Michel Henry

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Michel Henry at the early 1990s

Michel Henry (10 January 1922 – 3 July 2002) was a French philosopher, phenomenologist and novelist. He wrote five novels and numerous philosophical works. He also lectured at universities in France, Belgium, the United States, and Japan.

His novel L'amour les yeux fermés (Love With Closed Eyes) has won the Renaudot Prize in 1976.

Books on Phenomenology and Life[edit]

The Essence of Manifestation (1963)[edit]

  • Ce qui se sent sans que ce soit par l'intermédiaire d'un sens est dans son essence affectivité.
    • That which is felt without the intermediary of any sense whatsoever is in its essence affectivity.
      • Michel Henry, L'Essence de la manifestation, PUF, 1963, t. 2, § 52, p. 577
  • L'affectivité a déjà accompli son œuvre quand se lève le monde.
    • Affectivity has ever accomplished its work when the world rises.
      • Michel Henry, L'Essence de la manifestation, 1963, t. 2, § 54, p. 604
  • La souffrance forme le tissu de l'existence, elle est le lieu où la vie devient vivante, la réalité et l'effectivité phénoménologique de ce devenir.
    • Suffering makes up the tissue of the existence, it is the place where the life becomes living, the reality and the phenomenological effectivity of this gradual change.
      • Michel Henry, L'Essence de la manifestation, 1963, t. 2, § 70, p. 828
  • La puissance du sentiment est le rassemblement édificateur, l’être saisi par soi, son embrasement, sa fulguration, est le devenir de l’être, le surgissement triomphant de la révélation. Ce qui advient, dans le triomphe de ce surgissement, dans la fulguration de la présence, dans la Parousie et, enfin, quand il y a quelque chose plutôt que rien, c’est la joie.
    • The power of the feeling is the gathering which edifies, the being seized by oneself, its blazing up, its fulguration, is the becoming of the being, the triumphant sudden appearance of the revelation. What becomes of, in the triumph of this sudden appearance, in the fulguration of the presence, in the Parousia and, lastly, when there is something instead of nothing, that’s the joy.
      • Michel Henry, L'Essence de la manifestation, 1963, t. 2, § 70, p. 831
  • Mais la joie n'a rien au sujet de quoi elle puisse être joyeuse. Loin de venir après la venue de l'être et de s'émerveiller devant lui, elle lui est consubstantielle, le fonde et le constitue.
    • But joy has nothing about which it may be joyful. Far to come after the coming of being and to marvel in front of it, joy is consubstantial with being, joy founds it and forms it.
      • Michel Henry, L'Essence de la manifestation, 1963, t. 2, § 70, p. 831

Material Phenomenology (1990)[edit]

Phenomenology and the appearing of phenomena

  • The question of phenomenology, which alone confers a proper object to philosophy, is what makes it into an autonomous discipline -- the fundamental discipline of knowledge -- and not just a mere reflexion after the fact on what the other sciences have found. This question is no longer concerned with the phenomena but the mode of their givenness, their phenomenality, not with what appears but with appearing. The invaluable contribution of historical phenomenology is to become aware of this appearing and to analyze it in and of itself. This is its theme. Again, this must not simply be the repetition of the traditional philosophical problem of consciousness or the greek aletheia. For the illusion of common sense, science and past philosophies is to understand the being of the phenomenon always as a first putting at a distance, the arrival of an Outside in which everything becomes visible, a "phenomenon", in the light of this Outside.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 2

Material phenomenology and pure phenomenality

  • To radicalize the question of phenomenology is not only to aim for a pure phenomenality but to seek out the mode according to which it originally becomes a phenomenon -- the substance, the stuff, the phenomenological matter of which it is made, its phenomenologically pure materiality. That is the task of material phenomenology. Prior to this being-toward-the-outside in which everything is properly speaking placed outside of itself and in which every reality is a priori emptied and dispossessed of itself and thus becomes its contrary, an irreality, and prior to the abandonment and undoing that is called death and that would be unable to exist on its own, material phenomenology is devoted to the discovery of the reign of a phenomenality that is constructed in such a surprising way that the thought that always thinks about the world never thinks about it. To the internal structure of this originary manifestation, there belongs no Outside, no Separation, no Ek-stasis. Its phenomenological substance is not visibility. None of the categories that have been used by philosophy since the Greeks at any rate, are appropriate for it.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 2
  • Material phenomenology is able to designate this invisible phenomenological substance. It is not a nothing but rather an affect, or put otherwise, it is what makes every affect, ultimately every affection, and every thing possible. The phenomenological substance that material phenomenology has in view is the pathetic immediacy in which life experiences itself. Life is itself nothing other than this pathetic embrace and, in this way, is phenomenality itself according to the how of its original phenomenalization. Life is thus not a something, like the object of biology, but the principle of every thing. It is a phenomenological life in the radical sense where life defines the essence of pure phenomenality and accordingly of being insofar as being is coextensive with the phenomenon and founded on it. For what could I know that could not appear ?
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 2-3

The immense task of material phenomenology

  • The task of material phenomenology is immense. It is not simply to be attached to another order of phenomena that remained neglected up to now but to rethink everything, if one can think reality. Every sphere of reality must become the object of a new analysis that goes back to its invisible dimension. And this concerns material nature as well, which is a living cosmos. Since material phenomenology implies the revival of philosophical questioning in its entirety, it offers a future to phenomenology and to philosophy itself. At the same time, it discovers a new past.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 6

The essence of community and the self-givenness of life

  • The idea of community presupposes the idea of something in common as well as the idea of community members who have in common what is held in common. [...] Perhaps there is only one and the same reality, one and the same essence, of community and its members. Let us give a name right away to this single and essential reality of the community and its members: life. So, we can already say that the essence of community is life; every community is a community of living beings.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 118-119
  • Life is given in its own way, in a completely unique way, even though this singular mode of givenness is universal. Life is given in such a way that what it gives is given to itself and that what it gives to itself is never separated from it, not in the least. In this way, what life gives is itself. Life is self-givenness in a radical and rigorous sense, in the sense that it is both life that gives and life that is given. Because it is life that gives, we can only have a share of this gift in life. No road leads to life except life itself. [...] Life is absolute subjectivity inasmuch as it experiences itself and is nothing other than that experience. It is the pure fact of experiencing itself immediately and without any distance. This is what constitutes the essence of every possible community. Again, what is shared in common is not some thing; instead, it is this original givenness as self-givenness. It is the internal experience that brings to life everything that is and makes what is alive in this experience become alive in and through it alone.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 120

The community, a subterranean affective layer

  • La communauté est une nappe affective souterraine et chacun y boit la même eau à cette source et à ce puits qu'il est lui-même – mais sans le savoir, sans se distinguer de lui-même, de l'autre ni du Fond.
    • The community is a subterranean affective layer and each one drinks the same water at this source and at from this wellspring which he is itself -- but without knowing it, without distinguishing between the self, the other, and the Basis.
      • Michel Henry, Phénoménologie matérielle, éd. PUF, 1990, p. 178
  • Inasmuch as the essence of community is affectivity, the community is not limited to humans alone. It includes everything that is defined in itself by the primal suffering of life and thus by the possibility of suffering. This pathos-with is the brosdest form of every conceivable community.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 133-134
  • This pathetic community does not exclude the world but only the abstract world, which is to say, the world that does not exist and has put subjectivity out of play. But community does include the real world -- the cosmos -- for which every element -- form, color, and so forth -- exists ultimately as auto-affective. That is to say, it exists in and through this pathetic community. "The world", Kandinsky says, "sounds. It is a cosmos of spiritually affective beings. Thus, dead matter is living spirit." This is why painting, for example, is not the figure of external things but the expression of their inner reality, their tonality, or what Kandinsky calls their "inner sound", an experience of forces and affects.
    • Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 134

Books on Economy and Politics[edit]

Marx. A Philosophy of Human Being (1976)[edit]

  • Le marxisme est l'ensemble des contresens qui ont été faits sur Marx.
    • The Marxism is the whole of the misinterpretations that have been done about Marx.
      • Michel Henry, Marx I. une philosophie de la réalité, éd. Gallimard, coll. « Nrf », 1976, p. 9
  • Parce que la pratique est subjective, la théorie qui est toujours la théorie d’un objet, ne peut atteindre la réalité de cette pratique, ce qu’elle est en elle-même, sa subjectivité précisément, mais seulement se la représenter, de telle manière que cette représentation laisse hors d’elle l’être réel de la pratique, l’effectivité du faire. La théorie ne fait rien.
    • Because practice is subjective, theory which is always the theory of an object, can't access to the reality of this practice, what it is in itself, but only represent it, in such a way that this representation lets out of itself the real being of practice, the effectivity of the doing. Theory does nothing.
      • Michel Henry, Marx I. une philosophie de la réalité, éd. Gallimard, coll. « Nrf », 1976, p. 353
  • Comment le capital trouve sa substance et son essence dans le travail vivant, de telle manière qu’il provient exclusivement de lui, ne peut se passer de lui, ne vit que pour autant qu’il puise à chaque instant sa vie dans celle du travailleur, vie qui devient ainsi la sienne, c’est ce qu’exprime à travers toute l’œuvre de Marx le thème du vampire. « Le capital est du travail mort qui, semblable au vampire, ne s’anime qu’en suçant le travail vivant et sa vie est d’autant plus allègre qu’il en pompe davantage ».
    • How capitalism finds its substance and its essence in the living work, in such a way that it comes exclusively from it, can't go without it, lives only drawing at each time its life from that of the worker, life that then becomes his own, this is what expresses in the whole work of Marx the theme of vampire. "Capitalism is dead work which, such as a vampire, animates itself only in sucking the living work and the more it pumps, the more its life is cheerful".
      • Michel Henry, Marx II. une philosophie de l’économie, éd. Gallimard, coll. « Nrf », 1976, p. 435
  • Marx certes était athée, « matérialiste », etc. Mais chez un philosophe aussi, il convient de distinguer ce qu’il est de ce qu’il croit être. Ce qui compte, ce n’est d’ailleurs pas ce que Marx pensait et que nous ignorons, c’est ce que pensent les textes qu’il a écrits. Ce qui paraît en eux, de façon aussi évidente qu’exceptionnelle dans l’histoire de la philosophie, c’est une métaphysique de l’individu. Marx est l’un des premiers penseurs chrétiens de l’Occident.
    • Certainly, Marx was atheist, "materialist", etc. But for a philosopher also, it's advisable to distinguish between what he is and what he thinks to be. The most important, this is not what Marx thought and that we ignore, but what think the texts he has written. What appears in them, in a way as obvious as exceptional in the history of philosophy, this is a metaphysics of the individual. Marx is one of the first Christian thinkers of Occident.
      • Michel Henry, Marx II. Une philosophie de l’économie, éd. Gallimard, coll. « Nrf », 1976, p. 445

From Communism to Capitalism (1990)[edit]

  • Aucune abstraction, aucune idéalité n'a jamais été en mesure de produire une action réelle ni, par conséquent, ce qui ne fait que la figurer.
    • No abstraction, no ideality has never been neither in position to produce a real action nor, by consequence, what only represents it.
      • Michel Henry, Du communisme au capitalisme, éd. Odile Jacob, 1990, p. 144
  • Quand ce qui ne sent rien et ne se sent pas soi-même, n'a ni désir ni amour, est mis au principe de l'organisation du monde, c'est le temps de la folie qui vient, car la folie a tout perdu sauf la raison.
    • When what feels nothing and doesn't feel oneself, has no desire and no love, is put at the principle of the organization of the world, it's the time of madness that comes, because madness has all lost except reason.
      • Michel Henry, Du communisme au capitalisme, éd. Odile Jacob, 1990, p. 220

Books on Culture and Barbarism[edit]

Barbarism (1987)[edit]

  • La culture est l'ensemble des entreprises et des pratiques dans lesquelles s'exprime la surabondance de la vie, toutes elles ont pour motivation la « charge », le « trop » qui dispose intérieurement la subjectivité vivante comme une force prête à se prodiguer et contrainte, sous la charge, de le faire.
    • The culture is the whole of the enterprises and of the practices in which the abundance of life expresses itself, they all have as motivation the 'load', the 'over' which disposes inwardly the living subjectivity as a force ready to give unstintingly itself and constraint, under the load, to do it.
      • Michel Henry, La Barbarie, éd. Grasset, 1987, p. 172
  • La barbarie est une énergie inemployée.
    • Barbarism is an unused energy.
      • Michel Henry, La Barbarie, éd. Grasset, 1987, p. 177
  • Ce n'est donc pas l'autoréalisation que l'existence médiatique propose à la vie, c'est la fuite, l'occasion pour tous ceux que leur paresse, refoulant leur énergie, rend à jamais mécontents d'eux-mêmes d'oublier ce mécontentement.
    • So it's not the self-realization that the media existence proposes to the life, it's the escape, the opportunity for all those whose laziness, repressing their energy, make them forever dissatisfied of themselves to forget this dissatisfaction.
      • Michel Henry, La Barbarie, éd. Grasset, 1987, p. 244

Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky (1988)[edit]

Introduction on Kandinsky and the invention of abstract painting

  • Kandinsky is the inventor of abstract painting, the one who sought to overturn the traditional conceptions of aesthetic representation and to define a new area in this domain -- the era of modernity. In this regard, he appears as the 'Usher' or the 'Pioneer', to borrow the words of Tinguely. To understand Kandinsky's painting is to understand an art so new and so unusual that in its beginnings it only aroused scoffs, if not anger or spit. At the time of his death in 1944 in Paris, Kandinsky was still unknown to the French public, and misunderstood by the 'critics'. Today, one might wonder whether this situation has really changed.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 1
  • The 'Pioneer' (Kandinsky) did not just provide a body of work whose sensuous magnificence and rich inventiveness eclipse even the most remarkable of his contemporaries. He also provided an explicit theory of abstract painting, exposing its principles with the utmost precision and clarity. So, the painted work is accompanied with a group of texts that at the same time clarify his work and make Kandinsky on of the main theorists of art. Facing the hieroglyphs of the last canvases of the Parisian period (which are said to be the most difficult), they provide the Rosetta stone on which the meaning of these mysterious figures is inscribed.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 2

The Feeling or the 'abstract' content of abstract painting

  • Kandinsky calls the content that painting must express, that is, our invisibility (or invisible life), 'abstract'. So, the Kandinskian equation can now be written as follows: Interior = interiority = invisible = life = pathos = abstract. Kandinsky also calls the means of painting 'abstract', so long as they are grasped in their purity. To the extent that they are abstract, colours and drawings are likewise inscribed in the equation formulated above, the equation which forms the original dimension of Being itself. In this respect, we have just discovered the true meaning of the concept of abstraction applied to painting.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 11
  • Even if this historical genesis is true and does have the merit of making Kandinsky's evolution more or less analogous to those of other great artists of his time and thereby 'comprehensible', it nonetheless falsifies the true meaning of abstract painting to the point of completely concealing its rationality. The problem of pictorial representation did not come to be reconceived due to a crisis of objectivity that is more or less analogous on the aesthetic plane to what it was in the scientific domain, and in particular, the physics of the period. It does not come from a reworking of perceptual representation, either. Kandinsky's abstraction came from a sudden failure of the object, its inability to define the content of the work any longer. This abstraction, this content -- the 'abstract content' -- is invisible life in its ceaseless arrival into itself. This continual emergence of life, its eternally living essence, provides the content of painting and at the same time imposes a project on the artist, namely, that of expressing this content and the pathetic profusion of Being. 'Abstract' no longer refers to what is derived from the world at the end of a process of simplification or complication or at the end of the history of modern painting; instead, it refers to what was prior to the world and does not need the world in order to exist. It refers to the life that is embraced in the night of its radical subjectivity, where there is no light or world.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 16

Emotion or the true origin of painting according to Kandinsky

  • As usual, history reverses the true order of things, the ontological order of their foundation. Kandinsky never truly asked himself what would replace the object and what painting would be able to paint from then on. Ever since a walk in the countryside around Munich where the violence of a colour perceived in the undergrowth gave rise to an intense emotion and he decided to paint what surrounded this colour -- the view of this woods -- in order to represent this emotion, he knew with a knowledge that no reflection can clarify and that no history precedes, with a knowledge that is constituted by this emotion itself, that he wanted to paint this emotion and this emotion was the only thing that he would paint thereafter. This was the content of all possible paintings: the profusion of life in himself, its intensification and exaltation.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 16
  • Art opens us to a metaphysical knowledge of an entirely different nature (that 'objective' knowledge of the external world): it is a knowledge without object. Life in its ontological milieu, a life which embraces itself entirely without ever separating from itself and without been placed in front of itself like an object. We said that no path leads to life, except for life itself. One must stand within life in order to gain access to it: one must begin from life. Kandinsky just showed us the point of departure for painting -- it is an emotion, a more intense mode of life. The content of art is this emotion. The aim of art is to transmit it to others. The knowledge of art develops entirely within life; it is the proper movement of life, its movement of growth, of experiencing itself more strongly.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 18

The spiritual in art understood as a way of salvation

  • The title of Kandinsky's first great theoretical work, On the Spiritual in Art and in Painting in particular (1912) which had a huge influence, thus has a rigorous meaning. It bears a twofold judgment, both on this epoch whose distress is perceived by Kandinsky and on the true reality of things. Our time is a distressed time because it is forgetful of reality and has abandoned itself to the increasing objectivism promoted by science. The ideological fulfillment of this type of thought which is given over to the External and thus deprived of what is essential is naturalism, to which the stiff and empty art from the nineteenth century provides overwhelming testimony. Its practical consequence is the materialism that spreads the negation of life's true essence across all the spheres of life, thereby offering itself as a sort of concrete nihilism whose true name is death. Faced with this situation, On the Spiritual in Art and in Painting in particular offers a programme of revitalization.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 19
  • Art accomplishes a discovery, an extraordinary discovery: it places before our wondering eyes an unexplored domain of new phenomena that have been forgotten, if not hidden or denied. These are the phenomena in fact that open our access to what alone matters in the end: ourselves. Art is not only a theoretical proof of this invisible and essential reality of our being: it does not give it as something to be seen as an object; instead, it makes use of it: it is the exercise and development of it. We experience its certainty as something that must be, much like one experiences love. This certainty is absolutely identical to our life. All other certainties -- those of the sciences included -- pale and break down in comparison to it. Because art accomplishes the revelation of the invisible reality in us with an absolute certainty, it is a salvation. In a society like ours which is divorced from life -- either by being content to flee it in the external world or by stating the explicit negation of it -- it is the sole salvation possible.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 20

The power of expression of linear forms and lines

  • The possibility of expressing life through lines can be established, if we suppose that life is essentially -- in virtue of what makes it alive -- a force, and if we suppose that the forces acting simultaneously or successively on the point in such a way as to produce what we call straight, curved, or angular lines are in reality the forces of life, and that no other forces exist. Not only each force but each drive within the framework of subjectivity has its immediate equivalent in a specific linear form, since the force's intensity, its changes, the time of its action, its interruptions and its returns have their exact corollary in the genus (straight, curved or zigzag line) and accidents (slope of the curve, length of various segments and degree of the angles) of the linear forms described above.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 51
  • Kandinsky was fascinated by the expressive power of linear forms. Lyricism is the pathos of a force whose triumphant effort enters into action and encounters no obstacle. Because the straight line results from the initiative of a single, unopposed force, its domain is that of the lyric. When two forces are present and thus enter in conflict, as this is the case with the curve or the zigzag line, we are in domain of drama. This dramatic aspect increases and becomes more 'hot', when the action of the two antagonistic forces is simultaneous. It is taken to its paroxysm when a large number of forces come from all sides and fuel the battle to the point of making it a sort of cosmic clash.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 52

The affective tonality or the inner sonority of colours

  • Here let us call upon the founder of modern rationalism -- Descartes. In the eyes of one of the greatest philosophers, it was sheer absurdity to claim that colour is external and that it would be spread out in the external world and belong it. If I put my hand on a wall exposed to the sun, I think , 'The wall is hot'. But that is false. To be hot means to experience heat and to experience oneself as being hot. Only what experiences itself, only life, can experience heat and know what it is to be 'hot'. The same goes with pain. I think, 'My arm is in pain'. But, as an extended outer reality, my arm would not be able to experience anything whatsoever, not even pain. In an exteriority that is outside the self and does not touch or feel itself, nothing can be experienced: no pain, no suffering and no joy.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 71
  • What is true about heat and pain is also true about colour. The rock is no more red than it is hot or painful. It can only have a colour -- red, blue, yellow -- in the invisible life where the colour is felt, on the basis of 'feeling oneself' (se sentir soi-même). Life's feeling of itself and its feeling of colour is a pathos. Colour is not linked to a tonality through an external and contingent association that would vary with individuals. In the phenomenological substance of its flesh and being, colour is a sensation and subjectivity; it is this affective tonality and inner tone.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 71

The capacity of expression and communication of painting

  • Painting does not use language. Abstract painting teaches us this, and this is what gives it its power of expression. If colour does not relate to the feelings of our soul through an external relation but finds its true being in them – as a pure sensation and a pure experience – then it does not even need to translate, through a means, the abstract content of our invisible life. It coincides with our invisible life and is its pathos: its suffering, its boredom, its neglect or its joy.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 72
  • If communication takes place between the artwork and the public, it is on the level of sensibility, through the emotions and their immanent modifications. It does not have anything to do with words, with collective, ideological or scientific representations, or with their critical, intellectual or literary formulations, in short, anything that is called culture. It is totally independent from that type of culture. This is why it is addressed to the group of people who ‘lack culture’. It is popular in the sense that it leads to what is most essential in each human being: one’s capacity to feel, to suffer and to love.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 73

The isolation of this popular painting and of abstract art

  • It is not at all paradoxical that this popular painting would stand in total isolation today, that there would be practically no audience to view or understand these masterpieces of the one who Argan says 'determined the fate of contemporary art', that the admirable rooms of the Lenbach villa would remain empty all the time or even that the Beaubourg half of the collection donated by Nina Kandinsky would stagnate in the reserves where no one can see them. It just so happens that people today are no longer popular, spontaneous, instinctive, real or alive. A mediation has separated people from themselves. The media has replaced the free play of life and its sensibility, with the substitute of an unreal, artificial, stereotypical, consumer world where life can only flee instead of realize itself.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 73
  • The experience of red does not consist of perceiving a red object or the colour red as such and of taking it as being red; instead, it consists of experiencing the power of the impression in ourselves. That is what eliminates all objective mediation from painting: the mediation of objects, the sense that they can be given, thought, 'culture' with its variations by time and place and ultimately the various theories that represent this non-existent mediation. That is also why abstract painting, which bypasses the mediation of language and culture understood as a group of representations, can be called a popular art. It is devoted to the expressive power and the direct communication of colour, its immediate experience in life.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 74

The monumental art and the synthesis of arts realized by Kandinsky

  • Yet, we have shown that Kandinsky's dream for the monumentality of synthetic art does not rely on a mere increase of the number of means used. The Bauhaus programme was that the distribution of light and the use of space in a building with mural paintings and sculptures added to the mere functionality of the architecture. It gave the architecture an ability to respond to the multi-faced call of human sensibility and allowed it to exercise its potential richness. But, as a result of overturning the grandiloquence illustrated by the Neo-classicism of the 1830s, Kandinsky understood that the synthesis of the arts could only be subjective. It draws the single but differentiated principle of its constructions from the force of pathos, its inner conflicts and its fate. Kandinsky's abstraction works directly on the affective tonalities; it defines, discloses, sharpens, overlaps and combines them; it scrutinizes and brings out their history together with the secret transformations that they make. The monumentality it builds is the monumentality of life whose full powers are restored. Aesthetic creation is nothing but the construction of this inner monumentality.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 106
  • The magnitude of an artwork only results from subjective forces. If these forces happen to be lacking, the edifice will crumble. The colossal works of fascism, socialist gigantism, and, in our eyes, the syncretism of the post-modern era are all the unfortunate testimony to this inner void. Because the exaltation of the powers of life can only be produced in life, life can do without these pretentious manifestations. The size of the material means does nothing for it. This can most surely be found in the small but very precise experiments where Kandinsky puts the elements of one single art or two different arts into relations of belonging or internal reciprocity. This is how he illustrated the stories of the Russian poet Remizov and composed his 'Sounds' collection, an admirable example of 'synthetic' work in which he decorated some of his own poems with coloured wood and other ones in black and white.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 106

The essence of life or sensibility, the Art and the Cosmos

  • Art will rediscover its way in a different type of nature (from the Galilean nature). The sensible qualities of this nature are not reduced to external features, as mere signs that are limited to 'representing' a foreign reality. These qualities are modes of life: impressions, tones and tonalities. This is what I mean: by tearing colours and linear forms away from the ideal archetype of meanings that constitute the objective world and by taking them in their non-referential pictoriality, Kandinskian abstraction does not depart from nature but returns to its inner essence. This original, subjective, dynamic, impressional and pathetic nature -- the true nature whose essence is Life -- is the cosmos. A dazzling claim from The Blaue Reiter Almanac, highlighted by Kandinsky himself, defines the Arche (or the Origin) where Art and Cosmos are identical: 'The world sounds. It is a cosmos of spiritually affective beings. Thus, dead matter is living spirit'.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 137-138
  • What are these being that constitute the cosmos ? They are every thing and element of a thing, inasmuch as they are sensible. They only exist in this way, that is, in sensibility. In this respect, they are subjectivities. In this respect, the world is filled with resonances: all of the vibrations marking its repercussions in the soul and the spiritual action that they exert. In this respect, all matter -- while seemingly dead -- is a tonality and a living spirit. This much is clear: abstraction's reduction of the elements to their pure pictoriality signifies the reduction of the cosmos to its true reality. The question of abstract painting is the question of the universe.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 138

Conclusion on art and the resurrection of eternal life

  • Because it is situated in subjectivity, borne by it, and inseparable from its dynamism and emotion, every concrete object is ultimately a cosmos. The geometrical world of the Bauhaus is thus slowly transformed. The sphere is deformed, thickened, elongated and slowly balanced; it becomes a transparent jellyfish with incandescent filaments caressed by the underwater currents. In this place without heaviness, where weight changes into lightness, forms wander about without their substance -- bodies of light, glorious bodies, bodies of life. They are organic forms with clear and cold colours, all kinds of protozoa, parts of insects, outlines of foliage -- creatures from another world with another nature reveal the nature of all nature, every possible world, and consequently our won world.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 142
  • We gaze petrified at the hieroglyphs of the invisible, as they too stand motionless or only slowly change against the background of a nocturnal sky. We watch forces that slumbered within us, waiting stubbornly and patiently for millennia, even from the beginning of time. These forces explode into the violence and gleam of colours; they open spaces and engender the forms of the worlds. The forces of the cosmos are awakened within us. They lead us outside of time to join in their celebration dance and they do not let go of us. They do not stop – because not even they believed that it was possible to attain 'such happiness'. Art is the resurrection of eternal life.
    • Michel Henry, Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky, Continuum, 2009, p. 142

Books on Religion and Christianity[edit]

I am the Truth. Toward a philosophy of Christianity (1996)[edit]

  • Naître, ce n’est pas venir dans le monde. Naître, c’est venir dans la vie.
    • To be born is not to come into the world. To be born is to come into life.
      • Michel Henry, C'est moi la Vérité, éd. du Seuil, 1996, p. 79
  • J'entends à jamais le bruit de ma naissance.
    • I hear for ever the noise of my birth.
      • Michel Henry, C'est moi la Vérité, éd. du Seuil, 1996, p. 283
  • Mais quand donc ce bouleversement émotionnel qui ouvre le vivant à sa propre essence se produit-il et pourquoi ? Nul ne le sait. L’ouverture émotionnelle du vivant à sa propre essence ne peut naître que du vouloir de la vie elle-même, comme cette re-naissance qui lui donne d’éprouver soudain sa naissance éternelle. L’Esprit souffle où il veut.
    • But then, when and why is this emotional upheaval produced, which opens a person to his own essence ? Nobody knows. The emotional opening of the person to his own essence can only be born of the will of life itself, as a rebirth that lets him suddenly experience his eternal birth. The Spirit blows where it wills.
      • Michel Henry, C'est moi la Vérité, éd. du Seuil, 1996, p. 291

Incarnation: A philosophy of Flesh (2000)[edit]

  • Car notre chair n'est rien d'autre que cela qui, s'éprouvant, se souffrant, se subissant et se supportant soi-même et ainsi jouissant de soi selon des impressions toujours renaissantes, se trouve, pour cette raison, susceptible de sentir le corps qui lui est extérieur, de le toucher aussi bien que d'être touché par lui. Cela donc dont le corps extérieur, le corps inerte de l'univers matériel, est par principe incapable.
    • Because our flesh is nothing but what, feeling itself, suffering itself, sustaining itself and bearing itself and so enjoying from itself according to always reborning impressions, is able, for this reason, to feel the body which is exterior to it, to touch it as well as being touched by it. What the exterior body, the lifeless body of the material universe, is by principle incapable.
      • Michel Henry, Incarnation. Une philosophie de la chair, éd. du Seuil, 2000, p. 8
  • Aucun objet n'a jamais fait l'expérience d'être touché.
    • No object has ever had the experience of being touched.
      • Michel Henry, Incarnation. Une philosophie de la chair, éd. du Seuil, 2000, p. 295
  • Ma chair n’est donc pas seulement le principe de la constitution de mon corps objectif, elle cache en elle sa substance invisible. Telle est l’étrange condition de cet objet que nous appelons un corps : il ne consiste nullement en ces espèces visibles auxquelles on le réduit depuis toujours ; en sa réalité précisément il est invisible. Personne n’a jamais vu un homme, mais personne n’a jamais vu non plus son corps, si du moins par « corps » on entend son corps réel.
    • So my flesh is not only the principle of the constitution of my objective body, it hides in it its invisible substance. Such is the strange condition of this object that we call a body : it doesn’t consist at all in the visible appearance to which we have always reduced it ; precisely in its reality it is invisible. Nobody has ever seen a man, but nobody has ever seen his body either, if by "body" we understand his real body.
      • Michel Henry, Incarnation. Une philosophie de la chair, éd. du Seuil, 2000, p. 221
  • Notre chair porte en elle le principe de sa manifestation, et cette manifestation n’est pas l’apparaître du monde. En son auto-impressionnalité pathétique, en sa chair même, donnée à soi en l’Archi-passibilité de la Vie absolue, elle révèle celle-ci qui la révèle à soi, elle est en son pathos l’Archi-révélation de la Vie, la Parousie de l’absolu. Au fond de sa Nuit, notre chair est Dieu.
    • Our flesh carries in it the principle of its manifestation, and this manifestation is not the appearing of the world. In its pathetic self-impressionality, in its very flesh, given to itself in the Arch-passibility of absolute Life, it reveals the one which reveals itself to itself, it is in its pathos the Arch-revelation of Life, the Parousia of the absolute. In the depths of its Night, our flesh is God.
      • Michel Henry, Incarnation. Une philosophie de la chair, éd. du Seuil, 2000, p. 373

Words of Christ (2002)[edit]

  • La vie est incréée. Étranger à la création, étranger au monde, tout procès conférant la Vie est un procès de génération.
    • Life is uncreated. Foreign to creation, foreign to the world, every process conferring Life is a process of generation.
      • Michel Henry, Paroles du Christ, éd. du Seuil, 2002, p. 107

Quotes from the Novels of Michel Henry[edit]

L'amour les yeux fermés (1976)[edit]

  • Le spectacle de la beauté qui s'incarne dans un être vivant est infiniment plus émouvant que celui de l'œuvre la plus grandiose.
    • The spectacle of the beauty which embodies itself in a living being is infinitely more touching than that of the work the most grandiose.
      • Michel Henry, L'Amour les yeux fermés, éd. Gallimard, 1976, p. 48

External links[edit]

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