Book Review

Ontology of the Accident

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 such a certain… je ne sais quoi about it. Sometimes I find the deconstruction-flavored denigrating tone to be a very pleasant literary experience, with specters of cigarette smoke and cafĂ©-au-lait swirling in my mind. While at other moments the self-referential language games are merely annoying. The cascade of nihilistic hot-takes can really sear my nostrels as lyrical metaphors get stretched to a bitingly acidic thinness.

Catherine Malabou is a real remedy for expectations of the latter! 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 already rich speculations on Plasticity. It is a brave and honest exploration of the inverse to the commonly celebrated aspects of neuroplasticity; the violent moral shadow of Plasticity. Destructive Platicity.

I especially enjoyed Malabou’s connecting some subtle points on Freud’s incomplete views about ageing mind with 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. These kinds of poetic high-wire acts are best savored between long-stares out of a rainy-day windows.

Depending on one’s patience for intransitive language (the cornerstone 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.