“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)

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

Season 1 Lectures

The Parasite: guest, noise, leech

In the first semester we explore a first set of parasitical archetypes: noise, guest and leech. We look into the genealogy of the parasite as originally an ancient holy figure, a comical character and an (uninvited) dinner guest.

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.

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

Season 2 Lectures

In the second semester we continue to ride the back of the beast, visiting new expressions both light and dark, deepening not only our understanding of the life cycle of real bio­ logical parasites, but also what the parasite teaches us about our complicated relation towards an intimate but infinitely strange ‘other’.

What thought-feeling-behaviour does this intimate stranger evoke? How does the parasite relate to extinction, exhaustion and extermination? In what sense could decolonisation, cultural (re)appropiation, mimicry and the diasporic identity be seen as parasitic tactics? How could we counter the political abuse of the parasite metaphor in both cyberspace and meatspace? As we search for answers to these questions, and develop an ever more complex image of the beast, we will also continue to explore how it could feed from and feed into our artistic practice. What ‘hosts’ could and should we latch on to, what system disorders and complexities could we create? In these times, where simple narratives hold sway, and in which the fear for ‘the enemy within’ looms large, the parasite challenges to flip our worldview once again and ask ourselves: who is the real parasite?


KABK Studium Generale

Erika Sprey, Programme leader

Janne van Gilst, Coordinator