Michel Serres’s The Parasite: A Reader’s Guide. 148 page document to download

Christopher Watkin, Michel Serres's The Parasite - A Reader's GuideOver the past few weeks I have been working my way through Michel Serres’s 1980 Le Parasite: a dense, poetic, brilliant text that seeks to tear down and rebuild the way we think about everything. In reading the book I kept a running list of intertexts to which Serres refers, a document that runs to some 148 pages. I have decided to make this Reader’s Guide available to download so that those seeking to grapple with Serres’s forbidding erudition and the proliferation of references and allusions in Le Parasite can have a slightly easier time of it than I did. The document is available here.

Here is an extract from the Introduction:

Michel Serres’s Le Parasite is a foundational text not only for the understanding of Serres’s own imposing and timely thought but also for key debates in contemporary posthumanism, object oriented thought, new materialisms, ecology, ontology and politics.

However, the reader seeking to come to terms with the book faces a three-fold problem. To begin with, Serres dialogues with a forbidding array of intertexts ranging from ancient Greek and Roman literature and philosophy through medieval and early modern French to more recent texts. Without a knowledge of key passages from these intertexts it is simply impossible to appreciate Serres’s argument, an argument which is, itself, quite intentionally parasitic on the texts with which it interacts.

The second problem for the reader is that, although both the original French and subsequent English translation of Le Parasite contain a list of intertexts as an appendix bearing the title “Histoires, animaux” (“Stories, animals”), the list is incomplete. Thirdly, and to compound the problem, Serres does not systematically mention the particular text with which he is interacting at any given point, nor indeed that he is interacting with a particular text at all. It is left to the reader to pick up the allusions and interactions for herself. The English translation provides footnotes to some but not all of these references, but the reader is nevertheless left to track down the intertexts and read the relevant passages. This leaves a great deal of work to do in order to access and appreciate the brilliant and important moves that Serres is making in Le Parasite.

This Reader’s Guide has been prepared to save some – perhaps most – of that extra effort. The reader will find herein not only a comprehensive list of Serres’s intertexts but also both French and English versions of the key passages with which he interacts. Each passage given below is accompanied by references to the pages of the French (Grasset, 1980) and English (Minnesota Press, 2007) editions of Le Parasite where Serres alludes to the passage in question or mentions it directly.

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