past dialectics and future destructions: Malabou’s plasticity

Catherine Malabou has rapidly elasticized possible futures for Continental Philosophy by reorienting our understanding of Hegelian thought around the notion of plasticity, “a capacity to receive form and a capacity to produce form.”

In her recent short work Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction, Malabou considers writing as a scene of plasticity and model of political and ethical action. Join InterCcECT for a reading group on these crepuscular illuminations of Derrida, Hegel, Heidegger, Freud, Levi-Strauss, and Levinas.

Thursday 17 October
Department of English conference room
UIC, 2028 University Hall
601 S Morgan St, 60607 (Blue Line: UIC Halsted)

Text available to Chicagoans upon request.

Mark your calendars now for our upcoming miniseminar with Joshua Kates, “Radical Empiricism Revisited,” at which we’ll explore the Kantian inflections of empiricism in Deleuze, Latour, and Luhmann as they oppose Derrida and early Foucault. Friday 22 November, 3-5pm, location TBA; paper to be pre-circulated.

What’s happening in theory this fall?  Send us your event proposals and announcements (interccect at gmail), check out our calendar for recommended events, and connect with us on  Facebook for frequent links and commentary.

Malabou interview in Le Monde

Le Monde has published an interview with Catherine Malabou. A highlight:

Mais la question qui, aujourd’hui, habite Catherine Malabou avec le plus d’intensité est celle du féminisme. Sa réflexion prend sa source dans un constat radical. “La philosophie a orchestré l’impossibilité de la femme comme sujet.” Et il lui semble que le discours dominant du féminisme, qui consiste en une critique de l’essentialisme et affirme qu’il n’y a pas d’identité propre du féminin, reconduit paradoxalement cette violence symbolique. “Il est symptomatique, remarque-t-elle, qu’aucune femme ne se revendique vraiment philosophe, comme si elles ne s’en sentaient pas le droit.”

“To Have Done With Life” Conference Audio

Martin Hägglund has alerted me that audio files of the recent conference “To Have Done With Life: Vitalism and Anti-Vitalism in Contemporary Philosophy” in Zagreb have been posted. Along with Hägglund, participants included Catherine Malabou, Adrian Johnston, and Ray Brassier, and the entire thing has been thoroughly documented, including individual papers, question and answer sessions, and two roundtables.

Draft Translation of the “Introduction” to Malabou’s Changer de la différence.

Below is a contribution from Nicola Rubczak of the University of Dundee, who has translated the “Introduction” to Catherine Malabou’s Changer de la différence. Le féminin et la question philosophique as part of her MA dissertation in philosophy. I asked her if we could make her translation of the introduction available to our readers given our past engagement with Malabou and discussions around the continuing problem of the male-dominated atmosphere of the blog and possibly our thought in general (see this excellent post by Scu).

Draft of 30 July 2010. This translation is provided for academic use (personal study and classroom use) only; it is not for commercial purposes, nor for citation in any publication. A full translation forthcoming from Polity (by another translator). Think of this as an encouragement to buy the translation when it appears and a taste of the continuing relevance of feminist philosophy to our contemporary philosophical situation. – APS
Today there exist two types of feminism. The first, the traditional type, rests on the evidence of sexual difference understood as the duality of masculine and feminine. It analyses the relations between the two sexes in terms of power and domination without ever questioning, at the heart of its imperatives of equality, parity, mutuality, this duality itself. A more recent feminism, also called “post-feminism”, arising from American Gender Studies and Queer Theory, questions precisely the binary sharing of “genders”. There are a multitude of possible sexual identities and the man-woman duality is based on a cultural construction. The questioning of this construction reveals that the heterosexual matrix is thus not a natural given, but an ideological norm whose function is to regulate and to control behaviour and codes of identity. Continue reading “Draft Translation of the “Introduction” to Malabou’s Changer de la différence.”

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing–Malabou Thanks

Catherine wanted me to pass along her sincere thanks to everyone who participated in the book event. She said that she is unable to offer a detailed response, but she is extremely pleased with it, and with the engagement with her work. Here is her comment:

How can I thank you for this wonderful blog, so diverse in its analysis, so rich and so gratifying for me ? The problem is that I can’t respond, I would like to keep the posts as they are, open and antwortlos as Germans say. Could you post some words of thanks for all the participants for me ?

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: What Should We Do With/As Plasticity?

I found particularly compelling, out of the many intriguing aspects of this Afterword, the link between plasticity and materialism.  What is specifically interesting here is the connection between plasticity and political materialism—while the capacity of plasticity to conceptualize an ontological materialism has been a recurring theme, it is only here that the link between plasticity and political materialism comes into explicit (though very brief) view.  What should we do?  With our brains, yes, but the question’s force extends more widely.  The ability to ask this question presupposes that there is something that we can do, that the future is subject to our decision (even if only sometimes).  It is here that we see the link between political and ontological materialism—the refusal of any outside becomes the condition of possibility for political capacity.

This last point seems, to me, to be one of the key lessons of the ongoing polemic against Levinas, and against the conscription of Derrida into a Levinasian manner of thinking.  So my question is how to think this sort of decision, or if decision is not the best word, then the question is how to think the answer to—or the ability to answer—“What should we do?”  Furthermore, should the discussion of Freud on Michelangelo’s Moses, where what is valorized is the refusal to give into inclination—and this, notably, is tied up in the refusal to flee a people, a refusal that has a divine character—be understood as a condition for becoming adequate to the question of “What should we do?”

Finally, I think it is worth recalling Ryan’s discussion of Malabou’s account of the fantastic.  What does the fantastic, or the imaginary—or, to use my own preference, Deleuze’s mythmaking function / fabulation—have to do with the ability, thought by plasticity, to decide on our future?  Plasticity, in its ontological and political materialism, rightly resists the exteriority that expropriates from us the ability to decide on the future, but must it refer to the fantastic in order to give determination to this decision?

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing book sale

I thought it might be of interest to any readers who are following the Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing book event but do not yet own the book that there’s a big sale going on at Columbia University Press and they’re selling the hardcover for $20, half off the cover price and a whole $12 cheaper than at Amazon. Check it out:

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Afterword

Of the Impossibility of Fleeing – Plasticity

The “Afterword” begins with a question that has already captured some interest in our discussions (perhaps especially with regard to Derrida and Levinas): How is one to imagine a “way out” when there is no exteriority?  In order to display the impasses involved in this situation, Malabou resorts to prose that is almost Adornian: “Something that is so constituted as to make fleeing impossible while also making it necessary to flee this impossibility” (65); or, “It is not a question of how to escape closure but rather of how to escape within closure itself.” (65)  Again, the Levinasian approach is set forth as a foil, since Malabou wants to distinguish the kind of escape proper to plasticity from Levinas’ manner of escape, which hinges on a desire for somewhere and something else.  For Malabou, there can be an escape without the other, a way out without exteriority, because of the character of plasticity.  Plastic can both give and receive form, it can belong to the setting-in of form as well as the explosive undoing of form.  What this means, then, is that transformation and metamorphosis are possible within plasticity—or perhaps it is better to say that whatever takes on form, whatever destroys form, whatever takes leave of form, is always already plastic.  Malabou proceeds to note that such plasticity is central to the mobility of the system in Hegel, and then to demonstrate, at greater length, why plasticity is also in agreement with Heidegger’s thought.  The key idea here is that every instance of transcendence in Being and Time is brought forth by means of modification.  There is never any question of Dasein going beyond itself, for its very essence lies in its own modification.  Even authenticity “is only a modified, transformed grasp of existence.  There is no change of ground.  The ‘way out’ is achieved by an upheaval within daily existence itself.” (70)

Continue reading Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Afterword