“Givenness from Above”
The I Can and its Limits
This article compares the concept of the living body (or “flesh”) in Edmund Husserl’s Ideas II with that of the French phenomenologist Michel Henry. It locates in their descriptions of the I Can a basic difference in the way they understand the roles that impressionality, affectivity, and perception play in the phenomenological method. It then examines Henry’s concept of “auto-affection” and argues that the “strong” and “weak” senses of auto-affection must be understood in terms of what Henry, following Kierkegaard, calls the “dialectic of pathos.” Henry finally distinguishes three degrees of passivity—of sensibility with regard to the world, of flesh with regard to itself, and of flesh with regard to incarnation. In the shift from the second to the third, we see a shift from a concept of givenness to a concept of “givenness from above.” It is here that the article locates the presence of a “transcendence” in Henry’s work, which in turn helps to clarify how he understands the boundary between phenomenology and theology.
Keywords: phenomenology, transcendence, affectivity, body, flesh, givenness, Michel Henry, Edmund Husserl, incarnation, impressionality