Seeking the sabbath of life: figuring the theological self after Michel Henry
Rivera, Joseph Manuel
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This thesis introduces and examines the work of French philosopher Michel Henry with particular focus on his phenomenological-theological analyses of the self. Given its thematic emphasis, the thesis incorporates several interlocutors in addition to Henry: primarily Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and St. Augustine but also Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste and Dominique Janicaud. Revolving around the question of the self, the thesis maintains that Henry elucidates a peculiar and ultimately problematic theory of the self—a duplicitous self bifurcated between interior and exterior fields of display. While appreciating Henry’s attempt to reconstitute the interior self in relation to God, we argue he ultimately disqualifies the utility of the exterior body in the world; to overcome this imbalance we employ key insights from St. Augustine’s “phenomenology of the self,” drawing especially on his more mature works, De Trinitate, City of God and the Confessions. The first chapter offers broad context to the thesis as a whole by specifying what constitutes phenomenology as a line of inquiry, the debate surrounding the “theological turn” introduced by Dominique Janicaud in the 1990s and a constructive proposal for a rapprochement between phenomenology and theology. Chapter two determines Henry’s place in the phenomenological tradition, bringing to light his critical departure from both Heidegger and Husserl. Heidegger’s analytic of being-inthe- world discloses how human existence is co-emergent with the exterior (i.e. ecstatic) field of the world. Husserl’s focus on the intentional life of the ego suggests that consciousness is like a “lighthouse” that illuminates objects before its gaze. From Henry’s perspective, both Heidegger and Husserl advance a self shaped entirely by the exterior world and its temporal horizon. To counter the singular focus on exteriority, Henry does not deny exteriority but attends to the possibility of a site of pure interiority, secure and complete in its transcendental self-presence and thus disengaged from the exterior horizon of the world. Chapters three and four critically elaborate Henry’s duplicitous self from a theological point of view. Interrogating Henry’s triptych on Christianity (C’est moi la vérité, 1996; Incarnation, une philosophie de la chair, 2000; and Paroles du Christ, 2002), we see that the self is structured a duplicity or two-sidedness. Chapter three’s main premise is that the interior ego is manifest internal to itself apart from exterior horizon of temporality. Prior to the temporal opening of the world, Henry articulates a self who appears in non-temporal or “acosmic” union with divine life. Joined together in perfect unity by a subjective structure called “auto-affection,” the interior self and God form a fully-realized “monism,” a parousaic presence that both eliminates the Creator-creature distinction and promotes escapism from the world. Chapter four confirms this thesis with regard to Henry’s richly textured considerations of the body. Chapters five and six proceed to show a constructive way beyond Henry’s duplicitous self. Over against Henry, the thesis elaborates an eschatological conception of the self we call the “porous self.” Ordered by the eschatological structure of “seeking,” the porous self takes as its principal interlocutor St. Augustine, however, insights from Marion, Lacoste, Husserl and Heidegger are employed. This thesis figures a self that does not split, but integrates, the interior and exterior fields of display within the absolute horizon of the parousia or eternal Sabbath to come. Chapter five discusses the temporal nature of faith nurtured by the eucharist and the chapter six highlights the importance of the body in view of the ecclesial, sacramental and resurrection bodies. An exercise in constructive philosophical theology, this thesis figures the self over against Henry’s duplicitous self, and in so doing, integrates interiority more deeply with exteriority in a manner that accounts for (1) the temporal nature of the body in the world and (2) the eschatological distance between the self and God.