteriously begins in God's love. As the
quiet lake invites you to look at it but the mirror of darkness
prevents you from seeing through it, so love's mysterious
ground in God's love prevents you from seeing its source.
When you think you are seeing it, then it is a reflection
which deceives you, as if it were bottom, this which only
conceals the deeper bottom. As the clever cover to a treasure
appears to be the floor, in order completely to hide the
treasure, so the reflection deceptively appears to be the
depth of the source-but only conceals that which is still
deeper. (27; see also 26)

But what precisely is the relationship between the maieutic
practice of Works of Love and the activity of writing? That is hard
to say, for this is hidden: "The hidden life of love is in the most
inward depths, unfathomable, and still has an unfathomable re-
lationship with the whole of existence"; and writing itself sustains
an "unfathomable relationship with the whole of existence"-as
surely everyone will agree, even though no one can say how or
what it is that occurs in and as this relationship. To say what the
relationship between writing and a written discourse on love is
is to elaborate a unique theory of writing, a theory intimated on
every page of Works of Love. But such is this theory that it can only
be intimated; it cannot be explicated directly, for it is the secret
about which "indirect communication" is indirect communication.
Yet we can learn to develop a sensitivity toward this secret; we
can learn to heighten our sensibilities about what is involved in
writing-both in the activity of writing and in the written word.



To that end let us take as our signposts two short passages from
the lectures of Jacques Lacan. That these lectures are intended
to be read, that they are intended to be presented in the form
of a written discourse-even though they are delivered orally-
can be adduced from a casual perusal of the titles, "God and
the Jouissance of )YK Woman" and "A Love Letter [Une Lettre
d'Amour]." Here there is the sous rature (under erasure) of the
"the"-something that can only be done in writing. And here
there is the play between amour (love) and dme (soul)-again,
something that can only be said in writing.
The two passages are:

What analytic discourse brings to bear-which may after
all be why it emerged at a certain point of scientific dis-
course-is that speaking of love is in itself a jouissance.1

The subject is caused by an object, which can be noted only
in writing, which is one step forward for theory.2

Compare these with the passage from Kierkegaard's Works of

But what can take love out of its element? As soon as love
concentrates upon itself it is out of its element. What does that
mean, to concentrate on itself? It means to become an object
for itself. But an object is always a dangerous matter if one
is to move forward [the "one step forward for theory" of
Lacan]; an object is like a finite fixed point, a boundary, a
stopping-point, a dangerous thing for infinitude. Love can
never infinitely become its own object; nor is there danger
in that. For infinitely to be an object for itself is to remain in
infinitude and thus, simply by existing or continuing to exist
(since love is a reduplication in itself) is as different from
the particularity of natural life as is the reduplication of
spirit. Consequently, if love concentrates upon itself, it must

1. Lacan, "A Love Letter," 154.
2. Lacan, "Seminar of 21 January 1975," 165.


become an object for itself in its individual expression, or
another and separate love becomes its object, love in this
person and love in that person. When the object of love is
thus finite, love concentrates on itself, for infinitely to con-
centrate on itself means precisely a becoming. But when
love finitely concentrates on itself everything is lost. (177)

Writing to praise love is, then, a work of love. But love loses
itself as soon as it becomes an object for itself; it is transfigured
into an accounting of credits and debts; it gets somehow quanti-
fied. Yet love is the infinite qualitative difference from all quan-
tifications; it is the holding open of the infinitely qualitative.
So the question is: How can one out of love praise love without
making of it an object and therefore an object for itself, since it is
out of love that love is praised? The answer to this question is,
we are now beginning to feel, in writing, for writing is the invo-
cation of a labyrinthine reticulation of indirect relationships be-
tween the author who writes on behalf of and in the face of his
absence, the object, the condition for the possibility of which is
that it can be written about in its absence (since the constituting
of its sense must be repeatable for anyone at any time and this
can only happen if it has been inscribed in a medium essentially
independent of the intentionality of the subject or the presence
of the object, i.e., writing), and for the absent audience that in
principle can never be known.
In lovingly writing about love the lover does not write about
his love; rather he writes from his love toward the love that is
hidden in the inwardness of an audience he can in principle never
know. So there is no danger that love here would become an
object for itself. Rather, in lovingly writing about love love is
doubly absent as the object of discourse: (1) it is hidden deep
within the inwardness of the reader; and (2) the reader is precisely
the unknowable for the authorial lover.
To discourse lovingly on love in person before one's beloved is
to be seduced by the love on which one discourses. It is to love
one's love, to cherish it, to pander to it, to gaze fondly upon it, in
short, to turn it into self-love. But if one were to write lovingly
about love, since this can in principle never be reciprocated, since
one can never see the fruits of one's sowing, then one must write
in a renunciation of oneself, for, as K. says,



Only in self-renunciation can a man effectually praise love.
No poet can do it. The poet can sing of erotic love and
friendship, and ability to do this is a rare gift, but the poet
cannot praise love. (Works of Love, 335)

Only by renouncing my (presumed) immediate presence to my-
self can I win the right to praise love; for if I do not renounce this
then the sole content of my self ultimately consists in identifying
my self as my self, and this is precisely self-love. Yet only in the
act of writing can I truly renounce my immediate presence to
myself, for the precondition of writing (as well as of reading) is
that I have de-supposed myself of this immediate presence to
Writing has always been thought to be the representation of
speech, which in turn is said (!) to be the representation of things.
Yet as soon as we say that writing is the representation of speech
we are hurled down through the trap door, for, as Derrida

Representation mingles with what it represents, to the point
where one speaks as one writes, one thinks as if the repre-
sented were nothing more than the shadow, a reflection of
the representer. A dangerous promiscuity and a nefarious
complicity between the reflection and the reflected which
lets itself be seduced narcissistically. In this play of repre-
sentation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable. There
are things like reflecting pools, and images, and infinite
reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a
spring. There is no longer a simple origin. For what is re-
flected is split in itself and not only as an addition to itself
of its image. The reflection, the image, the double, splits
what it doubles. The origin of the speculation becomes a
difference. What can look at itself is not one; and the law of
the addition of the origin to its representation, of the thing
to its image, is that one plus one makes at least three. The
historical usurpation and theoretical oddity that install the
image within the rights of reality are determined as the
forgetting of a simple origin. (Of Grammatology, 36-37)


So writing lets itself be seduced narcissistically. Love, seduc-
tion, narcissism: forces of the flesh, the force of the word made
flesh. And as Husserl observed in "The Origin of Geometry," an
appendix to The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental
Philosophy, writing is the word made flesh, for the grapheme is a
flesh, a proper and worldly body (Leib,) a constituting body and
not just a Kirper, a constituted sensible body: it is "spiritual
corporeality" (geistige Leiblichkeit) (Husserl, Formal and Transcen-
dental Logic, 2, p. 21). But as the process of that essential and
constitutive capacity for embodiment, writing is not just that
which escapes the distinction between the intelligible and the
sensible, the metaphysical and the empirical, but it is also where
every absolutely ideal object-i.e., truth-is factually and contin-
gently embodied. As such, writing is constitutive of the meaning
of history: it constitutes the meaning of history as the history of
meaning. It does this by producing-and that means by revealing
by enacting and enacting by revealing-a pure, subjectless, tran-
scendental field, which becomes one of the conditions for the
possibility of transcendental subjectivity. Writing is, Husserl in-
structs us, the condition sine qua non for the internal completion of
all ideal objectivity. As Derrida says: "Therefore the act of writing
is the highest possibility of all 'constitution' (Husserl's "Origin of
Geometry," 89), against which is measured the historicity of all
sense. But not only is writing constitutive of ideality; Derrida
tells us:

The authentic act of writing is a transcendental reduction
performed by and toward the we. But since, in order to
escape worldliness, sense must first be able to be set down in
the world and be deposited in sensible spatiotemporality, it
must put its pure intentional ideality, i.e., its truth-sense, in
danger. Thus a possibility, which even here accords only
with empiricism or nonphilosophy, appears in a philosophy
which is (at least because of certain motifs) the contrary of
empiricism: the possibility of truth's disappearance. (Hus-
serl's "Origin of Geometry," 92-93)

Writing, then, institutes truth by exposing the possibility of the
errancy of truth. A double exposure: truth is exposed in writing



by exposing the possibility of its errancy. A double exposure, as
it were: writing is both the preservation of truth and its constant
We can play out this interminable debate between philosophy
and empiricism or contingency that writing enables, enacts, and
embodies: if writing is that the meaning of history gets consti-
tuted as the history of meaning, then philosophy, or the history
of philosophy, is the record and depository of the constitutionality
that writing effects. In other words, writing does not simply befall
philosophy from without as an accident or mere contingency.
And this, of course, despite or rather because of the systematic
suppression and exclusion of writing by philosophy, despite or
because of philosophy's rigorous and indefatigable protestations
that writing is essential to philosophizing. These protestations
have been well documented; and they all have, starting with Plato,
the logic of dreams and repression that Freud documented in The
Interpretation of Dreams, a logic that he termed "kettle logic": (1)
The kettle I am returning to you is brand new. (2) The holes were
already in it when you lent it to me. (3) You never lent me a kettle
anyway. Analogously: (1) Writing is rigorously exterior and infe-
rior to living speech, which is therefore undamaged by it. (2)
Writing is harmful to it because it puts it to sleep and infects the
life of speech, which would otherwise remain intact. (3) And
anyway, if one has resorted to writing at all, it is not for its intrinsic
value, but because living memory is finite; it already has holes in
it before writing ever comes to leave its traces and spaces; and
since living memory is indispensable to living speech, speech is
finite, full of gaps and lapses and parapraxes; and so writing has
no effect on speech.3
There is much to be said about ontologics piling up a multitude
of contradictories in order to keep writing exterior, at more than
a hand's distance. And Derrida has certainly said much. But what
I want to say is that if there can be no ontology of writing, of the
tracing and spacing of blanks and absences, nevertheless ontol-
ogy has always appealed covertly and obliquely to writing for its
funding and founding. Ontology has always been in a perilous

3. Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," 110-11. See also Derrida, "Freud and
the Scene of Writing," 196-97.


complicity with writing, the authority of which it both enjoins
and denies. Just as writing is the attempt to suppress or supplant
any and all immediate assent to what is said, so too with ontology.
But not only does ontology suppress and supplant immediate
assent to what is said, it also, and more importantly, is the attempt
to draw attention to this suppression in order to show that the
matter of presentation has its true origin in the manner of presen-
tation: ontology is a peculiar form of writing that writes in order
to suspend or suspect the form of writing in general; it is the
subverting of referential discourse since, although ontologics has,
we presume, a necessarily referential structure, strictly speaking,
ontology does not refer to particular intraworldly things. In fact,
who can say just what ontology refers to? An ontologist? My
point exactly, as we shall see.
Ontology is the struggle to achieve an autonomy of discourse
by attempting to utter, to name, to encode and encrypt, the
Orphic seal and signature of being. But ontology can only sustain
itself in this struggle if it works itself out in the tension produced
between putting into question the referential modes of language
while itself trying to determine the means, manners, and proper
objects of its own curiously convoluted referentiality.
But matters are still not that simple. In saying that ontology
does not refer, one simply avoids, denies, or abrogates the stead-
fastly difficult dialectic of this "not." To say that ontology is the
attempt to determine the object of its mode of referentiality by a
determined reference to the analysis and development of its
means and manners of referring is simply to avoid the prob-
lem of the referentiality of ontology. So if it can be said that
ontology refers, it can only refer to its own peculiar mode of
Ontology is, if anything, the attempt to represent referentiality;
and it struggles to do so by referring to itself as the undermining
of representationality in order to get to the true order of being
pure and simple and not merely a being-represented. Words refer,
and we say, or used to say, that words also represent, or rather
those words that interest the ontologist. But ontology struggles
to represent how words refer as well as struggling to refer to how
words represent: ontology has always been determined as the
dialectic of reference and representation, as the problematic of
the reconciliation of the two.



Let me be more precise. By referentiality we mean, of course,
something like the concept developed in Frege's "Sense and Ref-
erence,' and further enlarged upon in the Tractatus: that is, the
meaning of a sentence is not the referent, but it shares a form
with the referent. We mean, to recast this, that referentiality is
the enactment of the enownment of word and world to and by
one another: it is the endowment of the form shared between
word and world. That is, referentiality expresses the fact that the
"inside" of language is nothing more than the opening upon the
"outside" of language-the referent-while the "outside" of lan-
guage is nothing but the opening up of the "inside" of language-
the sense.
By representationality we mean the invocation of world
through the effraction and refraction of the word. To use the
poststructuralist terminology, representationality expresses the
fact that the "inside" of language is separated from the "outside"
of language by the discrepancy of a breath, a breath that, in being
drawn back in, postpones the world by drawing the signified
back in upon the realm of signification rather than drawing forth
into the realm of the referent. Or again, the word enjoins the
world to us, but only by representing the form it shares with the
world, staving off the inbreaking of world into the wordly estate.
In this sense, then, we can say that ontology is the reference
to representationality and the representation of referentiality, or
again, refers to (its own) representationality and represents (its
own) referentiality. Let us see how this goes.
Ontology, we say, refers to (its own) representationality. This
means, then, that ontology is that the form shared between word
and world is nothing more than the representation of the dis-
crepancy separating the one from the other. But ontology is that
the enownment of this shared form cannot properly be repre-
sented; ontology is that the word and world are enowned to and
by one another only insofar as the form shared between them
has already been presupposed. The word and world are thor-
oughly mediated in this enownment to and by one another: on-
tology is that this enownment must be represented but cannot
be represented. This double conundrum is ontology: it is a ne-
cessity that is impossible, and it is an impossibility that is nec-
essary. Word and world are enowned to and by one another by
virtue of ontology's being the representation of this enownment.


Ontology, we say further, represents (its own) referentiality.
This means, then, that ontology is that the word invokes the world
by being a commentary on the form it shares with the world,
without, however, giving us passage to it. Ontology is that the
representation of the enownment of word and world to and by
one another is accomplished by the word. But in accomplishing
this representation the word effaces itself, giving in its place
precisely this representation. So we have on the one hand the
world and on the other the representation of the form it shares
with the word. Let us call this representation the isomorphism of
word and world. This isomorphism is not the form shared be-
tween word and world but its representation, its representative
and envoy in the world. Now, this isomorphism of word and
world is in the world, yet it shares a form with the world, a form
which is itself represented by the word. Accordingly, the iso-
morphism of word and world is isomorphic to the world. This is
an algorithm generative, not of word or world, but rather of their
shared form. But this shared form is, of course, transcendental.
So with equal force we can say ontology is that this representation
of enownment makes enownment impossible, insofar as this en-
ownment defers to its representative, foreclosing in advance any
and every attempt to enjoy it directly. But if the enownment of
word and world to and by one another forecloses on its accessi-
bility and enjoyment, then it is impossible, for its essence consists
in always being enjoyed, never unavailable.
Again, a double conundrum: a necessity that is impossible, an
impossibility that is necessary.
If this is the case, then there can be no ontology, especially
since the inferring-deferring dialectic between reference and rep-
resentation is essentially interminable, given that it is undecidable
at any given moment whether referentiality or representationality
has gained ascendency over the other. It is essentially undecidable
whether we dwell in the convocation of word and world, a dwell-
ing in the endearing nearness of enownment of word and world
to one another, or whether we dwell in an invocation of the world
that, by invoking it, provokes it into the indefinite postponement
of its coming into an indwelling with the word, instead sending
us its emissary, its envoy, its representative.
With equal equanimity we can say that writing is the full
manifestation of discourse as the encoding of the dialectic of



reference and representation. In fixing discourse, writing makes
this dialectic explicit by suppressing immediate assent to the
referent in an effort to produce this suppression as its own rep-
resentation. If spoken discourse contains an element of self-ref-
erence to the discursive situation by virtue of the fact that the
speaker's intention and meaning coincide in his presence, with
written discourse these two cease to coincide. We can designate
this dissociation of the verbal meaning of the text and the mental
intention of the author by the term inscription. Inscription then
becomes synonymous with the semantic autonomy of the text.
And this dissociation in the text of the self-reference of the dis-
cursive situation from the sense of the text produces the effect of
writing referring to itself as its own representation and of rep-
resenting its own discursive situation as its reference.
This is precisely what we call ontology So as surely as there
can be no ontology of writing, just as surely there can be no
ontology without writing.
That ontology has systematically denied this symbiotic rela-
tionship with writing betrays (according to a logic Freud first
enunciated as the return of the repressed) the complicity of writ-
ing in the experience of language and the world, in the correlation
of the worlding word and the wording world.
The opposition between mnimi (faculty of memory) and hypo-
mnisis (memoir, memorial, remembrance) would thus preside
over the meaning of writing. This opposition will appear to us to
fan a system with all the great structural opposition of Plato-
nism. What is played out at the boundary line between the two
concepts is consequently something like the major decision of
philosophy, the one through which it institutes itself, maintains
itself, and contains its adverse deeps (Derrida, "Plato's Phar-
macy," 111). Or so Derrida has at any rate instructed us:

This repression constitutes the origin of philosophy as ep-
istjme, and of truth as the-unity of logos and phone.
Repression, not forgetting; repression, not exclusion.
Repression, as Freud says, neither repels, nor flees, nor
excludes an exterior force; it contains an interior represen-
tation, laying out within itself a space of repression. Here,
that which represents a force in the form of the writing


interior to speech and essential to it has been contained
outside speech. ("Freud and the Scene of Writing," 196-97)

Plato's Phaedrus-the first, yet decidedly ambiguous, attempt
to reduce writing to monuments to forgetfulness, to memorials
and memorandums, to reduce writing to hypomnisia, the archive
supplanting living memory, evicting it by a sign of rememoration
and com-memoration-uses the word "katechei," which we can
certainly translate as "repress," in a decisive place (254a), where
Socrates describes how the "obedient steed" represses the urge
to ravish the beloved, while the other, unrepressed, "leaps and
dashes on, sorely troubling his companion and his driver, and
forcing them to approach the loved one and remind him of the
delights of love's commerce [mneian poisthai tis t6n aphrodisi6n
Already, then, not only is writing explicitly determined as hy-
pomnisia, as the institutionalizing of forgetfulness, but moreover,
it is implicitly linked with repression, for the Phaedrus, inasmuch
as it was written by Plato, is a unified whole, and so the unre-
pressed part of the psyche, which calls pleasure back to remem-
brance, must be associated with writing, since living speech and
living memory are at the service of dialogue, of the presence of
speaker and interpellator. The relationship between writing,
repression, and forgetfulness needs to be made clear.
Repression is always motivated. Forgetfulness cannot be.
Repression is motivated denial and defamation. Forgetfulness is,
on the other hand, the passing over, overlooking, and covering
over of what has already been. But above all the characteristic of
forgetting is that it forgets itself. In closing off the past it closes
itself off for itself; it not only forgets the forgotten but forgets that
it is forgotten. This is why it appears that forgetting is nothing
at all. But it is not nothing. Forgetfulness, as Heidegger points
out,4 is not the absence of a recollection, nor the failure of a
recollection to appear, so that in place of the recollection there
would be nothing. It is rather, a peculiar, positive mode of tem-
porality. Forgetting has the character of disengagement from one's

I 4. Sein und Zeit, 339; Die Grundprobleme der Phdnomenologie, 411-12.



ownmost past and in such a way that the disengagement closes
off that from which it disengages. It is more precisely a backing
away in the face of one's past-but by doing so in such a manner
that it closes itself off from itself.
Forgetfulness is, in a word, ontological. It expresses the fact
that the unconscious, as the revelation of absence, as rupture and
gap instituting self-presence, emerges as the complete resistance
to ontology as that against which the ontological project is carried
out and ultimately shattered. It is also the drawing in of temporal
horizons around existence. But as Husserl discovered, there is no
constitution of horizons, only horizons of constitution; forgetful-
ness, though seemingly an intentionality, cannot be constituted,
so it can only be unintentional. Or rather, it can only be a pure
intentionality. It designates the infinite overflowing of a horizon
that can never become an object or be completed by an intuition
of an object. Forgetfulness is the indefinite openness to temporal
phenomenality, and, as we know, temporal phenomenality is the
most basic level of phenomenality, for it is the phenomenalization
of presencing. Thus, forgetfulness is at the basis of existence. But
this can only be if forgetfulness is the indefinite openness to
temporal phenomenality for a subjectivity that is always finite in
its being. It does this by producing the infinitizing of time, so that
time can only appear as having an infinite past and an infinite
future: forgetfulness gives us an opening upon infinity but only
in a refractory way.
Forgetfulness can never appear, and it can never be determined
in evidence, for it is only the possibility of evidence, of openness;
it is only the infinite indeterminability as the temporal horizon for
every experience in general and is "given" as the prescription of
complete givenness, where nothing is given-except that there
has been a givenness in which nothing now is given. But as soon
as this is given, it is removed, stolen away, and what remains is
only the regulative idea of complete givenness. Forgetfulness has
no content and delivers no evidence but nonetheless designates
a type of insight that is all its own.
In the notion of forgetfulness there can only be determined
evidence of the notion and not that of which it is the notion. In
this way the notion that forgetfulness closes itself off from itself
is the correlate of a pure intention, an absolutely adequate inten-
tion, for it is empty of every determined object. It alone reveals,


then, the being of intention: it is, we can almost say, intentionality
itself. Forgetfulness, having neither form nor content, signifies
only the relation with an object but a relation that deprives itself of
its object, that cancels itself.
There are two kinds of forgetting: (1) covering up and closing
off origins-or more precisely, the covering up and closing off of
origins; and (2) letting the origin go, freeing oneself from it. At
least these two are the primordial kinds of forgetting. Of these
two, the latter is Nietzsche's and Kierkegaard's, and the former is
the origin forgetting its own essential finitude.
Nietzsche says, concerning the active kind of forgetting:

With the smallest as with the greatest happiness, however,
there is always one thing which makes it happiness: being
able to forget or, to express it in a more learned fashion, the
capacity to live unhistorically while it endures. Whoever can-
not settle on the threshold of the moment forgetful of the
whole past, whoever is incapable of standing on a point like
a goddess of victory without vertigo or fear, will never know
what happiness is.5

In On the Genealogy of Morals he reiterates:

Forgetting is no mere vis inertiae as the superficial imag-
ine; it is rather an active and in the strictest sense positive
faculty of repression [positives Hemmungsverm6gen], that is
responsible for the fact that what we experience and absorb
enters our consciousness as little while we are digesting it
(one might call the process "inpsychation") as does the
thousandfold process, involved in physical nourishment-
so-called "incorporation." To close the doors and windows
of consciousness for a time; to remain undisturbed by the
noise and struggle of our underworld of utility organs work-
ing with and against one another; a little quietness, a little
tabula rasa of the consciousness, to make room for new
things, above all for the nobler functions and functionaries,
for regulation, foresight, premeditation (for our organism

I 5. On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, 9.



is an oligarchy)-that is the purpose of active forgetfulness,
which is like a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order,
repose, and etiquette: so that it will be immediately obvious
how there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope,
no pride, no present, without forgetfulness. (Second essay,

Compare this with the aesthete on social prudence in Kierke-
gaard's Either/Or I:

To forget-all men wish to forget, and when something
unpleasant happens, they always say: Oh, that one might
forget! But forgetting is an art that must be practiced be-
forehand. The ability to forget is conditioned upon the
method of remembering, but this again depends upon the
mode of experiencing reality. Whoever plunges into his ex-
periences with the momentum of hope will remember in
such wise that he is unable to forget. Nil admirari is therefore
the real philosophy. No moment must be permitted so great
a significance that it cannot be forgotten when convenient;
each moment ought, however, to have so much significance
that it can be recollected at will. Childhood, which is the
age which remembers best, is at the same time most forget-
ful The more poetically one remembers, the more easily
one forgets; for remembering poetically is really only an-
other expression for forgetting ....
The extent of one's power to forget is the final measure of
one's elasticity of spirit. If a man cannot forget he will never
amount to much. Whether there be somewhere a Lethe
gushing forth, I do not know; but this I know, that the art
of forgetting can be developed. . forgetfulness is one
thing, and the art of forgetting is something quite different.
... Forgetting is the true expression for an ideal process of
assimilation by which the experience is reduced to a sound-
ing-board for the soul's own music . The art in dealing
with such experiences [unpleasant experiences] consists in
talking them over, thereby depriving them of their bitter-

I 6. See also Beyond Good and Evil, 230.


ness; not forgetting them absolutely, but forgetting them
for the sake of remembering them. . Forgetting is the
shears with which you cut away what you cannot use, doing
it under the supreme direction of memory. (289-90)

If what is forgotten is not so much what has been as it is that
it has been, then what is the sense of active forgetting? It is this:
learning the art of forgetting that I have been, that I have in bygone
days realized this or that possibility but realized it only by means
of closing off all other possibilities. To forget this is to come back
to what one has been in the movement of being freed from it and
hence freed from its constraints determining outstanding possi-
bilities. This is just the opposite of repression, for repression is a
holding back, a keeping oneself from gaining access to what one
has been, a keeping oneself from getting freed of it, and a being
unavowedly constrained by it, determined by its constraints. But
to practice the art of forgetting is to forget that the past has closed
off certain possibilities. This is the same phenomenon as the
opening up of the inbreaking of infinite possibility, which is
Kierkegaard's sense of the eternal. So forgetfulness is not only
the infinitizing of time, the dispensing of a pure, indefinite open-
ness and interminable horizon to temporality, it is also the in-
breaking of the eternal, as when Kierkegaard talks about drown-
ing the past in the "forgetfulness of the eternal," of continually
emancipating oneself from one's "knowledge of the past" (Works
of Love, 285), that the past is past and that the past is the fore-
shortening of time and the foreclosing on the eternal.
It is only by learning the art of forgetfulness that the eternal
can break into time, for in forgetting the one finite possibility
that was actually realized in the past is not simply annihilated
but is transfigured into the upsurge of infinite possibility. And
in determining the past this upsurge of infinite possibility comes
out of the future; it is the inbreaking from the future of the infinite
possibilities of the past. Or, as the aesthete says: "The more
poetically one remembers, the more easily one forgets; for re-
membering poetically is really only another expression for for-
getting." We find in Works of Love further testimony to this idea:

By abiding (and in this abiding the lover is in compact with
the eternal), he maintains superiority over the past; thereby



he transforms what is a break [with his beloved] in the past
and through which a break exists, into a possible relation-
ship in the future. Seen from the angle of the past the break
becomes clearer and clearer day by day and year by year;
but the lover, who abides, by abiding belongs to the future,
the eternal, and from the angle of the future the break is
not a break, but rather a possibility. But the powers of the
eternal are needed for this, and therefore the lover, who
abides, must abide in love; otherwise the past still gets power
little by little and thereby the break gradually becomes ap-
parent ....
. That the relationship has reached its breaking-point
cannot be seen directly; it can be known only from the angle
of the past. But the lover wills not to know the past, for he
abides; and to abide is in the direction of the future. Con-
sequently the lover expresses that the relationship which
another considers broken is a relationship which has not yet
been completed. Although it lacks something, it neverthe-
less is not for that reason a break. (283-84)

Or, as Husserl insists, once sense appears in "egological" con-
sciousness, its total annihilation becomes impossible:

To select only one main point: each mental process that
makes its appearance in the primitive mode, immanent
presentness, (and, as making its appearance thus, is itself
also an object of consciousness) is followed, with unalterable
necessity, by a "retentional" consciousness, as an original
modification by virtue of which the primitive mode, "given
at present," goes over, in a continuous synthesis, into the
modified consciousness functions, in accordance with the
same law, as the primitive mode relative to a new modifi-
cation (a modification of the modification); and so on,
Continuous retentional modification proceeds up to an
essentially necessary limit. That is to say: with this inten-
tional modification there goes hand in hand a gradual dimi-
nution of prominence; and precisely this has its limit, at which
the formerly prominent subsides into the universal substra-
tum-the so-called "unconscious," which far from being a


phenomenological nothing, is itself a limit-mode of con-
sciousness. The whole intentional genesis relates back to
this substratum of sedimented prominences, which, as a
horizon, accompanies every living present and shows its
own continuously changing sense when it become "awak-
ened." (Formal and Transcendental Logic, Appendix 2, 2c, pp.

In an appendix to the Crisis of the European Sciences and Tran-
scendental Phenomenology (385-87), Eugen Fink discusses the na-
ivete of the classic problem of the unconscious and the question
of knowing whether an intentional analysis can open a method-
ical access to the unconscious. The point he makes is that the
naivete of the current theory of the "unconscious" consists in the
fact that it engrosses itself in the illusion of the everyday imme-
diacy of such antiphenomena as sleep, fainting, being overtaken
by obscure driving forces, creative states, and the like, by ap-
pealing to a naive and dogmatic implicit theory about consciousness,
of which it always makes use despite the inaccessibility of these
antiphenomena to consciousness, despite their precluding con-
scious access to them.
In forgetfulness is the infinitizing of time; the unconscious,
precisely because it completely and methodically resists any and
every intentional analysis-which is fundamentally temporal-
is, as Freud tells us, timeless. The timelessness of the unconscious
does not have the same temporal structure as forgetfulness: it is
not the inbreaking of the eternal. Rather the unconscious and
repression are the absolute horizonlessness on the obverse of
temporal horizons. Timelessness is the absence of time, the rad-
ical removal from temporal accessibility, and so the radical finiti-
zation of time in that temporal horizons are constrained and held
in check without being able to approach that which limits them.
In the unconscious, time is taken away; time is stolen away, for
the unconscious is simply the repetition of the resistance to time's
commencing: the unconscious indefinitely defers the upsurging
of time. But, on the other hand, forgetfulness is the opening up
of the inbreaking of infinite possibility in the moment (0jiblikket
= der Augenblick), wherein all time is contracted, wherein all
possibility sustains itself in being contracted into the service of
actuality. Forgetfulness infinitizes time: the unconscious makes



it radically finite, infinitely finite. The unconscious removes the
repressed from time, holds time back from breaking forth past
its bonds, to recapture a past that is much more than past; the
unconscious keeps time tucked away in its own little imploding
hollow. Forgetfulness, by covering over the fact that what has
been has been "recollects forward" (as Kierkegaard says of "repe-
tition"), recollects all time forward, in a forward motion, so that
time can advance and thereby announce the presence of the
eternal. The unconscious closes off what can never advance as
itself; forgetfulness covers over what, in principle at least, can be
disclosed again.
But if forgetfulness is ontological (of or pertaining to being),
repression is ontic (of or pertaining to entities), for repression
has effect as the mechanism of resolving an unacknowledged
contradiction that is nonetheless exerting its pressure on exis-
tence, as the scene of a conflict between unspecifiable agencies,
only because there is something beyond-the unconscious-that
is pressing in. This contradiction is a contradiction between two
ontic categories or events or agencies, and cannot therefore be
properly an existenzial (i.e., ontological), but rather must be a kind
of existenziell (i.e., ontic). To be more precise: the scene of repres-
sion is a specific unpleasant memory, but what has been repressed
is another apparently subordinated, concomitant memory, which
itself cannot be brought to consciousness. The original has been
replaced by its representative. So there is repression, and the
scene of repression is a specific memory that has not so much
been forgotten as it has been displaced and distorted by its re-
placement, a symptom, a symptom both extrinsic and subsidiary
to the memory. In point of fact, "what is repressed is not the
memory but the fantasy derived from it or subtending it." The
memory appears but only after the scene and with a deferred
effect, what Lacan calls "apres coup." And Freud says of the uncon-
scious that its existence is both "necessary and legitimate" ("The
Unconscious," 116), and its characteristics are "exemption from
mutual contradiction, primary process (motility of cathexis),
timelessness, and substitution of psychic for external reality"
(135), and that repression is but "a part of the unconscious" (116).
If we consider thinking to be the attempt at self-possession, a
self-possession responding to the question of the meaning of


being and appropriate to that meaning, so that thinking is the
enactment of the endowment of and by being-if we were to
consider thinking as such, then it would become clear that think-
ing is the attempt to release oneself from the pleasure-unpleasure
principle, from the commands of Eros and Thanatos. But, then,
such an attempt would be doomed to failure, for it would be
appropriated by this principle as its after-effect, as merely con-
firming it. Thinking, then, would be the operational mode of a
psychismm" (a "mystic-writing pad," as Freud says) condemned
to making a late appearance and falling prey to that from which
it seeks deliverance. Repression is precisely the attestation to
human inability to go beyond the pleasure-unpleasure principle.
It is the "Entfernung" (distancing) and "Entstellung" (distortion)
of instincts, the distantiation and distortion that cut them off from
consciousness, leaving only their representative, their "Vorstel-
lungreprdsentanz," as Freud says.
That repression is in effect, that consciousness is its after-effect,
means that thinking is a question of recovering derivatives, de-
viations, and dispersions of the primal, instinctual representa-
tives in terms of the degree of remoteness and distortion of their
effect. Thus Freud defines repression:

Psychoanalysis has taught us that the essence of the pro-
cess of repression lies, not in abrogating or annihilating the
ideational presentation of an instinct [dem Trieb reprdsentie-
rende Vorstellung], but in preventing it from becoming con-
scious. ("The Unconscious," 116)


[T]he essence of repression lies simply in the function of
rejecting and keeping something out of consciousness.
("Repression," 105)

It is in these terms that Derrida wants us to understand writing:
writing would, according to him, express the distantiation and
distortion the eidos is affected with when we become conscious
of it. As noted earlier, Plato connects writing directly with for-
getfulness, for he says in the Phaedrus that writing sows "forget-



fulness in the soul." And here we have, in analyzing writing as
the token of repression, its remarkable mark, forgotten about
forgetfulness. Let us, like pulp story criminals, stereotyped crim-
inals from our childhood whom we could never forget, return to
the scene of the crime: forgetfulness is ontological as the complete
resistance to ontological elaboration; repression is ontical as the
cutting off from conscious appropriation. If writing is to be linked
to repression, as Freud and Derrida say that it is, and to forget-
fulness, as Plato says, then perhaps we need to try to make clear
the interrelationships of these three terms, writing, repression,
and forgetfulness. But then again, perhaps we may find that
writing, like a neurosis, is but the repetition of the resistance to
making these interrelationships clear. But let us see.
My thesis is that writing, as the difference between gramma
and gramme, as the difference between spacing tracing and tracing
spacing-as the difference, that is, between phonetic symboli-
zation and a trace instituted in lieu of the absent author, audience,
and voice-is the difference between forgetfulness and repres-
sion: writing designates the difference between the complete re-
sistance to ontology and the ontic refusal to become conscious.
In a word, I want to say that writing is the site, scene, and source
of the ontological difference.
When linked to forgetfulness, a connection Plato and, we are
told, all subsequent thinkers make,7 writing resists all attempts
at an ontological determination of its origin, essence, and effect,
as Derrida so amply demonstrates. But Derrida also has a lot to

7. Cf. Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," 109: "And writing appears to Plato
(and after him to all of philosophy, which is as such constituted in
this gesture) as that process of redoubling in which we are fatally
(en)trained: the supplement of a supplement, the signifier, the rep-
resentative of a representative." Also cf. 111: "The opposition be-
tween mnimi and hypomnisis would thus preside over the meaning
of writing. This opposition will appear to us to form a system with
all the great structural opposition of Platonism. What is played out
at the boundary line between those two concepts is consequently
something like the major decision of philosophy, the one through
which it institutes itself, maintains itself, and contains its adverse