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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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Parables of the Para- (Steven Connor)


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Parables of the Para-

ABSTRACT This chapter offers a roaming exploration and elaboration of the figure of the parasite with particular reference to Serres, as well as to the work of Edward Thomas, Shakespeare, Philip Larkin and to Euclid’s parallel postulate. It situates Le Parasite amongst Serres’s body of work, concluding that the book is the equivalent in Serres’s oeuvre to Beckett’s L’Innommable [The Unnameable] – embroiled in relation and parasited by his own ideas that are always threatening to ‘swallow him up’, Le Parasite marks a point of no return for Serres. The only way out, Connor points out, was to write a book called, this time, Détachement [Detachment].

Michel Serres’s concern in his book Le Parasite is with this relation of the aside, beside or alongside; but this forms part of a more general concern with position and the large role played in thought by the prepositions, the lowly way-signs or synapses of speech which Serres once called the ‘algebra of fluxes’. In one of only a couple of short conversations I have had with Michel Serres, I asked him whether he felt that in speaking French he was speaking a dialect of Latin, and he replied: ‘But yours is the language that allows one to say “postpone”.’ A preposition is wittily recursive, for the word signifies that it gives you the position of something in advance – pre- or prior to position. And, look, in...

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