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Catherine Malabou: Philosopher of Mutable, Resistant and Explosive Form

Lecturer: Bryan Cooke

Originally Taught: Summer School 2016

Since her extraordinary doctoral thesis on The Future of Hegel (a book which famously caused Jacques Derrida to substantially revise his long-held position on the greatest of the German Idealists), Catherine Malabou -- currently a Professor in the Centre for Modern Research in Philosophy at Kingston University -- has gradually come to light as one of the most original, daring and refreshingly unclassifiable of philosophers still living.

A one-time student, close friend and colleague of Derrida, Malabou's work is indebted to but completely irreducible to any stereotypes of "deconstruction" as a practice indebted to Heidegger's destruktion or Abbau of the history of metaphysics. Instead, Malabou's thought consists of a series of profound, startling and in many ways unprecedented reflections on change and trauma, stasis and dynamism; formation and deformation as well as creation, destruction, fragility and resilience insofar as such concepts may be applied to habits, minds, ways of life and ultimately to forms in the broadest sense of the term. Through her still developing corpus, will connect the question of Hegel's thinking about the future to recent discoveries in contemporary neuroscience; the classically deconstructive focus on writing with a question of the requirements for any future philosophical materialism; a critique of Freudian psychoanalysis on the basis of new insights into the nature of trauma an, perhaps most surprisingly of all the discovery of Martin Heidegger as a philosopher of change and of the fantastic.

In this 5 week course, I shall attempt to introduce students to Malabou's thought, starting with her exploration of motifs arising from neuroscience. In doing so, I shall explain how, for Malabou, a limited understanding of plasticity (the central and unifying concept of Malabou's own oeuvre) has led not to a problem within neuroscience per se, but rather to the rise of a kind of supererogatory ideology of neuroplasticity which, Malabou maintains, dovetails all too easily with the neo-liberal fetish for adaptation and its concomitant fantasy of the infinite malleability of human beings. Having discussed Malabou's main work on this latter topic (What should we do with our Brain?) in relation to her small manifesto-like text Plasticity at the Dusk of Wiritng, I shall move to a discussion of her work on Hegel and Heidegger, finishing with some reflections on how one might position Malabou's work within a number of contemporary philosophical debates.

Lecture 1: The Plastic Mind

The first lecture will attempt to introduce students to Malabou's understanding of the connotations of plasticity via her critique of the way in which some of the most exciting findings in contemporary neuroscience are being distorted to fit a kind of spontaneous philosophy of life under neo-liberal conditions. We will explore these issues through the works of Malabou’s remarkable book What should we do with our brains? and its remarkable thesis that "Humans make their own brain, but they do not know how they make it."

Lectures 2-3: Plasticity in/of Philosophy

These lectures will continue the discussion of Malabou's concept of plasticity in relation to her remarkable debut work on Hegel as well as (time permitting) her reflections on the works of Martin Heidegger. As well as offering all kinds of insights into such things as the Aristotelian connection between habit and ethics and the hostility towards Hegel's theological concepts among many of the great 20th century Christian theologians, Malabou's The Future of Hegel offers an ingenious interpretation not only of how one might read Hegel in the twenty-first century, but also how the philosopher frequently thought of as the thinker of the 'end of history' might, in defiance of his reputation, actually turn out to be the classical philosopher best equipped to help us think the very idea of the future.

Lecture 4

This lecture will explore Malabou’s ideas about the relationship between psychoanalysis and neuroplasticity, particularly focusing on her discussion of trauma, cerebral wounds "destructive plasticity" and the forms of mental, psychological and physical suffering that she associates with (what she calls) "the new wounded".

Lecture 5

Lecture 5 will continue with the theme of "destructive plasticity" (and the new wounded), but will also append a discussion of Malabou's short, recent book The Ontology of the Accident. In addition, I hope to conclude with a discussion of Malabou's recent work Changing Difference, a book which, as well as continuing her meditations on plasticity, also involves a feminist critique of anti-essentialist discourses on gender as well as reflections on the situation of being a woman in philosophy.

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

The course will not assume any prior knowledge of Malabou's work and is not intended for people already familiar with her corpus. However, as with the majority of MSCP subjects, the 10-hour lecture format will require a fairly brisk pace through the material. As a result, some knowledge of European philosophy (for example, having attended at least one other MSCP course and/or some undergraduate study in philosophy will be helpful if not absolutely necessary to an understanding of this material. At the same time, enthusiastic or curious beginners will not be turned away!


Core Readings:

Catherine Malabou, What Should we do with Our Brain? trans. Sebastian Rand, New York: Fordham University, 2008

Catherine Malabou, Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing trans. Carolyn Shead, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010

For students on a budget, I should note that (necessarily limited for Copyright reasons)) selections from both text will be uploaded to the course's account. In addition, if only one of the two texts can be obtained I suggest the first over the second. Extracts from The Future of Hegel, will also be uploaded to the course's readings folder.

Secondary/Introductory Readings:

Justin Clemens "The Age of Plastic; or, Catherine Malabou on the Hegelian Futures Market" in Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy,Vol 6, No 1 (2010)

Additional Secondary Readings may be uploaded later in proceedings.