chapter  1
Augustine and the ‘problem’ of time
Pages 29

The connections between the idea of narrative and philosophical reflection on time and consciousness go back as far as Augustine’s Confessions-that remarkable venture into autobiography, written by the Bishop of Hippo around AD 396. What philosophers most often quote from Augustine’s discussion of time in Book XI of the Confessions1 is his famous remark that he knows well enough what time is, as long as no-one asks him, but is reduced to bewilderment if asked to define it. His positive account of time is usually regarded as something of an oddity-a curiously implausible reduction of the reality of time to the workings of the human psyche. Time, he argues, rather than being an ‘objective’ feature of the world, is a ‘distension’ of the soul. The mind stretches itself out, as it were, embracing past and future in a mental act of attention and regulating the flow of future into past. Taken in isolation from the autobiographical reflections which frame it in the Confessions, such claims about time do seem implausible. As a theory of the nature of time, such a radical psychologizing of its reality must seem counter-intuitive.