Professor Catherine Malabou graduated from the Ecole Normale Superieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines (Fontenay-Saint-Cloud). Her agregation and doctorate were obtained, under the supervision of Jacques Derridaand Jean-Luc Marion, from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Her dissertation became the book, L’Avenir de Hegel: Plasticité, Temporalité, Dialectique (1996).
Central to Malabou’s philosophy is the concept of “plasticity,” which she derives in part from the work ofHegel, as well as from medical science, for example, from work on stem cells and from the concept of neuroplasticity. In 1999, Malabou published Voyager avec Jacques Derrida – La Contre-allée, co-authored with Derrida. Her book, Les nouveaux blessés (2007), concerns the intersection between neuroscience, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, thought through the phenomenon of trauma. In the last few years, Malabou has tackled an increasing range of themes and topics in her writing. Coinciding with her exploration of neuroscience has been a greater and greater commitment to political philosophy. This is first evident in her book What Should We Do With Our Brain? and continues in Les nouveaux blessés, as well as in her book on feminism (Changer de différence, le féminin et la question philosophique, Galilée, 2009), and in her forthcoming book about the homeless and social emergency (La grande exclusion, Bayard). Malabou is currently co-authoring a book with Adrian Johnston on affects in Descartes, Spinoza and neuroscience, and is preparing a new book on the political meaning of life in the light of the most recent biological discoveries (mainly epigenetics). The latter work will discussGiorgio Agamben’s concept of “bare life” and Michel Foucault’s notion of biopower, underscoring the lack of scientific biological definitions of these terms, and the political meaning of such a lack.
The second chapter of Part One of Les nouveaux blessés – Les célébro-lésés: du roman neurologique au théâtre de l’absence – deals with some examples of cerebral damages and their general effects (the prevailing one being that of “indifference” and “cold detachment”) and how neurological scientific style itself is a strange co-conspirator in this perpetuation of coldness and detachment in a way it deals with these cases stylistically. However, Malabou brings up her favorite notion of “plasticity” in order to engage a topic she has already addressed in Que faire de notre cerveau? which leads me to my first digression – what is this plasticity as applied to the discussion of the brain? Continue reading →
I wrote this post in the middle of the night due to some neurotic insomnia. In fact, I had thought I hit the publish button, but I hit the save key instead. Anyways, what follows are some scattered thoughts, loose connections and possibilities for further interrogation all because in my insomniac state I came across this interesting article, “On Plasticity: Sound Cartographies,” by Miguel Leal via Fido the Yak, who links plasticity to the image:
There is some cause for linking the idea of the plastic with the idea of the image. The word plastic comes from the Greek πλαστῐκός which means “fit for molding” and also, when said of persons, “gifted in sculpture.” (I’m relying upon the Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell and Scott for the meaning of Greek words.) It is related to πλάσσω, which means “to form, to mold” and, in one of its senses, “to form an image of a thing in the mind, to imagine.” (Mold, btw, comes to us by way of the French mouler which means “to hug the figure.”) Another meaning of πλάσσω is “to mold or form by training or education.” A πλάσμα is, among other things, an image or figure. The Greeks thus help us think of the image as something shaped and also, perhaps, shaping. What qualities must the sculpted possess in order to sculpt the sculptor? Leal touches on the idea of a thickness necessary for any plasticity. He says that “in order for matter to show its plasticity it is above all necessary to grant it thickness.” (emphasis mine) The double movement of imagination hugs the figure and draws out the form, unfolding in a milieu the emotional thickness of Play-Doh or the temporal thickness of the plasmatic stream. It is perhaps utlimately the thickness of metaphor, which, in kindness to Leal, I will regard as a πλαστῐκή τεχνῶν.
This idea of thickness is touched upon by Emmanuel Levinas in some of his early writing so I decided to have a closer look at Existence and Existents. Continue reading →
Peter Benson bravely reads a difficult book (by Catherine Malabou) about a difficult philosopher (G.W.F. Hegel).
When a book about the most difficult philosopher of the 19th Century (G.W.F. Hegel) has a preface by the most difficult philosopher of the 20th Century (Jacques Derrida) one knows in advance that it will not be an easy read. In no conceivable way is this an introductory book on Hegel. Only those with some preliminary knowledge of Hegel’s philosophy should attempt to read it. Nevertheless, by the standards of contemporary French philosophy the book is by no means as difficult as it might have been, and it offers brilliant clarifications of some of the more opaque aspects of Hegel’s thought.
Hegel’s system of philosophy is one of the great intellectual achievements of Western culture. It has a solemn majesty and a sparkling multiplicity, a unity in diversity, comparable to a Wagnerian opera or a gothic cathedral. Tourists visiting such a cathedral usually opt for an introductory tour, a brief guide to the building’s principal features. But sometimes an architectural expert might be on hand, to lead us deeper into details. Malabou is just such an expert. Continue reading →