A mini book review of Catherine Malabou’s Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (2012 translated by Carolyn Shread)

French philosophy has a real… je ne sais quoi about it. Sometimes I find the deconstructionism-flavored tone to be a very pleasant literary experience. At other moments, the self-referential language games are so annoying. How many nihilistic hot-takes can a reader take?!

Catherine Malabou is a real remedy for those negative expectations! In this short collection of essays she bridges an academic gap between Neuroscience and Ontology via a surprisingly fun tour of writings by Spinoza, Deleuze, Proust, and Kafka. Malabou is expanding and elaborating her speculations on Plasticity. It is a brave and honest exploration of the dark side of neuroplasticity; the violent moral shadow of Plasticity. Destructive Plasticity.

I especially enjoyed Malabou’s connecting some subtle points on Freud’s (incomplete) views about ageing mind to Marguerite Duras stylistic use of “asyndeton”, a literary device in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses to the effect of eliminating the sense of causal flow in a sentence. Just the kind of high-falutin poetic concept best savored between long and moody stares out of thoughtfully gloomy windows.

Depending on one’s patience for intransitive language (a personal pet-peeve that I feel like is a major crutch of post-structuralist French philosophy) this little book is well worth a read for its real bounty of interesting, meaningful, and challenging insights. The English translation by Carolyn Shread is a delight.

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