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A Zombie Manifesto: the nonhuman condition in the era of advanced capitalism

ou: Só se destrói o sistema morrendo! (se levarmos o pós-humanismo ao limite)
ou: Zombando da utopia ciborgue com a distopia zumbi

Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry
Our fundamental assertion is that there is an irreconcilable tension between global capitalism and the theoretical school of posthumanism. This is an essay full of zombies—the historical, folkloric zombie of Haitian origin, which reveals much about the subject position and its relationship to a Master/Slave dialectic; the living-dead zombie of contemporary film, who seems increasingly to be lurching off the screen and into our real world (as a metaphor, this zombie reveals much about the way we code inferior subjects as unworthy of life); and finally, we are putting forth a zombie that does not yet exist: a thought-experiment that exposes the limits of posthuman theory and shows that we can get posthuman only at the death of the subject.
Unlike Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” we do not propose that the position of the zombie is a liberating one—indeed, in its history, and in its metaphors, the zombie is most often a slave. However, our intention is to illustrate that the zombie’s irreconcilable body (both living and dead) raises the insufficiency of the dialectical model (subject/object) and suggests, with its own negative dialectic, that the only way to truly get posthuman is to become antisubject.
Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” sought to resolve the antagonism between subject and object binary by reimagining the chasm between the two through the hybrid. In the end, however, the text seems to propose that the subject itself can dissolve the boundary between subject and object through a process of inclusion.
For Haraway’s examples of real cyborgs —a seamstress at her sewing machine and a quadriplegic in her wheelchair — becoming cyborg is not purely a material experience but involves a discursive transformation: we become cyborgs when we decide to be cyborgs. Haraway thus requires a moment of cognition, a moment of consciousness, that always insists upon subjectivity. Regardless, in the zombii’s purest form, transformation must be created outside the body, proclaimed by others. The zombii cannot see itself as such, much less claim a zombie identity for itself.
The zombie as bodily specter thus refutes the resistance to embodiment of which many posthumanist models are accused. The posthumanist vision, which exhibits a willingness to disappear into the machine, or to dissolve into cyberspace, is refuted by critics like N. Katherine Hayles, Anne Balsamo, and Deleuze and Guattari, who characterize the overthrow of the material world as either a “nightmare” vision or a flat impossibility, rather than an empowering fantasy.
Whereas the vampire and even the intangible ghost retain their mental faculties, and the werewolf may become irrational, bestial only part of time, only the zombie has completely lost its mind, becoming a blank—animate, but wholly devoid of consciousness. The terror that comes from an identification of oneself with the zombie is, therefore, primarily a fear of the loss of consciousness. As unconscious but animate flesh, the zombie emphasizes that humanity is defined by its cognizance. Humanity defines itself by its individual consciousness and its personal agency: to be a body without a mind is to be subhuman, animal; to be a human without agency is to be a prisoner, a slave. The zombi(i)/e is both of these, and the zombi(i)/e (fore)tells our past, present, and future.
The individual under capitalism is often characterized as a zombie. But as Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno write, our zombie individuality is one that relies on the illusion of self: Under such a system, “nothing is left of him but that eternally same I think that must accompany all ideas. Subject and object are both rendered ineffectual.” What Horkheimer and Adorno and others illustrate is that the illusory separation of subject and object, the fata morgana of individualism, keeps happy the camp of zombies—the slaves to capitalism who are merely deluded into thinking that they are free. Horkheimer and Adorno claim that subject and object are rendered ineffectual categories under capitalism, as the commodity fetish animates objects, and reification objectifies the worker. For Marx, the efficiency of large-scale industry relies on the division of labor that is accomplished “by converting the worker into a living appendage of the machine.” Thus, reified as a part of the process of production, the subject has already bled into the object: we are already dwelling in the zombie’s interzone.
The zombie is opposition held irrevocably in tension. We are interested in reading the zombii as a “determinate negation” of the individual in the postindustrial, post-Holocaust era, for the zombie is not merely the negation of the subject: it takes the subject and nonsubject, and makes these terms obsolete because it is inherently both at once. The zombii’s lack of consciousness does not make it pure object but rather opens up the possibility of a negation of the subject/object divide. It is not, like the cyborg, a hybrid, nor is it like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s schizophrenic, a multiplicity; rather, the zombii is a paradox that disrupts the entire system.
If, as Horkheimer and Adorno suggest, the individual is a fiction conjured by the economic structure to ensure greater domination, then for us the only answer to this bind comes in the form of the zombii—a literalization of what has already happened: the death of the individual that continues to lumber forward. The zombii thus suggests how we might truly move posthuman: the individual must be destroyed. With this rupture, we would undo the repressive forces of capitalist servitude. But at what cost? The zombii’s dystopic promise is that it can only assure the destruction of a corrupt system without imagining a replacement—for the zombii can offer no resolution.
Capitalism depends on our sense of ourselves as having individual consciousnesses to prohibit the development of a revolutionary collective and to bolster the attitude that drives it: every man for himself. Appositely, posthumanity can only really be attained when we pull the trigger on the ego. To kill the zombie, you must destroy the brain, and to move posthuman, to lay humanism and its legacy of power and oppression in the grave, we have to undo our primary systems of differentiation: subject/object, me/ you.
Thus we are left with yet another tantalizing paradox, and without the promise of a completely satisfying ending. In an era where global capitalism forecloses all attempts to withdraw from the system, the only option is to shut down the system, and the individual with it. Will the end be monstrous, or will it be liberating? When we become zombiis, when we lose our subjectivity and the ability to rationalize, there will be no difference between the two. Therefore, when we truly become posthuman, we won’t even know it.