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: http://www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-14524-4/plasticity-at-the-dusk-of-writing

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)

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Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: Whither Theology

I hope Clayton doesn’t mind, but I decided to delay responding to the question he posed after Tuesday’s summary. He asked:

So if Malabou is right, and one wants to affirm plasticity and engage in a new materialism, then does that preclude theology? Or is there at least the possibility of a theological materialism along these lines that forecloses (or does not revert to conceptions of) trace and transcendence?

It seems to me that if there is to be a place for theology in the kind of materialism to which Malabou is commited, it cannot simply be a matter of relocating theology from its traditional confessional context(s) into alternative, secular settings. The easy target here is the stereotypical Popular Culture & Religion crowd, rushing to write the definitive Big Lebowski & Theology book, or perhaps The Gospel According to South Park. These, however, are not the target of my seemingly facile observation.

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Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: §§11-Epilogue

§11. The Ontological Economy, or Absolute Convertibility

Malabou has in view here what she calls “an essentially material plasticity” (45). Which is to say, the essential/ontological exchangeability of Being and being, and of trace and form. Contra Levinas & Derrida, for whom the trace necessarily (& respectively) transcends and eludes form, Malabou insists that there is no “exceeding of form that does not assume the plasticity of form” (46). Importantly, and I think a point that can all too easily get lost, this is fundamentally not a rejection of alterity, but rather a transformation of alterity. That is, it is a recognition of a transcendence that is transcendent only inasmuch as it transforms (and thus, as a result, not really transcendence at all). In this, she argues that alterity cannot only be thought (as though in a thought experiment) without the appeal to transcendence, it in fact can only be thought by way of an excess of form that is also absolutely convertible with form. (“[E]ither form can cross the line (of metaphysics) or it cannot. But if form cannot cross the line, there there is no alterity for metaphysics. In a sense, there is no alterity at all. [50])

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Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: The Absent Presence of Lacan

My question is where is Lacan amongst the many faces Malabou lists in §2? Why is he not listed with the other “transformational masks”? Admittedly, this question is not entirely fair. For, while Lacan is not cited in Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, What Should We Do With Our Brain?, or The Future of Hegel, I believe that Les nouveaux blessés (a book I have not read) is where she devotes herself to the question of psychoanalysis. And, furthermore, I imagine her forthcoming book with Adrian Johnston will assess directly what possible intersections there are to be found between Lacanian thought and recent neurobiological research. That said, in reading Malabou’s interpretation of the end of history, the last moment of Hegel’s Absolute Spirit, as an opening, I could not help but draw certain parallels with Žižek’s Lacanian reading of Hegel’s Absolute Knowledge as “the “All” itself which is non-All, inconsistent, marked by an irreducible contingency” (Parallax View, 79). Read the rest of this entry »

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