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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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Homelessness and Urban Parasitism: Diagnosing the City’s Malaise (Khalil Khalsi)


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Homelessness and Urban Parasitism: Diagnosing the City’s Malaise

ABSTRACT Drawing on Michel Serres’s claim that the parasite is consubstantial with the collective system to which it belongs, this chapter endeavours to elucidate the parasitic dynamics that link homeless people to the Western city, in a relationship of inclusion and exclusion. Through an analysis of Claus Drexel’s documentary Au bord du monde [On the Edge of the World] (2014), I examine the extent to which homelessness is symptomatic of democracy’s corruption by the economic imperative. The homeless person is viewed here as the primordial element for the transformation of public space, which makes of her the primary object of the system’s parasitism; this parasitism involves fundamental questions of identity, insofar as the homeless person inherits an archaic imaginary that fantasmatically represses her into the community’s margins. The city immunizes itself against the parasite, responding to its existence with a ‘no’ that forecloses any potential utopian future: for a system that does not listen to its parasites is one that signs its own death warrant.

Il faudra bien un jour comprendre pourquoi le plus fort est le parasite, c’est-à-dire, en fait, le plus faible, pourquoi celui qui n’a fonction que de manger commande. Et parle.

[One day we will have to understand why the strongest is the parasite – that is to say, the weakest – why the one whose only function is to eat is the one who...

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