Saturday, 2 May 2015

James Patterson: Intentio in Augustine's Confessions

This paper examines St. Augustine's proposal that time is a distentio animi in its proper Latin philological context rather than simply as a technical borrowing from Plotinus.  The application of the verb distendere to beehives (alvaria) and actual storage facilities (praetoria and horrea) in classical authors such as Vergil, Livy, and Pliny the Elder suggests that distentio for Augustine was a "swelling" of the architecture that he imagined memory to contain.  Thus, the shedding of these structures' contents should theoretically decrease distentio and, as a result, one's participation in time.  I argue that intentio, which Augustine contrasts with distentio explicitly at Conf. 11.29.39, is the mental activity by which this "swelling" may be alleviated, precisely as he claims in his report of his mystical vision of heaven at Ostia.  As a result, I propose that Augustine considered time to be a matter of participation and that self-contemplative intentio determined the degree to which one participated in it.  This has significant ramifications not only for Augustine's abstract conception of temporality, heaven, and eternity; I also propose that Augustine's conception of intentio underlies the narrative time of the Confessions as a whole. Since Knauer's 1955 Psalmenzitate in Augustins Konfessionen, it has been assumed that, if time informs the temporal progression of the Confessions's narrative, it is from past to future.  In contrast, I propose that, if Augustine's theoretical conception of intentio informs his narratology, then the Confessions exhibits a progression from the presence of the past to a presence of the present. 

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