Matthew Pangborn
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Dead again
Zombies and the spectre of cultural decline
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This chapter investigates the Gothic as a mode of writing that escaped generic literary boundaries during the British debates over the French Revolution in order to express more widespread fears of cultural decline. Positing the current ubiquity of the zombie as a resurgence of this Gothic mode, the chapter explores zombie-apocalypse texts as expressing a return of Malthusian worries about population growth, climate change, financial instability, and energy insecurity. The zombie-apocalypse genre, popularized by George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), released within a few years of U.S. peak oil production, has become a mainstay of global cinema, fiction, and television in the recent international scramble for alternative energy sources. These texts, like the Gothic in its first heyday, demonstrate a conflicted desire both to confront and dismiss problems that seem as inconceivable as they appear to be insoluble. Today’s zombie stands, then, much as the envisioned undead did for earlier British writers like Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft, as the spectre of regression so unimaginable within the reigning cultural narrative of the time that its nightmarish possibility may be repressed by the very same spectacle of apocalyptic carnage used to figure it.

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