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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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‘Se laisser contaminer’: Parasitic Practices, Paradigms of Deconstruction (Nicholas Cotton)


← 166 | 167 →


‘Se laisser contaminer’: Parasitic Practices, Paradigms of Deconstruction

ABSTRACT This chapter provides a detailed overview of the concept of the parasitic in Derrida’s thinking. Attentive to the multiple uses of the noun ‘parasite’ and the verb ‘parasiter’ in Derrida’s thinking, it demonstrates how ‘le parasitage’ might be placed alongside other, more well-known Derridean concepts such as hospitality, or autoimmunity, making the claim that Derrida should be considered a thinker of ‘le parasitage’.

I often tell myself, and I must have written it somewhere […] that all I have done […] is dominated by the thought of a virus, what could be called a parasitology, a virology, the virus being many things …

— JACQUES DERRIDA1 ← 167 | 168 →

Le virus aura été le seul objet de mon travail. [The virus will have been the only object of my work.]


Jacques Derrida has been associated with the figure of the parasite several times. Take an event that took place in Cambridge, England, in 1992. Derrida was to receive an honorary doctorate from the university. Many philosophers and intellectuals, however, positioned themselves against his candidacy in an open letter published in The Times (9 May 1992). The comparison of Derrida to a parasite is not explicit in this letter, and yet: a case of ‘expert’ philosophers declaring themselves against Derrida who only ‘describes himself as a philosopher’, his ‘influence’ felt ‘in fields outside philosophy’. Armed...

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