The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity
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In the usual order of things, lives run their course and eventually one becomes who one is. Bodily and psychic transformations do nothing but reinforce the permanence of identity. But as a result of serious trauma, or sometimes for no reason at all, a subject’s history splits and a new, unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person - an unrecognizable persona whose present comes from no past and whose future harbors nothing to come; an existential improvisation, a form born of the accident and by accident. Out of a deep cut opened in a biography, a new being comes into the world for a second time.
What is this form? A face? A psychological profile? What ontology can it account for, if ontology has always been attached to the essential, forever blind to the aléa of transformations? What history of being can the plastic power of destruction explain? What can it tell us about the explosive tendency of existence that secretly threatens each one of us?
Continuing her reflections on destructive plasticity, split identities and the psychic consequences experienced by those who have suffered brain injury or have been traumatized by war and other catastrophes, Catherine Malabou invites us to join her in a philosophic and literary adventure in which Spinoza, Deleuze and Freud cross paths with Proust and Duras.
as Malabou points out, the possibility of such accidents is with us at every moment of our lives. However much our course is mapped, there is always the chance of the freak event or minor detour that reroutes us. Much as we wish for a translation that would never trip up, a translation lying seamlessly next to its source, to take on a translation is to take on the accident. Because translation is so closely enmeshed in the ontology of the accident, eventually, thanks to Malabou’s unpacking of
ontological plasticity that is both positive—the plasticity of the affects—and negative— the absolute modification of the mode, the produ ction of another existence unrelated to the previous existence. The changes brought about by destructive plasticity result from the divergence in the movements that con stitute the changes, the disorder of its directions. In contemporary neurology coldness, neutrality, absence, a “flat” emotional state, are instances of this mode of destructive plasticity
with her chunky glasses and cigarette hanging from thick lips? The transformation did not in fact occur over the years, as one might have imagined; it was well and truly instan taneous. Suddenly, right in the midst of her youth, the first woman brutally became the second. Duras was young for only a very short time, just eighteen years. Like Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis, she woke up metamorphosized. No one was ever able to see the transition. Between the photograph of the pretty young girl
Anxiety, the “undoing.”100 In one sense, this not-happened, this non-place, this repressed or vomited, shelters within it the possibility of the worst. All nostalgia and all resentment are no doubt rooted in it. To try to actualize an assumed fantastic origin, to want to give rights to what could have been, to transform it into what must be, is a violent psychic gesture. To try to bring into being that which reality excluded from the start can coincide with the impulse to destroy, with the
plastic possibilities are actually never-ending. In the usual order of things, in classical metamorpho ses, transformation intervenes in place of flight. For example, when Daphne, chased by Phoebus, is unable to run fast enough, she turns into a tree. But metamorpho sis by destruction is not the same as flight; it is rather the form of the impossibility of fleeing. The impossibility of flight where flight presents the only possible solution. We must allow for the impossibility of flight in