- The Question of the Other in the Dialectics of TimeThe Problem of Intersubjectivity in Derrida’s Reading of Husserl
Yet the enchainment of past and futureWoven in the weakness of the changing body,Protects mankind from heaven and damnationWhich flesh cannot endure. Time past and time futureAllow but a little consciousness.To be conscious is not to be in time.—T. S. Eliot
After what is considered to be his early work, Derrida would never again devote any of his texts exclusively to the study of phenomenology, appealing to it only to illuminate his particular readings about other authors [End Page 159] and problems.1 However, it is also true, as Derrida himself admitted, that phenomenology had been crucial to his way of thinking. In an interview given in 1999 Derrida points out: “it was Husserl who taught me a technique, a method, a discipline, and who has never left me” (quoted in Tymieniecka 2002, 461). Considering this kind of affirmation, one could find, in some of Derrida’s early writings about phenomenology, a sort of genesis of some of his later assertions. In this essay I will attempt to show that within what Derrida calls “the dialectics of living present” there is a movement that already brings to light some of his later concerns; particularly those in which the other acquires a co-originary status in relation to the same.2 For reasons of time and space, the following pages shall not be attached to the analysis of the link between Derrida’s early and later writings. Rather, our purpose is to address the genesis of Derrida’s thought of the other in his early work on phenomenology. This attempt will be particularly focused on three of his early writings, namely: The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy, the “Introduction” to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, and Speech and Phenomena.
In the introduction to Speech and Phenomena, Derrida points out that the descriptions of both temporality and intersubjectivity would lead the phenomenological intuitionist principle to its own limit. This means that if for Husserl the adequate knowledge of a phenomenon depends on the possibility of perceiving it in an originary and present intuition, then the account of time and intersubjectivity will put on stage the impossibility of accessing this original intuition. Derrida writes:
Phenomenology seems to us tormented, if not contested from within, by its own descriptions of the movement of temporalization and of the constitution of intersubjectivity. At the heart of what ties together these two decisive moments of description we recognize an irreducible nonpresence as having a constituting value and with it a nonlife, a nonpresence or nonself-belonging of the living present, an ineradicable nonprimordiality.(Derrida 1973, 6)
The quote suggests, as we have already mentioned, that time and intersubjectivity [End Page 160] will confront Husserl’s philosophy with its own crisis. But what is more remarkable is that for Derrida what haunts phenomenology is not each of these descriptions taken separately but “what ties together these two decisive moments” (Derrida 1973, 7). But what binds temporality and the intersubjectivity together? What is the specificity of the link that brings in the non-presence or nonself-belonging of the living present? Derrida’s statement remains enigmatic. By taking up each of these two movements separately, one may find that the link between them is the nonoriginary presence that they both entail. However, I would like to suggest that Derrida’s assumption is perhaps riskier. In fact, it is possible to think of a certain kind of structure, or infrastructure,3 that ties both temporality and intersubjectivity together in the same movement throughout Derrida’s early writings on phenomenology. I would like to call this structure—perhaps somehow arbitrarily for the moment—the question of the other in the dialectics of time.
To understand this knotted movement we shall begin by clarifying the importance Derrida gives to the concept of the present in phenomenology. Supported by Husserl’s own assertions in Ideas I, Derrida suggests that the keystone of phenomenology is the present, that is, the consciousness’s originary intuition of a given...