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Conversation with Michel Henry: Art and the Phenomenology of Life (i)

September 25, 2008

(Over the coming days i intend to translate a conversation on art with Michel Henry which was published in Prétentaine December 1996. If all goes well i will make regular posts of the translation as it progresses. I welcome any comments or suggestions as to improvements, or simply interesting thoughts.)

Q: …how would you interpret the ontological or phenomenological status of a work of art?

Michel Henry: On the whole, I do not agree with Heidegger, in spite of the weight of his thought. Phenomenology’s great realization is the idea—which comes from Husserl—that the world is in no way limited to the existing world and that basically there is the constant possibility for the installation of a new ontological dimension. Reality is thus not reduced to things, instead there are unsuspected dimensions of being and a characteristic of humankind is to live in these new fields. Art is one possibility among these fields, and the artist casts beyond the world of habitual facticity this dimension of being that is an absolutely specific domain. Art could be defined in short as an original region the source of which is not a readymade existant, in a kind of substantial, real world, but which returns us to much more fundamental potentialities, which moreover are not foreign to this world, but instead something like an horizon in which this world is possible. Art reveals a reality more profound than the world in which we think we live, something like the possibility of this world. Basically, this would be something hidden but which is made visible, a pure appearing that makes things visible, and that Heidegger interpreted in the second part of Being and Time as temporality. It is a kind of radical transcendence beyond beings, which is like a furrow of light on the screen upon which things become visible, and which, beyond things, returns us to their pure appearing.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2008 9:44 pm

    Just got wind of your translations. This is excellent, thanks.

  2. pensum permalink*
    September 28, 2008 10:06 pm

    My pleasure Shahar. Glad to know a few folks are finding it useful. If i’m still feel up to it, i may just try to tackle his important essay on The Four Principles of Phenomenology as well. Though i’m thrilled that Material Phenomenology is now available in translation in conjunction to those few others that are mostly out-of-print, there are still plenty of interesting texts that i think are worthy of a larger audience. So your encouragement is welcome.

  3. Karin K. Wondracek permalink
    March 13, 2009 11:24 am

    Thank you for this translation. I’m studying Henry for my dissertation, and all this is very useful for my research. IN Brazil we have few, few from Henrys work! I’m in expectation for the follow up.

  4. March 13, 2009 11:46 am

    My pleasure Karin. For many years i have felt Henry was sadly neglected outside of France. Few of his writings are available in English, several out-of-print. But Material Phenomenology was recently published in a trade paperback edition and his book on Kandinsky is being published this summer. In the meantime i am glad that the translations i have attempted appear to have been welcomed by many. In case you missed it i made a single post with links to all five of my translations. Hope they help and that your dissertation goes well!


  1. Michael Henry: Art and the Phenomenology of Life (iv) « HOWEVER FALLIBLE
  2. Michel Henry: Art and the Phenomenology of Life « Perverse Egalitarianism

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