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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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The Parasitical Relationship between Science and the Sacred in Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Claire Lenoir and L’Ève Future (Anne Orset)


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The Parasitical Relationship between Science and the Sacred in Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Claire Lenoir and L’Ève Future

ABSTRACT This chapter draws out the multiple figures of the parasite lurking in l’Isle-Adam’s Claire Lenoir and L’Ève future [Tomorrow’s Eve]. Situating l’Isle-Adam’s proto science-fiction in the midst of the turbulent relation between religion and scientific knowledge in nineteenth-century France, these works are found to spin through an ‘extended spiral of parasites’ and parasitic relations, in order, finally, to encourage a parasitical kind of reading in which the reader would nourish him or herself on the ‘fringes of major theories’.

At a time when positivism was triumphant, the nineteenth-century French novelist Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam considered science a parasitical ideology, that is, a theory invasive to society, forcing it to renounce traditional beliefs.

In his two longest novels, his scientific characters take advantage of popular gullibility to propose materialistic principles disguised as medical or technical progress. In Claire Lenoir (1867), Tribulat Bonhomet is a silly and pedantic physiologist, interested only in the infinitesimally small, who parasites his idealistic friends, invading their homes and ideas. In L’Ève future (1886),1 Edison is a sacrilegious engineer whose invention of a female robot to cure men of love parasites the concept of divine creation. ← 93 | 94 →

In Figures de parasite [Parasite Figures], Myriam Roman and Anne Tomiche write: ‘[Le parasite] est apte à provoquer des interrogations fondamentales qui...

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