Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy – New Life for the Undead edited by Richard
Greene and K Silem Mohammad Reading
Although I have had a long fascination with Vampires I have never really understood the interest with the walking dead (or these days the running dead). Obviously I understand that they can be seen – though the eyes of the survivors of any zombie attack - as a metaphorical triumph over death itself, I can’t see where you go after you realise this. Then again I have never been a huge fan of any of the general horror genres so my lack of interest (or maybe understanding) in watching animating corpses shuffle after the tasty living.
So it should come as no surprise that I was hoping that the majority of this book dealt with the various philosophical and culture aspects of vampirism. Not so unfortunately – or at least I thought this to begin with. Rather surprisingly I actually enjoyed the sections on zombies and ended up thinking that the subset of articles on vampires were rather dull. The zombies in question were, almost exclusively, those created by George Romero – the ‘Dead’ series of movies (none of which I’ve actually seen all the way through. Probably my favourite article in the whole book discussed the philosophical idea of zombies – rather than its cinematic variant. This is the problem of other minds – that being that because we have direct access to the thoughts of others there’s no actual way to confirm that other people have minds like you (or actually like me – because I don’t know if you actually exist as people!). You can see the problem. Other ‘people’ might respond in an appropriate manner but how can you tell if that’s just a conditioned response rather anything driven by another consciousness? Dale Jacquette discussed this in an intriguing way – by thinking about zombie gladiators. What if we could train zombies (the philosophical type not the rotting corpse type) to fight in gladiatorial contests for our entertainment? What if they looked just like us, shouted in pain just like us and bled to death just like us? But what if they only acting these things out because they never actually had minds – and we could tell that because of a tattoo on their skin ‘inked on’ as soon as their lack of consciousness was discovered. Would such contests be OK and if not why not? Probably the second interesting argument – put forward by several authors – was the socio-economic view of what zombies mean (beyond the critique of consumerism so blatant in the second (?) ‘Dead’ film with its now classic Mall scenes). Typically the vampire related articles explored the question of whether vampires are inherently evil or if good vampires (with or without a soul) can actually exist outside of the Buffy universe.
Overall, despite my initial disappointment in the lower than hoped for number of vampire related articles, I found this book to be nicely diverting. I certainly learnt quite a lot about the zombie mystique – not that it is going to encourage me to watch any of Romero’s movies anytime soon. I can look at the whole zombie genre in a different way though – be it political, economic or philosophic. Books like these are great ways of ‘doing’ philosophy without appearing to do so. If you’re either a zombie or vampire fan you’ll find something in here that will interest you – and you might just pick up the odd (and sometimes very odd) philosophical concept along the way. Recommended.