Plasticity and the plastic arts?

Not sure whether there’s a correlation between “blah” weather and continental philosophy, but the French philosopher Catherine Malabou is giving a talk tonight at the Chazen Museum of Art. Her lecture, entitled “Is Plasticity a New Name for Freedom?”, begins at 7:30 and promises to be very interesting. Here’s the abstract from the Center for the Humanities’ website:

The most recent research in biology aims at putting into question the concept of genetic programming. Today, epigenetics tends to be more important than genetics itself. Three main discoveries explain this shift: the discovery of interfering RNA; the discovery of stem cells; and the discovery of neural plasticity. In this lecture, philosopher Catherine Malabou focuses on plasticity, which explains that our brain develops itself for the most part after birth and is modeled by experience, education, and learning. Malabou considers how the discovery of neural plasticity challenges philosophical and political conventions, in particular the belief that philosophy and technoscience are opposed. She explores what happens to a politics of emancipation and resistance when science no longer is the name of the enemy, and asks what is the future of philosophy in an era of plasticity and epigentics.

I know only a little about Malabou and her philosophical project, but her points of reference include deconstruction (she studied under and co-authored a book with the late Jacques Derrida), Hegel, psychoanalysis, feminism and contemporary neuroscience (neuroplasticity in particular). Perhaps Malabou’s philosophy can serve to unite the science and liberal arts crowds, if only for just one night of intellectual labor (listening to these types of lectures can often be just as much if not more work than writing).

Moreover, I’m interested to see what, if anything, she says about the arts (seeing as how she’ll be lecturing in the basement of an art museum). Depending on how frisky I’m feelin’, I might even try to ask her a question about cinema and the philosophical/political implications of its material effects upon the brain.

In addition, the renowned neurologist V.S. Ramachandran is this week’s speaker in WUD’s Distinguished Lecture Series; his talk tonight at Memorial Union also begins at 7:30. Some friends of mine are pretty excited about Ramachandran’s visit, and for good reason: As evidenced by this set of his TED lectures, he’s both a brilliant scientist and a genuine wit.

If you’re interested in brains, you can’t go wrong with the public lectures on campus tonight.


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