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<nettime> Zombie 2.0 Subjectivity
Yari Lanci on Sun, 18 Dec 2011 23:02:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Zombie 2.0 Subjectivity

Dear Nettimers

Following Gary Farnell's paper sent to this mailing list at the end of
last October, please see below for a talk that was given at "A
Symposium on Zombies" at Winchester University, UK, October 28th. Like
Farnell's piece, my talk may
be of interest in connection with recent Nettime threads concerning
the current crisis and the kind of neoliberal(-ised) subject that has
emerged in the last ten years.

All the best

Yari Lanci


At the end of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, the remake of the second
film in Romero’s Living Dead series, the spectator is faced with
footage from a videotape. Paradoxically placed at the end of the
movie, and more precisely integrated with the end credits, the footage
appears to work as the happy ending of the storyline. It follows the
journey of the main characters, escaping the overrun mainland by
yacht. The remaining survivors eventually reach an island.
It takes only few seconds for the alleged happy ending to be
transformed into a repetition of the same eschatological setting, with
which Snyder had opened his movie. In fact, the island has already
been infested by zombies. The contagion was faster than their journey
to the island. The zombies are too fast to flee from. The survivors
are not going to survive. The character filming the disembark is
forced to drop the digital camera on the dock, and from that moment
onwards the camera shows the scenes of the desperate attempt of the
group to resist the running hoard of undead.
Kim Paffenroth argued that Savini’s remake of Romero’s Night of the
Living Dead is “too identical to the original to need further
comment.” Conversely, one of the things that distinguishes Snyder’s
remake is an important change regarding the physical capacities of the
zombies. In the last ten years we have witnessed in zombie movies
something we have never seen before. Zombies have started to run.
Their usual slow shuffling has turned, in Snyder and other’s
interpretations of the zombie narrative, into a frenetic run towards
the living. In a recent book on popular culture after 9/11, Anna
Froula lucidly describes this new category of zombie when she affirms
that since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2002, the living dead have
shifted from being “lurching ghouls to adrenaline-filled berserkers.”
It is this notion of physiological metamorphosis of the undead, in
relation to their increased speed of movement, which constitutes the
basis of my presentation today. It is speed, not class or ethnicity,
which is the trait that might provide an alternative understanding of
the political relevance of the zombie. As already exemplified by
George Romero himself, the ‘godfather’ of the zombie subgenre, there
has always been an overt allegory on both class and race in any zombie
texts, be it film, book, or TV series. The perspective I am trying to
adopt is one under the umbrella of speed. In relation to some examples
from zombie movies and TV shows in the last ten years, what is
possible to learn when we investigate the change in speed of zombies?
Isn’t this increased speed, with which the living dead is being
represented, nothing other than a symptom of a generalised anxiety
about the kind of speed the homo œconomicus must adopt in order to
survive the neoliberal market?
My presentation today can be summarised in three main points. Firstly,
I will provide a methodological framework with which to consider the
zombie narrative as one of the tools to better understand what is
going on in our society. Secondly, I want to draw a genealogy of the
undead in relation to the increased speed of their movements and
analyse this metamorphosis in order to understand how the formation of
subjects has changed in the last twenty years. Thirdly, I will try to
read this new subjectivation not just as a passive product of
contemporary capitalist society (in its neoliberal version), but
rather as a potential for a zombified subject who might disrupt the
established order. This new subject is what I call the Zombie 2.0.


I should provide some methodological justification regarding the
importance of the zombie in critical theory and, accordingly, in
relation to the ways in which this monstrous figure can function as a
diagnostic tool of contemporary Western society.
Romero once stated, and I quote: “The zombie films are what I perceive
as my platform, a pulpit. They have given me an opportunity to at
least, not necessarily express opinions or criticise, but observe
what’s going on in society.” Romero is quite explicit in considering
the zombie films he makes as being fictional metaphors to represent
his perception of contemporary society. Over the years, critics have
read Romero’s movies as an allegory of the tumultuous social climate
of the 1960s America – and I’m referring here especially to Night of
the Living Dead in 1968. Also, the two sequels – Dawn of the Dead and
Day of the Dead – have been read by critics from a diverse variety of
critical perspectives, such as critiques of capitalism, racism, and
American conflict abroad.
The zombie becomes a privileged tool of analysis of contemporary
society, because it represents the kind of political and economic
subject produced by political and economic tendencies, in determinate
periods of our history. The zombie is always a result, never a cause.
More precisely, as a metaphor for our contemporary times, the zombie
is the result of a process of subjectivation. When I say
“subjectivation” I am referring to the kind of formation of subjects
that philosophers like Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze were
outlining in their works during the 1970s.
For Romero the zombie is a product of a certain kind of economic
framework that was taking shape after the 1960s. For example, in his
Dawn of the Dead in 1978, zombies gather outside and inside the
shopping mall. They endlessly wander around the different shops as a
result of memory patterns of their previous state as living humans. In
Dawn of the Dead, the hoard of the walking dead naturally gets
attracted by one of the most powerful symbols of the American
consumerist culture. In that case, Romero was trying to warn his
spectators about the state of hypnosis caused by the intense regime of
mass-production and consumption of commodities, started by
corporations. The typical sluggishness of Romero’s undead reproduced
the uniformity and massification of the majority of the Western
population, half-hypnotised by TV and by consumer culture. This is why
Romero’s critique was, and still is, admittedly political.


If Romero’s zombies are the counterpart of a general image the
director himself had of American culture – in political and economical
terms – how should we understand the new increased speed of the living
dead in the last ten years? When did zombies start to run and how
should we understand this change?
The first manifestation of the fast zombie can be traced back to Danny
Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2002. Although not technically zombies – for
they were the result of a synthetic biological contagion known as the
“rage virus” – the running infected living dead in this movie started
a trend regarding the new enhanced speed of zombies. In fact, this new
fast type of zombie can also be found in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead,
the English TV series Dead Set in 2008, the Resident Evil trilogy, Le
Horde in 2009 and Rammbock: Berlin Undead in 2010. In these movies,
the walking dead become the running dead. It sounds like an oxymoron,
for if we follow Max Brook’s tutorial for surviving the living dead –
The Zombie Survival Guide published in 2003 – and I quote: “Zombies
appear to be incapable of running. The fastest have been observed to
move at a rate of barely one step per 1.5 seconds.” However, the new
breed of zombies run fast. Extremely fast. Their level of
dangerousness has increased in the same way as their speed. It might
be argued that zombies have undergone a dromological paradigm shift.
The new zombies can be characterised by a dromological acceleration of
their movements.
But what is dromology? Dromology is a concept developed by the French
philosopher and cultural theorist Paul Virilio at the end of the
1970s. The word comes from the Greek dròmos, translated in English as
“race” or “race course”. Virilio often described his concept of
dromology as a discourse on speed and, more precisely, dromology is
the science, the discipline, the logic of speed. The first systematic
use of the concept can be found in his Speed and Politics, originally
published in 1977. In this work, Virilio argues that the history of
humanity can be understood only insofar as we focus on the
technological progress made possible through the militarisation of
society. One of the most important concepts of Virilio’s book is that
the militarisation of society should be analysed through the study of
the speed of the weapon employed. The passage from the feudal system –
and its fortified cities – to the capitalist system – and the
development of ballistic weapons like projectiles – is symptomatic of
the way speed becomes an important category worthy of investigation.
Accordingly, Virilio affirms that is speed – not class or wealth –
which is the primary motor behind civilization.
If the slow speed of Romero’s zombies mirrored the process of
subjectivation under consumer culture after the 1960s, the increased
speed of the new zombie is the metaphor for a new dromological
subjectivation. The new generation of zombies are functioning as an
allegory and a metaphor for a new kind of economic subject. These new
subjects are not anymore zombified – in other words, subjectivised –
as passive subjects of the market, but rather they are created to
respond to the new needs of neoliberal capitalism. This is what I call
the Zombie 2.0.
Michel Foucault outlined the formation of the neoliberal economic
discourse in his lectures at the College de France in 1978, The Birth
of Biopolitics. In these lectures, Foucault expands his research on
the genealogy of power he started in the first part of the 1970s. The
study of the mechanisms of security, in seventeenth and eighteenth
century Europe, opened paths of research about the birth of the
economic discipline of liberalism. The lectures in The Birth of
Biopolitics expose the way in which neoliberal economics changed the
way the economic subject was not only perceived but also constructed.
According to Foucault, the first American neoliberalists argued that
classical economy did not analyse correctly the field of labour.
Classical economists studied labour only as a part of the big machine
of capital – that is, the conception of labour as an entity between
capital and the process of production. On the contrary, as Foucault
shows, neoliberal economists study the internal rationalities of the
workers when they are on the market. In doing this, the position of
the worker is conceived in a completely different manner. Neoliberal
economics formulates its discourse from the point of view of the
worker. For the first time in economic analyses, the worker is no
longer assumed to be an object – an object of demand and an object of
offer in the form of labour force – but he becomes an active economic
subject. According to Foucault, the homo œconomicus assumes the form
of an enterprise, or more precisely, an entrepreneur of himself.
Neoliberalism incites each individual to take the form of “human
In Foucault’s reading of neoliberal economists, the concept of human
capital is constituted by innate and acquired elements. The acquired
elements of human capital are factors that become economically
relevant with neoliberalism, such as education, professional skills,
and mobility. The new active subject of the neoliberal market can be
effective only insofar as he performs a series of investments in
acquired human capital. In other words, contemporary neoliberal
framework forces the worker to create, as soon as possible, an
adequate level of employability. According to the Italian philosopher
Maurizio Lazzarato, the aim of neoliberal economics is to create a
vast array of self-entrepreneurs who keep the level of competition
high. This in turn generates an atmosphere of what he calls “equal
inequality.” Also, Lazzarato shows how one of the strategies of
neoliberal economics has been to construct a new economic subject such
as the “new poor” – that is, the proletarianised middle class that is
often placed in the general category of “precarious workers.” In these
categories, Lazzarato continues, fear runs along the whole continuum.
These subjects are being created in order to render the mechanisms of
competition and precariousness even harsher. As we can see, neoliberal
capitalism has its own devices (or dispositifs) for social control.
If we follow Foucault and Lazzarato’s analyses of neoliberal
economics, it becomes evident that, as it happened with the zombie
movies at the beginning of the third millennium, the worker has
undergone a dromological paradigm shift as well. The worker must now
actively invest in his human capital, for the neoliberal market can be
sustained only by the circulation created by the investments and
mobility of the workers. Today, the worker as an entrepreneur of
himself is required to be fast and adaptable to the constantly
changing requests of the neoliberal market.
Through his concept of dromology, Virilio argued that the categories
of space and time have become relative to the new absolute of speed.
With modern technologies, speed becomes the only constant to the
detriment of physical space. In relation to any kind of movement, more
than the spatial coordinates of departure and arrival, what is
important is the speed of the trajectory. According to Virilio, in the
new framework of modernity, Newtonian time and space have been
relativised by the absolutization of the speed. The route has the
upper hand over the object. In the same way, neoliberalism creates and
privileges the trajectories of workers, their mobility. This mobility
doesn’t have to be intended only as spatial mobility – for example
when different flows of workers migrate towards stronger economies –
but also as the level of employability in relation to the acquired
human capital.
To recapitulate, the new fast zombie that can be seen in different
movies after Boyle’s 28 Days Later, is the reproduction in popular
culture of a kind of subjectivity that emerged with the development of
contemporary neoliberal capitalism. The Zombie 2.0, be it the fast
zombie in movies or the precarious entrepreneur of himself described
by Foucault and Lazzarato, has speed as his main trait.
The movies featuring fast zombies registered a paradigm shift in the
formation of subjectivities. As it was in the case of Romero’s movies,
these kinds of zombie narratives function in our society as a
political unconscious. The literary theorist Fredric Jameson argued
that different branches of culture, like literature or cinema, act as
the expression of a political unconscious faced with the challenges of
the metamorphoses of capitalism. The change in speed required in
different economic subjects under neoliberalism, is one of these


Zombie 2.0 narratives, like Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and the TV
series Dead Set, depict a situation of zombie epidemics from which it
is impossible to escape alive. The entire world will end up zombified.
If we get back to the comparison between the process of zombification
and formation of subjectivities, one could argue that the sense of
eschatological inevitability in these movies, seems to suggest that
the contemporary economical and political subjectivation is something
to be acknowledged as inevitable. Neoliberalism shapes our
subjectivities according to its aims. This sense of inevitability is
one of the tropes which might clarify why the zombie – and the actual
subjects zombies allegorically represent – has often been thought of
as a product of an overarching economical base, both with Romero’s
slow zombies, and the fast Zombie 2.0. But if that is the case, what
is the critique established by the Zombie 2.0?
I think that the critique of the Zombie 2.0 consists in what Virilio
called the political economy of speed. Far from demonizing the
increased speed of our modernity, Virilio has rather tried to
understand the inner logic of speed. It is in this sense that we
should try to understand not only how the neoliberal subjectivation
works. We should also try to learn how the political economy of speed
of neoliberalism works, to the detriment of the labour force on the
market. Under neoliberalism, labour force – both in the forms of
material and immaterial labour – undergoes the Zombie 2.0 dromological
What has happened in the last thirty years is that the political
economy of speed has been absorbed and employed by the schizophrenic
power of financial late capitalism. What is at stake now is a new
conception of the zombie not anymore as a passive product of a certain
type of subjectivation, but as a new potential for disruption of the
economic framework that created it. It is not surprising that the
opening scenes in 28 Days Later and Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead show
video footage of urban rioting. The student protests last year in
England, the Spanish and Italian indignado movement, Greek uprising in
the last three years, London riots in August 2011, the “Occupy”
movement all around the world, they all display how the constant
generalised crisis of contemporary capitalism is being challenged by
the hoard of Zombies 2.0.
If zombies and subjectivities are produced as fast and reactive, that
means that we have to use this new increased speed to turn the passive
subjectivation into one that is active and against neoliberal
policies. After all, as Sun Tsu affirmed 2500 years ago, “speed is the
essence of war.”

Yari Lanci

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