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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 Parasitic and the Ordinary: Speech, Time and Ethics in Nicolas Philibert’s La Maison de la radio (Rhiannon Harries)


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The Parasitic and the Ordinary: Speech, Time and Ethics in Nicolas Philibert’s La Maison de la radio

ABSTRACT Director Nicolas Philibert describes his 2013 documentary La Maison de la radio [The House of Radio] – which records the inner workings of French public broadcasting institution Radio France – as a ‘paradox’, noting that ‘the strength of radio is linked to its absence of images’. Exploring the stakes of this audiovisual documentation of the people and processes behind a purely aural medium, this chapter reads Philibert’s counter-intuitive project alongside Jacques Derrida’s concepts of the ordinary and parasitic operations of language, on the one hand, and Emmanuel Levinas’s interwoven accounts of time, ethics and language, on the other. In his creative redeployment of voices recorded for radio – and their recombination with images – Philibert explicitly stages the citationality which Derrida identifies with the parasitic force of language, where the sameness of signs is inhabited by an alterity prefiguring future decontextualization and difference. Drawing on Levinas’s seemingly paradoxical linguistic categories of the ‘saying’, unthematizably Other, and the spatio-temporally situated ‘said’, this chapter contends that Derrida’s parasitic, and its staging in Philibert’s film, might be read productively alongside Levinas’s ‘saying’ in order to elucidate the ethical force of both Derrida and Philibert’s work, while suggesting concrete ways in which Levinas’s otherwise exorbitant concept of the ‘saying’ might be figured.

In an interview during the production of his 2013 documentary La Maison de la radio [The...

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