TagCharles Taylor

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 (12): Invasion of Privacy

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The type of death one can expect from a zombie is nothing if not intimate.  They use no secondary object, like a knife or even a rock.  They use only their own teeth and hands.  Victims are frequently shown having their abdomens violated by a group of zombies who proceed to then put the vitals into their mouths.  Like I said—intimate.

In our culture we resist intimacy.  There was a time when servants would bathe and dress their betters, but nowadays we have a hard time carrying on a conversation with someone standing next to us at the urinal.

Charles Taylor observes that our culture is characterized by a “withdrawal from certain modes of intimacy, as well as taking a distance from certain bodily functions” (Taylor 137).  Taylor cites the work of Norbert Elias in his book, The Civilizing Process, where he describes a shift involving a “steady raising of the threshold of embarrassment, one might even say, disgust” (Taylor 138).  Where once people were advised not to blow one’s nose in the tablecloth, we now insist on leaving the table to perform the same act.

We are uncomfortable with intimate connections to others.  It is the convention that bodily functions are not even mentioned.  How much more offensive is the disembowelment and consumption of entrails witnessed regularly in a zombie film.

Clearly, this is a monstrous affront to our modern sensibilities.

 

Next zombie post: Zombies are Funny

 

Zombies (1): A Whole New Kind of Monster

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The idea of the dead walking among the living has been around for a long time.  In Inferno, Dante meets Fra Albergio tells him of traitors like himself who are dead before their bodies die. Dante is horrified; he has seen one of these men the friar describes, one that “eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and puts on clothes” (33.141) but is, nevertheless, dead. In Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors walks Dr. Pinch, who is described as “a living dead man” (5.1.241).

Isn’t it strange that both Dante and Shakespeare conceived of the zombie, but it never caught on as a monster?

Zombies never caught on . . .until now

Zombies sure have caught on lately.  The zombie is one of the most popular monsters of the last century. Over four hundred zombie movies have been made and almost half of these since 2000 (see Wikipedia, “List of Zombie Films” and do the math)

So why the popularity of zombies now and not before?

The short answer is that monsters show up when our identity is under is threatened.  Not our individual identity, but our collective identity.  The form the monster takes has everything to do with what our collective identity is, and where it is vulnerable.  The popularity of the most recent addition to the monster pantheon, the zombie, suggests that it is representative of that which menaces our contemporary collective identity. Consequently, we can learn a lot about ourselves by paying some attention to our monster, the zombie.

George Romero’s in Night of the Living Dead (1968) presents us with the “modern” zombie. He changed earlier ideas of the undead and the transformation embodies exactly what scares the crap out of the modern identity.  What is this modern identity?

The zombie is a horrifying reflection of the modern self in a world without transcendence—it is, therefore, a monster for our time.Click To Tweet

The Modern Identity

This is a complex question, but at its most basic, the Modern identity is materialistic.

Our society made the turn toward materialism over a century ago.  Materialism in the philosophical sense is the idea reality is composed of matter.  Only matter.  Everything, including thought, feeling, mind, consciousness and will, can be explained in physical terms.

In other words, there is no spiritual reality, no transcendent — no God or gods, angels, demons; no objective Good, Truth, or Beauty, no universal meaning or human purpose.

This is what Friedrich Nietzsche had in mind when he voiced this idea through the madman in The Gay Science (1882) declaring the death of God. This idea didn’t immediately percolate down to the popular level of our culture.  It was beginning to be felt in the 1960s.

The implications of materialism are one of the key features of the Dead in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.Click To Tweet

My thesis is that the zombie is a horrifying reflection of the modern self in a world without transcendence—it is, therefore, a monster for our time.

Next zombie post: Zombies (2): The Apocalypse 

 

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