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Abraham, G. (1976). The Sense and Concept of Time in Psychoanalysis. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:461-472.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:461-472

The Sense and Concept of Time in Psychoanalysis

Georges Abraham

Time, which passes, which sets events in motion and puts an end to suffering or hope, which emerges punctually with the sun and gnaws away at life, has naturally preoccupied man throughout his history. In symbols or in myths, e.g. that of Kronos, we can discern man's repeated attempts to grasp the nature of time, its essence and its strength: to succeed in giving it a name or a face, recognizing it, understanding it, conjuring up the illusion of controlling it.

Already in ancient times philosophers came face to face with the problems of time. Efforts to deal with the problem can be glimpsed in the works of Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides and Zeno but are more explicit in Plato, who defined time in his Timaeus as ‘the moving image of eternity’. Artisotle concerned himself with the concept of the moment. It was still cosmological time that was being considered.

Later, other philosophers took over the task: Plotinus, St Augustine, Spinoza, Leibniz and, of course, Kant. St Augustine introduced the prospect of psychological time (‘In te, anime meus, tempora metior’) and Kant that of transcendental time. Finally, in contemporary philosophy Bergson, James, Husserl and Heidegger have brought the concept of time into sharper focus. William James even claimed to have determined the duration, the breadth, so to speak, of the moment, which according to him varied in concrete terms between five hundredth of a second and twelve seconds. Freud (in E. Freud 1961), as he wrote in his letter to Fliess of 2 April 1896 (‘As a young man my only longing was for philosophical knowledge’) was certainly alive to the problem of time in all its aspects.

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