The philosophy of zombies: a deconstructionist expose
Do zombies have ideas? Can they think in a deductive way or can they even think at all? Well, at first glance we are talking about something more than undead creatures, here to eat your brains and wander the earth forever in a void; but rather we are talking exactly about that; of zombies wandering the earth forever in a void hungering for human flesh. Confused yet? I hope so.
Now zombies are interesting because they do not have a particular interest in any particular reason, or idea for that matter. It seems that they more or less just float along to whatever notion suits them or any supplement will conform to their hunger. The zombie entered Western pop culture in the late 1920s. From that point on the undead menace left an interesting distinction into western philosophical oppositions: “Does the difference between life and death hold?” This would later be coined under a larger philosophical movement called Deconstruction, pioneered by French philosopher Jacques Derrida.
So are you still confused? Possibly so, because we still haven’t answered the question about what this has to do with zombies. Well firstly, they are not self aware of their blood thirsty appetites, almost like they are undecidedly in between....remember that word. Zombies are like the wrench thrown into the equation that people don’t expect, but it’s not that they don’t expect it they refuse to believe it. According to Derrida ‘Western philosophy must refuse to believe in the undecidable.” Between life and death there is an uncertainty and unknowing-ness. The zombie might be either dead or alive but its not clear as to what and it goes across each category. So therefore it’s equal that the zombie is neither dead nor alive, and the zombie cannot embrace in the fullest sense either of the terms of death or life. Life must preclude death, the zombie defies all logical outcomes of distinction.
Simply put, zombies are unsettled concepts that undermine the hierarchy of philosophical oppositions.
According to the philosophy of Deconstruction, the zombie would simply be a cinematic inscription of the failure of the life and death opposition and this shows how hierarchical order breaks down showing the limits to order itself. But are there other limits to order? Is everything limited to simple movie metaphors and undead zombies? What happens to other binary opposites? What happens to the “white: black,” “master: servant” and “civilized: primitive” when the white colonist can become the zombie slaves of black power? Can “white science: black magic” remain untroubled, if what sometimes works against a zombie is white magic - the extreme religiosity, the power of love or superior morality? How certain is the opposition inside: outside if the zombie’s internal soul is extracted and an external force becomes its inside? Is there any security in opposing “masculine” to “feminine” and “good” to “evil” when the zombie is usually de-sexualized and has no power of decision?
The zombie metaphor presents itself as scary yet fascinating all in the same breath and its truly remarkable how a simple unsettled concept can shake the foundation of everything we know to be all good and logical. It shows the paradox of complete and utter vulnerability in western philosophical logic. Zombies have fascinated Western culture and will continue on their wandering search for whatever it may be they hunger for.
So we’ve neither remedied nor poisoned the waters of the “zombie paradox,” both will continue to be neither dead nor alive because of this varied lack of distinction it will continue to be an unsettling confusion that shows us the limits of order of western philosophy.
Max Gold is an IC columnist and a senior majoring in philosophy.
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