Plasticity in Contemporary French Thought, Literature and Film: Witnessing Transformations with Catherine Malabou
My research explores conceptions of plasticity and plastic materiality – “plastic” understood as the ability “to mould” or to take on or give form – as a new way of thinking subjectivity in contemporary French and Francophone literature, film and theory.
On a theoretical level, I am most interested in how plasticity as a mode of metamorphic and migrant being is manifest in the thinkers Georges Bataille and Catherine Malabou. Bataille’s diverse and interdisciplinary oeuvre is intimately concerned with the question of form, and how form might be transgressed, inhabited, or annihilated. Malabou’s work, equally interdisciplinary in its inhabiting the intersections between neuroscience, philosophy and psychoanalysis, refines its exploration of plastic form and formal mutation through studies of the brain and recent discoveries in neuro-plasticity and epigenetics. For Malabou, cerebral materiality is innately plastic in its ability to give and take form, even exploding form in cases of neuronal trauma or disease; what emerges is a new way of thinking the possible metamorphosis, agency and freedom of a contemporary (neural-) subject, and the politics of exposure that this subject necessarily lives in relation to unforeseeable events. Both thinkers, I argue, articulate plasticity as something other than an ability to trans-form infinitely, with the often horrifying figure of the limit or the outside central to their thinking of change and being.
My thesis will explore these theoretical questions through a collection of French and Francophone writers and filmmakers. Marie Darrieussecq’s explorations of metamorphosis and loss, Michel Houellebecq’s political landscapes of explosion and disaffection, and Michael Haneke’s French language films leading up to his tracing of neuronal trauma in Amour will all be among the works explored.