French Philosophy Today: Summary of Chapter 4 – Malabou, The Epigenetic Human

French Philosophy Today, New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malaobu, Serres and LatourThis is the fourth in a series of posts providing short summaries of the chapters in my latest book, French Philosophy Today: New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres and Latour. For further chapter summaries, please see here.

Chapter 4 turns to the question of human identity over time in Malabou. After setting out the stakes of her recent work on epigenesis in Avant demain I point out some shortcomings of her previous accounts of identity over time, particularly in relation to the famous case of Phineas Gage and her experience of her own grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease. Malabou’s account of epigenesis provides us with a powerful way to re-read this earlier work. Although she moves away from a host capacity account of the human she is – at least in her work prior to Avant demain – trapped in a paradigm which forces her to regard cerebral matter as the ‘host substance’ of human identity and personhood: just as rational thought acted as a gatekeeper of humanity for Badiou and Meillassoux, personal memory as it is encoded in the individual’s brain is the gatekeeper of personhood and identity for Malabou. However, in her recent work she elaborates what she calls an ‘epigenesis of the real’ (AD 261) according to which epigenesis and hermeneutics are extensions of each other, breaking down the division between nature and culture. I draw out the implications of this exciting recent move, using Paul Ricœur’s account of narrative identity as a sounding board for what I call Malabou’s eco-synaptic selfhood: a self understood neither wholly in internal (cerebral) nor utterly in external (narrative) terms.