A Dictatorship of the Undead


It seems like one need only take a second to consider the diversity of concepts and disciplines that call upon the language of the “undead” to communicate something vital about humanity. For example, Marx took up the imagery of vampires and werewolves to describe the effect and actions of capital and capitalists upon the world. Freud spoke of the “death drive” and how this aspect of the unconscious can analyse human desire. Derrida deployed the neologism, “hauntology,” to describe the virtual spectres and possibilities that haunt modernist ontologies. Foucault, finally, spoke of “ghosts” – the nothings and nobodies ousted to the periphery of human society.

Given all of this, perhaps, ridiculously, we might suggest that these tropes and themes of the “undead” are some of the paradigmatic critical ideas and categories of the last century and a half. Under the advent of time known as “modernity,” and its shaping of human subjectivity and social life through economic, political, and philosophical trends (commodification, reductionist materialism, industrialisation etc.), a transformation appears to have transpired in human (Western) self-conception and -creation that is finding itself best expressed in these images.

To risk a conjecture – a conjecture that puts to use that wonderful line from George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ “For the night is dark and full of terrors” – what happens when humans begin to occupy the space of these images, these terrors?

Consider, in some senses, what is the McDonald’s employee working the 3am shift but a ghost? What is the stock market executive working 24 hours a day but a vampire? What is the obsessive shopper with a credit card but a zombie? What is the homeless squatter but a spectre, a spook, a poltergeist?

Yet the emergence of all these images in a renewed sense in pop culture is suggestive of our need to own our position as these terrors. For it is terrible to internalise our alienation from a selfhood we never truly had, and, of course, as it is with all terrors, our position terrifies. It appears that this process is beginning to occur – against the wishes of our creators. We are these things, but we can’t know we are. If the zombie with a credit card knew it was a zombie, well, it might begin to crave flesh instead – as with a vampire, blood; as with a ghost, revenge.

If we owned our positions as vampires, in a world of vampires; as ghosts, in a world of ghosts; as zombies, in a world of zombies, we could take back the night, the buildings we haunt, the world’s we shuffle in.

Owing to this dominant thematic of the undead, what we need more than ever is a dictatorship of the undead. A dictatorship that is “alive” and awake to the analysis and critique this language and imagery puts forward, and works to sustain and internalise it, in all fields of social life, so that we might become what we are.