Macdonald, Molly, New Formations
Catharine Malabou, Changing Difference, Carolyn Shread (trans), Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011, 180 pp; 14.99[pounds sterling] paperback
Catherine Malabou's Changing Difference is a deeply personal work. The rawness of her intent is found peppered through this intellectually complex and suggestive text. At times it strikes the reader as a kind of defensiveness, for example: 'And at this point in the argument don't tell me that I hide behind the "authority" of Hegel or Heidegger too often. I've worked hard in my own way to make their lives impossible too' (p137). At others, a strange kind of intimacy: '(And, dear sisters, I tell you now in confidence that even today I enjoy the satisfaction and secret joy of having "become just as strong as them" during this time and of having very soon lost all fear of anyone in philosophy)' (p 114). These rather unexpected moments offer respite from the complicated arguments that she is putting forward, but in the end can be seen as essential to them. As readers we are prepared for an intimate address. There is nothing hidden in her declaration that she starts from her 'own personal situation', and if the reader is a woman, Malabou's address feels particularly personal. Malabou notes in her introduction that, 'first and foremost, I write for the women I love, the ones I do not know and who suffer mistreatment. I write, too, for the women I know, the ones who, in their very way of being, carry with them something like an unlived memory of the others, a fragility that does not try to hide. I write for these women, who, for this reason, are my friends' (p4). It is all too rare in academic work of this calibre to find such a heartening and earnest address.
I highlight this personal nature of Malabou's work because it is at the foundation of her politics, is perhaps even the ethical core of her project, and because it is crucial to understanding the movement of thinking that takes place in Changing Difference. Malabou is drawing a road map of sorts which she hopes other women can follow, a set of interventions, a model of resistance against the deconstruction of the feminine and, against, or at least a way out of, the intellectual work of Deconstruction itself. Readers who have come across Malabou before will know that she is a former student of Derrida's and indeed he is a powerful presence in her body of work, both explicitly (for example, he wrote the introduction to her first book The Future of Hegel (2004), which was based on her doctoral thesis, completed under his supervision; and co-authored Counterpath: Travelling with Derrida (2004) and so on) and implicitly, as most intellectual mentors might, haunting work of their students. Yet Changing Difference seems finally to be a distinct breaking away from the intimacy of this particular relationship and Malabou does not hold back from expressing how charged this particular bid for intellectual freedom might be, or what kind of grief it might cause, or come to. The work, in part, charts the difficulty of stepping out of the shadows and the realities of violence--theoretical political, and physical--to which women are subjected on a daily basis. We must here take the meaning of deconstruction as it has become bound to Derrida's thinking and to a concept of 'writing', alongside a political and physical deconstruction of women the world over (although what this means on the level of the particular, rather than the universal, is never specified.) Malabou asks that we walk the line between these arenas so that we can 'displace the concept of writing' (p3) as the site of importance, and presumably so that Malabou herself can explain the freedom from the legacy of Derridean deconstruction that she is able to achieve, and simultaneously so we can begin to form a new set of responses to the violence done against women.
At stake in this project is Malabou's attempt to find a way out of the impasse of modern feminism, out of what she characterizes as the two types of feminism at work today. …