Zombie Republic: Property and the Propertyless Multitude in Romero's Dead Films and Kirkman's the Walking Dead

By Keetley, Dawn | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Spring-Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Zombie Republic: Property and the Propertyless Multitude in Romero's Dead Films and Kirkman's the Walking Dead


Keetley, Dawn, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Abstract

In the West, property and the "human" are knotted. If posthumanism is about decentering the human, it would of necessity involve untying that knot. Reading George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Land of the Dead (2005), along with Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead (2003-present), this essay argues that zombies allegorize the "multitude" of the propertyless, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri put it. They relentlessly threaten both property and the "human" that is predicated on it. Bound up in this foundational thematic of zombie narrative, though, is the survivors' response to the zombies' deterritorializing threat: they retrench, assert ownership of territory through bodily labor, and then engage in internecine struggles in property's defense. Indeed, the more the survivors seek to hold on to what is "human" through securing land and property at any cost, the more they themselves become monstrous.

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POSTHUMANISM TAKES MANY FORMS. ONE IS ORIENTED PRIMARILY TO THE future, imagining a hybrid cyborg body--a human augmented by technology, transcending the limitations of the organic human. "Human enhancement," as Rosi Braidotti puts it, is at its "core" (2). Another form looks to the past as well as the future, interrogating a history of exclusions constitutive of the "human," suggesting that we have always been posthuman. The impetus of this strand of posthumanism is to uncover that which has always persisted in (as well as beyond) the human--or, as Cary Wolfe puts it, to explore how '"the human' is achieved by escaping or repressing not just its animal origins in nature, the biological, the evolutionary, but more generally by transcending the bonds of materiality and embodiment altogether" (xv). (1) Pramod K. Nayar neatly articulates the double movement of posthumanism both backwards and forwards, claiming that it demonstrates "how the human is always already evolving with, constituted by and constitutive of multiple forms of life and machines" (2). While the biological, animal, and even vegetative have, then, as numerous theorists have noted, been barred from dominant conceptions of the "human," certain attributes have also been added. Property, in particular, has long been bound with the organic human to make that particular form of the "human" to which rights accrue.

Several theorists engaged in re-thinking and decentering the "human" have described the imbrication of human and property. In their 2009 book Commonwealth, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that while property indubitably undergirds modern states, which together compose a vast "republic of property," it also more profoundly constitutes the modern individual: "the absolute rights of people to appropriate things becomes the basis and substantive end of the legally defined free individual" (39, 15, and 13). As Judith Butler puts it, in Dispossession, the desire to possess property on an individual basis "was produced over time as a natural, if not essential, characteristic of human personhood" (9). Or, as Butler's co-author Athena Athanasiou writes, "being is defined as having; having is constructed as an essential prerequisite of proper human being" (13). The virtual equation of human and property is intensified by an equally strong bond between bodies and property: not only do our bodies produce property through labor, but they are our property. We exercise, as Roberto Esposito puts it, a "proprietary dominion" over our body, a dominion that Esposito claims is necessary not only to the liberal state but to personhood itself (92). (2) In short, in the West at least, property defines not just the modern nation and the "free individual," but the dominant form of the human, permeating body and self. Property and the human, as we know it, are knotted. So if posthumanism is about decentering the "human"--if it is about imagining what might come next for the human as well as uncovering what has been either excluded from or added to the human--it would of necessity involve untying that knot. …

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Zombie Republic: Property and the Propertyless Multitude in Romero's Dead Films and Kirkman's the Walking Dead
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