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Placement Practice Job Talk—Natalie Helberg
Monday November 30, 2020, 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Natalie Helberg is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy. Please join us for her practice job talk, which will begin at 3:00 PM sharp.
Catherine Malabou’s Plasticity and Lacan’s Death Drive
Catherine Malabou has transformed ‘plasticity’ into a salient concept in continental philosophy. Plasticity, for Malabou, names any form’s ability to receive, bestow, and annihilate form. It is a concept we can use to think about different varieties of change at our historical moment. In this talk, I interrogate the relationship between Malabou’s ‘plasticity,’ neuroscientific discourse, and other forms of discourse. Following Michel Foucault, I understand discourse as an element of contemporary power. Discourses can constrain us by offering impoverished sketches of our possibilities. They can also institute norms which we become subject to. What, then, is the relationship between plasticity, as Malabou understands it, and discursive, potentially normalizing forms of power? I also take up a second, related question. Malabou suggests that plasticity is the key to economic, phenomenological, philosophical, cerebral, and other forms of emancipation and resistance. What must plasticity be if it is to be able to shoulder the various promises Malabou associates with it—a phenomenon whose reality and force is independent of language, a phenomenon partly constituted by language, or some alternative to these possibilities? Following Foucault, some theorists have insisted that the means of resisting power lie fully within power (we can deploy critical discourses against the discourses that constrain us, and there is no need to invoke anything beyond power in order to account for resistance). Plasticity’s subversiveness, and even plasticity itself, on this view, would hinge on the existence of a subversive discourse on plasticity. Other theorists invoke Lacanian concepts in order to insist that resistance to power must stem from a domain beyond power/discourse. They align the ‘death drive’ with this domain. Through a close reading of her work, I show that, in an attempt to emphasize plasticity’s independence with respect to discourse, Malabou situates ‘plasticity’ in the way that these theorists situate the death drive. This move, I argue, renders Malabou vulnerable to a Foucaultian critique that has been leveled at the Lacanian conception of resistance. In light of this, I suggests that we should understand plasticity’s reality as a function of the power-field it is lodged in.SHARE