Ricoeur on Time and Narrative

An Introduction to Temps et récit

William C. Dowling

“The object of this book,” writes William C. Dowling in his preface, “is to make the key concepts of Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative available to readers who might have felt bewildered by the twists and turns of its argument.” The sources of puzzlement are, he notes, many. For some, it is Ricoeur’s famously indirect style of presentation, in which the polarities of argument and exegesis seem so often and so suddenly to have reversed themselves. For others, it is the extraordinary intellectual range of Ricoeur’s argument, drawing on traditions as distant from each other as Heideggerian existentialism, French structuralism, and Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Yet beneath the labyrinthian surface of Ricoeur’s Temps et récit, Dowling reveals a single extended argument that, though developed unsystematically, is meant to be understood in systematic terms.

Ricoeur on Time and Narrative presents that argument in clear and concise terms, in a way that will be enlightening both to readers new to Ricoeur and those who may have felt themselves adrift in the complexities of Temps et récit, Ricoeur’s last major philosophical work. Dowling divides his discussion into six chapters, all closely involved with specific arguments in Temps et récit: on mimesis, time, narrativity, semantics of action, poetics of history, and poetics of fiction. Additionally, Dowling provides a preface that lays out the French intellectual context of Ricoeur’s philosophical method. An appendix presents his English translation of a personal interview in which Ricoeur, having completed Time and Narrative, looks back over his long career as an internationally renowned philosopher. Ricoeur on Time and Narrative communicates to readers the intellectual excitement of following Ricoeur’s dismantling of established theories and arguments—Aristotle and Augustine and Husserl on time, Frye and Greimas on narrative structure, Arthur Danto and Louis O. Mink on the nature of historical explanation—while coming to see how, under the pressure of Ricoeur’s analysis, these ideas are reconstituted and revealed in a new set of relations to one another.

William C. Dowling is University Distinguished Professor of English at Rutgers University. In literary theory, he is the author of Jameson, Althusser, Marx: An Introduction to the Political Unconscious and The Senses of the Text: Intensional Semantics and Literary Theory.

“The scholarship in William C. Dowling’s Ricoeur on Time and Narrative is impeccable; Dowling knows Ricoeur inside out. He highlights Ricoeur’s most important arguments, presents them in a limpid, concise language, and links them to the relevant nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophical developments. Dowling’s book provides us with a lucid, intelligible version of Ricoeur’s major work, one that will be of considerable significance to philosophers, historians, and literary theorists.” — Thomas Pavel, Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor of French Literature, and the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

“William C. Dowling’s Ricoeur on Time and Narrative is a subtle and remarkably well-sustained piece of work. It provides a detailed introduction to a major work of philosophy and narrative theory—already a considerable achievement, given the difficulty of Ricoeur’s text. However, Dowling also shows us, sometimes explicitly, sometimes simply through the way he conducts his argument, why we should bother with Ricoeur—what we have to gain from knowing him better than we do, however well we may think we know him.” — Michael Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Princeton University

Reviews

“Ricoeur on Time and Narrative strikes just the right balance by providing a succinct and substantive presentation of Ricoeur’s argument in Time and Narrative . . . . Teachers of Ricoeur’s work will appreciate Dowling’s ability to contextualize Ricoeur’s engagement with a wide range of his contemporaries, while scholars are likely to turn to it as a valuable reference point for their own engagements with specific issues in Ricoeur studies.” — Philosophy in Review