Zombies think they are alive

When the living dead came back into our society, it did so with an energetic boost in creativity. The Night of the Living Dead, 1968, was an independent small film project into which George A. Romero and his friends had invested ample private capital, numerous labor-intensive weekends behind and in front of the camera, and loads of enthusiasm and perseverance. The film was merciless in its view of frozen American Cold War society and as cool and laconic in its concept as Ginsberg's and Warhol's artistic revolution.

The walking dead have remained within sight of society ever since, Romero has continuously shot its sequels, most recently it has novels, comics and - just started in the USA - a major TV series the Walking Dead given. And the radical advances in genetic and computer research have permanently shaken the discussions about life and death, how they belong together and how they blend into one another, not only scientifically, but also ethically and politically. The undead are closer to us today than ever.

Now the cultural scientist Joseph Vogl from the Humboldt University in Berlin has finally brought her out of the limbo of her dull horror existence and thus in a wide arc also rehabilitated her reputation - the zombie existence, the zombie society - in a conversation with Karin Harrasser, reprinted in the new edition of Magazine of the Federal Cultural Foundation (No. 16 autumn / winter 2010). It does not seem to be a coincidence that such a difficult subject can be dealt with most easily - not in a self-contained essay, but in a free-floating conversation.

Unlike the vampires, who as horror figures are always the exotic, the others, the demarcation from the zombie is rather difficult. "Zombies are revenant figures," explains Vogl, "that is, they are not without thinking what they haunted ... Wherever the zombie appears, whoever meets him knows that he is meant by him and that he is encounters something that cannot simply be done or dealt with at the moment of the encounter. " And he does it with a certain charm - the zombies, says Vogl, have a chorus line existence, they perform a death dance instead of a vitality dance like in a musical.

The zombie in its unmotivated wobble absolutely does not want to correspond to the principle of dynamism, tirelessness, progress that drives modern societies. "One would probably have to understand the wandering figurations of the undead in the highly industrialized and capitalized countries since the 19th century as a wandering of zones of exhaustion ... Since the 19th century wear and tear have been a central moment of revenancy Forms of pathological 'weak will' continue. In the excess of willing or of having to or also of being able to will, pools of willlessness emerge ... "

An excess of vitality

The zombie offers resistance, but not against the social system, but as part of this system. It does not sabotage the relations of production, nor does it want to fight or improve them, it is simply one of their by-products.

The lack of will as a productive force is how the zombie questions the great construct of modernity again, the self-determined person who constructs his own identity, his history and sees himself responsible for it. The old discussion about alienation and individual freedom - and whether and how strongly a society can make them possible at all - pushes the figure of the walking dead into the background that reminds us that "the living in the energetic age produce their own death while they are believe to live ".

It is a long philosophical and cultural-scientific tradition that uses the dialectic of life and death for social analysis. Joseph Vogl has presented and discussed them intensively in his previous work: Nietzsche and Freud, Kafka - from whom the conversation in the magazine starts - and Foucault. Thinkers who do not include death in metaphysical or religious aspects, but in its political implications. The walking dead return particularly violently in societies that are characterized by an excess of vitality, an obsession with vitality.

Is that the real horror?

And which therefore exposes individuals particularly easily to social, political, economic external determination: "Of all things, the excess of forces, the excess of energy, the excess of vitality is the precondition for a dead-end involvement in the accessibility of power."

The eternal propagation of life forces and principles ultimately weakens real life. Politics lives, as the example of the walking dead teaches, of the primacy of vitality: a politics that only thinks about health and can only propagate the health of society and its individuals, which in its programs only speaks of functionality, economy, full employment, Security. Is that the real horror, this vision of the total prosperity state - which suppresses the corporeality, the transience, the death?

The timing of the return of the undead in this conversation is eerie - given the reports and forecasts about economic development in our country. After months of depressive discouragement as a result of the global economic crisis, people now only speak of new growth and an upswing. There is no longer any talk of wear and tear, exhaustion, wear and tear - aspects that point to the future and to death. A new round in the old vitality dance.