Jacques Derrida on zombies

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 27 - 2009

200px-jacquesderridaOne of my good friends who shares some of my love for the walking dead and is far, far more educated than I am sent me a short piece by Jacques Derrida on zombies. Derrida is a fancy-pants French philosopher and the father of deconstruction (yeah, I have no idea either). Here’s his take on the zombie:

Zombies are cinematic inscriptions of the failure of the “life/death” opposition. They show where classificatory order breaks down: they mark the limits of order. Like all undecidables, zombies infect the oppositions grouped around them. These ought to establish stable, clear and permanent categories. But what happens to “white/black”, “master/servant” and “civilized/primitives” when white colonialists can also be the zombie slaves of black power? Can “white science/black magic” remain untroubled, if what sometimes works against a zombie is white magic, the Christian religion, the power of love or superior morality? How certain is the opposition “inside/outside”, if the zombie’s internal soul is extracted and an internal force becomes its inside? Is there any security in opposing “masculine” to “feminine” and “good” to “evil” when the zombie is desexualized and has no power of decision?

The zombie is therefore fascinating and also horrific. It poisons systems of order, and like all undecidables, ought to be returned to order. In zombie movies, this return to order is difficult. For a classic satisfying ending, the troubled element has to be removed, perhaps by killing it. But zombies are already dead (while alive) you can’t kill a zombie, you have to resolve it. It has to be “killed” categorically, by removing its undecidability. A magic agent or superior power will have to decide the zombie, returning it to one side of the opposition or the to the. It has to become a proper corpse or a true living being. There are other endings, less final. The zombie might be ineradicable, they might return. Perhaps undecideability is always with us. If not figured in the zombie, then something else: ghosts, golems or vampires, between life and death

Found in Introducing Derrida by Jeff Collins. See, even fancy smart dudes love zombies.

8 Responses to “Jacques Derrida on zombies”

  1. leila says:

    two years does not make me far more educated, only smarter.

  2. Emily says:

    Hi. I’ve been trying to track down where (or if) Derrida actually said anything about zombies or if Collins only used the zombie to explain Derrida. I have the book by Collins and he gives no reference for any text where Derrida himself mentions zombies. I thought you might be able to help me out – do you know if Derrida ever actually mentioned zombies?

  3. Cory Casciato says:

    You know, I asked the same thing of my friend when she sent me the quote. She said it was unclear form the context (meaning Collins is something of a sloppy scholar, I guess). I will try to track it down and give you an answer, because now I am curious as well.

    EDIT: Check this link: Zombie Democracy. It seems to have been quoted here, but the Google book preview doesn’t include the pages with Footnotes. Still, if you have access to a good library (and I am guessing you are a college student or grad student, right?) you should be able to get the book and check the footnotes. If you really want to be a pal, you should post a new comment or e-mail me about it (cory.casciato[at]gmail.com). My current feeling is this is a Derrida quote (why quote a book talking about Derrida?). I also saw several other sources using partial quotes of this, but this is the most complete and academic one. Happy hunting!

  4. Emily says:

    Thanks so much. I just ordered a copy of Zombie Democracy and I’ll let you know what I find.

  5. Emily says:

    Hi. Just thought I’d let you know – I just looked through Zombie Democracy and the only Derrida/zombie connection made was by Collins, not Derrida himself. Thanks so much for pointing me to that resource.

  6. [...] (zombies) that chase it. There is always the obverse side to things. Both zombies an vampires are Undecidable (the Derridian concept), they waffle between dead and alive, and undermine all hierarchical order. [...]

  7. [...] be the sort of thing that would thoroughly explore that “undecidable” quality of life and death discussed in relation to Derrida. Plus, maybe he’d get Southland Tales alumni the Rock and Justin Timberlake to play in it, which [...]

  8. [...] “undecidable” originates from a source equally unfixed and indecipherable: Jacques Derrida. According to a quote attributed to Derrida, the zombie is “fascinating and also horrific” because “it poisons systems of order, and like [...]

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