29 Sept 2007


Charalambides - The Good Life (mp3) (from their forthcoming album Likeness, on Kranky)

24 Sept 2007

Michel Henry and the Origin of Evil

Liberating spiritual life from the constraints of religious identity-politics, from neuroscientific reductionism and politically correct pluralism, Michel Henry is definitely one of the most fascinating phenomenologists of the last decennia. As a severe critic of the whole linguistic turn, Henry might even count today as the last genuine transcendental philosopher. But the more I read and think about his project, the more I'm puzzled about one specific question: How does Henry explain the origin of evil?
Throughout his critique of traditional phenomenology’s failure to address the question of what phenomenological appearing actually means, Henry is led to discover auto-affection as the origin of the phenomenological process; an origin he identifies with Life, and which he sets in opposition with the world. Life as self-revelation thus remains independent of all forms of worldly intentionality, and cannot be approached from the perspective of the world. At the same time Henry discovers (through his reading of the gospel of John) that precisely the Christian God is the One who is necessarily self-revealing. God’s form of manifestation has nothing to do with what becomes manifest in the world; it precedes worldly intentionality as the basis condition for all phenomenality. Henry therefore equates the Absolute with Life and with God, understood as the Christian God (Absolute=Life=God=the Christian God); a God who can never be found through a modification of our worldly knowing, but only through our own self-affective life as opposed to our worldly ‘nature’. The latter explains Henry’s enraging critique on all kinds of hermeneutics. Because the truth of Life is independent of worldly particularities, hermeneutics is a life-denying enterprise in which our divine nature becomes reduced to a set of arbitrary worldly features. The same goes for biblical exegesis or historical approaches of the truth of Christianity, for as he stresses: “it is truth and truth alone that can offer us access to itself”. Language is an instrument of worldly intentionality and therefore the negation of reality. But because we are revealed to be son of God, we are not destined to dwell in the untruth of language: through the self-affectivity of our life we share in the Life of God.
Henry's phenomenological/theological critique on the diverse forms of worldly reductionism is at the same time a strong cultural critique. An intriguing example is the last and apocalyptic chapter of 'I am the Truth'. Henry's observation of the modern world as haunted by a technology foreign to life, makes him proclaim that we have entered the era of the Anti-Christ. Or as he says: “Upon the Anti-Christ Allegation (even when this Allegation is completely ignored these days) is founded the organization of the whole modern world. […] A new era begins, a dangerous time, not just of episodic lying but of systematic, permanent, efficient and ontological lying that can no longer be perceived as such.” But how is this possible? Where does this fall come from? If we are son of God, if we share in the divine Life of God, and if God is the One and thus the Absolute outside of which nothing exists, how is it possible that we live in exile and that the laws of the world have the power to make us forget about our divine nature?
Phenomenologically Henry explains the logic of the world as a transcendental illusion; because Life is One, our being caught in the worldly is a form of transcendental forgetfulness. But this doesn’t explain how this illusion comes to reign over life in the modern world. Unfortunately, Henry remains rather silent about this, and takes recourse to metaphors as ‘the Anti-Christ’ and the ‘Statue of the Beast’ without adequatly explaining their phenomenological origin. This raises the suspicion that Henry opts for a rather traditional Augustinian solution, in such a way even that he gives up on his purely immanent phenomenological theology in which there is no room for a contingency like the fall which would cause original sin. At the same time however, Henry sees himself unable to adopt a more Plotinian solution like that of Schelling, by displacing the origin of evil into divine life itself. This would imply the end of Life as undifferentiated and immediate self-affection, and as a Christian Henry indeed refuses to ontologize evil.
My intuition so far is that Henry's Christianising of phenomenology contaminates the rigor of his phenomenological project. I fail to see how he explains the power of forgetfullness and why the Plotinian solution would be phenomenologically intolerable. Furthermore, I do not see why he does not succumb to the same contamination of universality as he detects all over by equating the 'Absolute' with the 'Christian Absolute'. Of course, Henry defends the view that there is no risk here of particularising phenomenology. The truth of Christ is the universal truth, and therefore completely independent of worldly assertions of a particular religion. But this is quite unconvincing: in order to claim that life as absolute self-affection leads us to the recognition of Christ and the Father he shows himself dependent on a particular reading of the Johannine texts. Moreover, from his perspective of purely immanent phenomenology the whole idea of particular associations are unnecessary. If God is Life, indifferent to all possible forms of worldly mediation, there is no need to associate Life with a very particular tradition.

[1]Michel Henry, I am the Truth. Toward a Philosophy of Christianity, 270-272.

15 Sept 2007

Om - Pilgrimage

"Through music, and all art for that matter, a glimpse of something ineffably sacred can occur. It can't be tapped consciously, it visits and envelops when it chooses. In that, there is a flash of something outside of time and space. Art of that nature can be a catalyst to a dilation of one's perception of the universe." (Al Cisneros)
In anticipation of Om's new album Pilgrimage, Southern Lord has just posted one of the songs as a mp3. Om is Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros, the rhythm-section of former doom legends Sleep (while Matt Pike went on to form High on Fire). Continuing the sound of Sleep, but purified and more minimal, they take heavy music in a more spiritual direction. With their trance-inducing rhythms and chant-like vocals, they're indeed your ultimate gnostic doom band.

7 Sept 2007

Keiji Haino

For those who like their jazz wild and distorted, I just found out about a great collaboration. Purple Trap, was an occasional super-band, in which we find the number 1 of the Japanese avant-garde Keiji Haino backed by the great rhythm-section of Rashied Ali (drummer with the late John Coltrane) and Bill Laswell. Do not expect many structure here. Whereas Ali shows himself as the leading exponent of multidirectional rhythms/polytonal percussion, Haino screams and tortures his guitar, building up crescendo's without givening the listener much to rest on.
I also added a song from the first double-live Fushitsusha album. Fushitsusha was Haino's psychedelic freak-out band. Indepted to the European and American psychedelic rock of the late sixties and early seventies, Haino manages to develop a whole new aesthetics: guitarplaying becomes wrestling and every performance becomes a singular happening. Haino refuses to play songs over and over again, and indepted to the spirit of free jazz, he's one of the first and only artists who succesfully integrates the freedom of jazz into the domain of rock.
A good interview with Haino can be read here.
Purple Trap - Just now let us continue to say farewell (mp3) (from the album "Decided... Already The Motionless Heart Of Tranquility, Tangling The Prayer Called "I", on John Zorn's Tzadik label)
Fushitsusha - #2 (mp3) (from Double Live, PSF 4)