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Public Lecture with Catherine Malabou

Empty Square v. Evolutionary Memory: The New Adventures of Signs

PAST - Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 6 pm

Liu Institute for Global Issues
6476 NW Marine Drive, UBC

View Catherine Malabou's Lecture here

The Belkin Art Gallery is thrilled to present a public lecture by Dr. Catherine Malabou, one of France’s leading philosophers whose work considers the concept of plasticity, which she derives in part from the work of Hegel as well as from medical science, for example, from work on stem cells and from the concept of neuroplasticity. Malabou’s contention that plasticity has become a major category in philosophy, arts, psychology, neurobiology and cell biology has opened up new perspectives on the way in which subjectivity and materiality, mind and body, are interrelated, along with new relationships between philosophy, arts and biology.

In the Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss, Levi-Strauss presents his theory of the floating signifier, according to which there must be something like an empty square in language in order for signification to function. This theory has opened the reign of the “symbolic” which, from Lacan up to philosophies of difference, has designed a strict border between the natural living beings and the speaking subject, thus excluding biology from the linguistic realm. As a consequence, the current philosophical determinations of life (“bare life” mainly) remain deprived of any empirical content. Contemporary biology is challenging these conceptions. Epigenetics and synthetic biology for example are bringing to light the existence of material crossings between the symbolic and the biological. Malabou will give some examples of these phenomena, insisting upon their importance for philosophy and art in particular.

Malabou’s visit coincides with the Belkin’s presentation of The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a unique collaboration between the Belkin, the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. The exhibition presents eighty drawings by Ramón y Cajal, the renowned Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist who received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1906. Malabou’s lecture aims to create a collaborative and generative platform to identify and address emerging issues at the creative intersection of neuroscience and art.

Catherine Malabou is a professor of Philosophy at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University and of European Languages and Literature and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. Malabou received her doctorate under the supervision of Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion from the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Her dissertation became the book, The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dilaectic (2005). She is the author of, most recently, Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (2012) and Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality (2016). She is currently preparing the text of her Wellek lectures (2015), Metamorphoses of Intelligence (forthcoming).

Catherine Malabou’s visit is part of the French Scholars Lecture Series made possible with the support of the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France in Canada in partnership with the UBC Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, with additional support from the Audain Endowment for Curatorial Studies in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory.

For further information please contact: Jana Tyner at,
tel: (604) 822-1389, or fax: (604) 822-6689