The subject of the project is the literary history of parasites, a history that from antiquity onward has been set down in a variety of genres: comedy, Menippean satire, novella, essay and autobiography. The explicit or implicit contrariness of drastic rituals of exclusion and the subliminal negativity of order have combined to bestow elementary aesthetic attractiveness upon parasitic relations, a phenomenon that has been observed since antiquity.
Outline of the topic and preparatory work already completed:
Wherever they tread, parasites destroy order, whether biological or social. They irritate the oikonomia of the house; both its internal organization and its trade relations. Their membership is disputed, and the house reacts to their presence with rituals of exclusion, although it seems so dependent on this presence. Parasites disrupt and destroy the house’s relations with its environment; in place of the reciprocity of giving and receiving gifts, or the equivalent in wares and money, an asymmetry emerges which allows the parasite to live and thrive at the expense of his host and his host’s oikos. The parasite disrupts the circulation and puts forward surprising substitutes. Since antiquity, literature has dealt extensively with parasite economies. The explicit or implicit contrariness of drastic rituals of exclusion and the subliminal negativity of order combine to bestow elementary aesthetic attractiveness upon parasitic relations, a phenomenon that has been observed since antiquity and that has been set down in certain genres: comedy, Menippean satire, novella, essay and autobiography. Diderot, whose dialogue “Rameau’s Nephew” is one of the most influential literary and philosophical characterizations of a parasite economy, significantly refers to the parasite as a grain of yeast that exposes the illusory nature of domestic and social orders and promotes the visibility of an individualité naturelle. Because he consistently and predictably sabotages trade relations, thus allowing their mechanisms to be laid bare, while at the same time increasing their critical disfunctionality, he forces the oikos to correct its reproductive forms – if he doesn’t first aggravate these subliminal crises to the point of catastrophe. The parasite can operate as an ecto- or endo-parasite. By manipulating borders, he makes the terrain of the oikos confused, and he mixes up relations by sabotaging allotted places. Michel Serres has concisely represented the parasite’s systematic virulence in three dimensions: “Il paralyse, il analyse, il catalyse” (Le parasite, S. 211). This virulence is made possible by the parasite’s spectrum of activities, ranging from mimesis to transformation. The rhetorico-literary inventio of the parasite manifests itself in the redescription of the economy. As is well known, the parasite’s etymologically primary place is not the house, but the religious sacrificial ceremony. From a form-critical perspective, he therefore moves – as a suspension or perversion of exchange – through heterogeneous regions of reality. And this is the cause of his eminent affinity to the historical semantics of place, since this affinity comes into play wherever questions arise concerning the cartography of the terrain, the borders separating inside from outside or the distribution of available relations. Between the renaissance and the enlightenment (Alberti, Montaigne, Diderot, Rousseau, etc.) the concept of place orders theological, political and social exchange relations, which are subject to a multifarious economical logic. This project gives priority to the investigation of 1) the literary function of parasite economies against the background of competing models of the oikonomia; 2) ways in which theological, social, political and psychological orders interact with the leitmotif of the conceptuality of place.