Research Overview

We are all familiar with depression. We have all heard the term, which is ubiquitous, or know someone who has had the kind of experience the term is supposed to name. Many of us have even articulated our own experiences with the help of the category. Most of us, however, do not reflect on the extent to which the categories which are available to us actively shape the experiences they are applied to, and do not reflect on the extent to which mental disorder categories in particular change over time. Most of us do not think pathological experience is itself historical, shaped by the shifting language which surrounds us, and amenable to alteration by the same means. This insight, though, is the starting point for my current philosophical research.

I am exploring one of the ways in which popular and scientific discourses on depression—discourses which lend depression

its meaning—shape the contemporary experience of depression. I am interested in how contemporary depression discourse makes depression out to be a permanent, or ‘essential,’ feature of persons, to the detriment of those who have recourse to the category as they interpret themselves. Essentialism has been disputed in other contexts—gender essentialism, for instance, has been subject to many a consummate critique—but no one has attempted a critical analysis of the brand of essentialism that the language surrounding depression fosters.

 

An important part of my dissertation involves excavating a discourse to unsettle this language (a Foucaultian 'counter-discourse'). I use Catherine Malabou’s work on ‘plasticity’ to do this, but not uncritically. I read Malabou with and against other continental thinkers of ‘transformation’ (Derrida, Foucault, Foucaultian feminists, Freud, and Lacan), distilling a subversive conception of plasticity along the way. Nietzsche and Benjamin also make appearances in my dissertation—I argue that the conceptions of melancholy which appear in the Genealogy of Morality and The Origin of German Tragic Drama  are in fact plastic conceptions of melancholy. The scientific re-articulation of the category melancholy today risks expunging the category's link to plasticity and in this way dovetails with the worst trends of depression discourse. I suggest that a creative resuscitation of the old category's meaning valences can help subvert these trends.     

My next project will involve showing how continental work on biopolitics can help nuance discussions in analytic bioethics related to respect for autonomy, competence, advance directives, and genetic testing.     

Academic Publications

I am currently working on a piece on the relationship between Jacques Derrida and Catherine Malabou's discourses. I argue that although Malabou does not succeed in breaking with deconstruction, she does supplement it in vital ways. 

An article I wrote which brings Catherine Malabou and Judith Butler's work together is currently in review.  

Accepted: (with Cressida J. Heyes and Jaclyn Rohel), “Thinking through the Body: Yoga, Philosophy, and Physical Education.” Teaching Philosophy, September 2009.

*Author posting.

Conference Presentations

“Explosive Plasticity, Insubordination, Deconstruction”

Canadian Philosophical Association (2018)

“Insubordinate Plasticity: Judith Butler and Catherine Malabou”

Society of Women in Philosophy—Ireland (2018)

"Violence as Resistance: Autoimmunity and Anorexia"

Duquesne's Women in Philosophy Conference (2017)

“Moving beyond Aesthetic-Normalization through Willed-Listening”

Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs Conference (2012)

© 2019 by Natalie Helberg. Created with Wix.com