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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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Taking Care or Taking Advantage? Sophie Calle’s Prenez soin de vous (Alice Blackhurst)


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Taking Care or Taking Advantage? Sophie Calle’s Prenez soin de vous

ABSTRACT The work of Sophie Calle has explicitly been termed ‘parasitic’ (Anna Watkins Fisher, 2012) in its exploitation of other people for artistic ends. Whilst taking stock of recent critical accounts which aim to reclaim such alleged baseline ‘vampirism’ as a new ‘experimental art practice’ and model of performance art worthy of laudatory attention rather than reproach, in this paper I counter that Calle’s recent installation work concerning the death of her mother such as the ongoing project Rachel, Monique and even larger-scale collaborative efforts feeding off the emotional detritus of the break-down of a romantic relationship such as 2010’s Prenez soin de vous [Take Care of Yourself] proffer modes of taking care rather than of taking advantage, transcending desires for mere self-rehabilitation to make relational, if fragile space for the other.

Precisely what is a parasite? It is an orator that interrupts a system of exchange. The abusive guest partakes of the host’s meal … and gives only words in return.1

The work of French conceptual artist Sophie Calle has frequently been termed ‘parasitic’ in its perceived exploitation of the lives of other people for aesthetic ends. Composed of singular, painstakingly devised performative experiments which trouble boundaries between public and private existence and which take acts of stalking, stealing and the large-scale exposure of intimate materials of which Calle is often not the author as...

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