Ricoeur on Augustine on Memory

Augustine “can be said to have invented inwardness against the background of the Christian experience of conversion…. But if Augustine knows the inner man, he does not know the equating of identity, self, and memory. This is the invention of John Locke at the beginning of the eighteenth century” (Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, p. 97). “It is not yet consciousness and the self, nor even the subject, that Augustine describes and honors, but rather… the inner man remembering himself” (p. 98). Augustine’s Confessions provide “interiority with a specific kind of spatiality, creating an intimate place” (ibid). Augustine is quoted saying, “It is in my own mind, then, that I measure time”. (See also Augustinian Interiority.)

Ricoeur comments, “Vast is the treasure that memory is said [by Augustine] to ‘contain’…. Moreover, the memory of ‘things’ and the memory of myself coincide: in them I also encounter myself, I remember myself, what I have done, when and how I did it and what impression I had at the time” (p. 99). “It is in the internal place of the soul or the mind that the dialectic between distention and intention… unfolds. The distentio that dissociates the three intentions of the present — the present of the past or memory, the present of the future or expectation, and the present of the present or attention — is distentio animi. It stands as the dissimilarity of the self to itself” (p. 101; see Ricoeur on Augustine on Time).

Here Ricoeur notes that in spite of Augustine’s acute sense of this “distention of the soul”, there is a “problem of knowing whether the theory of the threefold present does not accord a preeminence to the living experience of the present such that the otherness of the past is affected and compromised by it” (pp. 101-102.)