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Parasites! Parasitical Logic in Economics, Politics, and Culture

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Organizer: peter hitchcock

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An immense box office and review success, and particularly after winning an Oscar for Best Picture in 2020, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite has spurred significant critical debate on the prevalence of parasitism in nature and in human social forms.  One collection recently has drawn on Parasite to examine philosophical discourse (inspired, for instance, by Michel Serres’ Le Parasite [1980]), and several other essays have taken up the movie as a window onto contemporary South Korean politics and culture.  Rather than simply reproduce such debate, this panel is interested in deepening the understanding of the parasite as a concept metaphor.  With over half of organic species parasitical in some way, few are surprised by human capacities in this regard.  And yet several distinctions should be made.  For one, while parasitical symbiosis harms the host to the benefit of the parasite, humans have developed complex networks to rationalize and/or normalize intra-species parasitism.  Capitalism, as a mode of production, has always delighted in the necro-economical, although dispossessing labor of its lifeblood appears to have reached its apotheosis in neoliberal globalization, in which a sacrificial state of exception no longer seems exceptional.  Surely, by contrast, the extraction of consent contradicts a corresponding will to parasitism in the political sphere?  Do the democratic processes of political elites live on the interpellation of a voting subject, or at least one expected to perform political desire?  Literature, of course, and those who live by it, is never only parasitical, and cleaves to mutualism as a paradigm of symbiotic species being.  And yet, from (the anxiety of) “influence” to “borrowing” to the unalloyed creativity of ChatGPT, parasitical logic has distinct cultural genealogies, even if they do not take their lead from more obvious discourses like colonialism and imperialism.  Institutionally, and under actually existing privatization, the humanities is hardly a stranger to the hospitality of the rich, a symbiosis that dares to be non-contradictory.  The ubiquity of parasites seems to cheat substantial theorization (even Bong’s movie ends with a resolution as shrug).  Should one fight parasitical social structures or live their contradictions?

This seminar invites papers on matters parasitical with a particular focus on its human and posthuman impress.  Contributions might address vital environmental impacts in this regard, but generally the emphasis is on the knot that parasitism represents across economics, politics, and culture.  How might paradigms dedicated to the diminution of exploitation confront the power of parasitism in the production and reproduction of inequality in everyday life?  Does a force of nature simply condemn humanity to, as a poet once put it, prey on itself like monsters of the deep?

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