Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou defy theoretical humanities’ deeply-entrenched resistance to engagements with the life sciences. Rather than treat biology and its branches as hopelessly reductive and politically suspect, they view recent advances in neurobiology and its adjacent scientific fields as providing crucial catalysts to a radical rethinking of subjectivity.
Merging three distinct disciplines—European philosophy from Descartes to the present, Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, and affective neuroscience—Johnston and Malabou triangulate the emotional life of affective subjects as conceptualized in philosophy and psychoanalysis with neuroscience. Their experiments yield different outcomes. Johnston finds psychoanalysis and neurobiology have the potential to enrich each other, though affective neuroscience demands a reconsideration of whether affects can be unconscious. Investigating this vexed issue has profound implications for theoretical and practical analysis, as well as philosophical understandings of the emotions.
Malabou believes scientific explorations of the brain seriously problematize established notions of affective subjectivity in Continental philosophy and Freudian-Lacanian analysis. She confronts philosophy and psychoanalysis with something neither field has seriously considered: the concept of wonder and the cold, disturbing visage of those who have been affected by disease or injury, such that they are no longer affected emotionally. At stake in this exchange are some of philosophy’s most important claims concerning the relationship between the subjective mind and the objective body, the structures and dynamics of the unconscious dimensions of mental life, the role emotion plays in making us human, and the functional differences between philosophy and science.
"Self and Emotional Life is a timely and wholly original intervention into one of the most debated questions of recent years: the place of the affects in psychoanalytic, neuroscientific, and philosophical accounts of the subject. It is doubly valuable in being authored by two scholars of the stature of Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou, philosophers whose range and depth of erudition in recent and emerging scholarship in the neurosciences (especially work on the 'emotional brain') and in clinical psychoanalysis seem to be without peer among scholars working at this intersection today." — Tracy McNulty, Cornell University
"While neuroscientists joyfully proclaim the death of philosophy and psychoanalysis, Self and Emotional Life enacts the necessary countermove. It conclusively demonstrates, from a strict materialist standpoint, how brain sciences cannot account for the unconscious processes discovered by Freud and how they remain entangled in a cobweb of their own philosophical presuppositions. The book’s subtitle could have been ‘prolegomena to any future relationship between philosophy, psychoanalysis, and neurosciences’—which is why it should be read by everyone in these fields." — Slavoj Žižek, author of Living in the End
"I have often been surprised by how Continental philosophy and psychoanalysis has managed to ignore biology and at times even reject it. It made no sense to me, and it clearly makes no sense to Johnston and Malabou, who embrace neurobiology and are enriched by it. Their book makes for valuable and often pleasurable reading." — Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain
"This book flows from the obvious conviction that a philosophy of subjectivity simply cannot ignore the body and must engage with today’s biological sciences. The authors’ conviction that the link between the subject and the body is best theorized in relation to affect is perhaps less obvious to some, but surely equally correct. It is no surprise, then, that their book touches on many of the deepest questions confronting the mental sciences of our time. It will provoke much disputation—even outrage—yet it focuses our attention on just the right questions." — Mark Solms, author of The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of the Subjective Experience
Preface: From Nonfeeling to Misfeeling—Affects Between Trauma and the Unconscious
Part I. Go Wonder: Subjectivity and Affects in Neurobiological Times (Catherine Malabou)
Introduction: From the Passionate Soul to the Emotional Brain
1. What Does “of” Mean in Descartes’s Expression “The Passions of the Soul”?
2. A “Self-Touching You”: Derrida and Descartes
3. The Neural Self: Damasio Meets Descartes
4. Affects Are Always Affects of Essence: Book 3 of Spinoza’s Ethics
5. The Face and the Close-Up: Deleuze’s Spinozist Approach to Descartes
6. Damasio as a Reader of Spinoza
7. On Neural Plasticity, Trauma, and the Loss of Affects: The Two Meanings of Plasticity
Part II. Misfelt Feelings: Unconscious Affect Between Psychoanalysis, Neuroscience, and Philosophy (Adrian Johnston)
8. Guilt and the Feel of Feeling: Toward a New Conception of Affects
9. Feeling Without Feeling: Freud and the Unresolved Problem of Unconscious Guilt
10. Affects, Emotions, and Feelings: Freud's Metapsychologies of Affective Life
11. From Signifiers to Jouis-sens: Lacan’s Senti-ments and Affectuations
12. Emotional Life After Lacan: From Psychoanalysis to the Neurosciences
13. Affects Are Signifiers: The Infinite Judgment of a Lacanian Affective Neuroscience
Postface: The Paradoxes of the Principle of Constancy
Adrian Johnston is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and an assistant teaching analyst at the Emory Psychoanalytic Institute in Atlanta. He is the author of Time Driven: Metapsychology and the Splitting of the Drive; Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity; and Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations: The Cadence of Change.
Catherine Malabou is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Centre For Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, U.K. She is the author of several books translated into English, including The Future Of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality And Dialectic; What Should We Do With Our Brain; Plasticity At The Dusk Of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction; and Changing Difference.