The Zombie on the Mantelpiece

The New York Times has an interesting and erudite Op-Ed today by Amy Wilentz called A Zombie is a Slave Forever that explores the historical foundations of the zombie phenomenon along with some of the cultural resonance that adheres to their particular New World provenance and flavor.  It’s fascinating stuff, and makes some interesting observations.  But it fails, I think, to capture the essence of the current North American fascination with the walking dead.  An example:

There are many reasons the zombie, sprung from the colonial slave economy, is returning now to haunt us. Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.

Given the circumstances of the zombie’s cultural and historical provenance, Wilentz’ article does a good job of unpacking the historical materialist aspects of the phenomenon, and her critique hints obliquely at what I think the roots of our current fascination with zombies are.  But cosplay and zombie walks aside, I don’t think the connection is what she thinks it is.  For one thing, I don’t think the American mainstream is culturally literate enough to draw the connection between the zombie and the ideal slave/factory-worker (hence the op-ed’s existence in the first place).  You don’t really see zombies being put to work in the movies and literature (at the end of Shaun of the Dead, a little, but rarely elsewhere).  They are, rather, a symptom of apocalypse, of total societal breakdown, and I think it’s there that we find the real seed-crystal of their current cultural resonance. Continue reading “The Zombie on the Mantelpiece”

What I Like is Better Than What You Like, or It’s Not Genre if Literary Writers Do It

Literature is like pornography: no one can tell you what it is, but they know it when they see it.  Such is the underlying assumption behind this cry for help from Arthur Krystal in the New Yorker, which allows him, among many other logically-suspect things, to claim unto literature’s greedy penumbra several works which are clearly speculative (that is, genre) fiction.  It allows him to say that works like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are simply a literary sensibility working with genre, and not in it, as if some aesthetic prophylaxis were involved, allowing said literary giant to wade into the post-apocalyptic pool and take a swim without getting any of it in his hair.

What is the nature of the distinction?  I’ll let Krystal answer for himself. Continue reading “What I Like is Better Than What You Like, or It’s Not Genre if Literary Writers Do It”

The Deep and Occasionally Problematic Significance of Stuff and Things

I’m not a hoarder, but I know why hoarders hoard.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, not so much in the sense that I sit around evenings sipping brown liquor and stroking my beard whilst ruminating on the philosophical implications of human relations with the objects in our lives, but in the back of my head, behind the magic curtain where the mystery machine churns away and occasionally pops out with a thought or an idea for a story or some other artifact of inspiration.  And now that I’m moving again, and, more importantly, trying to empty out the storage space I’ve been renting since the last time I really felt like I had a home, the subject has come, once again, if not to then at least near the forefront of my consciousness.

The problem I’ve discovered in the process of personalizing and occupying my new digs is this:  I have way too much stuff.  I know, I know, first-world problems, etc, just make a couple of Goodwill runs, maybe run some craigslist ads and/or eBay auctions, problem solved.  From a perspective outside my own lived subjectivity, the problem has an easy solution.

The problem with that is that I don’t live outside my own subjectivity.

Continue reading “The Deep and Occasionally Problematic Significance of Stuff and Things”