07 August 2014

Zombie Theory

'From the classical polis to the neoliberal camp: mapping the bipolitical regimes of the undead in Dawn Of The Dead, Zomi 2 and 28 Days Later' by Tamas Nagypal in (2014) 13(2) Journal of Cultural & Religious Theory 13 [PDF] is claimed to
map the (bio)political conflicts around the undead body that emerged in early postmodern zombie films and to look at a possible contemporary resolution of these conflicts in the genre’s currently dominant form. The theoretical starting point of the analysis is the Lacanian psychoanalytic concept of the living dead developed by Slavoj Zizek that links the sublime bodies of the undead, situated outside normative social boundaries, to a revolutionary mode of subjectivity. His model allows to read these films as allegories for popular uprisings against the global neoliberal consensus forming in the late 1970s that stroke a heavy blow at underprivileged populations by advocating the dismantling of the welfare state and the deregulation of the market through an increase of privatization and individual responsibility. 
At the time of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979) the new status quo is not yet solidified, which is why, I suggest, these films try to locate the problem of the emergent global mass of bodies, deemed superfluous for the entrepreneurial logic of neoliberal production, in the framework of the classical exclusory politics of the city-state threatened by the revolution of the proletariat. It is Fulci’s film which takes an ultra-leftist stance here by supporting, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, the political takeover of the world by its underclass zombies while Romero’s Dawn remains skeptical about the power of the masses, retreating rather to a conservative position of established middle class family values and patriarchy. By contrast, in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), a film that has arguably jumpstarted and renewed the zombie genre for the 21st century after 9/11, the biopolitical apocalypse, i.e. the Western bourgeois citizen’s indistinction from the precarious bodies of displaced Third World masses, is not a threat anymore but an irreversible event of the past which seems to make classical political struggles both on the right and the left pointless. To analyze this shift, I utilize Giorgio Agamben’s concept of the camp as the biopolitical paradigm of modernity to demonstrate how in the permanent state of emergency issued in 28 Days Later because of the zombie-plague, the non-infected human subjects become treated as undead themselves, as bare life in the zone of indistinction they encounter in the refugee camp they seek shelter in. I argue that Boyle even goes a step further in the conclusion of his film presenting a scenario where the successful elimination of the fascist-type prison camp with its sovereign military leader and temporarily fixed boundaries between inside and outside actually leads to the universal extension of the zone of indistinction rather than to its overcoming. With the disappearance of the zombies as exceptions, their status becomes internalized by the film’s surviving characters, indicating the successful transformation of their consciousness about their precarity caused by the absence of the state into self-responsibility aligned with the (re)productive purposes of neoliberal governmentality.
Nagypal goes on to comment
In Dawn of the Dead, the classical political model of the city is applied by the four leading characters when they occupy a shopping mall full of zombies. Their plan is to clear the building, barricade the entrances, and make a space for themselves safely separated from the external threat. Despite their classical aspirations, however, their project is already overdetermined by biopolitical concerns since the aim of their actions, much like the aim of the mall as an institution, is to preserve their biological lives and to survive through enjoying the fruits of consumerism. The real question is, then, how are their lives nonetheless separated from the living dead whom they discover wandering around in the shopping center resembling mindless consumers? The key difference is that in the eyes of the protagonists, the zombies can’t consume/enjoy “properly”. As one of the characters points out, they are drawn to the mall because they used to have good memories about it back when they were human, but now it’s just a reflex, a remainder of social conditioning that they are left with after their consciousness is gone. For this reason, Romero’s zombies, rather than being bereft of symbolic substance resemble what Zizek called “dead while alive” subjects who are fully colonized by the dead symbolic order. In the eyes of the people inside, the zombies are not human precisely because they take the symbolic law (the injunction to consume in this case) all too literally; they are trying too hard, unable to enjoy the heaven surrounding them. They resemble psychotics in the Lacanian sense, people for whom the phallus as the signifier of castration is foreclosed, not effective, making them unable to discern the lack in the big Other that would allow for a critical distance from symbolic norms. By contrast, the four main characters perform their superiority through an ironic denigration of middle class consumption rituals of the post-war era; they pretend to be shoppers, mock the installations of commodities, act as if they were on a date in the mall, etc. 
Such a binary, although it masquerades as the critique of suburban bourgeois culture, betrays both a neoconservative and a neoliberal politics. On the one hand, the living dead stand for the horror of a fully realized democratic promise inherent in the blindly equalizing ideal of consumerism, for the conservative fear that the American welfare state would overturn established social hierarchies. On the other hand, this taking refuge in one’s inner resistance to ideological state apparatuses can be seen here also as the founding gesture of a neoliberal ideology that splits the population in two parts, into rational citizens capable of responsibly taking care of themselves in the absence of the state and social security, and mindless zombies who lack the capacity to do so and who thus stand for a biopolitical excess of precarious bodies useless for the new paradigm of capitalist production. Accordingly, the neoliberal-neoconservative project of the four protagonists entails the neutralization of the threat of a universal zone of indistinction by recreating the binaries of the classical polis through the mockery of the biopolitical situation which nonetheless keeps unconsciously controlling their lives. The human equals ironic consumer versus zombie equals mindless consumer distinction is their attempt to resuscitate the ancient opposition between citizen and slave, but this binary remains fragile, which is apparent in the way it ends up being redoubled along gendered lines within the group of the four survivors as Romero makes Fran, the pregnant woman regress into the stereotypical mindless female consumer who cannot quite elevate herself to the ironic reflexivity of the men in her company.
Christopher Flavin's 'The Walking Dead: The Panoptic Gaze and Ideologic Zombies' in the same issue of JCRT comments that
The image of the zombie horde as a sea of undead ghouls, pressed against the fences and barricades surrounding the final pockets of civilized life, is a mainstay of postmodern zombie films and literature. The specifics of the environment vary, from the posh and almost normalized surroundings of the upper classes in Fiddler’s Green (Land of the Dead), to the stark walls and hurricane fencing of a Georgia prison (The Walking Dead), and even the familiar, cozy environs of the Winchester Pub (Shaun of the Dead). The commonality they share is the fixation of the horde on the living who shelter behind the walls and wire, the handful of humans who attract the living dead and represent the individualization and agency which is effaced by assimilation into the horde. The sound and texture of the horde, which varies with each iteration, is underscored by the unwavering gaze of the undead which remains fixed on those inside the defenses. It is this gaze, the ceaseless observation of the living by the dead and the unblinking assessment and interpolation it suggests, that gives the zombie its power to horrify and fascinate. The watchfulness of the zombies outside the walls is, in turn, mirrored by the self-awareness and introspection of the humans who seek to evade the observation of the dead as they must monitor themselves and those around them in order to maintain some sense of security and individuality. The living must watch themselves as closely as they watch the dead, and as closely as they are watched by the dead. 
This heightened state of awareness, bordering on paranoia, becomes a form of panoticism obsessed with watching in all directions and yet seeing only the reflection of the watchers themselves, which partially explains why many are interested in zombies and their utility as a metaphor in the post-millennial age. The consumptive gaze of the ghoul, multiplied thousands of times through the swarming horde, is a natural vehicle for postmodern concerns about information mining, identity theft, cyber-security, NSA monitoring, and the unending observation of security cameras. The gaze of the horde, like that of the information consuming technologies which surround us, never blinks or wavers; it remains focused on its target until the object of its fixation is either consumed entirely or is incorporated into the horde and made an extension of its ideology. The power of the zombie in this environment comes from its automaton nature, its mechanical expression of its fundamental state, and the potential for complete interpolation and consumption it represents. Yet, the zombie retains a somewhat human appearance; it still looks like the person it once was and evokes sympathy and identification from the living. It is only when the individual zombie is subsumed in the horde, surrenders its last vestiges of individuality and becomes an extension of the post-human mass pressing in on the living from all sides, that the zombie becomes both truly dangerous and truly terrifying. 
Read from a Foucaultian perspective, the isolated enclaves of civilization under constant surveillance by both the undead horde and the living residents mirror the evolution of social discipline and control within a carceral system. This interpretation can be analyzed on two fronts. The first of these is as a rhetoric of control and regimentation which develops among the living who function as their own wardens and must recognize their complicity in their own increasingly regimented positions within society. This recognition and voluntary complicity creates a space in which the visible power structures have been atomized to the individual level and in which a degree of continuous surveillance and reinforcement functions unchecked. While not a truly panoptic scenario in itself, the knowledge of being continually watched and the need to continuously watch each other informs each of the characters and their position within their society. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, these structures are frequently overlaid on individual zombies, representing them as individuals rather than parts of the horde, which results in a parallel diaspora among the living and the dead, in which the dead mirror the living and become the focus of the terminal gaze of the observed group. 
While the specific elements and individuals represented differ substantially in their response to the threat posed by the undead masses outside the walls, all of them reflect a conscious or unconscious understanding of the need for regiment and enforced order, the effective isolation of the individual and the group from the outside world, and the ingrained need for vigilance on the part of the individual to insure the maintenance of order in the face of externalized chaos. At first glance, the scenarios presented by many zombie films and novels would appear to be versions of Bentham’s panopticon, environments in which the members of the community exist under the potential for constant scrutiny from without and where the potential for the observation of transgressions places the onus of complicity and regimentation on the individual in order to maintain social order and discipline. While this is, in a limited sense, accurate, it is also an incomplete reading. The stratification of society, the degree of isolation imposed on the individual and the community, and the distinctions between the communities inside the walls and those outside reflect aspects of the disciplinary systems outlined by Foucault. However, the practical application of these systems in film, fiction, and in the obsequious zombie walk creates a space in which identity and cultural positioning are questioned and deliberately disrupted. 
The origin of the disruption represented by the modern zombie is much closer to the circumstances described by Michel Foucault in response to a seventeenth century plague, in which a town deliberately isolates itself and regiments its citizenry in an effort to prevent the spread of contagion. The power dynamics which Foucault examines provides a lens for similar regimentation among the survivors of the zombie apocalypse. The plague comparison itself is particularly apt in light of the explanation provided by the films for the existence of the living dead. In the case of Romero’s films, the explanation is provided by unexplained extraterrestrial radiation, while films such as 28 Days Later are plagued by ghouls who are infected with “rage,” which is transmitted through the blood and saliva just as the virus of World War Z is transmitted. The viral, infective metaphor is particularly apt with the technological, post-human implications of the zombie. The metaphor of infection removes human agency from the equation and further alienates the undead from their living counterparts. These vectors underscore the fact that the undead in such films, while they fall securely within the genre of zombie films, are not, technically speaking, zombii or zombies. 
The key difference between the classic zombie and the modern undead is the ideological and subjective positioning in which they both engage. While the terms “zombie,” “living dead,” and “undead” have effectively become nearly interchangeable in the popular culture, the distinction between the three is important here, as the living dead are “technically speaking, not zombies … Romero’s ghouls are incapable of production (including social reproduction) because they lack ideological normaltivity.” By extension, the same claim can be made of the undead in the majority of such films that draw their inspiration from Romero’s work. The normalitivity referred to can be quantified through the production value the undead represent either economically or ideologically, as they are deployed within the film and which is summarily disrupted by the environment in which it is staged. 
The disruption of the economy and ideology of the “normal” world by the individual, albeit because of circumstances beyond their control, is closely aligned with the loss of individual agency and identity. It is not the transition through death the viewer or the character fears, but rather the erasure of ideological independence and the appearance of autonomy. As Stanley Solomon notes, commenting on Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the terror in the film does not spring from either the existence of the living dead or their distorted mirroring of the living, but rather their implacable nature, the persistence with which they pursue and remain, and the fact that they will eventually succeed in violating the boundaries which keep them at bay and contaminate the living, regardless of the resistance they meet. The threat of sustained violation, penetration, and consumption which begins with their surveillance of the living and corruption of the social order from a distance both makes the eventual collapse of the barriers more horrific and cathartic. While the living will be transformed and subsumed by the horde, the erasure of the individual can be seen as darkly liberating if for no other reason than it ends the threat of constant observation and the rigid discipline the living are forced to maintain if they hope to remain separated from the undead. 
The relentlessness of the zombie, their transgression of social taboos and rejection of the imposed social order, represent an essentialist reduction of the individual to their most basic drives and appetites. This specter of autocannibalism, the consumption of the representative self by the projected self on multiple levels, and the implacability of their desire form the sources of terror that underscore the discipline imposed on the living. Rather than encouraging antisocial behavior, the knowledge of the presence of the living dead surrounding the living on all sides, and the collective confirmation of their potential for observing and subsuming the living serves to unify group identity and social norms, thereby reinforcing the perceived social order and self- monitoring within the human cities as a refutation of this drive.
'Post-Industrial Property' by Julie E. Cohen comments -
The idea of property in land as the paradigm case of property exercises despotic dominion over property thinking. From the perspective of evolving political economy, however, a land-centric model of property makes very little sense. Property institutions coordinate access to resources, and so it is reasonable to expect them to differ in ways that respond to the characteristics of those resources. The debate about whether intellectual property is property is instructive. Copyright and patent scholars have pursued the property debate using a conceptual framework derived from common law real property doctrines and organized around the practical and theoretical problems associated with property rights in land, but the resources at the center of contemporary intellectual property debates about the appropriate extent of rightholder control could not be more different from land. Intellectual resources are routinely sliced and diced, aggregated and fractionated, used and reused, in ways that land is not and could not be. This might mean that intellectual property is not property, as some have argued, or it might mean that we have outgrown the monolithic, land-centric model — that in the post-industrial era of wealth production, the cosmology of property can no longer place terra firma at the center.
This Article develops an account of property as a set of resource-dependent legal institutions characterized by overlapping sets of family resemblances and then reconsiders the intellectual property question. Property in intellectual goods — post-industrial property — resembles property in land in some respects, property in natural resources in other respects, property in corporations in others, and property in intangible financial instruments in still others, but also systematically diverges from each of those other forms of property. Legal institutions for intellectual property must accommodate four important points of divergence: the different incentives of creators and intermediaries; the variety of ways in which intellectual goods are produced; the central importance of intermediation within intellectual property ecologies; and the widespread use of licensing to delineate rights and obligations.