, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 339-361,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

From the “metaphysics of the individual” to the critique of society: on the practical significance of Michel Henry’s phenomenology of life

Abstract

This essay explores the practical significance of Michel Henry’s “material phenomenology.” Commencing with an exposition of his most basic philosophical intuition, i.e., his insight that transcendental affectivity is the primordial mode of revelation of our selfhood, the essay then brings to light how this intuition also establishes our relation to both the world and others. Animated by a radical form of the phenomenological reduction, Henry’s material phenomenology brackets the exterior world in a bid to reach the concrete interior transcendental experience at the base of all exteriority. The essay argues that this “counter reduction,” designed as a practical orientation to the world, suspends all traditional parameters of onto(theo)logical individuation in order to rethink subjectivity in terms of its transcendental corporeality, i.e., in terms of the invisible display of “affective flesh.” The development of this “metaphysics of the individual” anchors his “practical philosophy” as he developed it—under shifting accents—throughout his oeuvre. In particular, the essay brings into focus Henry’s reflections on modernity, the industry of mass culture and their “barbaric” movements. The essay briefly puts these cultural and political areas of Henry’s of thinking into contact with his late “theological turn,” i.e., his Christological account of Life and the (inter)subjective self-realization to which it gives rise.