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the Oedipus Rex zombie

June 8, 2012

“Your best defense against zombification” by James “JMoney” Moening of The Express-Times, published today in LehighValleyLive. The article is another “You wanna talk about zombies? We can talk about zombies” type of article of which there have been many since the Miami Causeway attack – See also “growth of ‘zombie’ talk online”

Moening suggests that the zombie “automaton” are really just MacGuffin-like plot devices to catch attention. Wikipedia says: “the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot.” Which is similar to how I have argued that “zombie” has become a floating signifier for all sorts of fears and also serves as dialectical opposition for another highly ambiguous narrative device – creativity.

But Moening goes to biological comparisons suggesting that zombie-state might be caused by tainted food supply (as with parasites that turn animals into zombies). And without specifically addressing psychoanalytic or cognitive claims like change blindness or inattentional blindness, he does allude to the issue by reference to the Freudian archetype:

Stop for a minute and ask the big question here: How much control do you really have over your brain and body? (Was Oedipus Rex infected?)

zombie sophocles oedipus rex zombies

Surely, for Gilles Deleuze the answer was yes. Or the reverse: we are all infected with Oedipus. Oedipus is a model neurotic. And Western thought is infected with an Oedipal disease; infected with modeling humanity on neurosis. See NYT: “Do the Jews Own Anxiety?” by Daniel Smith.

But see also the work of Professor Fred Ahl regarding whether there is sufficient evidence in the play’s text to condemn Oedipus – there is not – Oedipus chooses himself to be the Oedipus and solves the riddle by condemning himself. The audience (with presumed knowledge from outside the literal text) goes along with it, allowing Creon to take over. No one standing up to scream: “stop, Oedipus, don’t do it – the Emperor, he has no clothes!”

And if someone did, they would be quickly removed from the theater (See WSJ:”Law Student’s ‘Colloquies’ Banned From Gupta Trial” and ATL:“Unemployed Cardozo Gunner Receives Public Lesson From Jed Rakoff” about a law student expressing her thoughts to a judge during an ongoing trial). Language and society force us to castrate and blind ourselves. But where Freud modeled his patients on Oedipus, Deleuze preferred to model humanity as a ‘schizo out for a stroll'; taking opposition to he who would willfully blind himself.

Cognitive science continues to demonstrate ways in which our conscious minds are not in control of our bodies, relying more on subconscious perceptions and decisions than we can know. See NYT: “Blind, Yet Seeing: The Brain’s Subconscious Visual Sense” and recall from the Oedipus myth the blind-seer, Tiresias and the ironic humor the audience enjoys during his scenes. Questions of free will against the fates are doubly ironic in the play because the actors are literally playing a scripted future. But that may be true for us all.

Moening concludes:

the zombie apocalypse has already begun. Because, to implement a sweeping generalization, we haven’t been in control of our minds

It wasn’t me – I have no free will – it was the one-armed man – it was the RNA in the rice I ate – it killed my father and married my mother – but to quote Deleuze quoting Artaud: “I don’t believe in father, in mother, got no papamummy”. This schizophrenic expression is also a Marxist deconstruction forcing a reexamination of the family structures and those oedipal signifiers (daddy-mommy-me) that construct Western notions of identity. Recall also, Heinlein’s “All you Zombies” where the character literally is all of these people.

Dualist misconceptions structure a narrative of paired opposites where humanity is supposed to emerge from a synthesis of two impossibilities: creativity in zombies. Oedipus, a staged theatrical character, has, through the process of literary analysis, become proper name for a type of mental disease masquerading as a presumed normal. Willfully we walk ourselves to our own castration. Western culture makes us all Oedipal zombies – doomed to walk blindly til we die, shamed by the name we give ourselves.

Moening suggests we keep an eye our our dietary choices. I would suggest also being mindful of our choices for dramatic theater and metaphoric myth. “All the world’s a stage…” And stories can be parasites too. (See Dennett’s TED talk on Dangerous Memes: “it’s ideas not worms that hijack our brains”)

As zombies emerge as a frequent metaphor for all sorts of public health and economic crises, it is important to ask whether this framing is causing unconscious changes in the way we view the world – how we see other people and humanity writ large.

Consider alternatively, the zombie Ayn Rand, who would surely would have had many disagreements with Deleuze. Who is to say which is the more dangerous set of ideas? Dennett says, we can study memes without taking a moral perspective. Ha. As if we could really study them without becoming somewhat infected with the ideas. But it is neurotic to claim responsibility for all of Thebes and shut out new reading. Instead, as Moening concludes, we must “read more” (see also zombies at the library).

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