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The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity

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In the usual order of things, lives run their course and eventually one becomes who one is. Bodily and psychic transformations do nothing but reinforce the permanence of identity. But as a result of serious trauma, or sometimes for no reason at all, a subject's history splits and a new, unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person - an unrecognizable persona In the usual order of things, lives run their course and eventually one becomes who one is. Bodily and psychic transformations do nothing but reinforce the permanence of identity. But as a result of serious trauma, or sometimes for no reason at all, a subject's history splits and a new, unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person - an unrecognizable persona whose present comes from no past and whose future harbors nothing to come; an existential improvisation, a form born of the accident and by accident. Out of a deep cut opened in a biography, a new being comes into the world for a second time. What is this form? A face? A psychological profile? What ontology can it account for, if ontology has always been attached to the essential, forever blind to the alea of transformations? What history of being can the plastic power of destruction explain? What can it tell us about the explosive tendency of existence that secretly threatens each one of us? Continuing her reflections on destructive plasticity, split identities and the psychic consequences experienced by those who have suffered brain injury or have been traumatized by war and other catastrophes, Catherine Malabou invites us to join her in a philosophic and literary adventure in which Spinoza, Deleuze and Freud cross paths with Proust and Duras.


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In the usual order of things, lives run their course and eventually one becomes who one is. Bodily and psychic transformations do nothing but reinforce the permanence of identity. But as a result of serious trauma, or sometimes for no reason at all, a subject's history splits and a new, unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person - an unrecognizable persona In the usual order of things, lives run their course and eventually one becomes who one is. Bodily and psychic transformations do nothing but reinforce the permanence of identity. But as a result of serious trauma, or sometimes for no reason at all, a subject's history splits and a new, unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person - an unrecognizable persona whose present comes from no past and whose future harbors nothing to come; an existential improvisation, a form born of the accident and by accident. Out of a deep cut opened in a biography, a new being comes into the world for a second time. What is this form? A face? A psychological profile? What ontology can it account for, if ontology has always been attached to the essential, forever blind to the alea of transformations? What history of being can the plastic power of destruction explain? What can it tell us about the explosive tendency of existence that secretly threatens each one of us? Continuing her reflections on destructive plasticity, split identities and the psychic consequences experienced by those who have suffered brain injury or have been traumatized by war and other catastrophes, Catherine Malabou invites us to join her in a philosophic and literary adventure in which Spinoza, Deleuze and Freud cross paths with Proust and Duras.

30 review for The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    I read this because a friend mentioned Malabou as a French philosopher who criticized (at least in private) the absurdities of 'Speculative Realism.' So, I was well-disposed. What I found was, sadly, an archetypal work of contemporary continental philosophy, which: * does not state why we should care about the project (i.e., think about destructive plasticity) * does not state what the project entails, or how it came about * does not so much work on the project, as state, over and over again, that I read this because a friend mentioned Malabou as a French philosopher who criticized (at least in private) the absurdities of 'Speculative Realism.' So, I was well-disposed. What I found was, sadly, an archetypal work of contemporary continental philosophy, which: * does not state why we should care about the project (i.e., think about destructive plasticity) * does not state what the project entails, or how it came about * does not so much work on the project, as state, over and over again, that the project is necessary * approaches the failure to work on the project by looking at a wide range of disciplines and text and studies, many of which are interesting, but shed no light on the project * sheds no light on aforementioned disciplines, texts and studies * is uncannily hip (Proust; Duras; neuroscience; Kafka...) On the other hand, Malabou's writing is clear, and I'm completely convinced that theorists have ignored the painful and harmful consequences of identity fluidity for, you know, actual people. Of course, she can't come out and say "it's okay for people to have fixed, conservative identities," because, well, contemporary continental philosophy. And she can't say "there is an essence to your identity," because Hume. So some space was created here for interesting thinking. What did not happen? Interesting thinking.

  2. 5 out of 5

    vi macdonald

    4.5

  3. 4 out of 5

    Demelza

    I'm unsure why this book is rated so highly. I'd maybe say a solid 2.5? Her thesis is interesting - that nobody has really looked into the idea of, what she terms, "destructive plasticity," but she doesn't actually look too deeply into what it is. She references some interesting neuroscience studies, and her discussions of Freud and Spinoza were also thought provoking. I felt that her chapter's on Proust and Duras fell flat. She has a clear idea of what she's talking about, and she also seems to I'm unsure why this book is rated so highly. I'd maybe say a solid 2.5? Her thesis is interesting - that nobody has really looked into the idea of, what she terms, "destructive plasticity," but she doesn't actually look too deeply into what it is. She references some interesting neuroscience studies, and her discussions of Freud and Spinoza were also thought provoking. I felt that her chapter's on Proust and Duras fell flat. She has a clear idea of what she's talking about, and she also seems to have case histories on it, but the book is really just her stating that nobody has traversed the depths of "destructive plasticity."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    did I understand it?,,,, No

  5. 4 out of 5

    Henrique Valle

    🥵🥵🥵

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kuba

    Tytuł brzmi przerażająco, ale w praktyce mamy całkiem przystępny esej o starości, przemijaniu i chorobie. Znajdziemy w nim odwołania do tekstów Spinozy, Deleuze'a, Freuda, a także do fikcji np. do Manna, Kafki, Prousta i innych. Tytuł brzmi przerażająco, ale w praktyce mamy całkiem przystępny esej o starości, przemijaniu i chorobie. Znajdziemy w nim odwołania do tekstów Spinozy, Deleuze'a, Freuda, a także do fikcji np. do Manna, Kafki, Prousta i innych.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    The dark side of plasticity. Destructive plasticity,explosive plasticity; the accident which not only disrupts the form of identity but destroys the very substance of identity. Recalling Kafka's Metamorphoses Malabou asks the reader to imagine a Gregor who is not only transformed but is completely indifferent to this transformation. Reflecting on split identities and the consequences of brain damage and catastrophe, Malabou demands a philosophical articulation of what happens. To think an ontolo The dark side of plasticity. Destructive plasticity,explosive plasticity; the accident which not only disrupts the form of identity but destroys the very substance of identity. Recalling Kafka's Metamorphoses Malabou asks the reader to imagine a Gregor who is not only transformed but is completely indifferent to this transformation. Reflecting on split identities and the consequences of brain damage and catastrophe, Malabou demands a philosophical articulation of what happens. To think an ontology that can account for the accidental, for absolute transition wherein the subject becomes a stranger to herself, suddenly. The question is followed through a philosophic and literary analysis, motivated by the quest to "find a way to think a mutation that engages both form and being, a new form that is literally a form of being." (17) The quest culminates in the wickedly dark suggestion that "the history of being itself consists perhaps of nothing but a series of accident which, in every era and without hope of return, dangerously disfigure the meaning of essence."(91) This question of change within being, ontological change, is disturbing precisely at the level of identity. Who can resolve to peer into the darkness when it reveals that we may become utterly estranged to ourselves? That emotional coldness is present as a latent threat within all of us, perhaps just a brain injury away? This destruction, this negativity, is not simple formlessness. Following Hegel, and perhaps going beyond, Malabou attempts to think, through the concept of destructive plasticity, an absolute negation. A destruction without remission which she calls negative possibility. Not the negation of possibility or the impossibility. "Without reducing it to affirmation, the negative possibility is not the expression of any lack or any deficit. It bears witness to a power or aptitude of the negative that is neither affirmed nor lacking, a power that forms."(75) I find this last phrase particularly challenging.Is this some kind of ultra-rigorous apophatic theology that attempts to think creative formation without regard to essence? To refuse any answer or direction? What of that power to which the negative bears witness? If it can form, does it not have within itself some direction or purpose, even if it is hidden? And yet, it is dangerous to essenciate. Malabou holds fast to a difficult resolve to pursue the questions of existence through the darkness of life's accidents. By raising it in terms of a way to think the mutation of a form of being she avoids the trap of fascination with either darkness or form. Indeed the very notion of destructive plasticity cuts against the optimism of much of contemporary neurology.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrija

    It is an interesting book and its main concept (destructive plasticity) fits well into what can be regarded as the main current of contemporary philosophy (ontology). It is a beautifully written essay, without a doubt, but it has some problems on philosophical (argumentative) level. Essay is quite heterogeneous and it develops around the few topics which are not necessary in conosonance with each oher. a) In introduction and in the first chapter Malabou introduces the concept of destructive plas It is an interesting book and its main concept (destructive plasticity) fits well into what can be regarded as the main current of contemporary philosophy (ontology). It is a beautifully written essay, without a doubt, but it has some problems on philosophical (argumentative) level. Essay is quite heterogeneous and it develops around the few topics which are not necessary in conosonance with each oher. a) In introduction and in the first chapter Malabou introduces the concept of destructive plasticity and links it specifically to cerebral injuries. It is neurological rather than psychoanalytical look on the trauma. Her prime example is Alzheimer disease. b) Malabou attempts to present destructive plasticity as something that can help us to understand traumas in our contemporary culture. She talks aobout many kinds of accidents which can work as a trigger to negative plasticity: from political isolation and natural catastrophies to car accidents. She also links it with feelings of desolation and indifference. c) She discusses few examples from literature. Kafka's Metamorphosis is only mentioned in the passing. Passage quoted from In Search of Lost Time is interesting but again, it's only one scene. She also qutoes much of the ending from Mann's Buddenbrooks but her interpretation feels flat. She definitely pays biggest attention to novels from Margarete Duras and her interpretation includes some interesting observations on Duras' style of writing. d) Mainly through literary examples Malabou tries to broaden the scope of destructive plasticity. She definies it as accidental (but not eventful) and opposes it to deleuzian becoming. She tries to find the work of negative plasticity in senility and death. She says that although becoming old is a process it always includes that decisive moment of break which erases all posiblities of return. It is unexampled eventfulness in which one becomes other to what one was it's entire life. Destructive plasticity is interesting concept and Malabou encloses variety of examples (clinical and fictional) but ontology of destructive plasticity (which is in the title of the essay) is something that still remains to be done.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Fitzpatrick

    A slightly dyspeptic but nevertheless very stimulating foray into the philosophical 'dark side': insight into the story of Daphne and Phoebus, Kafka's "Metamorphosis", Spinoza & neurobiology, Freud's death drive, and the all-power of the accident's efficacy in changing being. Weighty but important, this book delights and instructs, two worthwhile ends. A slightly dyspeptic but nevertheless very stimulating foray into the philosophical 'dark side': insight into the story of Daphne and Phoebus, Kafka's "Metamorphosis", Spinoza & neurobiology, Freud's death drive, and the all-power of the accident's efficacy in changing being. Weighty but important, this book delights and instructs, two worthwhile ends.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    A small book but dense! Oh boy. I was very glad I read the summary chapter on Malabou's work in Ian James' "The New French Philosophy" so I had some context, but the book itself is fascinating and excellent. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work. A small book but dense! Oh boy. I was very glad I read the summary chapter on Malabou's work in Ian James' "The New French Philosophy" so I had some context, but the book itself is fascinating and excellent. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Petwo

    a must read...!!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amal

    on denial & repetition compulsion-- "..this attitude is an attitude of minimizing evil. If negation cannot be touched by any revelation, any proof, any presence, if it always resists the trial of fact, it is in as much as it betrays an immense confidence. A naïve, absolute confidence, a child's faith in possibility, a fragile but unconditional belief without which existence would quite simply not be possible." so true bestie on denial & repetition compulsion-- "..this attitude is an attitude of minimizing evil. If negation cannot be touched by any revelation, any proof, any presence, if it always resists the trial of fact, it is in as much as it betrays an immense confidence. A naïve, absolute confidence, a child's faith in possibility, a fragile but unconditional belief without which existence would quite simply not be possible." so true bestie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    Although the book adds the interesting notion of negative plasticity and starts on an interesting note discussing Metamorphosis, it falls flat in making a clear point and only scratches the surface of the contribution the many scientists and philosophers mentioned, can add to this discussion. The book is focused on empiricist science and misses the philosophical discussion about the meaning of plasticity and specifically negative plasticity and its implications.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lukas

    I wish to read this book in French.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jon Wike

    Promising but then it tapers and draws its case studies from fiction, which seems to me unreliable. The translator insists on "cut and dry." Sigh. Promising but then it tapers and draws its case studies from fiction, which seems to me unreliable. The translator insists on "cut and dry." Sigh.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim Hurley

    Sufficiently interesting essay on destructive plasticity. Along the way, the author wrestles with the likes of Damasio, Spinoza, Kafka and Freud.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Janice Feng

    ?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    destructive plasticity is certainly not many things

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aung Sett Kyaw Min

    how do you metamorphosize into a wholly alien other, becoming a stranger to yourself, like a patient suffering from Alzheimer's? not simply the change in range of dispositions but also the transformation of the very form which accommodates these dispositions, in other words, the loss of plasticity-- the capacity to give and receive form? In this neat little exegesis, Catherine Malabou is going to complicate the conventional distinctions between necessity and accident by way of Spinoza (the consu how do you metamorphosize into a wholly alien other, becoming a stranger to yourself, like a patient suffering from Alzheimer's? not simply the change in range of dispositions but also the transformation of the very form which accommodates these dispositions, in other words, the loss of plasticity-- the capacity to give and receive form? In this neat little exegesis, Catherine Malabou is going to complicate the conventional distinctions between necessity and accident by way of Spinoza (the consubstantiality of the body and the soul), Deleuze (illness and aging on the same ontological plane), and Freud (repression as a negation that nonetheless affirms) in order to flesh out what she calls "destructive plasticity". Ultimately, her goal is to establish the status of the accident as a necessity that "catches itself off-guard", a bursting forth from the order of exclusion. No origins, no genealogies. You can catch the glimpse of this alien indifference in the eyes of the Alzheimer patients...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leif

    More an archeology than an ontology, strictly speaking, delineated through medical and literary texts and oriented around the metamorphoses and transformations evident in human life. Malabou is a singular writer, sometimes tending toward the florid (or perhaps that's the translation), but often cogent and provocative. A solid continental rapprochement with contemporary neurological findings. More an archeology than an ontology, strictly speaking, delineated through medical and literary texts and oriented around the metamorphoses and transformations evident in human life. Malabou is a singular writer, sometimes tending toward the florid (or perhaps that's the translation), but often cogent and provocative. A solid continental rapprochement with contemporary neurological findings.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Syd

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shastra Deo

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dan Nadasan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Francisco Aguilar

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kelcy Folk

  27. 5 out of 5

    Naronay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Will Davidson

  29. 4 out of 5

    Manuel A Fernádez

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heitor Kimura

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