Parasite: A Philosophical Exploration
On the film Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho
Book edited by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein and Giannis Stamatellos
Brill "Philosophy of Film" Series, July 2022
This remarkable volume explores the many philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite from a variety of perspectives, showcasing how close critical engagement with a film can yield philosophical insights and deepen ethical understanding. Framing ‘parasitism’ as both a biological and ethical problem, the editors have assembled an impressive list of contributors who draw on philosophical perspectives including Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Serres, and Derrida, but who also situate Parasite within the context of contemporary Korean cinema, critiques of neoliberal capitalism, and postmodern concerns with pluralised identities. The result is a rich and complex constellation of film-philosophical approaches that go a long way to explaining the critical success and global reach of this extraordinary film.
Robert Sinnerbrink, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University
With Michel Serres’ theorization of parasite as a conceptual springboard, the essays in this volume traverse a truly rich scope of philosophical thinking, through which the film Parasite emerges as a space of rigorous ontological and socio-political interrogation. The volume demonstrates how locating the film text in conversation with a vast swath of philosophical positions from Aristotle to Žižek can bring out the universal resonance of Parasite.
Hyon Joo Yoo, Director, Film and Television Studies, University of Vermont
The first English language book on a single Korean film!
“The world of parasites constitutes perhaps one of the most exciting chapters of biology because it introduces the reader into the vast field of philosophical reflections”
Parasitologist Juan Jose Boero
Parasite won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019, four Oscars in 2020, and is the first non-English speaking film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. It went on to be the highest-grossing Korean film of all time. As the film deals with the concept of parasitism, it is a subject of interest for philosophers, sociologists, and anthropologists. Basically, parasitism can be viewed from two angles: as a biological and as an ethical problem. Michel Serres, in his book on chaos theory (The Parasite), holds that parasites are not useless, but that they establish communication between different spheres and transform the picture of the whole. Parasites bring in coincidences without which development would be too straightforward. Parasites activate defense systems by creating tension and establish new links with the host. Similarly, Mario Coccia’s provocative “technological parasitism” explains technical evolution through systems and parasitic subsystems.
The film can be read in two ways: (1) as a critique of neoliberal capitalism and (2) an analysis of a postmodern situation that is fluid, plays with identities, and thus relativizes the predominantly negative connotations that parasitism has originally had in biology.
The original concept of παρασιτῶ means to “board or lodge with,” and it has been dealt with in ancient political philosophy, modern philosophy of science, and ethics, from the Stoics through Marx to Nietzsche. Lucian’s (125–180 AD) De Parasito can almost be read as a commentary of the film, as he satirically defends the art of parasitism. For the Romans, the parasitus was not strictly pejorative but simply a person living off the hospitality of others in return for flattery. The parasite is not necessarily a thief, but can be a seducer, a creator, a companion, or a mimic… For Nietzsche, the parasite is the priest, but parasitism is also the vengeance of the weak. According to Maoist ideology, the parasites are the rich, but others would say it’s the poor...
In the film, some parasites emit the same unpleasant smell that reflects their lower social class. Nietzsche refers to the smell of the mob in Ecce Homo and blames pity as a decadent virtue: “pity quickly begins to smell of the mob.”
Most authors who contributed to this book agree that the film does not issue clear moral, political, or social judgments. One can, of course, critique the poor peoples’ behavior in terms of Marxian false consciousness. Poor families fight among themselves to obtain or maintain work and the acknowledgment of the rich man; they even kill one another...
1 Thorsten Botz-Bornstein: Parasitism beyond Ethics
2 Steve Choe: The Paradoxical Universal of Korean Cinema
3 Seung-hoon Jeong: Parasite from Text to Context: An Ethical Stalemate and New Auteurism in Global Cinema
4 Daniel Regnier: From Superfluous to Parasitic: Russian Literature, Arendt, and Korean Modernity
5 Richard McDonough: Notes from the (Korean) Underground: Being-in-the-World is Being-a-Parasite
6 Paolo Stellino: Mice and Cockroaches. Parasite through Nietzsche and Dostoevsky
7 Daniel Conway: Planning Not to Plan: The Fantasy and Failure of Underclass Solidarity in Parasite
8 Tony Partridge: Parasite Viewed in the Context of Pasolini’s Theorem and Deleuze’s Filmic Theories
9 Hye Seung Chung: From Parasites to Monsters: Unfulfilled Promises of Serres’ Parasitism in Bong Joon-ho’s
10 Vincenzo Lomuscio: Parasite: A Predicative or a Substantial Concept?
11 Giannis Stamatellos: A System of Apprehensions: The Art of Parasitism in Lucian’s De Parasito and Bong Joon-ho’s
12 Hyun Kang Kim: The Parasite is the Truth of the System
13 Michelle Buchberger: Parasite and Identity in the “End Times”: An Interpretation of Bong Joon-ho’s film through
the Lens of Slavoj Žižek
14 Enrico Terrone: Parasites, Disaster Movies, and Social Catastrophes
15 Michael Weinman and Shai Biderman: Symbiosis, Interruption, and Exchange: Parasite after Serres’ The Parasite
Lucian, author of