The Literature of Plasticity (ACLA 2023 -- March 16-19)

deadline for submissions: 
October 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association

Catherine Malabou places her signature concept of “plasticity” within the material encounters between the Kantian, Hegelian, and Derridean threads of the continental philosophical tradition and emerging developments in neuroscience, epigenesis, and political organization. Her recent work has demonstrated the relevance of these encounters to fields as diverse as trauma studies, gender and queer studies, hermeneutics, anarchism, postcolonialism, artificial intelligence, evolution, anthropogenic climate change, sexuality, and affect studies, to name just a few. In each case, Malabou situates “plasticity” as a name for the impossible division between the empirical and the transcendental, attending to the material formations, reformations, and deformations of concepts and the passages between them.

One consequence of plasticity’s collapse of the division between the empirical and the transcendental is a critique of the more abstractly “messianic” and “symbolic” impulses of deconstruction, which Malabou sees as a material operation within plastic formation itself. As a result, despite the richly interdisciplinary itinerary of this thought, critics have typically focused their attention on the presence of scientific discourse in Malabou’s work, even to the point of accusing plasticity of vitalism and scientism. Such a critique assumes that plasticity effectively replaces deconstruction’s commitment to critical concepts like “literature” with ideally materialized forms of “science.” However, this simplistic division is immediately challenged by the fact that “literature” works widely across Malabou’s materialist conception of plasticity. Works by Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Claude Simon, Ovid, and Maurice Blanchot, among many others, are common resources for Malabou. What avenues, then, does plasticity open to conceptualize literature? Is there a literature of plasticity? A plasticity of literature? 

To understand plasticity between the empirical and the transcendental, or between the biological and the symbolic, this seminar is interested in scholarly papers that attend to the literary mechanisms within Malabou’s work. The seminar organizer especially welcomes papers that include: (1) analyses of particular works of literature that operate within Malabou’s oeuvre; (2) articulations of the general role literature plays within the conceptual formation of plasticity; (3) how literature informs other areas of Malabou’s work; (4) comparative treatments of plasticity’s relation to other “deconstructive” philosophical conceptualizations of literature.

To propose a paper: Paper abstracts will be submitted to the ACLA submission portal beginning October 1, 2022. This portal will close on October 31, 2022. Membership with the ACLA is not required to submit a paper proposal. Please direct any inquiries to Tyler M. Williams, the seminar chair: