I’ve been reading through Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosophy. While I’m not sure Mullarkey is being completely fair with his problematization of Deleuze in the first chapter– he accuses Deleuze of maintaining a “two-world ontology” that effectively undoes his commitment to immanence (my knee jerk reaction is that this seems to conflate/confuse possibility with virtuality, but I’d have to go back into Deleuze to be sure)–I’ve found the discussion on Michel Henry to be rather interesting. Not least is the continual rethinking and critique of phenomenology throughout, but I have some naive questions about all of this, especially since I know very little about Henry.
Generally, phenomenology was thought to have taken transcendental subjectivity as the condition for the possibility of manifestation and that this condition doesn’t manifest itself. If it did, we’d have the problem of the condition being conditioned. Levinas got around this in an interesting way vis a vis his rethinking of notions like affectivity, alterity, and passivity in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, Mullarkey pitches Henry’s criticism of “traditional” phenomenology as Levinasian affectivity meeting Bergsonian cosmology:
Phenomenology is oblivious to its own how by thinking of itself as an objective method transcending and observing its datum, and so failing to see itself as part of the phenomenon, the ‘method’ as immanent to its world. More radically still, the matter can be formulated as the question of whether phenomenology was ever possible at all–how can we acquire a pure view of the cogitatio when operating by necessity within the confines of the cogito? This question is not new: it was the motivation behind Heidegger’s ontologization of phenomenology as well as the constant criticism of structuralists and poststructuralists alike. But Henry’s answer to it is extreme in its novel simplicity. Phenomenology is only possible through a primitive, immanent reflexivity: it is living itself which carries within it a primitive knowledge of living–each property of the lived originally carries with it an “initial knowledge’ of that which it is–and it is this that phenomenology clarifies (emphasis mine-SO, 55).
What is this immanent reflexivity? Henry seems support the position that phenomenology is a science that studies “what allows a phenomenon to be a phenomenon,” and in turn, he generally focuses on “appearing” as the descriptor for phenomenality, e.g. how does phenomenality phenomenalize itself? Hence the focus on the “how” in phenomenology, Henry wants to materialize phenomenology such that there is an identity of “method” and “object.”
Yet, given these methodological considerations, what or how are we to talk about/think the subject/subjectivity then? Ok, given such methodological consideration we can see that for Henry object-manifestation presupposes self-manifestation. We are always already given to ourselves so we are able to be affected by the world. So, ok, the problem again with phenomenology? Well, it hasn’t given a radical enough characterization of self-manifestation because it favors separation as the very structure of the variant forms of manifestation which gives way to understanding self-manifestation as self-transcendence, or internal ruptures/splits/divisions, or an encounter with alterity. Henry favors immanence, e.g. subjectivity manifests itself without exteriority, it is self-relating. At least that’s what it seems like such a phenomenological method, what with this business of “immanent reflexivity” would insist upon.
Yet, I’m unsure how this notion of “life affecting itself” “saves” phenomenology from its “transcendent follies,” whether Husserl’s qualified Ego, Heidegger’s notion of Being and the ontological difference, or Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the Flesh (esp in the posthumous work, The Visible and Invisible). In fact, haven’t all of these thinkers dealt with immanence in some manner? Is Henry’s material phenomenology the next logical step of phenomenology, or is it not phenomenology at all? While I like this concept of “Affective Life” as a bodily, but non-conceptual relation to the world, I wonder because this affective life is not conceptual, not intentional, is it only related to itself? While in Levinas, there is an affectivity characterized as radical passivity in my encounter with the Other, I’m not sure immanent reflexivity gels with the notion of an self-sufficient, non-relational self-manifestation–to that end, I wonder (weirdly) if Henry conceives of self-manifestation/subjectivity and really, “phenomenology” far too abstractly. What of the inter-subjective, or in Levinasian parlance , the asymmetrical relation?