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Chapter Eight - “We Are all humans”: Self-Aware Zombies and Neo-Gothic Posthumanism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2022

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Summary

We are all humans, but some of us are just more mortal than others.

Braidotti (2013, 15)

It has become a sort of primal scene in zombie narratives: the moment of misrecognition, of uncertainty, the moment when a survivor sees the zombie of a lover or child or friend and, refusing to believe that it is dead, approaches and is often consumed. These scenes, whether the survivor falls prey to the undead or is saved by a companion, enact some of the central elements encoded in the figure of the zombie. In fact, in a significant number of zombie narratives, the living protagonists question not only what the zombies are, but who they had been. In almost all zombie stories there is a moment when protagonists look at an approaching horde of the undead and wonder at their loss of individuality. Zombies are, then, fundamentally concerned with interdependent issues of identity, subjectivity and the limits of the human. Or, perhaps more accurately, they make visible a preoccupation with the fundamental uncertainty that shapes and underlies these issues. Zombies unsettle binary structures—alive/dead, human/non-human, even self/other—and straddle the lines in between, disturbing and disrupting categories and systems. In traditional/Romero zombie narratives, the kind in which clearly monstrous, unthinking walking corpses are pitted against a band of living human survivors, the conflict is often articulated as a battle between the human and its other: the dead, the zombie, the undead, the monster. But zombies are not easily or irretrievably other. As Barbara, the protagonist of Night of the Living Dead (1990), says, “They are us. We are them and they are us.” In this sense, many contemporary zombie narratives can be thought of as fundamentally posthuman, embracing the ways in which posthumanism challenges assumptions about the category “human” as definitive and stable. But even in these narratives, as the “primal scene” suggests, this distinction is borne of desperation; the awareness that “humanity” is not, ultimately, a category that cannot be clearly defined.

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Chapter
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Neo-Gothic Narratives
Illusory Allusions from the Past
, pp. 125 - 140
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2020

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