Cerebrality vs. Sexuality: Malabou On Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Neurology

Continuing with my reading of Malabou’s Les Noveaux blessés. [See this review I found since posting on Malabou]

The general introduction to the book’s three parts contains a number of very intriguing proposals all united under an overall theme of rethinking the relationship between Freud’s psychoanalysis and the new developments in the field of neurology. Various topics are gathered under a new concept Malabou is proposing: cerebrality [cérébralité]. Malabou’s point here is to reformulate our understanding of – no more, no less – guiding principles of philosophy and science that regulate our dealings with “trauma” in terms of “cerebrality” as opposed to Freudian “sexuality” [sexualité]. Malabou’s stated goal in the introduction is to address the issue of cerebral damage in terms of its philosophical and psychoanalytic implications: rather than dealing with “new wounded” as patients only, Malabou proposes to address a number of issues related to their status as subjects.

First target is Freud’s interpretation of neurosis – Malabou proposes to expand (not to replace, it seems to me) Freud’s understanding of “l’étiologie sexuelle des névroses” – since for Freud “sexuality thus appear as a concept that decides the sense/meaning [sens] of an event in the psychic life,” (24) if we reinterpret the whole of this life and its events in terms of “brain” and “cerebrality,” it might be possible to both incorporate the new range of cerebral damages (and its accompanying suffering, something Malabou is very concerned with) and reconsider the relationship between psychanalysis and neurology (and philosophy). ‘Cerebrality’ is constructed the same way as ‘sexuality’ in Freud: vis-a-vis its capacity to “determine the course of psychic life.” (25) The concept of ‘cerebrality’ primarily functions as a kind of umbrella under which a new discourse can unify various discourses about the brain, and especially when it comes to dealing with various types of injury [blessure]:

Sexualité et cérébralité apparaissent ainsi aujourd’hui comme des économies concurrentes de l’exposition du psychisme à la blessure. ( 28 )

To make the encounter between psychoanalysis and neurology possible, Malabou argues, it is important to clear off some misunderstandings: on one hand, it will be Freudian misunderstandings of the nature of cerebral trauma, on the other hand, it will be neurological misunderstandings of psychoanalytic treatment when it comes to neurological damage. The rest of the introduction deals with these issues in one way or another – I suppose you can read the book to get all the details. Malabou tries to create a space in which both psychoanalytic concepts and neurological findings (and their interpretations) can contribute to a larger theory not only of trauma but of general understanding of human subjectivity and socio-political issues of wider scale. For example, she argues that “la frontière qui sépare traumatismes organiques et traumatismes sociopolitique est aujourd’hui de plus en plus floue.” (37) Malabou sees a precursor to her project in the newly developed notion of “neuropsychoanalysis” by people like Mark Solms. Malabou cites Oliver Sacks from the preface to Solms’s book The Brain and the Inner World – Sacks suggests that Freud’s abandonment of neurology was due to the epoch’s insufficient neurological and physiological understanding of the issues, not because he disagreed with neurological principles.

The rest of the book is divided into three parts:

I. La subordination neurologique da la sexualité.

II. La neutralisation de la cérébralité.

III. De l’au-delà du principe de plaisir: qu’il existe.

2 thoughts on “Cerebrality vs. Sexuality: Malabou On Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Neurology

  1. Pingback: No Regulation Without Representation: Continuing with Malabou. « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. Pingback: Reading Malabou « Perverse Egalitarianism

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