Disclosing Worldhood or Expressing Life? Heidegger and Henry on the Origin of the Work of Art

Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology 4 (2):155-171 (2017)
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What and how is the work of art? This paper considers Heidegger’s venerable question by way of a related one: what exactly is the essence of the painting? En route to critiquing the Heideggerian conception of the work of art as that which discloses a world, I present Michel Henry’s competing aesthetic theory. According to Henry, the artwork’s task is not to disclose the exteriority of the world, but rather to express the interiority of life’s pathos—what he calls transcendental self-affectivity. To clarify Henry’s view, I examine his analysis of the abstract painting of Kandinsky, after which I illustrate the significance of Kandinsky’s abstractionism by showing how the representational paintings of Paul Signac, Andrew Harrison, Alphonse Osbert, and Henry Ossawa Tanner attempt to express the invisibility of subjectivity. I then reveal how Heidegger’s account of the work of art in terms of world disclosure overlooks the work’s task of exalting life. In closing, I accordingly suggest that Henry’s view of painting—which locates its essence in Life rather than the world—not only presents a competing position to the Heideggerian view of the origin of the work of art worthy of our attention, but one that explains how art can contribute to overcoming our age’s nihilism.



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References found in this work

Eye and Mind.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 1964 - In The Primacy of Perception. Evanston, USA: Northwestern University Press. pp. 159-190.

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