Our world of zombies: Jim Shaw and Evan Calder Williams

I’ve been reading Evan Calder Williams’ book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse: Luciferian Marxism in which he relates capitalism’s most recent fall to the allegorical representation of the post-apocalypse in horror and science-fiction film. Williams proposes we search for new horizons in the face of the end of the world; one where the emergence of new possibilities faces off with humanity’s seemingly repetitive nature. Naturally, the zombie film encompasses a good portion of Williams’ exploration. And when considering his evaluation of the genre’s relationship to a capitalist society, I cannot help but think of The Hole (2007) by Los Angeles artist Jim Shaw.

Shaw’s first fictional feature, The Hole “…appears as an O-ist horror movie. In it, a new female convert to the religion, peering through a hole in her apartment wall, discovers a parallel world where zombies stroll in an ill-defined “somewhere”, beyond which space becomes abstracted.” Here, the space between the living “normal” world and the endless repetition of the continuous living in “zombie” world collapse, meeting through a hole in a wall in a domestic space. The zombies, all men, are dressed in suits aimlessly wandering, slightly bumping into each other. A close up into the zombie nerve center reveals the “brain” is a fuzzy television-like portal (Dani Tull’s soundrack is incredible), providing us an abstracted account of what goes on in the mind of the mindless. The film suggests a parallel world of zombies to our own, prompting the question of how do we look, evaluate, adapt, and change our own end of the world that’s so near by?

To consider this further, provided below is an excerpt of The Hole combined with excerpts from Williams’ book. 


Combine and Uneven Apocalypse: Luciferian Marxism:

This is particularly of what the figure of the zombie does and its position in the mass culture of capitalism. It thinks how real abstractions work on real bodies, of the nastiest intersections of the law of value and the law of inevitable decay. (page 80)

In this way, zombie films are not about the living dead, at least not in any direct way. They are about the undying living. They are about surplus-life, the new logic of excessive existence: something has given us all too-much-life, an inability to properly die in a system that no longer knows how or when to quit. (page 92)

Following and moving out from Lacan, we could say that anxiety is never about the radically new but rather about the horrible possibility of the same persisting…Anxiety emerges with the creeping realization that there may be no lack, no space in which to move, leaving us crushed by the awful possible certainty of knowing how things are and knowing that they will remain that way. (page 101)

The anxiety proper to zombie films is the deep horror of something not being different, of everyone remaining as limited a category as we know it to be, of the same persisting, of the end of death and lack…People are not consumers because they are scared of change. They are scared of change because they are consumers. (page 103)

It’s about labor. It’s never been about consumerism gone bad, but the lost heritage of the zombie film, the horror from more Haitian origins: of being forced to work, of knowing that “choosing” to sell one’s labor has never been a choice, just a particularly nasty illusion of free will. (page 105)

…the innovation – and perhaps the underlying horror – is not just “how horrible to be killed and brought back to life as a slave” but: what if our past is never forgotten? Not remembered by historians or marked into the very landscape and bodies of the colonies, but smuggled back in, dark knowledge too powerful to be lost and too tempting for capitalism to ignore (page 111) 

Image: The Hole zombie stills (2007)

Chris Baldick’s intro to ‘The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales’

In this introductory text for ‘The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales‘, Baldrick establishes his argument for Gothic in literature (I look at how it differs structurally from horror). He historicizes the Gothic and explains its transformations over the years into what we recognize it as today. Therefore he establishes history and defines Gothic:

For the Gothic effect to be attained, a tale should combine a fearful sense of inheritance in a time with a claustrophobic sense of enclosure in space, these two dimensions reinforcing one another to produce an impression of sickening descent into disintegration. p xix

Defines Gothic as three things that inter-relate: 1) tyranny of the past 2) stifles the hopes of the present 3) within dead end physical incarnation.

Old buildings as sites of human decay (mansions).

I ask: so what happens when the horror shift is made away from the Gothic fantasy and moved into our realm of the real, homes and neighborhoods? Horror exists in the (ever) present, gothic looks to the past that has found its way into the present.

Profondo Rosso

While I was in Rome last week I had the opportunity to visit Profondo Rosso, a store that features the Dario Argento Horror Museum below. It’s full of monster and alien fun (t-shirts, skulls, dolls) but, most importantly, it houses a great collection of books including a self-published series. I picked up my much coveted ‘Mario Bava: I Mille Volti Della Paura’ and, even though it’s in Italian I’m going to try my hardest to read it. Seems as if any book on Bava, besides the mega book, is in variety of languages, none of them english.

Anyway, the museum itself is full of props from Dario Argento films (like Terror at the Opera), horror oddities, trippy Argento paintings, and a misplaced alien autopsy scene with books that also acts as a book storage space. Narrated by an automatic audio (heavy Italian accent in English). Not so creepy or educational but a fantastic experience just the same.

Highlight of the trip: the signed movie poster from ‘The Bat’ by Vincent Price whom the owner said, ‘oh, Vinnie?’ Sigh.

Horror’s Collective Memory: Gregory Waller ‘Introduction to American Horrors’

“Taking the horror film as our guide we can and should begin to rethink the nature of ‘influence’ and ‘imitation’ and the meaning of ‘genre’ and ‘formula’ in contemporary popular culture – in so doing we inevitably rethink our own understanding of horror as well”

Gregory A. Waller, ‘Introduction’ from American Horrors (1987, University of Illinois Press) reproduced in The Horror Reader.

Paul O’Flinn ‘Production and Reproduction: the case of Frankenstein’

An extract of Paul O’Flinn’s ‘Production and Reproduction: the case of Frankenstein’ is featured in The Horror Reader, edited by Ken Gelder.

Having only recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the first time I’ve been interested in how this monstrous character has morphed from being a damaged, repulsive, complex revenge-killer into a green, not responsible for his actions, somewhat lovable mute throughout popular culture; even so much as we now collectively associate the monster as “Frankenstein” when that name really belongs to the Doctor. This metamorphosis occurs through a shifting of mediums (from novel to film) and through a change in contemporary social climates; Frankenstein becomes a site of re-production and a mimetic vessel for each new time period. To me, this reflects the continuous and self-generative/reflexive nature of the horror genre itself all manifested in one big monster metaphor.

Notes are after the jump…

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‘Shocking Representation’ notes

Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film‘ by Adam Lowenstein

Just finished this book yesterday (9 January 2010). It discusses through film examples how historical trauma is reflected in the allegorical moment in film narrative where the past collides with the present in the eyes of the spectator. It moves away from a modernist reading of trauma as being a proper way to work though and towards a more post-modern/realist reading previously thought to be unhealthy. It establishes a conflation between ‘art genre’ and ‘horror genre’ in regards to trauma representation in cinema (how even art films tend towards the spectacle, how can it not, when showing something horrific). The author ‘shifts cinema’s relation to history from compensation to confrontation.’

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Roger Ebert quotes

Think of this in regards to exhibition curating, innovative implementations versus the standard museum faire:

The [horror] genre encourages visual experimentation. From ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ (1919) onward, horror has been a cue for unexpected camera angles, hallucinatory architecture and frankly artificial sets. As mainstream movies have grown steadily more un-imaginative and realistic in their visuals, horror has provided a lifeline back to the greater design of freedom of the silent era.

In the Chicago Sun Times talking about Last House on the Left (1972) and its marketing campaign:

I’ve got to admit that I did not expect much after its advertising campaign (“Keep repeating-It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie…”). But you know something weird? At one point I actually did find myself repeating that…A tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that’s about four times as good as you’d expect…sheer and unexpected terror…a powerful narrative…the audience was rocked back on its psychic heels…It’s a find, one of those rare, unheralded movies. (from: ‘Shocking Representation’)