Facing the Sublime: The Zombie Figure, Climate Change, and the Crisis of Categorization

Elaine Chong

Abstract


In the article, zombies are presented as the 21st century’s way to encounter the sublime, and as a way to rethink the rigid binaries in Western culture and our effects on climate change. By applying Edmund Burke’s treatise, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, the terror equated with witnessing something neither alive nor dead is capable of creating feelings of the sublime. The horror instilled by the zombie is because this figure defies categorization in the most basic way –it exists between life and death. The author uses Marjorie Garber’s work Vested Interests that explores a “third” category that questions typical gender binary. This crisis of categorization works similarly with the zombie figure because it too lies in the middle of a stable, unchallengeable binary –that of life and death. This binary becomes permeable in zombie fiction, throwing the reader into a psychological state capable of experiencing the sublime. Zombies have evolved in each retelling. However in each the brain is the vital organ necessary for a zombie’s survival, including Warm Bodies, World War Z, and I Am Legend. Through a close reading of I Am Legend, the author argues that the existence of the zombie narrative parallels how the Western world has treated the planet and contributed to climate change. Zombies are a destructive vision of humanity, and through the “third” space that zombie literature provides, society is able to encounter the environmental damage it is inflicting on the planet. 


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