Lecture series 2019-20

“The parasitic relation is intersubjective. It is the atomic form of our relations. Let us try to face it head-on, like death, like the sun. We are all attacked, together.”
Michel Serres, in: The Parasite (1980)

The Parasite: guest, noise, leech

The parasite could be a microbe, a leech, an insidious infection that takes without giving, while killing its host softly in their close embrace. The parasite might also be a guest who exchanges his talk and flattery just to be close to the food [para (near) - sitos (grain,food)]. The parasite is also an interrupting noise, like the static in a system or interference on a channel, thwarting every attempt at efficient communication. Moreover, the parasite has been historically despised as the most disgusting and useless of all organisms, deserving no less than total extinction. As such it has often been used as a metaphor to dehumanise, exclude and exterminate entire groups of people.

This year’s Studium Generale is a polyphonic exploration of the fuzzy semantic field around the parasite as an organism, phenomenon, dynamic, relation and metaphor. We will run the full gamut of its manifestations, from the negative to the positive, from the hyperscientific to the everyday.

Point of departure is Michel Serres’ intriguing book Le Parasite (1980) in which he explores the idea of the world as essentially parasitic — that is, infested with primordial, one-way, irreversible relations between host and guest. No system is without its flaws, losses, errors, accidents and excesses on which the parasite can feed. Therefore every system has its parasite, an agent ‘who has the last word, who produces disorder and who generates a different order’. Whenever a parasitic agent takes over and overturns a system, more diversity and complexity is created in the act.

Next two semesters we will latch on this beast while shifting positions between host and guest, touching upon related concepts such as (cultural) appropriation, colonialism, invasion, infiltration, cannibalism, degeneration, but also generation and regeneration. As we unpack the concept layer by layer, we are invited to reflect on the question:

How can this troubling and perhaps most promising of creatures feed from and feed into our artistic practice? What would it infect, what would it create?

In these times in which a strict distinction between the cultural and the natural seems obsolete, and the biological and the political are more entangled as ever, the parasite invites us to critically review our relation to the world through a lopsided lens.

Erika Sprey

Lecture series 2019/20

Season 1 Lectures

DateGuest speaker
3 OctoberAnders M. Gullestad
17 OctoberArie Altena
31 OctoberMarina Otero Verzier
7 NovemberWillem van Weelden
14 NovemberGosie Vervloessem
21 NovemberSimon Wald-Lasowski
28 NovemberHylke Vervaeke
5 DecemberDana Linssen


KABK Studium Generale

Erika Sprey, Programme leader

Janne van Gilst, Coordinator