Itchy Occupations: Toward a Parasitic Mode of Writing


1. It’s eating them from the inside! In horror the parasite arrives as foreigner, alien, vampire, worm, threatening to infiltrate the social body and destroy it from within.

2. The following social groups have been culturally constructed as parasites: Jewish people, poor people, people of color, queer people, disabled people, migrants and immigrants, women. The artist is also a parasite, feeding off of shared resources without producing anything useful in return. But, as Donna Haraway has observed: We have never been human. And, as Michel Serres has declared: There is no system without parasites. Tom Ray’s artificial evolution simulation system Tierra, built in the 1990s, managed to generate its own parasites.

3. Appropriative or citational writing is categorically parasitic, and has often been denigrated as derivative, vampiric, feeding on the life/blood/brains of other texts and persons. But there is no shame in being a parasite, Carl Zimmer concludes in his popular science book Parasite Rex. Indeed, there is political strategy. The parasite can provide a useful model for thinking about oppositional appropriative writing and its relational politics.

4. Parasitic writing is posthuman, beyond-human, in-human, though it may not be humanless. It writes the body from a trans-species perspective indebted to indigenous critiques of human exceptionalism. Gloria Anzaldúa: You’re all the different organisms and parasites that live on your body and also the ones who live in a symbiotic relationship to you…So who are you? You’re not one single entity. You’re a multiple entity.

5. A parasitic mode of writing is organized around imposition, infection, and itch. It sucks, it burrows, it produces chronic irritation. In contrast to the pure machine of conceptual writing, parasitic writing insists on impurity, transcorporeality, bad boundaries. It is a minoritarian mode, exploiting power asymmetries and enacting imposition: the self-body-text—understood in a post-Enlightenment western context to be bounded, sovereign, impermeable—recognized as permeable; violable.

6. An agent of imposition and occupation, the parasite may also be an agent of intersubjectivity, allyship, symbiosis: potentially. More often, the relationship is nonmutual, one-directional, nonconsensual, nonethical. The parasite takes more than it gives. The parasite is a dangerous subject, Anna Watkins Fisher writes in her analysis of artist Roisin Byrne’s performative parasitism. It does not necessarily work toward something…it just works….

7. In this way, the parasite rejects the logic of avant-gardism. There is no progress forward or backward; parasites force their host to change without going anywhere (Zimmer).

8. A parasite transforms through infection. It makes a system change its condition in small steps. It introduces a tilt (Serres).

9. The predominant metaphor for the parasite is the vampire. Let us put aside the vampire and think about the tick, which needs no invitation. To write like a tick: find a sweet spot and suck until swollen. Extract the host’s contents. Gorge yourself and give only an infectious bite. Detach and find another host.

10. Or the scabies mite: enter the skin and travel subcutaneous, eating tissue and depositing eggs. Leave jagged burrows and itchy bubbles in your wake. Chronically irritate a text or idea with your presence. Reproduce inside it.

11. The fluke begins life in fecal matter, then gets eaten by a mollusk, which may be eaten by a bird; the fluke changes form for each stage. To write like a fluke: attempt transfiguration. Be consumed by multiple host bodies. Create relationality through inter-species escapade.

12. The tongue-eating louse slides into a host’s body through the gills, then attaches to the host’s tongue with its front claws. To write in this fashion: Hang out in the mouth, siphoning away the tongue’s blood supply until the tongue falls out and you have replaced it with your own body. Occupy the mouth with new hungers.

13. The tapeworm has no mouth or gut: its whole body is a mouth-gut system: its skin absorbs food. To write like a tapeworm is to behave as a consumption machine.

14. This is just one possibility. There are more than six thousand species of tapeworms.

15. There are more parasites than there are any other organism in the world.



Works Paracited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987.

Fisher, Anna Watkins. “We Are Parasites: On the Politics of Imposition.” Art and Education. N.d. <http://www.artandeducation.net/paper/we-are-parasites-on-the-politics-of-imposition/> Accessed 17 September 2015.

Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Serres, Michel. The Parasite. Tr. Lawrence R. Schehr. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Zimmer, Carl. Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures. New York: Touchstone, 2000.






Megan Milks is the author of Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, winner of the 2015 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Fiction and a Lambda Literary Award finalist; as well as three chapbooks, including The Feels, published in Black Warrior Review.