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Exploitation and Interference in French Thought and Culture


Matt Phillips and Tomas Weber

The word «parasite» evokes nearness and feeding: the Greek parasitos is «one who eats at the table of another». In biology, a parasitic organism is the beneficiary of an unequal relation with its host. The social parasite, too, is one recognized or misrecognized as the unproductive recipient of one-way exchange. In communications theory, meanwhile, static or interference («parasite», in French) is the useless information which clouds the channel between sender and receiver.

In 1980, Michel Serres’s Le Parasite mobilized the concept of the parasite to figure noises, disruptions, destructions and breakdowns at the heart of communication systems, social structures and human relations. Drawing on Serres’s work, the chapters of this volume – organized around two conceptual poles, exploitation and interference – examine French literature (Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Proust, contemporary poetry), film (Nicolas Philibert, Claus Drexel), art (Sophie Calle, contemporary «glitch art») and philosophy (Descartes, Serres, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari), alongside medieval hagiography, immunology, communications theory and linguistic anthropology. The volume thereby demonstrates the new and continued relevance of the figure of the parasite in thinking about transmission, attachment, use, abuse and dependency.

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Notes on Contributors


ALICE BLACKHURST is a Junior Research Fellow in Visual Arts at King’s College, Cambridge.

STEVEN CONNOR is Grace 2 Professor of English in the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. His most recent books are Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and Other Vocalizations (Reaktion, 2014), Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2014), Living by Numbers: In Defence of Quantity (Reaktion/Chicago University Press, 2016) and Dream Machines (Open Humanities Press, 2017).

NICHOLAS COTTON is a lecturer at the University of Montreal and teacher at Édouard-Montpetit College (Longueuil, Canada). He has completed a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Literature and a Master’s degree in Literature on the work of Jacques Derrida. He is currently preparing a doctoral thesis on the notion of ‘pervertibilité’ in the work of Jacques Derrida at the Département des littératures de langue française at the University of Montreal. With Ginette Michaud, he is currently editing the next volume of Jacques Derrida’s seminar, ‘Le Parjure et le pardon’ (EHESS, 1997–8).

BLAKE GUTT is a final-year PhD student at King’s College, Cambridge, supervised by Bill Burgwinkle. His doctoral thesis, titled ‘Rhizomes, Parasites, Folds and Trees’, is an investigation of conceptual networks and the ways in which they underlie both text and its mise en page across a range of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century French, Occitan and Catalan literary works.

RHIANNON HARRIES is a Research Fellow in Modern Visual Culture at Corpus...

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