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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access November 4, 2019

Michel Henry and Metaphysics: An Expressive Ontology

Andrew Sackin-Poll EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Theology

Abstract

There is an ambivalence and indecision at the heart of Michel Henry’s phenomenological ontology of life that this article seeks to resolve. Either “Being is a phenomenon only when it is at a distance from itself” or “the immediate is Being itself as originally given to itself in immanence.”1 The decision is, simply put, between distance or immediacy. In order to address this indecision, I put forward an hypothetical expressive interpretation of Henry’s phenomenology of life, drawing upon Gilles Deleuze’s interpretation of post-Cartesian metaphysics. The metaphysical language of expression is used (a) to make clear the internal structure of ‘auto-affection’ — a key concept for Henry’s phenomenology of life — as well as (b) to correct essentialist readings of this put forward by Dominique Janicaud and (c) broadly Hegelian interpretations put forward by François-David Sebbah. This expressive reading clarifies the ontological significance of life and auto-affection, showing more clearly the way the living self relates to Life or God as a dynamic movement and flux, without distance, gap, or transcendence. Through the clarification of Henry’s ontology of life in terms of expression a further ambiguity with regard to the theological significance and status of Life is revealed. The identification of an immanent and auto-affective Life with God in the early works appears closer to a Spinozist God than the later, Christian writings otherwise suggest. It is possible for the immediate, inner experience of auto-affective life to be as much secular as religious. I discuss this in the final part of this article.

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Received: 2019-08-20
Accepted: 2019-10-11
Published Online: 2019-11-04

© 2019 Andrew Sackin-Poll, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License.

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