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July 11, 2005

Return of the Zombies

Over at schizzes and flows, Scot discusses the recent cycle of zombie films, including 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and George Romero's latest, Land of the Dead, explaining that he is a fan of the genre and speculating about the reasons why these films are so effective. Scot then mentions a recent article in which Romero asserts that the appeal of the zombie film derives from our fears about our neighbors:

"It's the neighbors, man," Romero said. "That's the scariest thing in life, the neighbors. Who am I going to move in next to?

"I don't think metaphysically about this. It's not about death or an afterlife or anything like that. This is a new situation, it's a change. A new species that just happens to be related to us."

Scot empasizes the degree to which these films reflect our insecurities regarding privacy, and with my recent move to a new apartment in DC, I've been a little more attuned to these types of insecurities, especially when one of my new neighbors, a sixty-something woman, immediately greeted me with all sorts of personal information about her health and her family history. But horror in general seems to tap into this fear of the other that Romero describes. After all, The Ring deals with similar fears of home invasion via the VCR and even David Fincher's underrated Panic Room makes this fear the subject of his film. I'm thinking about revisions for my media horror film article again, so it might be worth revisiting some of these questions, especially as I expand the article to focus on more films.

Update: I just came across Steven Shaviro's discussion of Land of the Dead in terms of social class and Glen Fuller's reading of the film in terms of spectacle and Hardt and Negri's concept of the multitude.

Posted by chuck at July 11, 2005 1:10 PM

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I think that Freud's theorization of uncanny uses the terms (and I don't know Freud or Germs, so forgive, please) heimlich and unheimlich, which translate to "home-like" and "un-home-like." The fear of the home, then would seem to play directly into these notions of the familiar and unfamiliar, albeit in ways perhaps not precisely intended in thier original iterations. Interesting stuff, to be sure.

Posted by: Ryan [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2005 1:51 PM

funny how "German" got typed as "Germs" above there. Oops.

Posted by: Ryan [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2005 1:52 PM

Interesting slip between "Germs" and "Germans." But yeah, Freud's discussion of the uncanny has been important to my work on time-travel films (at various stages), and the question of "home" seems crucial.

Posted by: Chuck at July 11, 2005 2:53 PM

hi chuck, thanks for the link;)

ryan, it is interesting you should bring up the 'uncanny' and questions of 'home'. Virno has an interesting discussion in A Grammar of the Multitude where he mentions the uncany, but only in passing:

"If the substantial communities once hid or muffled our relationship with the world, then their dissolution now clarifies this relationship for us: the loss of one's job, or the change which alters the features of the functions of labor, or the loneliness of metropolitan life-all these aspects of our relationship with the world assume many of the traits which formerly belonged to the kind of terror one feels outside the walls of the community. We would need to find a new term here, different from "fear" or "anguish," a term which would take the fusion of these two terms into account. What comes to mind for me is the term *uncanny*. But it would take too much time here to justify the use of this term (Virno, Mondanita: 65-7).

"Let us move on to the second critical approach. According to traditional explanations, fear is a public feeling, while anguish pertains to the individual who has been isolated by a fellow human being. In contrast to fear (which is provoked by a danger pertaining virtually to many members of the community and which can be resisted with the help of others), the anguished feeling of being lost evades the public sphere and is concerned only with the so-called interior nature of the individual. This type of explanation has become completely unreliable. For certain reasons, in fact, it must be overturned. Today, all forms of life have the experience of "not feeling at home," which, according to Heidegger, would be the origin of anguish. Thus, there is nothing more shared and more common, and in a certain sense more public, than the feeling of "nor feeling at home." No one is less isolated than the person who feels the fearful pressure of the indefinite world. In other words, that feeling in which fear and anguish converge is immediately the concern of many. One could say, perhaps, that "not feeling at home" is in fact a distinctive trait of the concept of the multitude, while the separation between the "inside" and the "outside," between fear and anguish, is what earmarked the Hobbesian (and not only Hobbesian) idea of people. The people are one, because the substantial community collaborates in order to sedate the fears which spring from circumscribed dangers. The multitude, instead, is united by the risk which derives from not feeling at home," from being exposed omnilaterally to the world." (33-4)

We are all not-feeling-at-home zombies?

Posted by: Glen at July 11, 2005 8:26 PM

oh that is all one big quote from AGotM. Virno references himself in the last line of first para.

Posted by: Glen at July 11, 2005 8:28 PM

Hey Chuck,

I just posted a reply to your comment over at my blog...I think you're right about the horror genre playing on fears of transgression, that shattering of that false sense of containment--spatially, bodily, etc.--that many of us carry around Maybe, as Ryan suggests, this represents something uncanny--the returned of the repressed. I certainly think there's a case to be made there.

Perhaps we could go further than Freud, though, to consider the psychical and political dimensions, a la Hardt and Negri and, before them, Deleuze and Guattari. To quote Glen (and Negri via Glen): "[The zombies] organise around their singularities. Their hunger drives them, but it is the monstorous flesh of the zombie multitude which sees them prevail. As Negri writes: 'The revolutionary monster that is the multitude and appears at the end of modernity continuously wants to transform our flesh into new forms of life.' (great quote N, by the way).

In Deleuzian terms, perhaps our fear/fascination with zombies rests in our becoming-zombie. As D and G (and Hardt and Negri after them) suggest, capitalism, through its complex movements of territorialization and deterritorialization, contains within it the processes through which it can be resisted/transgressed. For D&G, this takes the form of schizophrenia: though capitalism (and psychoanalysis as well) aims to condition subjectivities, it as well opens up possibilities for alternative desiring-productions, actions (schizzes) that go against the grain. Our reaction to these schizzes, as Foucault might point out, is to fear them, to try to refold them back into our oedipalized/subjugating systems. The point here is that, within these complex systems, each person has the potential to engage these alternatives productions, though most elect to support the repressive order of the system. So, in Land, we get a fortified outpost on the edge of chaos, working to reinscribe an orderly/hierarchical system in response to the deterritorialized multitude. Of course, the multitude win in this case, infiltrating the system and devouring from the inside out.

Just some follow-up thoughts to an exciting discussion. By the way, has anyone seen Undead yet? If so, is it worthwhile to bring that film into these sorts of discussions?

Posted by: Scot at July 12, 2005 9:58 AM

Glen, interesting comments (from Virno) about the fundamental sense of "not feeling at home." I have to wonder about the potential limits here in terms of describing this "unhomely" quality as universal. I'd also wonder where this shared recognition takes us. Once we discover that "everyone" shares that "experience of 'not feeling at home,'" what do we do with it?

Scot, I haven't seen "Undead" yet (or even "Land" for that matter), but I'm now fairly curious. I think you're right about the fear of becoming-zombie and the degree to which characters seek to preserve whatever remnants of order they already know (even the desperate protection of the family unit in "Dawn of the Dead"). "28 Days Later" seems to undermine that desire to preserve the status quo, at least to the degree that the military unit they encounter proves to be more frightening than the zombies themselves, but it has been a while since I've seen that film, so I could be forgetting something.

Posted by: Chuck at July 12, 2005 2:47 PM

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