Monday, November 10, 2008

Nisi quatenus Ambulandi Conscientia Cogiatio est

Michel Henry's Philosophy and Phenomenology of the Body is difficult to find, and of course it's a whole book and many people have little time for whole books. Fortunately, then, Michael Tweed has been working on a translation of Henry's The Living Body which is a nice, provocative little bit of philosophy. I think.

Some jots.

If life belongs not the order of what appears but to appearing itself, as Henry maintains, does it quite follow that Heidegger is wrong about Dasein providing our access to life for the reason Henry provides, namely that Dasein is primarily being-in-the-world, which he takes to mean something like "being-in-the-horizon-of-what-appears" in contradistinction to something like "being-in-a-horizon-of-appearing"? Does life itself, or, perhaps better said, life in its very appearing, have horizons? Henry asserts that life is fundamentally acosmic, but I throw it out there as a question. As you mull over that question you may see why I am not as quick as Henry to see that biology has radically, completely and irrevocably bracketed out the study of life. (Can this be the most generous reading of Fran├žois Jacob's comment that what is studied in the modern biological laboratory isn't life itself?) Rather I see questions, uncertainties, opacities or even confusions, but not a science of life settled on any particular definition or non-definition of life. Of course I haven't settled on any idea of what it means to be worldly, to have a world, or to have horizons, so my question of life's horizons may be a hinky question from any angle.

If we are to make a distinction between what appears and appearing itself, does relation belong originarily to appearing? (Equiprimordially?) Must we be free to relate? (I've been struggling to give "existence" an existential meaning.) Only a being who could freely relate, who could free itself to relate, could interpret the relations of another being as relations. To reiterate Jonas' dictum, only life can understand life. But wait, Henry tells us. "[T]he ego is free, only on the inherent ground of a me that necessarily precedes it, i.e. on the ground of this Self generated in the self-engendering of life, in other words given to itself in the self-givenness of life." Life is passive before it is free.

Only life can understand life. Am I reduced now to repeating platitudes? Modern biology doesn't imagine itself as an anthropomorphic science, but that doesn't mean that in actual practice it doesn't know things by way of an anthropomorphism that would contradict its self-image, were it brought to light and interrogated, or indeed, its paradigms, which we will not confuse with foundations. What does anthropos contribute to understanding? What is our existence that is not a bacterium's? Is it a privative interpretation, or indeed by way of a corruption of human existence that we come to understand life through human existence? Why don't we say that we think biomorphically, or psychomorphically? Well, sometimes we say "zoomorphic" and mean "in the shape of a particular animal." Do we also mean something like "animistically," thinking in the shape of animals. Monstruation. Kaleideation. Why not also with the shape of our whole soul? What is the shape of bios? A narrative? Does that cover all the bases? What is the shape of life in its very appearing? Well, Henry argues for a fundamental passivity of life. This would rule out projections, shapes and, I think, freedom, as means of grasping life. Life simply isn't grasped in Henry's view, or, as he says, it isn't visible.

Is this still phenomenology? Life, Henry says, "phenomenalizes itself in its phenomenality and according to this phenomenality." What can be said about a mode of understanding that isn't also a grasping? In speaking of a mode of understanding are we going around Henry illicitly? Yet could it be that he means to block understanding?

Some things about my life are just perplexing. "To be born does not mean coming into the world, to be born means coming into life," Henry says. I never know what to make of my natality. In truth I feel that I was brought into this existence, this worldly existence, borne into it, that I didn't just appear ex nihilo. On the other hand I have no memory of my conception. My earliest memories do just appear ex nihilo, it seems. In them I am walking, all by myself. Should we never depend on other people for our memories?

Henry reverses himself: "we do not come into life, it is life that comes into us." By "us" does he mean Dasein?

Is there a philosophy beyond questions? What would be the relationship between worldlessness–a non-chaosmos at that–and being beyond questions, and what, if anything, would looking into that relationship tell us about worlds or about questions? What is the way of existing of the question?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:34 PM.


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