The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless

By Richard Greene; K. Silem Mohammad | Go to book overview

(Un)dead (Un)certainties

The “Undead” have held a firm, steady, icy grip on the public imagination since Bram Stoker first used the word in his novel Dracula over a hundred years ago. The introduction of the term, however, merely served to provide a catchy label for an idea that has fascinated us for as long as there have been stories, legends, myths, and superstitions—in short, for as long as there has been popular culture. This fascination shows no signs of diminishing: every year offers new movies and television shows featuring vampires and zombies, books on the Undead continue to top the bestseller charts, and musicians and other artists use Undead imagery in their work. In addition, literary critics, philosophers, and theorists of various stripes have found the theme of Undeath a rich vein to mine (or suck, if you prefer) for their scholarly projects.

For some, it is a matter of controversy that popular culture can provide the basis for serious intellectual inquiry. In fact, there is an enduring tradition in Western philosophy, dating back to Socrates and before, of using examples from pop culture to illustrate difficult or abstract philosophical concepts. Few such concepts have been the object of more persistent inquiry than that of death. For that reason alone, the imaginary state of Undeath is a logical starting point for evocations of central philosophical questions concerning presence, identity, and value. With its double-negative construction (the grammatical negative of un- and the metaphysical negative of dead), the idea of Undeath problematizes our everyday notions of what it means to be alive in the first place—in a literal sense, we are all, as living beings, “Undead.” It is only a short step from this idea to the suggestion that the state of non-death (otherwise known as “life”) we privilege as authentic might itself be

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