Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Feminisms Reading Group: Plasticity in contemporary novels

14 March 2023, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

Feminisms reading group

We’re pleased to announce that the next Feminisms Reading Group session, led by Dr Katie Goss, will explore plasticity in contemporary novels such as Han Kang’s 'The Vegetarian', Ottessa Moshfegh’s 'My Year of Rest and Relaxation', and Patricia Lockwood’s 'No One Is Talking About This'.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students




Ilona Mannan

In Changing Difference: the Feminine and the Question of Philosophy, Catherine Malabou makes a bold philosophical intervention in the ingrained theoretical methodologies of post-structuralist feminist thought. She provocatively argues that in the context of the twenty-first century, where subjects are entreated to be more flexible and manipulable than ever before, the deconstruction of (sexual) identity becomes another instance of violence against women, as well as trans and more-than-binary subjects. For Malabou, excluding the biological component of being to denaturalise sexuated subjectivity or theorize gender identity is a kind of ‘neutralization’ of the material processes of becoming different which inhere in any form of embodied subjectivity. In other words, the exclusion of onto-biological detail in feminist theory is itself an act of ‘transcendental disincarnation’ that undermines feminist ethics of being-with alterity.

In this text, Malabou also suggests that her signature concept of plasticity may hold particular importance for contemporary feminism which seeks to challenge endemic binarism, including trans and more-than-human forms of being, while still combatting instances of phallogocentric violence. Her term ‘plasticity of essence’ aims to reframe the kind of in-between of being and becoming that plasticity designates as a kind of ‘substantial stability.’ This would defy the binary that, she argues, persists even after deconstruction, continental psychoanalytically-informed feminisms, gender studies and queer theory: that between essentialism and anti-essentialism.

During the session we will discuss the extracts chosen from Malabou’s work, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This

This event runs on Zoom. Email sarah.edwards.19@ucl.ac.uk or ilona.mannan.10@ucl.ac.uk for the Zoom joining link.

The Feminisms Reading Group is a collaborative initiative led by two PhD students from UCL's English department, Ilona Mannan and Sarah Edwards.  You can email us at sarah.edwards.19@ucl.ac.uk or ilona.mannan.10@ucl.ac.uk. The group is open to anyone, staff or student, from UCL and beyond, and is brand new as of the 2022 Autumn term.

The sessions predominantly cover different aspects of feminism, work by women writers, feminist theory and criticism, and depictions of women in literature. One PhD researcher or academic delivers each reading group session which is then chaired by the convenors, Ilona and Sarah. The format of the reading group is not set and can be changed depending on the preferences of each researcher. Formats so far include: a guest giving a short paper and then providing attendees with some short extracts to discuss, and a guest providing attendees with extracts and running a commentary and analysis session based on those extracts. No matter the format the session takes they are absolutely an occasion for networking, discussion and connecting with researchers and students. 

Preparatory reading is not mandatory so please do come along regardless. However, speakers do often provide some preparatory reading materials for attendees and you will most likely find you get more out of the reading group sessions if you have been able to spend a little time with the materials prior to the session. You may wish to prepare questions to ask the speaker about the topic as Q&A sessions are immensely rewarding, especially when you can discuss issues of interest to you with an expert.