Malabou, Plasticity, and the Sculpturing of the Self

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Hugh J. Silverman

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Department of English, NTNU


In What Shall We Do With Our Brain? (2004), French philosopher Catherine Malabou returns to the traditional philosophical mind-body problem (we do not experience our mind as a "brain") and introduces the concept of a difference or "split" between our brain as a hard material substance and our consciousness of the brain as a non-identity. Malabou speaks of the brain's plasticity, a term which stands between (as a kind of deconstructive "indecidable") flexibilityand rigidity, suppleness and solidity, fixedness and transformability, identity and modifiability, determination and freedom. This means seeing the brain no longer as the "center" and "sovereign power" of the body—as it has been seen for centuries, at least in the West—but as itself a locus and process of selfsculpting(self-forming) and transdifferentiation, as being very closely interconnected with the rest of the body. Malabou also speaks of our own potential to sculpt or "re-fashion" ourselves, and (by further extension) to reform our society through trans-differentiating into new and potentially freer, more open and more democratic socio-political forms. In this bold project Malabou still remains close to her Hegelian roots, and she is also influenced by Merleau-Ponty's notion of the body-subject and Nancy's alter-mondialisation (other-worlding) as an alternative to globalization.