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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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What You Might Hear When People Talk, or Proust as a Linguistic Anthropologist (Michael Lucey)


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What You Might Hear When People Talk, or Proust as a Linguistic Anthropologist

ABSTRACT This chapter stages an encounter between the fields of linguistic anthropology and literary/cultural studies through an analysis of a few moments in À la recherche du temps perdu [In Search of Lost Time]. Proust’s novel regularly engages in commentary on certain features of language-in-use found in scenes of face-to-face talk – features pertaining to the maintenance and transformation of group membership. The novel’s approach to the study of talk can be understood as ethnographic or linguistic anthropological, in that the Recherche studies what talk achieves in socio-cultural terms and how talk is a medium through which culture is interactively brought into being. It demonstrates a practical understanding of how what Bourdieu identified as social capital functions in individual scenes of talk, which it shows to be skirmishes in a struggle occurring across a larger time frame and having to do with shifts in the quantities of social capital that are held by different individuals and by the groups to which they belong.

There’s no reason to expect that any single definition of the novel would suffice to capture all of the objects that are often counted as members of that fuzzy category, one that contains multiple conflicting and overlapping prototypes. But for the purposes of understanding some of the sociolinguistic, or linguistic anthropological work that Marcel Proust accomplishes in À la recherche du temps perdu [In Search...

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