The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism

The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism

The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism

The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism


What is the political function of monstrosity? What is the nature of our political relationship with the dead? Why are the undead so threatening? In "The Monstrous and the Dead," Mark Neocleous explores such questions as they run through three major political traditions: conservatism, Marxism and fascism.

One of the things uniting these otherwise opposing traditions is that they share a common interest in the dead. This is therefore a book about the politics of remembrance, showing that how and why the dead register in our political lives constitutes a major dividing line for the political traditions in question: are the dead to be reconciled with the living in a conservative fashion, resurrected for the cause of fascism or are their hopes and struggles to be redeemed for a communist future?

Exploring these issues reveals that, as well as leaving traces in memories, dreams and unfulfilled wishes, the dead also generate fears, most notably the fear that they are not really dead: they are undead and thus monstrous. The book therefore simultaneously considers the function of monstrosity as a rhetorical political device: in Burke's response to the monstrous revolution, Marx's use of the vampire and fascism's concept of the Marxist-liberal-Jewish menace.

The outcome is an original reading of key thinkers and movements in western politics, a provocative account of the role of political metaphor and an eclectic argument concerning the place of the dead in historical struggles."


– It takes me so long to read the ‘paper,
said to me one day a novelist hot as a firecracker,
because I have to identify myself with everyone in it,
including the corpses, pal.

There is a scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula where it becomes clear that one of the main characters, Lucy Westenra, has been bitten by the vampire and is in a trance. She appears dead, but in fact is not; she is, in the terms of the novel, ‘undead’, and her beauty is masking the fact. the vampire-hunter Van Helsing knows that she has been prey to the vampire and that there is now no option but to kill her ‘properly’, in one of the ways known to destroy vampires. So he asks Lord Godalming, Lucy’s fiancé: ‘May I cut off the head of dead Miss Lucy?’ Godalming, perhaps unsurprisingly, objects: ‘Heavens and earth, no! … I have a duty to do in protecting her grave from outrage.’ Van Helsing responds: ‘My Lord Godalming, I, too, have a duty to do, a duty to others, a duty to you, a duty to the dead.’

There is a political dimension to Van Helsing’s comment that has often been overlooked in commentaries on Dracula. the political dimension has two sides. On the one hand is the suggestion that there exists a duty to the dead: that the fight against the vampire is a fight not just for the living, but also for the dead. On the other hand, there is the idea that this duty must involve challenging the power of the undead. This second dimension is based on the understanding that some entities retain the powers of the living, or develop even greater powers, after death. in this case it is the vampire, but the point is true of the monstrous in general, for one of the fundamental characteristics of monsters is said to be that they are somehow undead. At first glance these might not seem especially political issues; this book aims to show that they are deeply political. the book therefore explores the political power of the monstrous and the dead.

It is sometimes said that what distinguishes man from other animals is that man is an animal that guards its dead. Traditionally, this ‘guarding’ has been conducted by religion. As Elias Canetti puts it, ‘no-one who studies the original documents of any religion can fail to . . .

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