Inverted Transcendence: On Immanence, Renunciation, and the Immanental

Patrice Guillamaud, trans. Sylvia

from: La Vie et les vivants: (Re-)lire Michel Henry, 2017, pp. 345-54.

            There are three essential points that seem, to us, to be put forward in Michel Henry’s fundamentally novel perspective. The first has long been noted by commentators: the definition of immanence as being what we propose to call inverted transcendence. The second point concerns the deepening of what is, for us, the very essence of immanence as renunciation, this being none other than the generalized reprise of the Eckhartian experience of mystical renouncement. It is this deepening that, according to us, should firstly lead us to reintroduce transcendence in the originary problematic of immanence, well before the later Henryan problematic of the duality between the two senses of auto-affection, so as to think a transcendence within immanence in a renewed sense, which we propose to call an internal ecstasy. Finally, the third point follows directly from the second insofar as it no longer presupposes the restoration of an internal transcendence, of a transcendence in the very bosom of immanence, but of an absolute transcendence irreducible to absolute immanence itself. It is the co-existence of these two absolutes, of absolute immanence and absolute transcendence, that we propose to call the immanental.

I. Inverted Transcendence

            The fundamental point of Michel Henry’s philosophy, which constitutes its overwhelming geniality, is the idea according to which immanence is nothing other than transcendence itself[1]. There is no immanence on one hand and transcendence on the other. Immanence is transcendence itself but reversed. The sense of this inversion consists of no longer seizing transcendence in its abstract structure, which sends infinite manifestation back to concealment, but in its concrete structure as absolute manifestation, as manifestation of the very fact of manifestation, as the most radically effective manifestation or even as revelation. It is in this sense that, below or rather across the opening of intentionality, the problematic attains the pure fact of this opening. Now, the pure fact of this overture is not absolute closure but is the absolute auto-reference to self or the absolute retro-reference to self of the very fact of being opened.

            It is this auto-reference to self of the overture that is the effectivity of affectivity as auto-affection. It is the substantial and concrete pedestal in itself of every exit, every scission, every exteriorization, every consciousness, every science, every action, and every reflection. It is the pure positivity that constitutes the energetic and effective source of every negativity, the plenitude that constitutes the radical cradle of every wide opening [béance], every exit, every tearing, every concern, every depression, and every dereliction, the profusion that conditions every lack, the absoluteness that dynamically bears every relation and every relativity, the absolute absence of every distance, an absence more radical that any proximity, as concrete intimacy, structures every distance, every gap, and every representation in its fund. Auto-reference to self of the opening is the inverted being of what can be seized without it only as the contradictory identity of being and nothingness. It is the inverted truth of the non-truth, the inverted essence of non-essence, the inverted being of nothingness. It is the interiority of the pure fact of being exteriorized, not the afterward exteriorization of interiority but the interiority that is itself the dynamic and energetic movement of pure exteriorizing as such. It is invisibility as the very flesh of visibility, vital intensity as the very density of existence.

            Therefore, one must not say that there is immanence at first, then transcendence that opens the horizon of intentionality and then finally the intentionality opened by this same horizon. One must no longer operate the fundamental cut between immanence on one hand and transcendence on the other to again close this same transcendence on the intentionality of which it opens the horizon. One must operate the fundamental cut between transcendence opening the horizon of intentionality and the intentionality itself to reconduct transcendence qua transcendence to immanence qua immanence. It is the exact cut between transcendence and intentionality that permits avoiding cantonment within monism and abstraction, that permits recognizing and reconducting this same abstraction to concreteness, which is indifferently transcendence and immanence, transcendence in its existential diastolic centrifugal movement and immanence in its affective systolic centripetal movement, on the condition of understanding that these two contrary movements of interiorizing contraction and exteriorizing decontraction express their contrariety not in conflictual dissociation [désolidarisation] but, on the contrary, in the pure solidarity of a lone and same arrow auto-focalizing in a tendentially dual or inverse manner.

            Transcendence and immanence are strictly the same thing[2], the effective reality of life and affectivity. The reality of transcendence is paradoxically the absolute contrary of transcendence. Transcendence can only avoid contradicting itself by being related to its most radical contrary. If transcendence cannot suffice to itself, if it cannot be its proper principle to itself, if it must adjoin its absolute contrary, inasmuch as this absolute contrary is purely and simply itself, this is quite simply linked to the fundamental character of philosophy itself. Philosophy, which always remains enclosed as such within the theoretic abstraction of the concept, should always, in its very effort to be reconducted to the real, purely and simply renounce itself as pure conceptuality to infinitely accomplish an absolute reduction to the real. It is this fundamental and irreducible philosophical exigency of an infinite reconduction of conceptual abstraction, from the very bosom of this abstraction, to the effective reality that is said by the Henryan problematic of the ontological and transcendental coextension between immanence and transcendence[3].

II. Renunciation and Internal Ecstasy

            If we want to attain concrete reality, namely the effective reality of affectivity, the reality of life, operating the substitution of immanence for transcendence would not suffice. To the paradox of the co-extensive identity between immanence and transcendence, a new paradox must be adjoined. In effect, life would not be reduced to pure immanence as identity in itself. Vital immanence, exactly because it should be comprehended as being concreteness, would not be confounded with pure abstract identity. The concrete structure of immanence, as energetic auto-profusion of itself, should necessarily be deployed in a process and a history. Life would only be an ordered deployment, in the very bosom of immanence, among several fundamental manners for the affectivity of auto-affecting. Life would only be an aspiration to the absolute and a renouncement of this same absolute inasmuch this paradoxical conjunction between aspiration to and renouncement of the absolute is what, by essence, constitutes its very absoluteness. In this sense, life would only be, in the very profusion of its energy, inasmuch as this profusion is found by this same constituted, a relativization, an auto-relativization that, the paradox redoubled, can only be announce itself as being itself a radical form of accomplishment[4].

            Life is, by essence, the processuality of an aspiration to the absolute that renounces itself for being better accomplished within this same renouncement. This relativization has nothing of a compromise as the pure adaptation of interiority to exteriority, it is the very deployment of aspiration qua aspiration that can only find its nec plus ultra of accomplishment in relativization. Life is the double paradoxical and processual conjunction, within pure interiority, between aspiration, relativization, and accomplishment. This concrete processual structure of life is none other than what, with Meister Eckhart, Michel Henry calls the absolute poverty and humility of renouncement, what one could still characterize as being love or conversion[5]. Now, there would not be renunciation or, more exactly, what we call renunciation as relativization within accomplishment, i.e., still conversion under the only condition of reintegrating, against the interdict of Michel Henry himself, history within the historial, namely processuality within its very structure of immanence. If renouncement is the vital absolute, it is because there is an essential becoming of essence, a becoming that is the only universal structure of immanence. It is only as processual structure that immanence can escape from abstraction as identity and it is only as processual structure that it can receive, by this very escape, the very title of structure. This structure certainly has nothing to do with an arbitrary and static conceptual determination of the a priori boss [patron] of life but it is the only title authentically accomplishing the Henryan problematic identity between the transcendental and the ontological, this identity being found necessarily mediated by the pure vital dynamic understood as processuality and historicity. It is the spontaneous dynamism of affective life that, in its very originary auto-affection, is auto-structured, auto-processualized, and auto-historicized as renunciative relativization.

            Moreover, if the structure of immanence is processual, it is that, in the very bosom of immanence, an essential upheaval takes place. This essential upheaval is an exit from itself, not an intentional conscious exit but an exit from the structural fund. If the essence of life is renunciative and relativizing, it is that there is an internal ecstasy, a tearing away of the heart that nonetheless remains in the heart, an exteriorization of interiority that nonetheless radically remains within interiority, i.e., that gradually remains affective or auto-affective without ever decaying [déchoir] in itself in pure reflexive and conscious intentionality. The concrete structure of immanence as renouncement or renunciation therefore requires reintegrating not only historicity as essential processuality but also transcendence as exteriorization within this very immanence. This reintegration, that has nothing of the restoration of the Husserlian and intentional concept of transcendence within immanence, transgresses an interdict of The Essence of Manifestation but all while maintaining the geniality of the Henryan discovery of immanence as absoluteness. What must be comprehended is that reintegration, which the commentators have raised and Michel Henry had himself recognized, of transcendence within immanence apropos the difference between the two senses of auto-affection should take place from the first conceptualization of immanent affectivity pure originary and not sensible suffering [pâtir], from the problematic of originary auto-affection[6]. It is the pure fact of auto-affecting that is found from the origin to be at a time a renouncing, a becoming, and an exiting from itself that however remains irreducibly within itself. It is not only within the processuality of auto-differentiation of life as auto-affection in the strong sense and auto-affection in the weak sense, as absolute auto-affection and relative auto-affection, that the transcendence lodging in the very heart of immanence is announced, it is not only as auto-processualization of relative auto-relation in the bosom of absolute auto-relation that relativization as internal ecstasy is announced, it is from the pure absolute event of pure originary suffering within its radical absoluteness that an upsetting tearing takes places, renunciation qua authentically universal  and structural essence of life itself.

            It is insofar that life is, at the very level of the originary problematic, transcendence within immanence, that immanence is irreducible to abstract identity and that it receives its authentic concrete structure. If there is certainly, below the essence of manifestation, an essence of essence as inversion of this very essence, there is an essence of this essence of essence that is none other than renunciation or renouncing as the pure fact of living as such. It is from the absolute origin, from its ontological and transcendental fundament that life is upsetting [bouleversant] renunciation. The internal ecstasy of renunciation is the ultimate title of immanence insofar as this title permits both to surpass, without annulling the absoluteness of this very immanence, the Henryan confusion between immanence and identity on the one hand and the contradiction between Michel Henry’s genial intuition and the fundamental inspiration that, for him, represents Rhenish mystique on the other hand. What can ultimately account for the “eternal misunderstood passage between sufferance and joy”, what can fundamentally permit the full conceptualization of the immanent dialectic if not internal ecstasy? What could explain the vitality of life and its irreducibility to the static, dreary, and monolytic substantiality of the abstract absolute, what can tell of the dynamic advent to itself and in itself of life in its internal evental polymorphy, polychromy, and polytony if not internal ecstasy, namely renunciation, love, poverty, and conversion understood as process?

            The turnaround or inversion of transcendence in immanence certainly represents an essential moment of the problematic, the exclusion of transcendence outside of immanence resulting from this inversion certainly even had without doubt, we could say, to attain its conceptual force, a moment of argumentative pertinence and legitimate philosophical strategy, but it is clear that the very prolongment requires the reintegration of what was excluded at the start, namely history, process, and distance, a reintegration that should concern the very origin of the problematic. Internal ecstasy as renunciation, love, and conversion is the very essence of immanence, its fully accomplished structure. It is the essence coextensive to the totality of every possible life as energy within relativization, the structure qua structure, the very essence of immanence qua immanence.


III. The Coexistence of Absolutes as Immanental

            In an analysis of renunciative experience in Michel Henry, experience conjoined to that of modesty and given speech, Jean-Louis Chrétien made an objection of a very great profundity. He remarked that there can be no authentic renunciation if the retrenchment within immanence had the exclusive concrete absoluteness of this very immanence as its correlate[7]. What would the renouncement of the world be if the world were not an authentic reality? If moreover renouncement, as notably Kierkegaard has already remarked, only ultimately had meaning if it was renunciation of what matters most, renouncement of what only had the ontological status of derivation, renouncement of the derisory cannot in any way merit the very title of renouncement, in its indeed ontological and in no way psychological sense. If one wants to remain faithful to the fundamental Henryan discovery of absoluteness of immanent interiority, and this not by a simple servile submission to a genial authority but because this discovery expresses an insurmountable truth, if one wants to remain faithful to the truth of immanent absoluteness all while recognizing the fundamentally renunciative structure of this very interiority, an unheard-of thing must be affirmed. One must affirm or rather recognize that there are two irreducible absolutenesses. It must be recognized that there are two irreducible absolutenesses, an absoluteness of immanence and an absoluteness of transcendence.

            Immanent interiority is not the exclusive absoluteness that, within its radical coextension to transcendence, would be the transcendental, ontological, and absolute source of the horizon of exteriority from which existential intentionality would be deployed. But neither is transcendence, as thought Emmanuel Lévinas and Jean-Luc Marion after him, a new exclusive absoluteness that, as counter-intentionality or counter-constitution, would reject immanent subjectivity within secondarity or derivation. Immanence and transcendence are two absolutenesses each excluding the derivation of the other. To think concrete life, one must think the unthinkable, one must reconduct the irrepressible tendency of representative and speculative intelligence to abstractly and theoretically unify the spheres of reality within the exclusive unity of one absolute alone, to the pure and simple concrete auto-reality as dual irreducibility as absolutes.

            Our ultimate goal is to avoid the relapse of the Henryan dualism within a monism of immanence and to think the real by submitting to it in a radically humble manner. For this, one must not reinvert transcendence and by coming back to the old tradition monism, but reintroduce within the problematic of inverted transcendence two other types of transcendence, neither of which has anything to do with intentionality, namely transcendence within immanence as internal ecstasy and absolute transcendence as transcendence irreducible to the inverted transcendence of absolute immanence, i.e., as transcendence understood as absolute exteriority. We thus have two absolutes or two transcendences, namely on the one hand transcendence as internal ecstasy and on the other transcendence as pure exteriority, i.e., still on the one hand immanence as inverted transcendence that is correlatively a transcendence within immanence and on the other hand transcendence as such.

            The co-existence of absolutes cannot be conceived as simple mediative relationship since this would imply the decay of their absoluteness either for the benefit of one or the other or for the benefit of a third term as absolute of absolutes. The co-existence of absolutes is what we propose to conceptualize as the immanental. The immanental is the absolute absence of distance between absolutely irreducible instances. It is, in a way, immanence understood in its fully conceptualized irreducibility to identity. It is difference within immanence. Relation without relation, the pure fact of co-existing without a relativizing “co”, the immanental is the nothing that, irreducible to nothingness, absolutely glues the absolutes to one another without any game, without any negativity, the void without void that holds them to each other in an absolute manner without ever letting one absorb or englobe the other, without ever risking leaving one to flow back into the other. The immanental is ultimately both what guarantees the non-abstraction of immanence reduced to identity and what guarantees the coexistence of the latter as inverted transcendence or as internal transcendence with the pure transcendence of pure auto-exteriority. It is the “co” without the “co” of radical auto-interiority and auto-exteriority.

            It is the exact conception of the immanental—which is in no way to immanence what the transcendental is to transcendence, namely its pure and simple condition of possibility, but its condition of non-exclusivity and possible coexistence to what is absolutely irreducible to it as it is, for transcendence itself, this very condition of non-exclusivity and possible coexistence to what is absolutely irreducible to it—that permits to escape the phenomenological reproach of a relapse within natural metaphysics. The double auto-absoluteness of transcendence and immanence is in no way the restoration of a substantial duality of concealment but the auto-concrete auto-affirmation of a duality of auto-revealing auto-absoluteness insofar as this dual auto-revelation is within the co-existential nothing of the immanental as such. It is the immanental that permits to escape both the monism of transcendence and the monism of immanence by founding the radical duality within a non-synthetic unity of correlation without relation. Through the immanental, we thus attain a purely meta-phenomenological dimension of the problematic. This dimension was already moreover implicitly at work in the Henryan problematic, since it fundamentally aimed to think another phenomenality, not a phenomenality beyond phenomenality but an absolute auto-phenomenality below phenomenality, an auto-manifestation of the invisible qua invisible.

            The immanental has an ultimate merit, that of permitting the authentically adequate conceptualization of the experience of touching. Contrarily to what Michel Henry thinks after Main de Biran, touching is not an absolutely internal experience the resistance of which only indicates a hollow pure transcendence derived as a simple remainder or residue. When my hand touches the table, there is not an internal test, namely an exclusively absolute experience that by different degrees of resistance constitutes on the one hand the hand as proper body and on the other the table as exterior body, but there is a co-existential or co-vital encounter between an internal absolute of an immanent lived and an external absolute of an irreducible thing. Touching is an absolute absence of distance, without skin, without diaphanous, without void, and without mediation between two radically heterogenous absolutes. The immanental is in a way the very essence of the tact as contact without contact, i.e., without relativizing or hierarchizing relation, i.e., still as an ontologically delicate solder between two irreducibilities.

            To be Henryan to the end is for us, namely for the problematic, paradoxically to remain perfectly faithful to the genial philosophical discovery of immanence as absolute origin all while firstly transgressing some properly Henryan interdicts, which we can interpret as strategic points of philosophical combat for a just cause, and all while secondly (and inactually) transgressing a fundamental interdict arising from the most distant tradition, that which requires identifying absoluteness to unicity. Life is thus by essence at a time subjective, historic, and ecstatic without being intentional and absoluteness is neither exclusive nor inclusive but irreducibly dual. There is an immanental irreducibility, that is, co-existential or co-effective between the absolute as immanent auto-interiority and the absolute as transcendent auto-exteriority.



[1] We think that, in this regard, when Carla Canullo judiciously highlights the oxymoronic identity between puissance and impuissance, activity and passivity, immanence and transcendence, she focuses on an essential scope of Henryan philosophy, by which the latter would have, according to us, in the history of culture, the ultimate and fundamental signification of being the veritable synthesis between Nietzscheism and Christianity.

[2] “The extension of transcendence to the totality of the phenomenological field of being signifies the universality of immanence as the fundamental ontological structure of every possible manifestation. Because the extension of concepts of immanence and transcendence comprehended as ontological concepts is identical, the attempt to dissociate the realities that form their pure content by rejecting each of them outside of the field of action of the other is revealed to be absurd. Seizing these concepts, on the contrary, within the identity of their extension is to penetrate further in their comprehension and apprehend the link that unites them. This link is not exterior but resides, on the contrary, within transcendence itself if the essence of it is immanence. The ontological comprehension of transcendence in its essence is identically that of immanence in its.” (L'Essence de la manifestation, p. 323-4)

[3] It is in this perspective of an updating of the very essence of philosophy as strategy for making the immanent reality of transcendent abstraction rise up, for making the concreteness of speculative representation rise up without ever thematizing this same concreteness by making an object of representation as such but by thwarting the representation in the very bosom of an exacerbated representation, that we interpret, in the eminently singular thought of François Laruelle, the definition of a non-philosophy as science of philosophy. Even if Laruellean immanence has nothing to do with Henryan immanence, there is a community of concern between these two perspectives that a recent text, at a time beautiful, profound, and enigmatic, on non-philosophical mystique as a new democratized mystique, as what the author calls mystique-fiction, can only confirm: “Where philosophy makes use of ambiguity and the encroachment of contraries to create an effect of sense that it supposes to the both manifest and non-manifest, unveiled and veiled, Real, mystique-fiction denounces and dissolves it but in-last-identity, not inside itself. It definitively poses the Real as a manifested foreclosed to every discursive and phenomenological manifestation, and the Word as what the Real determines in a univocal and ultimate manner, giving it its trait of fiction. If mundane mystique cultivates the secret and the mystery as given/hidden, as the ambiguity of the manifest-by-manifestation, its future form is manifest or public, democratic to be honest, but foreclosed, able to use ambiguity as a simple symptom.” (François Laruelle, Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007, p. 144). The following formula should be meditated upon: “Man-in-Man is the Renounced who has only renounced renunciation or renouncement by determining them in-Identity.” (Ibid., p. 250). Irreducible to any philosophical speculation on renunciation, the authentically mystical Renounced is the reality of life at work of itself managing to emerge from representation in the very denunciation of philosophical vanity and authority. The Renounced as foreclosed democratic manifestation thwarting the pretentious dialectic of manifestation and occultation, is this not Henryan affectivity as immanent revelation or radicalized manifestation inverting transcendent manifestation?

[4] We allow ourselves here to formulate on this point our agreement with professor Jean-François Lavigne when he wants to reintegrate historicity or “adventure” within the Henryan problematic, if it is only that, according to us, calling hunger what we call aspiration and aging what we call renunciation within accomplishment, it seems to want to maliciously confine the problematic of life within the natural attitude in lieu of elevating spirituality, i.e., the only authentically phenomenological dimension of reduction. But perhaps this is a potentially new way, that is still inaccessible to us, of thinking the spirituality of life.

[5] “How does the union with God depend on poverty, on humility? Inasmuch as it is only realized in man who renounces the world and themself in a manner to no longer be nothing, since it is only if there is nothing that there is place in him for the operation of God, that is, for God himself” (EM, p. 389). “Such is the ontological signification that it must be recognized in their intervention within the problematic and, at the same time, the reason of the central role that they play: because they accomplish the retreat of all that is not essence, humility, and poverty, laying bare its structure” (Ibid., p. 392).

[6] In a letter to Bernard Forthomme on August 20th 1979, Michel Henry already speaks, before attempting a conciliation between his perspective and that of Lévinas, of a transcendence that would be proper and internal to immanence, of a transcendence irreducible to the world: “The transcendence that I dismiss (only qua not fundamental moreover) is the relation to the world. But there indeed exists a transcendence in relation to my proper being, a transcendence within interiority and by it, it has to do to with the fact that I am not the fundament of my being, that is, finally in the essence of life qua basically passive vis-à-vis itself”. It follows from this that this transcendence within immanence, that is certainly not intentional, is not either, according to the element of a history. It is a sort of eternity within immanent temporality, a sort of kairosic synthesis between time and eternity within the pure instantaneous fact of living.

[7] Speaking apropos Michel Henry’s philosophy of negative egology, Jean-Louis Chrétien sees in the Henryan problematic the impossibility of accounting for renouncement as effective experience. If the exteriority of the world is only an ontological derivation and if interiority is the only absolute effectivity, renouncement is itself a derisory abstraction: “Having only renounced the illusory and lost the irreal, we have lost nothing and renounced only renouncement, moreover impossible to carry out, of life itself” (Jean-Louis Chrétien, « La vie sauve », in Les Études philosophiques, No 1, 1988, p. 40).