Metamorphoses of the subject: Kandinsky interpreted by Michel Henry and Henri Maldiney
In this paper, I compare how Michel Henry and Henri Maldiney interpret Kandinsky’s heritage. Henry’s phenomenology is based on a distinction between two main modes of manifestation: the ordinary one, that is, the manifestation of the world, and the “manifestation of life”. For him, Kandinsky’s work provides a paradigmatic example of the second, more original mode of manifestation, which is free from all forms of self-alienation. Henry claims that this living through the work of art is transformative; it is akin to ascetic practice or mystical experience that goes beyond the distinction between the subject and the object. Maldiney acknowledges Kandinsky’s work as an attempt to provide access to an a-cosmic and ahistoric experience of one’s inner self; yet for him, this is not a positive characteristic. For Maldiney, the key distinction is not between modes of phenomenalisation, but between the dimensions of meaning (sens). For him, there is no radical self-transformation which is not a transformation of one’s being-in-the-world and one’s meaning of the world, and so Kandinsky’s a-cosmic paintings cannot induce a true transformation of the self. I conclude that the disagreement between Henry and Maldiney on Kandinsky does not unfold on the level of phenomenological description of concrete aesthetic experience but on the level of metaphysics.