Neoliberalism, Zombies and the Failure of Free Trade
The popular cultural ubiquity of the zombie in the years following the Second World War is testament to that monster‘s remarkable ability to adapt to the social anxieties of the age. From the red-scare zombie-vampire hybrids of I Am Legend (1954) onwards, the abject alterity of the ambulant dead has been deployed as a means of interrogating everything from the war in Vietnam (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) to the evils of consumerism (Dawn of the Dead, 1978). This essay explores how, in the years since 9/11, those questions of ethnicity and gender, regionality and power that have haunted the zombie narrative since 1968 have come to articulate the social and cultural dislocations wrought by free-market economics and the shock doctrines that underscore the will to global corporatism. The article examines these dynamics through consideration of the figure of the zombie in a range of contemporary cultural texts drawn from film, television, graphic fiction, literature and gaming, each of which articulates a sense not only neo-liberalism itself has failed but simply wont lie down and die. It is therefore argued that in an age of corporate war and economic collapse, community breakdown and state-sanctioned torture, the zombie apocalypse both realises and works through the failure of the free market, its victims shuffling through the ruins, avatars of the contemporary global self.
Degeneration in the Holy Land and the House of Usher
Poe‘s preoccupation with degeneration, decay and dissolution is revealed in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, not only as synonymous with the image of the arabesque, but also as dependent on contrast with the word ‘Hebrew’. A reading of the Near East as Holy Land is made possible, Roderick Usher‘s decline likened to contemporary degeneration in terms of Palestine‘s decay. Poe‘s 1837 review of John Lloyd Stephen‘s Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia, Petraea, and the Holy Land exposes his interests in biblical prophecy (including its unintelligibility and yet endurance), millennialism and apocalypse. These themes are transferred to ‘Usher’ as the houses destruction is aligned with the images and structures of biblical prophecy. The storys treatments of landscape and the house itself explore notions of constructed sacred space. In the 1837 review, describing the illumination of prophecy as ‘no less remarkable’ than its fulfilment, Poe underlines a theme of revelation that is fictionalized within ‘Usher’. Prophecy as storytelling within the text provides a means of examining Poe against the historical context in which he wrote. Other ways in which Poe‘s writings reveal nineteenth-century religious structures are potentially numerous when considered against the prophecy framework.
Written in the aftermath of the civil rights era’s expansive hopes, James Baldwin’s last
novel, Just Above My Head (1979), examines a fundamental issue, the choice between hope
and skepticism, or prophecy and doubt. Baldwin approaches this issue by questioning two
cornerstone ideas of his fiction, the need for prophetic art and this art’s focus on
anticipating a renovated society, often pictured in terms adapted from apocalyptic
biblical texts and Gospel music lyrics. Just Above My Head is Baldwin’s fullest
presentation of this kind of art and its linkage to apocalyptic hopes. He dramatizes these
ideas in the art of his Gospel singer protagonist, particularly in a climactic scene of
artistic dedication whose Gospel lyric envisions “tearing down the kingdom of this world.”
Yet Baldwin also unsparingly questions these same ideas through plot and the
blues-inflected skeptical-tragic consciousness of his narrator. Responding to a 1970s
moment when hopes for transcendent justice seemed passé, Just Above My Head’s unique
contribution is not to try to resolve the ideas it counterposes, but to face both the
possible falseness of prophetic hope and our continuing need for it, and to present the
necessity for choice in a final dream that holds the key to the novel’s meaning. In
presenting this issue through a sustained double-voiced narrative that reexamines its
author’s artistic practice and raises fundamental choices in outlook and conduct, Just
Above My Head evidences the continuing artistic vitality of Baldwin’s late fiction.