Monday, March 01, 2010

Protevi, John. Review of Catherine Malabou, PLASTICITY AT THE DAWN OF WRITING. NDPR (February 2010).

Malabou, Catherine. Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction. Trans. Carolyn Shread. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. This translation of a 2005 French text will be of great interest to readers of Hegel, Heidegger and Derrida. Catherine Malabou is the author of a number of major works treating this trio, which may come to replace the vaunted "Three H's" (Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger) with their own grouping, "HHD," as it were. If you are in search of a quick label, you could say Malabou presents a "post-deconstructive" reading, but as with all such labels, that would do scant justice to the richness of her work. The book has the form of an intellectual autobiography, though it is not really about Malabou the person, but about the concepts of our era, or more strikingly still, about the "materiality of existence and [the transformations of] its ontological meaning" (81). Malabou uses the figure of the "transformative mask," drawn from Lévi-Strauss, to discuss the relations among the figures and concepts she studies, those that inform our ontology as expressed by HHD (4). A transformative mask is split along the vertical axis, allowing the two halves to fold in to meet along the dividing line, and to fold out to reveal another mask -- which can itself be similarly split and concealing -- underneath. The first masks combine HHD with Freud and Lévi-Strauss in various conjunctions, and the final confrontation is between philosophy and the neurosciences (4). With this relation of philosophy and one of its others, Malabou argues that "plasticity" has come to replace "writing" as the "motor scheme" of our epoch (13, 31, 57). We will return to this claim at the conclusion of the review. Malabou begins by opposing two notions of negation, a dialectical one in which presence is re-formed after a temporal sojourn, and a deconstructive one in which resolution is endlessly deferred in the "spacing of a pure dislocation" (5). This opposition is not fixed but subject to a continuous circulation of mutual transformation. So then a further question must be posed: is the "space of confrontation" between the two forms of negation (dialectical and deconstructive) itself dialectical or merely a juxtaposition? That is, is the relation of temporal resolution and spatial dislocation temporal or spatial? Does it head toward re-formation of presence or are form and presence threatened with "explosion"? (6) A further twist, however: the second option, irresolvable conflict and exploded form, can itself be seen as both temporal differentiation (the final re-formation is endlessly deferred) and as the pure synchronicity of difference (at any one time, at all times, the elements of thought and being are separated). I will not continue, but Malabou is able to produce a few more embeddings along these lines; these are beautiful passages -- as is the entire work -- demonstrating her complete mastery of dialectic and deconstruction, making them both object and method of themselves and each other. . . . Read the whole review here:

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