Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 36.2
Sept. 2010: 89-102

Malabou, Plasticity, and the Sculpturing of the Self
Hugh J. Silverman
Department of Philosophy
Stony Brook University, U.S.A

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”) flexibility
and 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.

brain, plasticity, non-identity, self-decentering, transdifferentiation, entre-deux
altermondialisation, sculpting the self, Hegel, phenomenology

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