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Parasites

Exploitation and Interference in French Thought and Culture

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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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The Philosophical Commitments of the Self-Metaphor in Immunology (Andrew Jones)

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ANDREW JONES

The Philosophical Commitments of the Self-Metaphor in Immunology

ABSTRACT Contemporary research has shown parasitism and immunology are biologically connected, as some parasites evolved alongside the host’s immune system to the extent they have exerted selective pressure on their host. Furthermore, both have presupposed it is possible to distinguish what is, and is not, the self. Tauber’s The Immune Self examines how immunology originally derived its account of the self from philosophy. He argues Kant, rather than Descartes, is the inspiration of the immune self ‘as an autonomous and self-determining subject’. I, however, argue these are primarily features of the Cartesian self.

The benefit of the metaphorical use of the self within immunology has been its elusive meaning. However, the self-metaphor misleads us into conceiving of the immune system as generated from within, as independent from the foreign bodies it protects us against. It has been shown the development of the immune system depends on exposure to foreign bodies. Thus any theory that emphasizes the autonomy and identity of the self as a precondition for immunological reactions is incongruous with the science it attempts to explain. If there is an immune self, its origin is dependent on the environment it provides protection against. Can parasitism maintain its meaning in the absence of a host that ‘knows itself’ prior to its interactions with the environment?

According to Hillis Miller, ‘“Parasite” is one of those words which calls up...

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