Time and Narrative by Paul Ricoeur

Ricoeur, Paul.  Time and Narrative (Temps et Récit), 3 vols. trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 1985, 1988 (1983, 1984, 1985).
by Emily Ball Cicchini

Volume 1
Part I:  The Circle of Narrative and Temporality
Part II  History and Narrative
Volume 2
Part III:  The Configuration of Time in Fictional Narrative
Volume 3
Part IV: Narrated Time
Section 1:  The Aporetics (doubts, puzzles) of Temporality
Section 2:  Poetics of Narrative:  History, Fiction, Time

Time and Narrative, builds from his book The Rule of Metaphor. It’s three very dense books that delve quite deeply into the narrative constructs of time. While we all know plot and story are key to narratives, each narrative often betrays a causal sense of time. I can’t really pretend that I have fully digested them. But I enjoyed them. And they really did a head trip on me…which I will get to at the end of these notes.

Part 1:  The big philosophical questions about time, and what they have to do with narrative:

Question:  Is time objective or subjective?   External or internal?
Question:  Is there one unified objective flow of time?
Question:  How do we know that time is continuous?
Question:  Is cause and effect absolute, or is there arbitrary randomness?
Question:  How do we know that what we call the past was/is real?
Question:  Does fiction veil the truth of the past, or illuminate it?
Question:  Is plot more important than character or theme in poetics?
Question:  What if there is only the “now,” and no past and no future?
Question:  What duty, if any, do we owe to the people of the past?
Question:  Do our expectations, desires, and intentions for the future directly influence it?

Part 2:  The history of what philosophers thought about these ideas, through the lens of Ricoeur
The Philosopher’s Song:  Monty Python

Aristotle:  Time is a series of instants or points of movement of objects that you can measure;  plots must be plausible, possible, sequential; a narrative (drama) is an imitation (mimesis) of action.  Aristotle didn’t make any relationship between the soul or our thought and time.   It drives us; we are in it, not of it.

Augustine:  “What is time?”  There is a difference between instants and the present, since we sense it, we are engaged with it;  the “now” contains the past’s expectations of the future, so it is not independent.  There is a flow.  Eternity is always stable, created things never are.  But Time is something other than movement.   The “now” is the end of the before and the beginning of the after.

Kant: “What is space and time?”  Three modes:  permanence, succession, simultaneity.  He posits a “transcendental aesthetic” to get mimesis of the external time, the a priori intuition of time that we are born with, not learned.   Invisibility of objective time.  Time is motionless, and yet it flows.  Yet, the side of the soul is no more.

Husserl:  There is an extended present due to our retention of memories; the internal consciousness of time is critical, coincidences show the linking of time.  Time flows, but it fades away (to be eaten by Langoliers!  Eek!)  We can sense internal and external at the same time.

Heidegger:  Care replaces spirit and soul ideas;  Dasein (Being-in-the-world) supersedes internal consciousness of time.  There is a connectedness of life.  There is a stretching along, movement, and self-consistency, bracketed out between birth and death.  What’s before and after is somewhat moot.  Although there is datability, lapses of time, and publicness in the production of history.

Hegel:  Concepts, histories, ideas, stories are mediated by economy, law, ethics, religion, and culture in general.  World history, not universal history.  Great men of history, driven by spirt, passion, with two intentions for each action.  They are unhappy…their fate kills them.

Ricoeur’s key extensions, clarifications, enhancements, contributions:

“enplotment” = the act of constructing a plot

Three kinds of Memesis:

Memesis1    “prenarrative”
Memesis2     causal thinking
Memesis3    “refiguration”

The first is the most remedial, the last is related to identity building of character, both of individuals and of nations.

We need both cosmological and psychological perspectives on time, and the narrative view reconciles them.

Both fiction and history play a part in constructing the narrative of time, through “interweaving.”

There is no totality of time, no single story, no “oneness.”  There is historical time, a combination of cosmological and psychological, that is not perhaps continuous, but refigured as an act of identity making.

Without memory, there is no principle of hope.  Keeping heritage is a moral duty.

Historical consciousness, as a narrative, may not fit into existing literary genres.

Identity and history are socially constructed.  They are not seamless or stable.  This is a weakness of the  narrative view.

Also, narrative is an imaginative act, not an action, which lessens its impact; although reading and speaking can be seen in themselves as acts.

Selected quotes and notes from Volume 3

Part 1

“Our narrative poetics needs the complicity as well as the contrast between internal time – consciousness and objective succession.”   (p 22)

Husserl:  “coincidence compensates for the break in retention….” ” a past that is retained passively and a past that is represented spontaneously.”   (p 34)

“The present is both what we are living and what realizes the expectations of a remembered past” (p 35)

having a “temporal position” of past present future implies objective time. (p 37)

Identity of place, content, and temporal points…Ricouer asks, how can it add up to “The one Objective time with the one fixed order”? (p 40)

“It follows from this that time cannot be perceived in itself, but that we have only an indirect representation of it through simultaneously intellectual and imaginative operations applied to objects in space.”  (p 49)

“Time is the best space-like map….without which time would unceasingly vanish and begin a new and every instance.” (p 52)

“Care…that which makes temporality possible.”  (p 64)

“The plural unity of the three ecstases of temporality:  stretching along, movement, and self-constancy. (p 71)

fate, destiny, and history.  common destiny: “Geschick.” (p 75)

Ricoeur believes that “time cannot be constructed on a series of “nows””. (p 88)

Ricoeur his most poetic:     “…forgetting the relation between the ready-to-hand and concern, and forgetting death,  we contemplate the sky and we construct calendars and clocks.”  (p 93)

Finally “we cannot think about cosmological time without surreptitiously appealing to phenomenological time and vice versa.” (p 96)

Part 2

“History and fiction, taken together, offer the reply of the poetics of narrative to the aporias of time brought to light by phenomenology.” (p 99)

“The problem then will be to show how the reconfiguration of time by history and fiction becomes concrete thanks to the borrowings each mode of narrative makes from the other mode.”   (p 101)

“The act of reading is thereby included within a reading community, which, under certain favorable conditions, develops the sort of normativity and canonical status that we acknowledge in great works, those that never cease decontextualizing and recontextualizing themselves in the most diverse cultural circumstances.”  (p 178)

“Free from the external constraints of documentary proof, is not fiction internally bound by obligation to its quasi-past which is another name for the constraints of verisimilitude?”   (p 192)

“The lived-through present, on the other hand, presents itself as the incidence of a “now” solidarity with the imminence of the near future and the record of the just-passed past.”  (p 233)

Which is to say, I was often reminded while reading this of:

Steven King’s:  The Langoliers – You Tube

Wikipedia entry with full synoposis
Flicker image of the Langoliers chasing the plane