24 de mayo de 2017

Catherine Malabou, Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.

Catherine Malabou, Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Catherine Malabou (b. 1959) is a French philosopher. She is a professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS and professor of modern European philosophy at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston University, London. She is known for her work on plasticity, a concept she culled from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which has proved fertile within contemporary economic, political, and social discourses. 

Widely regarded as one of the most exciting figures in what has been called “The New French Philosophy,” Malabou’s research and writing covers a range of figures and issues, including the work of Hegel, Freud, Heidegger, and Derrida; the relationship between philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis; and concepts of essence and difference within feminism.

Born in Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria, Catherine Malabou began her advanced studies at the Université Paris-Sorbonne before attending the prestigious École normale supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud, where, in 1994, she submitted her dissertation on G.W.F. Hegel under the direction of Jacques Derrida. Her thesis was published in 1996 under the title L’avenir de Hegel: Plasticité, temporalité, dialectique (The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic, 2005) with a long preface by Derrida, whom she would later co-author La Contre-allée (1999; Counterpath, 2004).

Before arriving at Kingston University, Malabou became assistant professor at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre in 1995 and, as a frequent lecturer in the USA, has taught at UC Berkeley, The New School in New York City, New York State University at Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin in Madison, UCLA, Johns Hopkins, and, most recently, UC Irvine.

Catherine Malabou’s philosophical work forges new connections and intellectual networks that imaginatively leap across existing synaptic gaps between, for example, continental philosophy and neuroscience; the philosophy of neuroscience and the critique of capitalism; neuroscience and psychoanalysis; and continental and analytic philosophy (notably Kant). As well, her work is explosive and iconoclastic, shattering perceived understandings of Hegel, feminism and gender, and the implications of post-structuralism.

Starting with her 2004 book, Que faire de notre cerveau? (What Should We Do With Our Brain?, 2009), Catherine Malabou has argued passionately and provocatively for a connection between continental philosophy and empirical neuroscience. She centers her argument on a highly original interpretation of the concept of plasticity, an interpretation that she first uncovered in her reading of Hegel’s dialectic. Plasticity refers to the capacity both to receive form and to give form.

Although the concept of plasticity is central to neuroscience, Malabou’s work shows that neuroscientists and lay people often misunderstand the basic plasticity of the brain, succumbing to an ideology that focuses solely on its capacity to receive form, that is, the capacity of the brain to be shaped in and through its experience of the world to the exclusion of its creative, form-giving power. In other words, the reigning ideology that governs both the neuroscientific community and the broader culture substitutes flexibility for plasticity, and flexibility, Malabou warns us, “is plasticity minus its genius.” 

The emphasis on flexibility also fits all too neatly with the demands of capitalism under neoliberalism, which demands efficiency, flexibility, adaptability and versatility as conditions of employability in a post-Fordist economy. The creative, form-giving power of the brain—its genius—consists in its explosive capacity, a capacity that unleashes new possibilities, and herein also lies the capacity for resistance. In her conclusion, Catherine Malabou writes: “To ask ‘What should we do with our brain?’ is above all to visualize the possibility of saying no to an afflicting economic, political, and mediatic culture that celebrates only the triumph of flexibility, blessing obedient individuals who have no greater merit than that of knowing how to bow their heads with a smile.”

In 2005, Malabou published La plasticité au soir de l’écriture: Dialectique, destruction, déconstruction (Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction, 2009). As described by Clayton Crockett in the book’s preface, Malabou’s text is “at once an intellectual autobiography, a highly condensed summa, and an explosive manifesto […].” Again, taking her cue from Hegel’s plasticity,

Malabou also culls Heidegger’s ontological exchangeability, and Derrida’s notion of writing, as well as that of Emmanuel Levinas, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Sigmund Freud, through which she rereads—and rewrites—them, offering a new springboard for deconstruction.

Contrasting the concept of plasticity against the graphic, and the trace, privileged by Derrida, and the latter as well in Levinas, Malabou contends that “plasticity is able to momentarily characterize organization of thought and being” and that “we should certainly be engaging deconstruction in a new materialism." For Malabou, “‘the event,’ of justice and democracy is not fixed but susceptible to human action.”

In four essays, all of which are addressed to Derrida, Catherine Malabou addresses the theme of feminism and politics in Changer de différence le féminin et la question philosophique (2009; Changing differences, 2011), investigating what it means to be a “woman philosopher.” Her starting point is that both feminism and deconstruction postulate that there is no feminine essence. Avoiding both essentialism as well as anti-essentialism, Malabou argues that it is precisely because woman has no essence––or rather: because her essence is empty––that she has a resistant essence, an essence that is resistant to its own disappearance. Thus, she seeks “recognition for a certain feminine space that seems impossible, yet is also very dangerous to try to deny.”

Writing with Judith Butler, the two published Sois mon corps: Une lecture contemporaine de la domination et de la servitude chez Hegel in 2010, which could be translated as “You Be My Body For Me, For, Corporeity, Plasticity in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.” Who has not ever dreamed or feared, desired or dreaded to delegate one’s body; to ask or order someone else to be one’s body, carry it in one’s place, feed it, cultivate it, shape it––the two thinkers ask.

According to Butler and Malabou, such a request and order are those the master gives the slave in Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. Here the dialectic of domination and servitude must be understood as a scene of delegation and denial of the body. They then also ask two opposite yet related questions: do we ever manage to completely detach ourselves from our bodies? Or: are we ever completely attached to it? In addition to Hegel, Butler and Malabou respond and examine these issues through additional readings of Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Alexandre Kojève.

In her recent work, including two books published in English in 2012, Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (Ontologie de l'accident: Essai sur la plasticité destructrice, 2009) and The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage (Les nouveaux blessés: De Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains, 2007), Catherine Malabou explores the notion of destructive plasticity, tracing it through Western philosophy and literature to rethink the relationship between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Destructive plasticity, as it plays out in psychic and physical trauma, not only provides Malabou with a materialist and naturalistic way of rethinking the death drive––as a material inscription of the death drive in the brain––it also makes possible a radical reconceptualization of identity.

Her latest book, Avant demain. Épigenèse et rationalité, was published in 2014. Currently, she is preparing the publication of the Wellek Lectures, which she delivered at UC Irvine in 2014, on “Metamorphoses of Intelligence,” and is working on a critical approach of immanence, implying a new reading of Spinoza. Malabou also manages a philosophy book series for the French publisher Éditions Léo Scheer.

Catherine Malabou and the Concept of Plasticity

Publié le 14 janvier 2014 par Anna Street

Catherine Malabou is one of France’s leading philosophers, currently visiting professor at the University of Kingston’s Center for Research in Modern European Philosophy. A seminar entitled Plasticity and Form indicates the guiding thread of her research: the concept of plasticity and the possibility of a plastic ontology. Plasticity denotes both the capacity to “take form (as in the plasticity of clay) and to give form (as in the plastic arts and plastic surgery)”. [1] 

Originally, Catherine Malabou introduced this concept through an analysis of Hegel’s work on which she wrote her thesis, under the supervision of Jacques Derrida. She defended her thesis in 1994 and published it two years later under the title The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic. Derrida’s preface to the book is entitled “The time for farewells: Heidegger (read by) Hegel (read by) Malabou.”

Her second book, Counterpath, published in 1999, is co-written with Derrida. Malabou passed the French Agrégation in philosophy and began teaching at the University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense. Today, in addition to her position at Kingston, Malabou is heavily sought after in the US where she frequently resides as visiting professor, whether at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Buffalo or the New School for Social Research. She is also part of the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where she teaches an annual summer seminar.

Specialist of contemporary French and German philosophy, Malabou’s research shows a particular preoccupation with Hegel and Heidegger but also towards Levinas and Lévi-Strauss. Jacques Derrida’s influence is clearly present in her writings although her evolution marks a profound break with this early influence. It is her encounter with neuroscience that will fundamentally distinguish her research and confirm her differences with a deconstruction focalized on the written text. In What Should We Do with Our Brains?, published in 2004, 

Catherine Malabou opens an intriguing path. For the first time, a philosopher from the Continental as opposed to the Analytical tradition takes a keen interest in and studies the issues raised by the discovery of cerebral plasticity. Using the latest advances of neuroscience, she adopts a critical position and explores the philosophical possibilities of brain consciousness, of a new plastic subject and of its relation to capitalism.

Catherine Malabou’s approach still has much in common with deconstruction in its willingness to address sensitive philosophical topics, such as that of renewing a dialog between traditional philosophy and the hard sciences. She writes that the time has come to replace the paradigm of writing as developed in Grammatology with the new paradigm of plasticity. As she explains in Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, the concept of plasticity, whose scope and stakes are firmly inscribed in those of our era, has overtaken the schemas of text and the trace. Plasticity “takes over” and “becomes the resistance of difference to its textual reduction.”[2] In The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Malabou expands her reflection to cerebral pathologies, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

She hosts a dialog between philosophy, psychoanalysis and contemporary neurology, offering to demonstrate how cerebral organization presides over a libidinal economy in current psychopathologies.[3] She also proposes a new theory of trauma and defends the hypothesis of destructive plasticity. In her latest book, Self and Emotional Life, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience, written with Adrian Johnston, Malabou continues her exquisite crossing of disciplines, this time in order to explore the concept of wonder.

In addition, her particular interest in the relation between form, materiality and meaning leads Catherine Malabou to propose a “new materialism.”[4] During a conference at the Royal College of Art (London) in February 2013 entitled “An Eye at the Edge of Discourse,” Malabou drew a parallel between an artistic performance – “The artist is present” by Marina Abramovic – and what a philosophical performance would be.

Crossing and interweaving the notion of plasticity, an idea or discourse, and material reality such as neuronal connections: Is this not a way of staging philosophy or of displacing its limit – that of discursive reasoning? The notion of plasticity simultaneously belongs to theoretical discourse and to stark material reality. As Malabou argues, graphic images are giving way to plastic ones in a large variety of ways. Another one of these ways corresponds to her experience of being a “woman philosopher,” in which the stage is set for different kind of performance.[5]

In 2010, Malabou co-authored a book with Judith Butler entitled Sois mon corps (You Be My Body for Me). The two philosophers undertake an interactive cross reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, in particular the implication of the body in the master/slave dialectic. This dialog between a French and an American philosopher puts into play their respective concepts of “plasticity” and “performativity.” 

Their immediate common ground seems to be the recognition that the most important aspect of thinking is not so much the concept as its modality, or the contours of the encounter. We are delighted at the prospect of seeing these philosophers of plasticity and performance once again join each other on the stage during this conference.

By proposing the concept of plasticity as a new philosophical and scientific paradigm, Malabou shows us that the ancient models – of writing and the trace in philosophy and of the genetic code in science – are no longer pertinent to thinking the modification or interruption of the system with which we are currently faced. 

A philosophy of the trace allowed us to develop reflections on repetition and difference (cf. Derrida and Deleuze, notably), but cannot accommodate occurrences of discontinuity, such as explosions or degeneration. As for science, the genetic code turned out to be inadequate as well in explaining the effects of the environment or experience on the modifications and expressions of the epigenome.

In both instances, a new model of plasticity, flexible and modifiable yet resistant, provides a way to think the loss of the trace and the instability of discourse in favor of acts. Undergoing a shift from the graphic to the temporal, this new paradigm (which is itself dynamic and thus plastic) resonates in multiple different ways with the transformation of philosophical discourse into performance. Ranging from genomes to technology,[6] from economic flexibility to brain plasticity all the way to the performing arts, Malabou’s inquiries launch us on a voyage through the crossroads of ideas to the edge of frontiers.

Bibliography (publications in English):

Malabou, Catherine and Adrian Johnston. Auto-affection and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Neurobiology. Columbia University Press: Forthcoming. ISBN: 0231158300.
Malabou, Catherine and Steven Miller (Translator). The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage. Fordham University Press: 2012. ISBN: 0823239675.
Malabou, Catherine and Judith Butler. “You Be My Body for Me: Body, Shape, and Plasticity in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.” In Stephen Houlgate and Michael Baur, Eds. A Companion to Hegel. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Blackwell: 2011.
Malabou, Catherine and Carolyn Shread (Translator). Changing Difference: The Feminine and the Question of Philosophy. Polity: 2011. ISBN: 0745651089.
Malabou, Catherine and Peter Skafish (Translator). The Heideegger Change: On the Fantastic in Philosophy.SUNY Press: 2011. ISBN: 1438439555.
Malabou, Catherine and Carolyn Shread (Translator). Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction. Columbia University Press: 2009. ISBN: 0231145241.
Malabou, Catherine. « Plasticity and Elasticity in Freud’s ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’. » in: Parallax. Vol. 15:2, 2009, p. 41–52.
Malabou, Catherine and Sebastian Rand (Translator). What Should We Do with Our Brains? Fordham University Press: 2008. ISBN: 0823229521.
Malabou, Catherine. “A Conversation with Catherine Malabou. » Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. Vol. 9, 2008, p. 1–13. Full text available.
Malabou, Catherine. « The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity, » The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms. Vol. 12, 2007, p. 431–441.
Malabou, Catherine. « An Eye at the Edge of Discourse. » Communication Theory. Vol. 17, 2007, p. 16–25.
Malabou, Catherine. « Another Possibility. » Research in Phenomenology. Vol. 36, 2006, p. 115–129.
Malabou, Catherine. The Form of an ‘I’. In in John D. Caputo (Editor) and Michael J. Scanlon (Editor). Augustine and Postmodernism: Confessions and Circumfessions. Indiana University Press: 2005. ISBN: 0253345073.
Malabou, Catherine, Jacques Derrida, and David Wills (Translator). Counterpath: Traveling with Jacques Derrida. Stanford University Press: 2004. ISBN: 0804740402.
Malabou, Catherine and Lisabeth During (Translator). The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic. Routledge: 2004. ISBN: 0415287200.
Malabou, Catherine. « History and the Process of Mourning in Hegel and Freud. » Radical Philosophy. Vol. 106, 2001, p. 15–20.
Malabou, Catherine. « Plastic Readings of Hegel. » Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain. Vol. 41-42, 2000, p. 132–141.
Malabou, Catherine. « The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, Dialectic. » Hypatia. Vol. 15, 2000, p. 196-220.
Malabou, Catherine. Who’s Afraid of Hegelian Wolves? In Paul Patton (Editor). Deleuze: A Critical Reader. Wiley-Blackwell: 1997.  ISBN: 1557865647.
Bibliography (publications in French):

Malabou, Catherine and Judith Butler. Sois mon corps: Une lecture contemporaine de la domination et de la servitude chez Hegel. Bayard: 2010. ISBN: 2227481447. Full-text PDF available online.
Malabou, Catherine and Xavier Emmanuelli. La grande exclusion: L’urgence sociale, symptôme et thérapeutique.Bayard: 2009. ISBN: 2227479159.
Malabou, Catherine. Changer de différence: Le féminin et la question philosophique. Editions Galilée: 2009. ISBN: 2718608021.
Malabou, Catherine. La chambre du milieu: De Hegel aux neurosciences. Hermann: 2009. ISBN: 2705667792.
Malabou, Catherine. Ontologie de l’accident: Essai sur la plasticité destructrice. Léo Scheer: 2009. ISBN: 2756101605.
Malabou, Catherine. Les nouveaux blessés: De Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains. Bayard: 2007. ISBN: 2227474750.
Malabou, Catherine. La plasticité au soir de l’écriture: Dialectique, destruction, déconstruction. Léo Scheer: 2005. ISBN: 2915280630.
Malabou, Catherine. Que faire de notre cerveau? Bayard: 2004. ISBN: 2227473053.
Malabou, Catherine. Le change Heidegger: du fantastique en philosophie. Léo Scheer: 2004. ISBN: 2915280193.
Malabou, Catherine. Plasticité. Léo Scheer: 2000. ISBN: 2914172060.
Malabou, Catherine and Jacques Derrida. La Contre-allée. Quinzaine littéraire: 1999. ISBN: 2910491080.
Malabou, Catherine (Translator) and David Mills. Prothèse 1, Hamilton, 1970 – Berchtesgaden, 1929. Galilée: 1997. ISBN: 2718604883.
Malabou, Catherine. L’Avenir de Hegel. Plasticité, temporalité, dialectique. J. Vrin: 1996. ISBN: 2711612848.
[Written by: Maïté Marciano and Anna Street – Translation: Anna Street]
[1] Catherine Malabou, Changer de différence, Le féminin et la question philosophique, ( Galilée :2009) ,p.75.
[2] Catherine Malabou, Changer de différence, Le féminin et la question philosophique. p. 102.
[3] Catherine Malabou, Les nouveaux blessés, de Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains. p. 20.
[4] Catherine Malabou, Que Faire de Notre Cerveau. (Bayard: 2011) p.16.
[5] See Catherine Malabou, Changer de différence, Le féminin et la question philosophique.
[6] “You can’t really draw a line between the mechanical and the messianic. This is also what is very interesting in the brain, and in the computer: somebody like Daniel Dennett now shows that a computer may be said to be plastic” Malabou, Catherine. « A Conversation with Catherine Malabou. » In JCRT. 9.1, 2008.
Articles sur le même sujet :
Mullarkey, John (Kingston University, UK)
Catherine Malabou et le concept de plasticité

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