- Sep 2016
The author affirms that “Zombies—lacking interior, lacking mind—cannot look; they are, for this reason, completely realized colonial objects. Zombies cannot be recognized, accommodated, or negotiated with; once identified, they must immediately be killed.” He contends that the coding of the zombie figure in the biopolitical terms of epidemic is evidence that “The biopolitical state . . . needs to create this sort of racial imaginary in order to retain its power to kill.”
I've been a big fan of the zombie/living dead sub-genre since I was pretty young, and the interest has grown even more in the last 12+ years. Overtime, I have wondered whether this sub-genre, our fascination with zombies/infected apocalyptic themes/elements, has deeper meaning for us that can point back to the innate nature of othering or ingroup/outgroup. There are stories of genocide and wars in literature throughout time and across every culture. Humankind has an extensive history that involves the oppression and marginalization of many different civilizations and people. We have an intimate relationship with war and conflict. In the past, it may have not been so usual to see apocalyptic literature with themes that target a certain race or groups of people, even a race that was deemed inferior or less than fully human, due to the prevailing ideologies and worldviews during those times. But the same attitude and worldview is unacceptable today, at least to many. Survivors of the apocalypse can't go all feral and Purge on another group of people, at least not on such a wide scale. However, zombies/infected seem to take that place. Zombies serve a similar function. Not only is there the classic world-ending event that has existed in religious literature for millennia, but survivors get to maintain human supremacy (rather than racial) over non-humans. It becomes unacceptable because these things are no longer conscious or recognized as a living, sentiment human.
Once again, in The Walking Dead we see a cataclysmic event with an unknown cause,
This is something that bugged me at first, and probably still does, but less so. I like having answers to why such events took place. I think it's in nature to want to understand why these events take place, perhaps because if we know the cause we can find a way to correct it, or, in the future, avoid the paths that led to the events.
But what are we imagining when we speak of utopia and dystopia?
I imagine something different depending on the time and culture. A utopian society in America will likely look very different from a utopian Norway or Denmark. Even in the United States alone, if I were to explore elements and themes of a future utopian society, it would depend on many factors. What would a utopian Seattle look like, or San Diego, or what about a utopian Austin, TX? I can imagine these utopian societies would be a reflection of their culture/region, which include dominant ideologies and worldviews. My ideal utopia is likely vastly different from many others, but is it really a utopia? A large part of me believes a true utopia just isn't possible, because it is ultimately based on a concept of a perfect, idyllic society, but what does that mean, exactly? Perfect according to what rule or standard? One person's perfect is another's nightmare. My utopia, which I haven't fully explored, will definitely be another's nightmare. And I'd like to think I'm intellectually honest enough to admit that my ideal society can be seen as exclusionary in some or many ways. They all are.
Another oft-overlooked aspect of biblical apocalypse is its (doubly) utopian nature: the triumph of God’s faithful over Lucifer’s followers at Mount Megiddo is to result in Satan being confined to hell, ushering in Christ’s millennial reign on Earth—a period of peace, plenty, and harmony. The devil will then escape for four years before suffering a final defeat, at which time the dead are to be resurrected and the final judgment of souls will take place. Mass annihilation is therefore only the beginning of a process that will allow the righteous to enter into the ultimate, eternal Utopia, heaven, and the unjust to be sent to that dystopia par excellence, hell. Thus apocalypse, even in its scriptural source, is inextricably tied to the concepts of utopia and dystopia
This interpretation of Christian eschatology, based on futurism, presents a utopia is exclusive by its very nature. There isn't just the battle of good vs. evil, of Yahweh vs. Ha-satan, but also a final judgment and the annihilation of "unsaved" souls.
But like I stated previously, even modern concepts of utopian societies are exclusive in at least some, or many ways. There is something that we have to sacrifice or give up, or communities/groups that we have to exclude, in order to achieve the ideal. Then again, what is the ideal? In ancient literature the utopian society is metaphysical in nature, based largely on the concept of an afterlife. Within the context of an afterlife there is no human experience or condition, so the ideal, whatever that may be, can be achieved. If it's an afterlife, and one often depicted in Western literature, film, art, etc., then it is devoid of the trials and tribulations that make the human condition what it is, and make us what we are: imperfect.
But in the real world, outside a utopian afterlife, the human condition is alive and well. Conflict and struggles persist. There is an aspect of control earth-based utopian societies, and one could even say the classic heaven-based utopian concept is not without its own set of rules governed by Yahweh, Jesus, et al.
The call for papers challenged scholars to consider how speculative fictions invoke and alter the biblical apocalyptic narrative, and the relationships established between the nature of the cataclysm and the type of society arising afterward. How and to what ends do utopias or dystopias treat questions of race, gender, politics, sexualities, etc.? Is it still possible to speak of “utopia” and “dystopia”?
Apocalyptic literature during antiquity presented many themes of a cataclysmic event, but this event was typically fantastical in origin, often the result of adversarial characters or an embodiment of evil. And even then, there were varying interpretations of these eschatological events. Modern, mainstream apocalyptic literature focuses less on the religious or mythological themes and more on world-ending events that are relevant to modern society's own mythos. The type of society in post-apocalyptic biblical literature is a reflection of that time, often containing elements of political unrest during that period of time.
Something similar can be said about utopian and dystopian societies in classic or ancient literature. They are a reflection of that culture. In modern society, perhaps in Western society, utopian and dystopian literature will also be a reflection of writers' ideologies and the ideas and themes they're exposed to. These themes can be fascinating to explore due to the ingroup/outgroup themes they present. In many ways, no matter the time or era, there is a form of othering when it comes to both utopian and dystopian literature, depending on one's perspective. How we envision these worlds has a lot to do with our own cognitive biases -- implicit and explicit.
- biblical apocalypse