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The Punctum and the Past

Sartre and Barthes on Memory and Fascination

Patrick Eldridge

Keywords: Barthes; fascination; Husserl; imagination; memory; phenomenology; time-consciousness

This article extrapolates a theory of memory as an intentional consciousness from Sartre’s early, scattered references to memory. There are three key questions: How does Sartre conceive of memory’s intentional structure? Its temporal structure? And how does memory display both continuity and discontinuity in the stream of consciousness? Starting from the Sartrean insight that memory is a ‘double consciousness’ the article offers an analysis of how memory helps to constitute a temporally complex mode of being-in-theworld. Aside from memory’s usefulness in this regard, memory also has the power to disturb consciousness and disrupt its projects. Roland Barthes’s concept of the punctum – which is connected to analyses of mourning – helps to clarify this. A synoptic analysis of Sartre and Barthes allows for a phenomenological description of how consciousness can be stuck in the past, confronted by something that was, and which holds the mind captive.

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