When prodded for some details about his biography Michel Henry responded:
I would like to tell you how much I feel stripped away by the very idea of a biography. For one who thinks that the true self for us all is a no-worldly self, foreign to every empirical or objective determination, the attempt to approach him through these kinds of reference points seems to be problematic. The history of a man, the circumstances which surround him, are they anything other than a sort of mask, more or less flattering, that he and others agree to put on his face–he who, at bottom, has no face.
Michel Henry was one of the leading French philosophers of the twentieth century. His numerous works of philosophy are all organized around the theme of life. In contrast to the scientific understanding of life as a biological process, Henry’s philosophy develops a conception of life as an immediate feeling of one’s own living.
Seeing the Invisible marks Henry’s most sustained engagement in the field of aesthetics. Through an analysis of the life and works of Wassily Kandinsky, Henry uncovers the philosophical significance of Kandinsky’s revolution in painting: that abstract art reveals the invisible essence of life. Henry shows that Kandinsky separates color and line from the constraints of visible form and, in so doing, conveys the invisible intensity of life. More than just a study of art history, this book presents Kandinsky as an artist who is engaged in the project of painting the invisible and thus offers invaluable methodological clues for Henry’s own phenomenology of the invisible.
Our friend over at However Fallible has translated a good deal of an interview with Michel Henry that touches on a range of issues about art, experience and phenomenology. Read it from the beginning here. I found this exchange particularly interesting, especially Henry’s use of and discussion of Kandindky.
Q: In Material Phenomenology you analyze the “invisible phenomenological substance” that is “the pathetic immediacy in which life experiences itself.” If, as you claim, life is “the principle of everything,” how can one envisage a phenomenology of the invisible or more exactly of the relation between the visible and invisible from the point of view of art? Related question, is the work of art visible or invisible, immanent or transcendant, objective or subjective, internal or external? Here we are referring to the phenomenological reflections of Roman Ingarden.
MH: The questions that you have posed are my questions… Marx says somewhere that Humanity only asks questions that it can answer. I would say, in all modesty, that insofar as being a philosopher working outside of the paths followed by modern thought, I have been in a precarious position in relation to what I have wanted to say, namely it has been very difficult for me to find the conceptual means to express a wholly other phenomenology. A phenomenology sure, but wholly other since my understanding of appearing is not only the appearing of the world, but pathetic givenness, pathetic revelation. Continue reading →
We bloggers (ack) are always tediously prating upon whatever trivial notion enters our field of vision, but today I’ve decided to jot down some things I’m not doing. Here’s a few interesting, but unread articles collecting dust on my desk (in handy pdf form). What can I do? I’m distracted by the Euro Cup (which generally involves beers) and now, in addition to that there’s the near constant Wimbledon coverage (where I can watch everyone mis-pronounce Shahar Peer’s name, it’s not Shah-har, it’s Shachhhh-arr, Mary Carrillo!). Watching Dick Enberg falling apart on air is always fun, give these people a coffee break! Not to mention, um, you know, teaching. There’s always that. These all look worth paying some attention to, someday:
Fido the Yak has been reading all the yet unread Michel Henry articles sitting on my desk. In a recent post about Michel Henry and the intertwining of self, others, world and language, “Existence Says,” Fido the Yak writes
Nominalization (or reference) hardly begins to describe what language does or is. Reference is petty. Unconcealing is petty. This judgment is the basis of my profound disagreement with Henry. The language of the world is not indifferent: not to the things it names, nor to the world, nor to speakers nor listeners, nor to itself, nor to the operations, feelings, entities, assemblages nor intertwinements it brushes up against. This is of course a crude way of phrasing things. There are languages and there are worlds, and before we can ever come to a question of whether a language is its own world, which may not be to say that it is enclosed or isolated, we stumble across the question of what a language is (or does). We should probably say “does” at this point to give speaking precedence over Speech or Language (*language) though it may raise a question of whether the epoché says anything, whether it is speaking or speech, the saying or the said or an altogether different sort of operation.
I can’t help but note (read into?) a veiled reference to Levinas here and thought of Levinas’s own comments regarding sincerity and Saying. Continue reading →
Michel Henry, Translated by Scott Davidson
Fordham University Press
Requisite Pre-Publication Praise:
“A very important contribution to the foundation and the method of philosophy.”
—Adriaan T. Peperzak, Loyola University, Chicago“
One of the most accessible introductions to the thought of one of 20th-century France’s most important phenomenologists.”
—Jeffrey Kosky, Washington & Lee University
Informative Blurb: This book is Michel Henry’s most sustained investigation of Husserlian phenomenology. With painstaking detail and precision, Henry reveals the decisive methodological assumptions that led Husserlian phenomenology in the direction of Idealism. Returning to the materiality of life, Henry’s material phenomenology situates central phenomenological themes— intentionality, temporality, embodiment, and intersubjectivity—within the full concreteness of life. One of the most accessible of Henry’s books, Material Phenomenology is essential reading for those interested in the future of phenomenology or in a philosophy of life in the truest sense.
One of the central problems throughout Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosohy: An Outline is if everything is immanence then it would only make sense that a philosophy of immanence itself would be, well, immanent. After having read Deleuze, Henry and Badiou and showing how each has a blind spot with regards to such an understanding of immanence, error and explanation–Badiou’s pure quantity and Henry’s pure quality supplement each other but end in monism, for one example–Mullarkey turns to examine the “non-philosophy” of Francois Laruelle, a figure whom I’ve never read a word until now (and which vacillates between very interesting/novel and sheer nonsense). This chapter is far more forgiving then the three previous chapters dealing with Deleuze, Henry and Badiou. Here’s Mullarkey quoting Laruelle from an article in Angelaki, “What Can Non-Philosophy do?”:
Non-Philosophy is not an intensified reduplication of philosophy, a meta-philosophy, but rather its simplification. It does not represent a change in scale with respect to philosophy, as though the latter was maintained for smaller elements. It is the “same” structure but in a more concentrated, more focused form (138).
Somewhat reminiscent of Foucault, as Mullarkey suggests, is one of Laruelle’s central claims: all philosophy/philosophical positions are ultimately circular because they rest upon a decision through which its whole structure is given all at once. For Laruelle, all of the terminology, grammar, neologisms etc of a philosophy show themselves all at once tautologically, rather than as an argumentative series. This circularity can only be overcome vis a vis non-philosophy, a move which literally draws out the movement of philosophy all the while “bracketing” philosophy. Continue reading →
Continuing with my newfound interest in Michel Henry via Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosophy, I was able to dig up one of Henry’s translated books over the weekend, I am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity. In fact, the text I was actually trying to find in translation, The Essence of Manifestation, retails for $307, an $88 savings on the cover price, the translation of Marx: un philosophie de l’economie is equally un-affordable (the French version published by Gallimard is a far more affordable falling in the $30 range), ack. Stanford University Press published a relatively affordable translation of Genealogie de la psychoanalyse: Le commencement perdu—The Genealogy of Psychoanalysis—in the 90s in which Henry argues (according to the blurb) “the Freudian unconscious, far from constituting a radical break with the philosophy of consciousness, is merely the latest exemplar in a heritage of philosophical misunderstanding of the Cartesian cogito that interprets “I think, therefore I am” as “I represent myself, therefore I am” (in the classic interpretation of Heidegger, one of the targets of the book).” To this end, I found an interesting conversation with Henry from 2001 in Psychomedia:
Following his phenomenological thinking, the author shows how Freudian theory of the unconscious is actually the point of arrival of a long process of European thinking that began with “Cartesian doubt” and with Descartes’ idea that one’s sense of the “I” is the only certainty. This process, which combines reflections on the subject and a philosophy of life, basically continues in Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and in phenomenology. Starting from an analysis of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology-to be considered a theory of subjectivity-the Author examines the role Freud gave to life drives: the foundations of the subject lie not in representations but in affects. He also underlines the “Schopenhauerian” limits of Freudian theory: Freud appears to have put too much emphasis on psychic representations instead of putting it on affect as the ultimate truth of the subject. The Author then concludes by examining the common ground between Freud and Marx, insofar as both insist on individuality and on the subjectivity of human life.
Finally, to continue all of this somewhat annoying but hopefully informative front matter/qualifications, Henry–as Mullarkey discusses for a couple of pages in Post-Continental Philosophy–apparently also published a book about Kandinsky as well. Anyway. this all seems very interesting. Onto more considerations of the “radical phenomenology” of Michel Henry… Continue reading →
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). Continue reading →