Malabou’s recent book – Les nouveaux blessés (The New Wounded) – finally made its way from my shelf to the area of my immediate interest, so here are some remarks as I begin reading this book – these are meant just as observations that I hope could be useful to others who are interested in Malabou’s work. This book comes out of Malabou’s personal experience with her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease and, as Malabou reveals in the Preamble, her own rethinking of the role of philosophy and its relationship to neuroscience – via her engagement with the concept of “plasticity” Malabou came to be more and more interested in the study of the brain: its functions, organization and pathologies:
Cette extension de mon champ de recherche a eu de réelle répercussions sur ma pensée, au point qu’il y a aujourd’hui pour moi an ‘avant’ et un ‘après’ mon incursion dans le domaine des neurosciences. (11)
This “before” includes mainly works on “plasticity” beginning with Malabou’s doctoral dissertation and then book on Hegel (L’Avenir de Hegel: Plasticité, temporalité, dialectique) – the only work presently available in English – Sebastian Rand is working on the translation of Que faire de notre cerveau? for Fordham Press – already announced in the catalog as What Should We Do With Our Brain? – coming out in October) – then comes (after a book with Derrida and a short book on “plasticity”) a volume on Heidegger (Le change Heidegger : Du fantastique en philosophie). The “after” is the book on the brain Que faire de notre cerveau? and the present volume Les nouveaux blessés.
Malabou tries to connect her research on the concept of “plasticity” – “the triple movement of receiving, giving and destroying the form” – to this new “neurobiological orientation” in a way that would allow for a certain analysis of the cerebral psyche/soul (la psyché cérébrale) that would, consequently, raise the question of its rights and its suffering (conceptually accommodate/welcome the “new wounded”). The book addresses the issues of (neuro)plasticity in terms of Malabou’s previous discussion of plasticity, but this time she wonders:
Se pouvait-il qu’il existe dans le cerveau une plasticité destructrice, double sombre de la plasticité positive, constructrice et modulatrice des connexions neuronales? Se pouvait-il qu’une telle plasticité forme par anéantissement de la forme? (15)
The problem of the book is posed in terms of the necessity to “theoretically recast the whole of psychopathology.” (16) Such recasting is only possible, Malabou argues, if the present-day confrontation between psychoanalysis and neurology is resolved. For examples of the recent attacks on psychoanalysis in France, see (Malabou mentions this book as well): Le livre noir de la psychoanalyse: Vivre, penser et aller mieux sans Freud (with Catherine Meyer, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Didier Pleux, Jacques Van Rillaer (Paris: Éditions des Arènes, 2005) – here’s a short review (PDF) and, of course, a reaction by none other than Slavoj Zizek.
Malabou defines her approach to the issue in terms of three elements of what she labels “un centrage et une delocalisation de la question” – not sure what a good translation would be – “centering and decentering of the question” or “alignment and misplacement of the question” or “locating and dislocating of the question”? Malabou suggests that in our dealings with the question, there are three important moments: causality, war and traumatism.
Causality – it is important to engage both psychoanalysis and neurology in terms of specific etiology – what causes specific damages/wounds? War – “having worked on the relationship between neuronal architecture and social hierarchy of capitalism” before (Que faire de notre cerveau?), Malabou realizes that her present approach to the topic of psychopathology is a “political gesture.” (17) Traumatism – “the core of the question” – comes as an important concept from both psychoanalytic side (Freud’s involvement with the victims of WWI and Wagner-Jauregg) and neurological side (post-traumatic stress disorder). Here Malabou wants to suggest the connection between “political trauma” of war (PTSD) and “organic trauma” of cerebral damage, connection that can help redefine the concept of “trauma” in general.
The last section of the Preamble deals with the three hypotheses that structure the book:
1) Du sexe au cerveau – from what is said above, one might deduce that there exists a factual regime of the psyche – cerebral eventuality/factuality (événementialite) – where the specific causality is radically different from that which is discussed in psychoanalysis – this cerebral eventuality replaces sexual eventuality in the psychopathology to come.
2) Les familles de traumatismes – the analysis of the above-mentioned substitution leads one to the proposal of the general theory of trauma, itself founded on the elaboration of the communal traits among all the “new wounded.”
3) La plasticité destructrice – the last hypothesis will deal with the notion of “destructive plasticity” that, although ignored in psychoanalysis and insufficiently thematized in neurology, plays a role in the formation the psyche via deconstitution of its identity.