Jakub Kowalewski - Levinas and the Deformalisation of Time

This is one of the papers from our 2017 Annual Conference, the Future of Phenomenology. Information and the full conference booklet can be found at www.britishphenomenology.org.uk

In a 1988 interview Levinas describes deformalisation of the notion of time as the essential theme of his research. Commentators have usually interpreted this central Levinasian idea as a provision of a concrete experience in which the formal structure of time is realised. Although correct, this accepted definition is too general. As I will demonstrate in my paper, for Levinas, different concrete experiences not only realise time differently, but, more importantly, are able to impact on the formal structure of time-consciousness itself. In order to defend this thesis, I will argue that Levinas understands the form of time-consciousness as governed by a three-aspect internal tendency or ‘conatus’: a striving for the present; a horizontal synchronisation of the past, present, and future experiences; and a self-projection into the infinite future.  I will then examine the deformalisation of time in the phenomena of responsibility, fecundity, and death, in order to show the three distinct ways in which these phenomena modify, or put into question, the conatus characteristic of the form of time-consciousness. I will claim that a) responsibility for another human being interrupts the striving for the present, b) fecundity, and the time of the child it promises, refuses horizontal synchronisation, and c) death renders impossible the futural self-projection. I will conclude by suggesting that it is responsibility which occupies a privileged position with regards to the other concrete experiences which allow for the deformalisation of the notion of time. 


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