The New Wounded By Catherine Malabou Book Review

  • Category: Books, Literature,
  • Words: 1281 Pages: 5
  • Published: 05 September 2021
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Catherine Malabou in "The New Wounded," presents us with the reality of separating the effects of political trauma from organic trauma. Throughout the text, the author discusses concepts such as trauma, plasticity, and develops a doubt whether trauma reveals a series of distinct selves we are? Therefore, in this essay, I will analyze the relationship between trauma and plasticity to answer the question posed.

1. Explain what Malabou means by trauma:

The concept of trauma can be understood from the background that exists with the relationship between mind and body. In the 1600s, Descartes divided the world into material things subject to the laws of physics and immaterial things that operate according to some other set of rules. By this, he meant that the human body is something material, but the mind is immaterial. However, years later, he reconsidered that the physical brain could act as an intermediary between the two. Thanks to this, Catherine Malabou sought to address this old theory of division, trying to join the brain and the mind under the disciplines of neuroscience and psychoanalysis (Malabou, 2012). Catherine Malabou uses the lessons of modern neuroscience, particularly from the experiences of soldiers, to redefine the concept of trauma. With this, she considers that this would force us to reconsider the concept of "self" and the socio-political implications of suffering when redefining this concept.

Now, the general concept of trauma has departed from its original disciplinary area by crossing boundaries between various fields; as a result, defining it has become increasingly complex. According to Dolores Herrero and Sonia Baelo-Allué, they conceptualize trauma as inherently open and undecidable. A traditional definition of trauma conceives that trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual's ability to cope. But for Catherine, her definition of trauma encompasses compelling concepts and ideas. Catherine's definition of trauma correlates with the title of her book, The New Wounded, who are those who suffer brain injuries that psychoanalysis tends to avoid. The author, when defining trauma, mentions Freud's work, saying that these ignored injuries are really not considered, and the attention is only focused on the wounds of a damaged psyche. Malabou, for her part, investigated why the brain and psyche are linked, and despite psychoanalysis seems outdated for modern neuroscience, Malabou believes that it is vital to understand the relationship between the brain and psychoanalysis. Therefore, to get a specific definition of trauma that Catherine wants to expose is somewhat complicated. I would say that trauma's concept comes from those situations that left individuals conscious or unconscious of all reality, and they are inhibited from having continuity in the development of their identities.

2. Describe its relation to plasticity:

As mentioned above, our brain is so important that it allows us to be different from the robot's automatism because it is plastic and adapts to changing situations. Now, what is plasticity, and how do we relate this to trauma?

Well, our brain is born with a genetic inheritance, but over time it becomes an epigenetic experience — in other words, it adapts to our existence, shaping new behaviors and experiences. In Catherine's text "What Should We Do With Our Brain" she argues that we have failed to understand ourselves because we have failed to acknowledge discoveries, particularly “plasticity,” or the brain's ability to change (“Our brain is plastic, and we do not know Item"). With all of this, is plasticity the process that makes us responsible for our lives?

Plasticity is the biological foundation of responsibility in our lives (Malabou, 2012). You do not act badly because you have inherited bad genes, but you are neither a good person because your genes are the best. You are what you are because you have decided to do it based on what you have experienced and retained in your mind, so in future situations, your behavior will be linked to what you want. For example, when you decide to drink alcohol, you are increasing the possibility that at some point you will become alcoholic because from the very moment you opened a beer, you are likely to doom yourself in this vice, and so your actions and decision will change. However, nobody judges you for wanting to have a glass of wine, or alcohol in general, as human beings, we have feelings, and emotions and this leads us to make the decisions we make, and this is how we link plasticity and trauma. Malabou is the one who gathers evidence that shows that the brain has self-regulatory circuits that involve emotions. Even scientists such as Joseph LeDoux and Antonio D'Amasio have managed to demonstrate that the human limbic system participates in emotional processing. Therefore, Malabou points out that all trauma, whether direct to these areas of the brain or not, results in dysfunction of the limbic system, inhibiting people from feeling or deciding.

Patients that are affected by this problem show coldness, disagreement and indifference. Malabou believes that people traumatized by political violence around the world are due to limbic system dysfunction (Malabou, 2012). With this, I consider that the relationship between trauma and plasticity is quite clear. A trauma almost completely inhibits you from being able to decide and feel. You are in an emotional state where your brain stopped adapting to your existence. However, for a human being, it is essential to have emotions, even a person needs to develop their identity, or that person would simply be an object and no longer a person.

3. Do you think it is true that trauma reveals we are a series of distinct selves, not one continuous or `essential’ identity? Explain why or why not?

Yes, as described throughout the essay, trauma reveals who we really are. A traumatized person had an experience or incident in which their brain was affected by changing the person's emotions and leaving an indelible imprint on the brain. The consequences are severe since the person will suffer anxiety and fear of reliving the incident again. Moreover, it is necessary to know how to differentiate that trauma can not only exist from a lived experience but also from traumatic incidents, and diseases that attack the mind, such as Alzheimer's. 

On the other hand, Malabou uses the term destructive plasticity to explain how a traumatized person can act. According to destructive plasticity, the person creates a new identity through the destruction of the previous one. So, from the experiences of traumatized patients, they do not recognize them as they were before. This is simply because they realize that there is a new being within them, a being that they do not recognize. It is quite obvious that a traumatized person would not like to continue living from the personality and the events that marked them for their entire lives. A person with trauma can reach the point of not recognizing what his reality is—his identity is simply fleeting. For example, in the case of a person with Alzheimer's, this person does not recognize who he is, who he was, or what he did. His emotions and decisions are going to change daily, and as much as that person inside him wants to live continuously, he will not be able to do so because, in my opinion, he is a relative and temporary being. To sum up, this is an issue that remains a mystery to everyone and describing how trauma shows our true reality is also a mystery, because, with or without trauma, a person wishes to live free from the bonds of destiny, justice, and the truth.


In conclusion, the relationship between trauma, plasticity and self is the central point of the text "The New Wounded". As human beings, we have to be realistic that trauma can change the meaning of life and the reality of many people. At the time I was writing this essay, I understood that I am relatively temporary because it is uncertain if what I decide today will be good or bad for my future. I am aware that at some point, I am going to end up in an emotional state that is going to be worthless to continue feeling or deciding. Therefore, it is important to recognize the development of Catherine Malabou's work theories since in the future it will be important to know that the brain and mind were always connected.


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