Zombies are disgusting–open wounds, fluids running out of their orifices, and what’s that stuck in his teeth, a piece of Barbara?
Acording to the theorists, identity–that which is me–is understood in relationship to the Other–that which is not me. The boundaries between the two are important in understanding the self. These boundaries are clarrified by challenges. That’s where monsters come in. They cross these lines as if to ask, “Where do I end and the ‘not I’–the Other–begin?” The Victorian wolfman, for example, transgressed the boundaries between human and animal to clarrify the boundary between these categories. This was at a time when questions were very much a concern, what with Darwin’s book and all.
There is a category of things that disgust us because they occupy the space between the self and the other–bodily fluids for instance. We find these revolting is because they transgress this boundary–they are inbetween what is clearly me and what is clearly not. Because zombies leak bodily fluids all over the place, they are an embodiment of this sort of revultion. Kristeva puts vomit and pus and that sort of thing in a category that she labels the abject and suggests that, because the abject challenges boundaries between self and other, our idenities are formulated against it.
Because the abject challenges boundaries between self and other, our idenities are formulated against it.
Julia Kristeva describes the abject as being “neither inside nor outside, neither subject nor object, neither self nor other, troubling identity and order with the instability of boundaries, borders, and limits” (Zakin). In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Kristeva describes the process by which identity is constituted. Identity formation is a process involving the establishing of boundaries between that which is the self and that which is not the self. Although this process does involve “conceptual positioning in the symbolic order” (Lennon), it doesn’t begin there. It was first a bodily process in which the individual begins to make a distinction between the self and the maternal body. For this to happen, “there is a rejection, a pushing away of that which is not me” (Lennon). Anything that is between myself and the other, that is both me and not me, falls into the category of the abject. These things include an open wound, excrement, nail clippings, pus, blood, sweat, even the skin on the top of milk. The abject often evokes the physical reaction of nausea because it reminds us of the fragility of the boundaries that constitute the self. Thus, the abject is “horrifying, repellent, but also fascinating; it is strange but familiar” (Zakin).
Zombies generate revulsion in the viewing audience because they evoke the fear of the abject; they challenge identity in the same way the abject does.
Zombies generate revulsion in the viewing audience because they evoke the fear of the abject.
Two things are necessary for this to happen. First, in order to inhabit the liminal space between that which is the self and also not the self, they need to have a strong association to the self. This is an easy task for the zombie, because it looks just like us; it is the most human of monsters. Secondly, they must be not the self. This is accomplished by their state of decay and the bodily fluids they ooze and spew. The zombie can be classified as Kristeva’s abject because it “disturbs identity, system, [and] order. [It] does not respect borders, positions, rules” (Kristeva 4).
As monsters, zombies help us understand who we are, by challenging the boundary between us and what we aren’t. The abject does this as well. In the zombie we have a convergence of monster and abject. That’s why zombie movies are disgusting. I would like to underscore once again, that the abject, like the zombie, challenges physical (or immanent) categories for, to the modern secular self, there is nothing else.
Lennon, Kathleen. “Feminist Perspectives on the Body.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 28 June 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2012.
Zakin, Emily. “Psychoanalytic Feminism.” Summer 2011. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 9 April 2012.