Review: “We’re All Infected” Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human – edited by Dawn Keetley

Posted by Kelly Gardner on July 02, 2014 in Reviews tagged with , , ,

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McFarland are adding to their already growing collection of Zombie oriented publications with the recently released “We’re All Infected” Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human edited by Dawn Keetley.

 

This edited collection of thirteen original scholarly essays, exhibits a clear sense of structural coherence and critical timeliness. The use of The Walking Dead television series (as well as references to Kirkman’s comic book series) as the central focus of the collection functions as a cohesive theme from which various explorations may diverge.

The collection opens with a Preface that posits the importance of The Walking Dead within the larger canon of zombie literature and sets it apart from the rest based on the serial nature of the narrative, as well as on the basis of the zombie infection as being immanent in humanity. “We’re all infected” Rick proclaims in the final episode of the second season, indicating a breakdown in the human/zombie binary and everything that binary maintains.

Dawn Keetley’s comprehensive introduction locates the collection within the broader landscape of zombie studies without an unnecessarily elaborate exposition into the origins of the contemporary zombie and instead concentrates on the paradigm shift brought about by Kirkman’s serialised zombie narrative. Keetley notes, “The Walking Dead is a fully-realised, continuous post-apocalyptic universe, in which the narrative does not end with the death of its protagonists […] and in which there is no easy end for the survivors, whether it is by death or miraculous restoration of the familiar social order. The threat posed by the ‘walkers’ is ongoing and relentless.” (p. 6) Keetley identifies and emphasises that like the onslaught of zombies, the serial narrative is also ongoing and seemingly never-ending. The world of The Walking Dead is one that relies on the symbiosis between human and zombie, for it would not exist if one or the other were absent. The immanent infection weakens the divide between human and zombie (self and other) and zombie potentiality is seen reflected in every human act of violence. The essays in the first section of the collection, “Society’s End,” focus on the social and political allegories established within The Walking Dead and the manner in which a mutual violence can be realised as a connection between human and zombie.

Philip L. Simpson’s “The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us! Homeland Insecurity” considers the securing of a domestic survival space as an allegory of American anxieties regarding the violence of both terrorism and natural catastrophe, and the emergence of a patriarchal “strongman” leadership. In conjunction, Steven Pokornowski’s “Burying the Living with the Dead: Security, Survival and the Sanction of Violence” interrogates the “terror/security” paradigm and examines self-justified violence as self-defense and the eventual reduction of all life to “bare life” thereby devaluing the lives that the violence was initially meant to protect.

P. Ivan Young continues to examine the destructive consequences of continually perpetuated violence in his reading of The Walking Dead as a post-9/11 Western. In “Walking Tall or Walking Dead? The American Cowboy in the Zombie Apocalypse,” Young argues that unlike most Westerns the zombies do not serve as the stereotypical villain, but rather as “symbolic white space,” a mirror with which we see the violent characteristics of the heroes reflected.

In contrast to the three previous essays, Angus Nurse, approaching The Walking Dead with a background in criminology, in his essay “Asserting Law and Order Over the Mindless,” argues that the zombies are representative of mass lawlessness. Nurse considers The Walking Dead as a critique of liberal legal systems and the reactive policing model, suggesting that in the face of rising crime, a more aggressive response from law enforcement is required.

In an alternative approach, Laura Kremmel’s “Rest in Pieces: Violence in Mourning the (Un)Dead,” explores necessary violence as a response to the conditions of a post-apocalyptic world and the problematisation of conventional mourning for survivors of the apocalypse. Kremmel investigates violence as a means of facilitating closure while Christine Heckman’s “Roadside ‘Vigil’ for the Dead: Cannibalism, Fossil Fuels and the American Dream” connects the American exploitative history of slavery with current exploitation of fossil fuel. Heckman recognises the United States as a nation of consumption, “Goods are consumed, land is consumed, labor is consumed, and people are consumed.” (p. 107) and argues that this history of consumption, which continues to the present day, has resulted in the socioecomic zombification of the nation and essentially reflects an apocalyptic self-consumption.

Paul Boshears completes the first section with “Mass Shock Therapy for Atlanta’s Psych(ot)ic Suburban Legacy” and examines the role that Atlanta plays in enriching the locational allegory of The Walking Dead by observing Atlanta’s traumatic historical events as an ideal connotative setting to an apocalyptic serial narrative, and the weekly hour-long episodes as therapeutic, albeit jolting, shocks to the regularity of day-to-day life.

 

The innate nature of the infection and the fragile liminal border between human and zombie raises existential questions of what it means to be human. The second section, “Posthumanity,” features essays that consider notions of humanity in a world that is becoming increasingly posthuman. In “Apocalyptic Utopia: The Zombie and the (r)Evolution of Subjectivity,” Chris Boehm considers the virus as inherent and therefore suggests that the characters within The Walking Dead are able to recognise their own zombie potentiality and re-navigate social structures in an attempt to instigate positive social change. Thus utopia reveals itself to be a change and development of societal thinking as opposed to the fantasy of a promised Eden. This evolution of subjectivity is further explored in Xavier Aldana Reyes’ “Nothing But the Meat: Posthuman Bodies and the Dying Undead.” In which Aldana Reyes suggests that recognising the base corporeality of walkers and the way their existence problematises the binary between life and death challenges “posthumanist conceptions of a fleshless ontology” (p. 154) and allows for the apprehension and recognition of the human as a thoroughly biological organism not necessarily defined by contemporary materialism. In conjunction with this argument, Dawn Keetley’s “Human Choice and Zombie Consciousness” questions the origins of choice and the immanent forces that drive our bodies by examining human subjectivity with regard to existential free choice and biological determinism.

In contrast to the arguments raised by Aldana Reyes and Keetley, Gary Farnell argues against the notion of a purely biological humanity in “‘Talking Bodies’ in a Zombie Apocalypse: From the Discursive to the Shitty Sublime.” Farnell suggests that the human capacity for language and literacy separates the human from the zombie. Zombies represent the “shitty sublime” which we must overcome with the mastery of language to circumnavigate the illiterate void of zombie aphasia that threatens to empty contemporary discourse of all substantial meaning. Continuing this theme of zombie as threat, Gwyneth Peaty explores “monstrous timelessness” in “Zombie Time: Temporality and Living Death.” The all consuming and ever encroaching presence of zombies in The Walking Dead threatens to devour past, present and future in a world where time becomes increasingly irrelevant. Peaty argues that the survivors are forced to reassert a notion of time in order to maintain an essence of humanity.

The collection ends with an afterword by Dave Beisecker, “Bye-Gone Days: Reflections on Romero, Kirkman and What We Become” in which Beisecker proposes zombies as an allegory for aging and as a reminder of the future that awaits in old age. Beisecker rounds off the collection with a return to humanist thinking that recognises both the biological nature of our flesh covered bones as well as the fragility of human consciousness. The zombies are both a warning of what awaits humanity as well as an agonising invitation for a more humanitarian reflection on both the zombie and the future of mankind.

 

Zombie narratives are becoming increasingly focused on the emergence of a zombie conscience, breaking free from the shackles of their monotone groaning, zombies are learning to speak (Breathers by S. G. Browne), learning to love (Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion), and learning to reestablish their position in society (White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland). This collection, through its discussion of The Walking Dead, indicates an expansive awareness of both the developmental history of the zombie, as well as the posthuman trajectory of future zombie narratives. The included essays work in conversation with one another in a way that does not detract from the structural coherence of the collection as a whole and the result is a timely contribution to critical zombie discourse.

 

McFarland continue to establish themselves as the leading publisher for scholars of zombie studies. We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human (2014) edited by Dawn Keetley can be purchased direct from the publishers here.

 

While you are browsing their website, be sure to check out their other relevant zombie publications, including the second volume of Peter Dendle’s The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia (2012).

 

 

 

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