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Zombies (16): Loss of Fullness

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Experiences of Fullness

I get it when I am sitting with dear friends enjoying good food and conversation.  Also, while walking alone in the woods on a clear fall day.  It can also be experienced when listening to music or viewing a painting.  It can be evoked in the cathedral or on the seashore.

It’s called “fullness”–a sense that life is “fuller, richer, deeper more worthwhile, more admirable, more than what it should be”

(Charles Taylor, Secular Age 5).

Experiences of fullness can orient us because they offer “some sense of what they are of: the presence of God, or the voice of nature, or the force which flows through everything, or the alignment in us of desire and the drive to form” (6).

Historically, and in the case of most religious believers, the power from which fullness flows has some transcendent source outside of the individual.

Sources of Fullness

After our culture abandoned God as a source of fullness we looked inside ourselves to find an alternate source.  There are several internal sources of fullness.

The first is the power of reason.  Here there is an “admiration for the power of cool, disengaged reason, capable of contemplating the world and human life without illusion, and of acting lucidly for the best interest of human flourishing” (9).  From this view, life calls for heroic action where we accept ourselves as “beings both frail and courageous, capable of facing a meaningless, hostile universe without faintness of heart, and of rising to the challenge of devising our own rules of life” (9).

The second internal source of fullness emerges from the Romantic critique of disengaged reason.  This outlook, too, looks for fullness in immanence, but it finds reason to be inadequate and seeks it in “Nature, or in our own inner depths or both” (9).

Zombies call “Bulls**t” on fullness

Zombies movies have three basic characters.  The zombies, bad guys, the would-be survivors.

Zombies don’t experience fullness because they lack consciousness.  In one sense, zombies are a mirror image of humanity if the material secularists are right.  Taylor says, that even if they are right, fullness still might be experienced within immanence.  Romero’s zombies call bullshit on that.

Well, what about the living?  Can’t they experience it?

I doubt if the bad guys experience fullness, it is never presented because the point of view is from the perspective of the would-be survivors.   This is the only place where we might glimpse it.  Some zombie narratives soften the zombie apocalypse be delivering meaningful moments celebrating family or friendship or loyalty or courage, but these are not necessarily fullness.  And George Romero doesn’t even give us these.  He rejects any source of fullness, whether immanent or transcendent; he denies fullness altogether.

In the next post, I will explain how in Night of the Living Dead, this absence is apparent in the loss of traditional values as well as the loss of the possibility of heroism.

Next zombie post: Traditional Values and the Zombie Horde

Zombies (11): Modern Monster, Modern Death

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Jaime Russell claims that the ultimate meaning of the zombie is as “a symbol of mankind’s most primitive anxiety: the fear of death” (8).

Well, our primitive fear is our modern fear and the zombie forces the modern self to face it.

Death is persistent and there is nothing we can do to stop it from getting us eventually.  One of the strategies of we modern people to deal with the fact of death is to just not think about it.  But we are also fascinated by it in zombie movies.

The persistence of the zombie personifies the inevitability of death and thus augments our fear of mortality.Click To Tweet

Simon Pegg, co-writer, director and actor of Shaun of the Dead, explains that zombies

are death and they will get you in the end. We could all be in a room now with one and quite happily walk round and round the room and he’d never get you because he’d just be stumbling along. But eventually you’d have to go to sleep and when you did, he’d eat you. There’s just something really eerie about that (Russell 183).

Death’s persistence has always been with us, so this characteristic of the zombie isn’t what makes it a uniquely a modern monster.  Almost all monsters kill us, it’s like their thing, but it’s just not the killing bit that is the problem these days—it’s the death.

Death in the Modern Sense

Zombies do not just deliver death, but they also embody death as we understand death in the modern world.

Like all monsters in the history of human storytelling, the zombie kills its victims, but the threat of death’s inevitability is more significant when one lives in a reality without the transcendent. In this context, life is equivalent to biological life.

Without any future beyond this world, the zombie horde represents to modern man an “ambulatory mass grave” and as such is “both a reminder of the inevitability of death and an affront to [modern man’s] belief in its finality” (Russell 69).

Unlike preceding centuries, in the modern materialist universe, death is final. It is not, as in the past, a transition through which one passes, but a permanent state of non-being.

Like all monsters in the history of human storytelling, the zombie kills its victims, but the threat of death’s inevitability is more significant when one lives in a reality without the transcendent.  In this context, life is equivalent to biological life.

Without any future beyond this world, the zombie horde represents to modern man an “ambulatory mass grave” and as such is “both a reminder of the inevitability of death and an affront to [modern man’s] belief in its finality” (Russell 69).  Unlike preceding centuries, in the modern materialist universe, death is final. It is not, as in the past, a transition through which one passes, but a permanent state of non-being.

The zombie articulates a profound—and profoundly modern—shift from older cultural attitudes about death: “the process of dying no longer means the conveyance of our eternally unchanging soul to another, more timeless realm; rather, death becomes a state we inhabit within our own earthly vessels, something we become rather than somewhere we go” (Muntean 83).

In the zombie narrative, the undead are the agents and the bodily representation of this “becoming.”

Next zombie post: Zombies and Intimacy

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