Boring Notes on Merleau-Ponty: Time and Subjectivity (plus Lemons)

I recently finished reading Lemon, a rather strange, but entertaining novel that details the rise and fall of a love affair between a man named Wendell and a lemon. There are obvious psychological interpretations one could wield here about projection, possession, obsession, fetish and so on, but that’s the less interesting route. There is a very funny sequence when he and the lemon visit his parents:

Do you talk to it? whispers his mother.

-Yes I do. But not condescendingly. Not like to a dog.

-Does it talk back to you?

-Mom, it’s a lemon.

-Is it a talking lemon?

-It speaks yes in a way to me, but not out loud. I’m not insane.

For some reason I kept thinking of Merleau-Ponty while I was reading Lemon. Continue reading

Michel Henry: Radicalizing Phemenology? More Considerations

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 Psychoanalysisin 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

Michel Henry: Radicalizing Phenomenology?

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