Thursday, September 8, 2011, 7 pm
Symbolic vs Biological Life: the End

Lecture by Catherine Malabou (Paris) as part of the series "What is Philosophy?"

Catherine Malabou will offer a critique of the notions of biopower and biopolitics in contemporary continental philosophy. Philosophers like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben have strongly criticized, each in his own way, any metaphysical approach to life that promotes phenomenological distinctions between body and flesh, between the empirical, objective body and the spiritually incarnated one. None of them confer an ontological value onto the term “life” that could be severed from life’s empirical determination. A theory of life, a philosophical approach to life can only be a political articulation. It is not a question of defining life — of proposing a concept of life — but of understanding the how and why; to recall Foucault’s famous definition: in modern times, the political subject and biological individual are one and the same. Malabou claims that a new relationship between the biological and the symbolic is concealed behind the term biopolitics or even politics of life, a hinge between them that is both a junction and a division. The persistence of such a hinge is what reintroduces a kind of vitalism into the political approach to life. To what extent can current biological categories thus help us found a new materialism?

The French philosopher Catherine Malabou (b. 1959) teaches at Kingston College, London, and at Université Ouest Nanterre La Défense, Paris. She is also a visiting professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo. In 1999, she published
La contre-allée (Voyager avec Jacques Derrida), based on a collaboration with Jacques Derrida. Selected publications: You Be My Body For Me, For, Corporeity, Plasticity in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (London: Blackwell, 2011); Changer de différence, le féminin et la question philosophique (Paris: Galilée, 2009).

In English language

The complete series
What is Philosophy? is documented in a DVD-set and available at n.b.k.