Catherine Malabou

Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.

Catherine Malabou

Biography

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.

Works

Books

Avant demain. Épigenèse et rationalité, Malabou, Catherine. Avant demain. Épigenèse et rationalité. Presses Universitaires de France, 2014. ISBN: 2130630456

Auto-affection and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Neurobiology, Malabou, Catherine, and Adrian Johnston. Self and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience. Columbia University Press, 2013. ISBN: 0231158300

The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Malabou, Catherine. The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage. Translated by Steven Miller. Fordham University Press, 2012. ISBN: 0823239675

Changing Difference: The Feminine and the Question of Philosophy, Malabou, Catherine. Changing Difference: The Feminine and the Question of Philosophy. Translated by Carolyn Shread. Polity, 2011. ISBN: 0745651089

The Heideegger Change: On the Fantastic in Philosophy, Malabou, Catherine. The Heideegger Change: On the Fantastic in Philosophy. Translated by Peter Skafish. SUNY Press, 2011. ISBN: 1438439555

Sois mon Corps: Une Lecture Contemporaine de la Domination et de la Servitude chez Hegel, Malabou, Catherine, and Judith Butler. Sois mon Corps: Une Lecture Contemporaine de la Domination et de la Servitude chez Hegel. Bayard, 2010. ISBN: 2227481447

La Grande Exclusion: L’Urgence Sociale, Symptôme et Thérapeutique, Malabou, Catherine, and Xavier Emmanuelli. La Grande Exclusion: L’Urgence Sociale, Symptôme et Thérapeutique. Bayard, 2009. ISBN: 2227479159

Changer de Différence: Le Féminin et la Question Philosophique, Malabou, Catherine. Changer de Différence: Le Féminin et la Question Philosophique. Galilée, 2009. ISBN: 2718608021

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction, Malabou, Catherine. Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction. Translated by Carolyn Shread. Columbia University Press, 2009. ISBN: 0231145241

La Chambre du Milieu: De Hegel aux Neurosciences, Malabou, Catherine. La Chambre du Milieu: De Hegel aux Neurosciences. Hermann, 2009. ISBN: 2705667792

Ontologie de l’Accident: Essai sur la Plasticité Destructrice, Malabou, Catherine. Ontologie de l’Accident: Essai sur la Plasticité Destructrice. Léo Scheer, 2009. ISBN: 2756101605

The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity, Malabou, Catherine. The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity. Translated by Carolyn Shread. Polity, 2012. ISBN: 0745652611

Ontologie des Akzidentiellen: Essay zur Zerstörerischen Plastizität, Malabou, Catherine. Ontologie des Akzidentiellen: Essay zur Zerstörerischen Plastizität. Translated by Ronald Voullié. Merve, 2011. ISBN: 3883962961

Les Nouveaux Blessés: De Freud à la Neurologie, Penser les Traumatismes Contemporains, Malabou, Catherine. Les Nouveaux Blessés: De Freud à la Neurologie, Penser les Traumatismes Contemporains. Bayard, 2007. ISBN: 2227474750

La Plasticité au Soir de l’Ecriture: Dialectique, Destruction, Déconstruction, Malabou, Catherine. La Plasticité au Soir de l’Ecriture: Dialectique, Destruction, Déconstruction. Léo Scheer, 2005. ISBN: 2915280630

Counterpath: Traveling with Jacques Derrida, Malabou, Catherine, Jacques Derrida. Counterpath: Traveling with Jacques Derrida. Translated by David Wills. Stanford University Press, 2004. ISBN: 0804740402

The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic, Malabou, Catherine. The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic. Translated by Lisabeth During. Routledge, 2004. ISBN: 0415287200

Que Faire de Notre Cerveau?, Malabou, Catherine. Que Faire de Notre Cerveau? Bayard, 2004. ISBN: 2227473053

What Should We Do with Our Brains?, Malabou, Catherine. What Should We Do with Our Brains? Translated by Sebastian Rand. Fordham University Press, 2008. ISBN: 0823229521

Was Tun Mit Unserem Gehirn?, Malabou, Catherine. Was Tun Mit Unserem Gehirn? Translated by Ronald Voullié. Diaphanes, 2006. ISBN: 3935300735

Le Change Heidegger: Du Fantastique en Philosophie, Malabou, Catherine. Le Change Heidegger: Du Fantastique en Philosophie. Léo Scheer, 2004. ISBN: 2915280193

Plasticité, Malabou, Catherine. Plasticité. Léo Scheer, 2000. ISBN: 2914172060

La Contre-allée, Malabou, Catherine, and Jacques Derrida. La Contre-allée. Quinzaine Littéraire, 1999. ISBN: 2910491080

L’Avenir de Hegel: Plasticité, Temporalité, Dialectique, Malabou, Catherine. L’Avenir de Hegel: Plasticité, Temporalité, Dialectique. J. Vrin, 1996. ISBN: 2711612848

Chapters

You Be My Body for Me: Body, Shape, and Plasticity in Hegel
Malabou, Catherine, and Judith Butler. “You Be My Body for Me: Body, Shape, and Plasticity in Hegel.” In Post-Hegelian Thought: A Companian to Hegel, edited by Stephen Houlgate, 611-640. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

The Form of an ‘I’
Malabou, Catherine. “The Form of an ‘I’.” In Augustine and Postmodernism: Confessions and Circumfessions, edited by John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon. Indiana University Press: 2005. ISBN: 0253345073

Who’s Afraid of Hegelian Wolves?
Malabou, Catherine. “Who’s Afraid of Hegelian Wolves?” In Deleuze: A Critical Reader, edited by Paul Patton. Wiley-Blackwell, 1997. ISBN: 1557865647

Translations

Prothèse 1, Hamilton, 1970 – Berchtesgaden, 1929
Malabou, Catherine, trans. Prothèse 1, Hamilton, 1970 – Berchtesgaden, 1929, by David Mills. Galilée, 1997. ISBN: 2718604883

Articles

Une seule vie Résistance biologique, résistance politique
Malabou, Catherine. “Une seule vie Résistance biologique, résistance politique.” Espirit Vol. 411, No. 1 (2015): 30-40.

The Crowd
Malabou, Catherine. “The Crowd.” Oxford Literary Review Vol. 37, No. 1 (2015): 25-44.

Une seule vie
Malabou, Catherine. “Une seule vie.” Espirit 1, January (2015): 30.

The King’s Two (Biopolitical) Bodies
Malabou, Catherine. “The King’s Two (Biopolitical) Bodies.” Representations Vol. 127, No. 1 (2014): 98-106.

Can We Relinquish the Transcendental?
Malabou, Catherine. “Can We Relinquish the Transcendental?” The Journal of Speculative Philsophy Vol. 28, No. 3 (2014): 242-255.

Heflova ‘Antropologija
Malabou, Catherine. “Heflova ‘Antropologija’.” Translated by Maja Lovrenov. Problemi Vol. 52, No. 9/10 (2014): 31-45.

Is retreat a metaphor
Malabou, Catherine. “Is retreat a metaphor.” Public Vol. 25, No. 50 (2014): 35-42.

Løsgjør meg
Malabou, Catherine. “Løsgjør meg.” Agora: Journal for metafysisk spekulasjon 3-4 (2014): 36-58.

Seperation, death, the thing, Freud, Lacan, and the missed encounter
Malabou, Catherine. “Seperation, death, the thing, Freud, Lacan, and the missed encounter.” Public Vol. 24, No. 48 (2013): 123-140.

Following Generation
Malabou, Catherine. “Following Generation.” Translated by Simon Porzak. Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences Vol. 20, No. 2 (2012): 19-33.

Negativity, Unhappiness or Felicity: On Irigaray’s Dialectical Culture of Sexual Difference
Malabou, Catherine, and Ewa Plonowska Ziarek. “Negativity, Unhappiness or Felicity: On Irigaray’s Dialectical Culture of Sexual Difference.” L’Espirit Creéateur Vol. 52, No. 3 (2012): 11-25.

Le sens du féminin
Malabou, Catherine. “Le sens du féminin.” Revue du MAUSS Vol. 39, No. 1 (2012): 236.

Večno vračanje in fantom razlike
Malabou, Catherine. “Večno vračanje in fantom razlike.” Translated by Erna Strniša. Filozofski vestnik Vol. 32, No. 32 (2011): 137-148.

Souffrance cérébrale, souffrance psychique e plasticité
Malabou, Catherine. “Souffrance cérébrale, souffrance psychique e plasticité.” Ètudes: Revue de culture contemporaine Vol. 414, No. 4 (2011): 487-498.

kdo se boji heglovskih volkov?
Malabou, Catherine. “kdo se boji heglovskih volkov?” Translated by Gregor Moder. Problemi Vol. 48, No. 1/2 (2010): 45-74.

Plasticity and the Future of Philsophy and Theology
Malabout, Catherine and Clayton Crokett. “Plasticity and the Future of Philsophy and Theology.” Political Theology Vol. 11, No. 1 (2010): 15-34.

Negativnost in telo – nekaj refleksij o Heglovem ‘Gospostvu in hlapčevstvu’
Malabou, Catherine. “Negativnost in telo – nekaj refleksij o Heglovem ‘Gospostvu in hlapčevstvu’.” Translated by Maja Lovrenov. Problemi Vol. 48, No. 8/8 (2010): 105-11

Modification in Being and Time, or The Form of Difference
Malabou, Catherine. “Modification in Being and Time, or The Form of Difference.” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal Vol. 31, No. 2 (2010): 391-401.

Entretien (réalisé par Ludovic Hary)
Malabou, Catherine. “Entretien (réalisé par Ludovic Hary).” La Nouvelle revu française 593 (2010): 165.

En Premier – Jean-Pierre Changeux – Du vrai, du beau, du bien
Malabou, Catherine. “En Premier – Jean-Pierre Changeux – Du vrai, du beau, du bien.” La Quinzaine littéraire 984 (2009): 4.

How is Subjectivity Undergoing Deconstruction Today? Philsophy, Auto-Hetero-Affection, and Neurobiological Emotion
Malabou, Catherine. “How is Subjectivity Undergoing Deconstruction Today? Philsophy, Auto-Hetero-Affection, and Neurobiological Emotion.” Qui Parte Vol. 17, No. 2 (2009): 111-122.

Plasticity and Elasticity in Freud’s ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’
Malabou, Catherine. “Plasticity and Elasticity in Freud’s ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’.” Parallax Vol. 15, No. 2 (2009): 41–52.

A Conversation with Catherine Malabou
Malabou, Catherine. “A Conversation with Catherine Malabou.” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 9 (2008): 1-13.

The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity
Malabou, Catherine. “The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity.” The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms 12 (2007): 431-441.

An Eye at the Edge of Discourse
Malabou, Catherine. “An Eye at the Edge of Discourse.” Communication Theory 17 (2007): 16-25.

Another Possibility
Malabou, Catherine. “Another Possibility.” Research in Phenomenology 36 (2006): 115-129.

History and the Process of Mourning in Hegel and Freud
Malabou, Catherine. “History and the Process of Mourning in Hegel and Freud.” Radical Philosophy 106 (2001): 15–20.

Plastic Readings of Hegel
Malabou, Catherine. “Plastic Readings of Hegel.” Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain 41-42 (2000): 132–141.

The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, Dialectic
Malabou, Catherine. “The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, Dialectic.” Hypatia 15 (2000): 196-220.

Lectures

Catherine Malabou

“Philosophy and the Outside”

21.08.2019
Catherine Malabou

Faculty Interview

29.08.2017