MJ Book Up for Pre-order

The zero MJ book is up on Amazon for pre-order. In it you will find many things of interest (particularly digging the rather occult title of Ian Penman's essay, "Notes toward a ritual exorcism of the dead king") and my take on Captain EO, NGOs, Islamic H.R. Giger, imperialist musical lasers of universal love and imposed democratic market relations. You know, the usual.

(Plus, the cover is damn good. Guessing the illustration is from Ms. Oldfield Ford, but I could be wrong.)

The memory of modern ideas, extend behind him like fields of ashes

Been meaning to link this here for a while. For any in NYC come December, Black Metal Theory (in connection with Glossator and Show No Mercy) will be happening. I'll be talking about "Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse": acephalic group formation, becoming a good barbarian, Enlightenment fascism, failed misanthropic reason. Expect quite a wide range, from esoteric mining of the occult to the somewhat more immediately political (Ben Noys, who will be gone and whose paper I hope to "read" in a black metal goblin rasp, and me). Yes, a likely degree of nerd-dom and likely some failed attempts to summon spirits of deep. But hell, should be a blast. And there will be together-drinking.


Black Metal Theory Symposium
December 12, 2009
The Public Assembly
70 North 6th St
Brooklyn, NY
1:00-7:00 p.m.
$10 cover

I: 1:00-2:15
The Light that Illuminates Itself, the Dark that Soils itself: Blackened Notes from Schelling’s Underground
Steven Shakespeare
The Counter-Reformation in Stone and Metal: Spiritual Substances
Erik Butler
BAsileus philosoPHOrum METaloricum
Scott Wilson
(moderator: Niall Scott)

II: 2:20-3:30
Transcendental Black Metal
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix
Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya
Nicola Masciandaro
Perpetual Rot: Obsessive Cycles of Deterioration
Joseph Russo
(moderator: Steven Shakespeare)

Interlude: 3:30-4:30
Nader Sadek, Baptism in Black (Phase II)
Sym-posium (together-drinking)

III: 4:30-5:45
‘Remain true to the earth!’: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal
Benjamin Noys (in absentia)
The Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Evan Calder Williams
Black Confessions and Absu-lution
Niall Scott
Meaningful Leaning Mess
Brandon Stosuy
(moderator: Scott Wilson)

IV: 5:50-7:00
Black Metal and Evil
Aspasia Stephanou
Red in a World of Black: A Discussion of Blood in Black Metal
Murray Resinski
‘Goatsteps behind my steps’: Black Metal and Ritual Renewal
Anthony Sciscione
(moderator: Erik Butler)

The smoke rising to the sky

By shooting priests and firing churches, the Spanish workers and peasants were not merely seeking to destroy their enemies and the symbol of their power but to rid Spain once and for all of everything that, in their view, stood for obscurantims and oppression. A fervent Catholic, the Basque minister Manuel de Irujo, confirmed such an interpretation when he stated: "Those who burn churches are not thereby exhibiting anti-religious feelings; it is just a question of demonstration against the state, and, if I may say so, the smoke rising to the sky is merely a sort of appeal to God in the face of human injustice."

- from Broué and Témime's The Revolution and The Civil War in Spain

The university is not our enemy. It is a visible staging ground on which a battle is to be fought.

To clarify:

The public university is not our enemy. It is not a monolithic beast to be simply countered, but a complex assemblage, intersecting vectors of thinking and money, invested capital and seething discontent, workers and the disappearing prospects of work, of reactionary forms and vast potential. And it is reeling, deeply in crisis. To speak of killing it is like speaking of rope in the cell of a prisoner to be hanged the following morning. Such an outcome waits around the corner, in years to come, not at our hands but beneath the weight and hunger of global capitalism in its current desperation.

This must be countered. The notion and promise of what public education can and should be must be protected at all costs. For whatever its failures, the public university itself remains a critical space for beginning to counter those economic processes and social models that far exceed the scope and reach of this campus, of any network of campuses. We remain committed to truly public education, to wider discourse, to rigorous analyses, to theories of action, as both means and end. These things can be and must be weapons to be shared and learned, tools to pry open frozen forms of uncritical thought and sad resignation. Machines for amplification and networks for mass communication.

If we are to speak of opening the university wider, of taking its spaces in order to make it a common zone (at once seeming paradox and concrete tactic), a zone of contention and resistance, we have to start with understanding it as a site, not as object, of antagonism. We have to grasp where it is already open and where its many blockades to access stand heavy. How to use those blockages against their ends, to expose them and use them for better, sharper purposes. How to see these openings and find emerging allies who also know that this situation must become the emergency that we already know it to be. No false enemies in a time of real enemies.

The university is not our enemy. It is a visible staging ground on which a battle is to be fought.

Solidarity with the Academy of Arts occupation in Vienna

Their statement:


The Bologna process aims at extensive convergence with the Anglo-American education system. The goal is to enter competition in the global education market to strengthen its own economic position and increase research dependent revenues. The establishment of regulative norms and the harmonization of standards are its basis and at the same time its precondition: without standardization no measurability, without measurability no comparability, without comparability no competition. Economization and competition logic are imposed on every level of the knowledge landscape.

The result is intercontinental as well as inter-EU competition, within which single universities and their departments compete amongst themselves for the best results and statistics. The processes involved in the creation of an education economy with knowledge as the traded commodity correspond with the general ambitions of privatization and commodification in all spheres of life under neoliberal capitalism. They lead to educational institution’s increased dependency on their sponsors; cynically defined as the autonomization of the universities.

In this context autonomy is a euphemism for the new forms of governing institutions. The autonomized universities are not autonomous in the sense of self-determined at all. They are rather directed to fulfil the needs of economy and industry, as well as to subjugate themselves to market logic; efficiency, competition and managerial ruling structures. The democratisation of the universities, implemented in the 1970s, is successively abolished; democratically legitimized bodies are disenfranchised and replaced by top-down hierarchical structures.

In the composition of the Bologna 3-level study model, a paradigm change has manifested itself, in the last few years there has been a shift from a pluralistic education ideal to an economy orientated education. The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna has repeatedly and explicitly positioned itself against this degradation and the establishment of the Bachelor-Master system.

We refuse to subjugate ourselves to the logic of politics and economy!

We’re fighting to define learning, teaching and research for ourselves!

We declare solidarity with the education protests in Bangladesh, Brazil, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Great Britain, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Croatia, Netherlands, Serbia, South Africa, USA!"

Solidarity to all those who try and refuse the accepted logic of politics and economy, with clear thought and real conviction, however it is done, everywhere that it needs to be done. Solidarity to those who both analyze the complexities of the system in which they participate and commit to direct actions, who break the false stalemate between sophisticated, rigorous thought and concrete expressions of discontent and refusal. From USA, back to you, in solidarity!

(Group statement of solidarity here.)

What if it has been rational all along?

Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 Return of the Living Dead ruined zombie films. Or that is what intelligent critical thinkers are supposed to think. Coming out the same year as the manic, claustrophobic Day of the Dead, Return made zombies self-aware kitsch, made the whole thing about moaning brains…, about Linnea Quigley stripping in a graveyard to the thought of being eaten alive by rotting corpses, of the kind of joke that can only end in our current idiotic quagmire of LOLzombies and zombie apocalypse survival guides. It is the beginning of the end, the point at which the fissures of crass commercialism, elision of left critique, and general bullshit can be detected.

None of this, however, is the case. Return is a startling film, shot through with deep, unabiding sadness, visions of collectivity, the blackest of comedy, a treatise on pain and memory, an unsteady shaking oscillation between and cobbled together construction of cheap gags, gory excess, and moments of lyrical quiet. Of course, the ways in which it is remembered – and perhaps, the dominant way in which it asks to be watched – is rather kitschy, cheap, and ultimately not that interesting. Yes, there is the cheap frisson of auto-referentiality, of people talking about how to kill zombies based on the Romero movies they have seen. There are really shitty jokes about eating brains. There are running zombies who chase and swarm. (Which, contrary to the supposed innovation of 28 Days Later and its imitators, are nothing new. Idiotic starving rage hordes that also run are.) There is generally a film populated with petty, hysterical, and generally moronic people. But in the midst of all this that is rather forgettable, these other unexpected blooms emerge.

It is, from the start, a film about work and non-work, about those caught in the structures of employment and those punks who seemingly opt out. In a medical supply company warehouse, Freddy – coded as a semi-punk kid aiming to make a working class run at it – starts his first day of work. It will consequently turn into a film about the worst first day of work in history, yet one which curiously demonstrates the deep hooks of an ideology of respect and worry about the job you have: in the midst of the soon-to-come zombie apocalypse, Freddy is ordered to watch his foul language (“if you want to keep your job”). On this first day, to impress, scare, and gently haze him, his older coworker, Frank, tells him that the events of that famous film, Night of the Living Dead, were very real indeed, but that the film got it wrong. That it was some military testing of an experimental chemical, the soon to be infamous 245 Trioxin, which caused bodies to jerk about. The military dealt with it predictably, sweeping it under the bureaucratic rug, sealing the bodies in barrels and then promptly losing track of their location. Of course, those barrels happen to be in the basement of this particular storage facility. And, of course, what would be breaking in the new guy without showing him a corpse in a military issued barrel?

1985 was evidently a big year in connections between the undead and the military-industrial complex. Dawn of the Dead set in the bunkered world of major military spending, Return set against the backdrop of the biotechnologies developed and left to wreak havoc elsewhere, in other times and places. In a horrible prescient echo forward to Hurricane Katrina, we are wrongly assured that the zombie cans are safe.

FREDDY: “These things don’t leak do they?”

FRANK: “Hell no, these things were made by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

We know now all too well what sort of guarantee this is, and sure enough, the barrel cracks and spews forth its toxic load.

Before we return to the inevitable result of this contagion, we are offered a glimpse of another sort of contagion let loose onto the American landscape, the idiocies of the self-declared punks, here in every pop culture permutation: tough leather and pierced skinhead, Rick James-esque fancy dresser, over-sexed/sexually frank dyed hair slut, tag along “good girl”, couple of New Wavers, the obligatory mohawk and dirty Converse wearing weirdo.

Until the outbreak of the undead forces a shift in their non-routines, their daily life seems to consist of making inane pseudo-Bataille statements (“I like death.” “I like death with sex.”), driving around carefully to preserve gas, visiting cemeteries, and declaring the various ways in which they are punk. We should draw out here a key question, not just for this film, but for our approach to this genre as a whole, namely, what movie do these people imagine themselves to be in? (This is an approach to watching and talking about movies I owe entirely to Marshall Leicester.) The answer in this case has to be, at the very least, three-fold. Frank, Freddy, and their boss Burt try their damnedest to play the parts inherited from a Romero movie: both their failed tactics and increasingly frustrated way of talking about those failures derive from the sense of, it worked there, why not here? In addition, they are indebted to some imaginary Abbot and Costello sketch about the perils of the working world. The punks have watched a mainstream news report on the “punk movement,” early MTV, perhaps a documentary on British punk, and, apparently, this movie itself, in a weird doubling back on a film that distinguishes itself in part by its punk soundtrack and iconography (and with the film’s tagline, “They’re Back From the Grave and Ready to Party!”). And the zombies? A longer question to be addressed, but we might say as a start that they didn’t particularly care about Night of the Living Dead but found Eisenstein’s Strike and Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers worth remembering.

Back at the medical suppliers, we’re at the early stages of another fierce return of the repressed, now staged on the most bodily of levels, a mute raging of surplus-life, the will to survive triggered and grown monstrous. Hacking and coughing, Frank and Freddy leave the basement to enter some of the more remarkable minutes in any zombie film I’ve seen. The gas, it appears, not only animates whole-bodied human corpses. It is an obscene principle of life itself, a whisper to everything that has lived that it never stopped living. A bisected dog for classroom use barks and pants, its exposed organs twitching.

A display of pinioned butterflies flaps its wings gently. And a cadaver hung indifferently by meathook in a freezer wakes up very, very angry about this state of affairs.

The workers and their boss, as we would expect in a film like this, decide that dealing with a representative of the pissed-off undead means killing him more thoroughly. But, as we learn in this film, in an echo of that first moment of realization in Night of the Living Dead (the “funny, it’s not usually this hard to kill the poor”) is that it is no longer about destroying the body as a whole by removing its head. Instead, what you get is this:

An even more furious, acephalic zombie running and flailing blindly through the warehouse. The sightless, thoughtless refusal to die. Tied up and hack-sawed apart, the severed limbs shake in rage. Flesh melted away with acid, the bones will not be quiet. And incinerated, the ashes may lay still, but the desperate insistences of the body do not stop. They rise up in a cloud of smoke, to meet the rain and trickle down through grass, earth, and coffin lids, to pass the message to the other dead bodies that hadn’t gotten the word: you never stopped living.

In terms of transmission, Return represents an odd intermediary between the global totality cause in the Romero cycle and one-to-one infection logic emphasized in recent zombie culture. Here, there is a discernible event (the army created a gas with certain properties) and that event has to be directly transmitted (exposure to the gas or something already affected by it), but it remains strangely diffuse, raining down on the dead and the living alike. Furthermore, its effects break with either of these opposed models. It doesn’t give the living a virus or surplus-life that “resurrects” them after death, it doesn’t create a condition that only affects those who die after that condition has come to be. Yet the zombies we see in the film are, more than anything, a continuation of what they were in life, far more than in the parodic shambles of Romero’s shoppers and munchers. Here, they run, they talk, they scheme and fool, they work together toward common goals. If the thought of surplus-life hangs heavy over the whole genre, it does so here negatively. It is decisively present, in that form of a fanatical insistence of all once-living matter to flex its rotting muscles. And as for those who were alive when they face the gas, indeed, they become “dead” in the eyes of the living, but more than that, they become unable to truly die. Above all, the motivation to this uncanny life is not the urging of the body itself or a deep impulse transmitted by radiation or saliva borne bacteria. Even the gas itself seems a cover story, a phenomenally present form of transmission that isn’t ultimately about chemicals. Instead, it is about thought, a death-knowledge, a knowledge – and an antagonism – strong enough to counter life.

This death-knowledge, which is less an allegorical reading of the film than a close sense of just how we see the transmission and “reanimation” work throughout it, is a certain awareness. It simply makes you aware of your own death, finds some lingering shred of consciousness and infects it, brings the faint memory of death into the dominant horizon, and with it the “pain of being dead.” Crucially, this isn’t just an intellectual knowledge. It is somatic, it speaks another tongue to the minimal units of living matter which, once made aware, can not forget and will not settle down. The implication which forms a powerful nihilistic core to the film – one which entirely exceeds the petty immoral sex-and-death nihilism of the costume punks – and which cannot be shaken is that being “alive” is solely the consequence of ignorance, of not being cognizant of your own decay.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the workers exposed to the gas. The major arc of the film is their story, as they move from mock frustration (with a bit of real terror) to a deep sickness, an ontological horror as they become dead without dying. The gas gives the same message to the living and the dead (Did you know that you are dead? What are you going to do about it?) , yet while this knowledge animates the dead, stirs them into an action impelled by the pain of awareness itself, this shock to thought produces a mournful stasis for the workers. As well as dialogue that would be quite funny if it weren’t injected with a rending, lingering sadness that we cannot not share. When the paramedics are called to treat them, and find them shivering,death-shroud pale, with no pulse, temperature that of the cold morgue, they are understandably stupefied.

PARAMEDIC: “Because technically you’re not alive. But you’re conscious. So we don’t know what it means.”

FREDDY: “Are you saying we’re dead?”

PARAMEDIC: “Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

PARAMEDIC: “I didn’t mean you were really dead. Dead people don’t move around and talk.”

Because technically you’re not alive. But you’re conscious… in a move familiar the horror genre, we are supposed to be unsettled, spooked, or disturbed by the prospect that animating consciousness – and with it, the prospect to harm us – can exist, in a rupture with the everyday, in forms that exceed the living. That there are consciousnesses alien, and likely hostile, to our own. The standard narrative logic of those films tends to function via initial disbelief (how could this be possible?), then a recognition that belief must be suspended in order to deal with the threat, a conquering of the threat, and a return to “normal” that can never be truly normal again, now infused with the knowledge that there are textures and shapes of being that exceed our ability to grasp. All that we need to grasp is how to deal with them, with adequate violence and skill. In Return, we are indeed unsettled. But this unsettling is the consequence of a far darker operation: not that there are other kinds of perhaps undead consciousness, but that the very condition of normal life, supposed to be the normal condition and cause of consciousness, is itself a mere symptom of actively repressing what we know to be the case, that we’re dying from the start, death warmed over and stretched out over the duration of a heart’s muscle tissue winding down, a self-tiring clock. Consequently, the return to “death” is the approach to the original state of things.

Almost. What this leaves out is the messianic undertones of the film and this schematic, which establishes two “false” poles of false consciousness to be avoided and the hard work of convincing others to join, via a sort of radical zombie pedagogy, a third way, the undead truth. The message begins with the gas, but it becomes part of the flesh of all that it touches, so that when the corpse is burned, it is the conviction and knowledge now part of the flesh itself which turns to smoke and spreads. The structure is essentially missionary, soldiers of God spreading the word: Have you heard the good news? Jesus died for you. Or, in the case of this film, Have you heard the bad news? You’ve already died. A necro version of the sunglasses that lay bare the class/alien race structure in Carpenter’s They Live, once you see, you can’t go back to seeing otherwise.

What of brains…, the constant, self-mocking cry kicked off in this film, that the figure of the zombie can’t seem to shake? We should consider it two ways, in how it derivates and deviates from the Romero model and on the terms established by the film itself. In Romero’s Dead series, the zombies have no particular love or appetite for brains. (One might imagine a particular distaste for them, given the difficulty of opening up a skull, even for hordes of the undead who aren’t very adept at using tools.) They fixate on general gutting and tearing, a non-targeted sloppy free-for-all. And while the never fully given explanations of why varies from film to film, the rough consensus is that they do it because of some deep, and now misrecognized, memory: of a savage primal past, of the mechanism of hunger which no longer physiologically applies, of rampant consumer consumption. In each case, the point is that they do not chose to do it and that somewhere along the way, the message got mixed up. (“Consume commodities? Fuck, we’ve been going about this all wrong.”) Things are quite different in Return. The zombies know very well what they are doing, and they’re quite good about making sure it gets done. It is an active choice, one that can be delayed in order for the greater collective enterprise of spreading zombie mayhem. And if anything, the problem isn’t that they don’t remember clearly enough. It is that they remember far too clearly, an awful clarity of mnemotechnic pain, searing reminders of the decay of all things living.

The startling moment in which this is fully laid bare is one unlikely to be forgotten by any who have seen the film. A long-dead, grave husk zombie captured by the living, with nothing left of her but her head, shoulders, and an exposed spine swaying to and fro, is interrogated on an examining table. When asked “why brains?”, she responds in a hissing whisper, “The pain of being dead… I can feel myself rot.” Pressed further as to the connection between this “pain” (which already seems closer to the pain of knowing you are dead) and brain lust, she replies, “Eating brains makes the pain go away.” Obviously, our interest is not in speculating ways in which the consumption of brains might physiologically dull the pain of a rotting body. The film itself has little interest in this either, leaving any direct connection opaque and pointing in more compelling directions. If it is knowledge that causes this pain, a certain brutal deconstruction, willful misuse, and redeployment of knowledge can be the only solution. An overliteralized version of giving you something else to think about, albeit thoughts which enter through the guts rather than ears and eyes, swallowing a different sort of knowledge, distracting yourself from what you can’t stop thinking about. (A distraction that never lasts: how could it when we never stop falling apart?) And more sharply, a sort of pain sharing, an act of spreading the bad word. Inheriting a pain inherent to your position in a system you didn’t choose, solace comes in knowing that this pain – and what it drives you to willfully choose to do – is not singular but collective. If, as Fredric Jameson puts it pithily, “History is what hurts,” Return is the story of how the already dead attempt to write a history “back from the grave” and into this world, a trajectory in reverse, written in a pain that are doomed to feel and that they demand we all feel. It’s hard to envision another cinematic instance of such direct propaganda work. Want to know what the pain of thought and thought of pain is? Give me your head for a moment.

Out of this unyielding “pain,” one has two choices, at least according to the film: suicide or mass participation in knowledge-sharing. (The other non-choice that we see pursued, with no great success, is to skulk around a cellar, biting into the brains of idiot punks who have little knowledge to share , or to wait around until you “turn” to make a bad joke and go for your girlfriend’s head.)

The first choice we witness in a moment that genuinely shares pain beyond the film, to all who watch it, as Frank, now “technically not alive” prays briefly, removes his wedding ring, and pushes himself into the blazing fires of the crematorium. Yet even this attempt to cut himself out of the cycle, to refuse to participate in the zombie holocaust, cannot succeed. It may remove his ongoing personal pain, but as we witness earlier, it is the fact of burning and the transmission of the buried message in the smoke, out into the night air, that allows for the mass dissemination of knowledge. In opting out of the cursed game, Frank becomes a martyr for a cause he died to avoid supporting.

If Frank’s death is the awful pathos of both cyclical inevitability and a broken man, the other alternative is the joyous center of the film, its moments of genuine cheers from the audience, and the “utopian” kernel of it all. It is collectivity formed out of what could be a crushing awareness, knowing that you are not even special in the ontological pain you feel, that you are just one of a growing horde of those powerless to change it, to die properly, to quit the pain. Yet against either the dysphoric retreat or the retreat into the fantasy of the irrational – I will act as irrational, bloody shambling horde like, as the system that made us – that linger at the edges of this first knowledge emerges a new rationality.

This is a crucial point, for much of the ideology of zombies hinges on the assumption of their irrationality. Sure, maybe they once knew what they were doing, and now remember a broken shard of it. Or maybe, in the later iterations of the Romero cycle, particularly Land of the Dead, they can move toward an incipient group knowledge, rudimentary use of tools and implements, basic swarm strategies, and so on. Return shows something different altogether: what if what this thing we assumed from the start to be, at least initially, mindless, irrational, mute in its anger and illogical hunger, what if it has been rational all along? What if it not only can hurt, but comprehends this hurt? And what if it realizes that this pain is not individual but collective? What if the ways in which it aims to destroy the system that wants to destroy it is rational?

Return approaches, in the midst of its gags and rockin’ soundtrack, these very serious questions, questions that have little to do with the fantasmagoria, as we will venture. The closest it gets is to ask: my God, what if they get their shit together? The threat – and the supposed horror we feel at witnessing an uncanny imitation of almost-life – is not that of an otherness that shows our complicity in mindless structures of consumption or of an underlying savagery, not blind groupthink or hive mind, not of never being at peace and forced to wander, not of the very unearthing and undermining of the natural order of things. It is the threat of collectivity itself. It is something we have learned to be fear, not the end of romantic “individuality” itself but the prospect that autonomous subjects may recognize the limits of that autonomy and begin to act together, an unholy and uneven assemblage of different tactics, motives, and skills unified into a shared weapon against this arrangement of the world.

“Send more paramedics…”

It is also, in this case, getting onto the ambulance radio to pretend to be a concerned citizen and call for more paramedics to deliver into the mouths of your fellow zombies waiting in the shadows. It is dressing up in the policeman’s uniform, acting very official, and directing drivers to where they will meet their untimely end (or, depending on your perspective, be “convinced” of the fact of their deadness and the need to do something about it). It is being very rational and coldly calculating about how to achieve and enact your apparent irrationality.

The world of the living is, to be sure, not interested in the utopian potential of this mode of organization and antagonism. Having learned that Trioxin has been leaked, with all its attendant effects, Colonel Glover receives a call in bed and makes the decision, still in his monogrammed pajamas, to nuke the town.

A high, keening whistling as the zombies, their victims, and those trying to avoid being either look up and wait. And then, the mushroom cloud rises at dawn.

We learn that it was a complete success, that the threat has been contained, and, even more fortunately, that the rain is putting out the fires. The rain, which of course, now carries the atomized microparticles of the death-knowledge, sprayed infinitesimally small into the atmosphere, the message of antagonism and pain diffuse, now carried in clouds and tiny water droplets to fall onto other towns, onto other places of the dead. Here we go again.

The elevation of past protests as part of a storied history serves equally to denigrate the real attempts now

More responses from our crew to Mr. Bousquet, on the topic of the second occupation and the occasion of these necessary days to come.

"We are interested in seeing these spaces not simply as calculations of property that has to be protected at all costs, and we will claim them accordingly. Not small numbers of us who ask for the solidarity of others or who assume that we "represent" other students. Massive numbers of us who wish to express discontent in any way that we find productive and necessary. Occupation is one such way, but far from the only one."

Pass the crystal ball

Amazing moment from Roy Anderson's Songs From the Second Floor. The Economic Faculty's council of experts passes around its non-functional crystal ball while their chairman can't find his long or short term future perspectives in his briefcase.

"It appears that we shall have to skip the strategies and concentrate on tactics instead."

I haven't been an angel

On a rather different note from what I tend to write about here, and with no particular relation to anything other than the accidents of listening to music while cooking:

Listening to the 5 Royales tonight, the alarmingly good North Carolina Apollo Records R & B group from the early '50s. This song stuck out for being the laying bare, in swinging glory, of the basic logic of relationships gone bad. All pop songs, even in their retracing of shit clichés, remain uniquely capable of forcing that weird disjunction between the sound and content of it. In this case, the fundamental truth of those moments when it boils down to an economy of tears, and some tired recognition of, hell, if that's what you want... , but coupled with cooing ooo's and blaring horns. Sublime.

Please tell me, please, baby tell me,
How I can make up with you?
If there's anything to keep you
That I surely, surely will do
Will I have to cry some more
Will I have to cry some more
Yes, I'll cry some more
Will I have to cry some more
I am handing you no line
Please, try me one more time

Letter of Solidarity From Barcelona

[it is things like this very smart letter that give us conviction, knowing that whatever we may do wrong, we are not alone in trying, to "find common voice," to become a "practical negation." We are not, and should not wish to be, sparks of inspiration: we are sparks off a larger fire that keeps flaring up, around the globe. Our solidarity back to you, La Rimaia, is indeed expressed in every action we do.]

Dear comrades at the University of California,

We wish to express our support for your endeavor. As the current crisis of capitalism attempts to reconfigure its ability to impose its social forms upon our varying situations, we cannot help but recognize that its utilization and manipulation of educational systems is no exception. Such an attack, whereby the stable reproduction of capital remains the incentive for developing education, is ipso facto of an international character, and thus our response to these assaults must also be fortified with an international character.

It must be recognized however, that the quality and maneuvering of our responses will always be contingent upon the specified manner in which we find ourselves deprived of an adequate and active relationship with knowledge, and of the social organizations which might cultivate such a relation. Thus, while our struggles might resonate differently with one another, and the strategies utilized therein of a diverse arsenal, they simultaneously find common voice as the practical negation of a society dominated by commodity production.

Our point of departure remains this resonance, this ability to recognize one another as subject to the same global processes of transforming education into a system producing mere conduits of unrealized exchange value. With the impotence of a singular strategy out of our way, it is the construction and development of our global and diffuse networks of resistance that offer a defense to the imposition of capitalist normalization. Our plurality remains our strength, if for only its promise and potential trajectory of coalescence.

As our own occupation at the Universitat de Barcelona, and of course others across the globe demonstrates, eviction, whether externally or internally inflicted, always remains a possibility. The recent arrests in Santa Cruz are exemplary of this risk. But it is from our common solidarity that we are able to wage war against these attempts to derail our efforts.

We also wish to express our understanding of the limited capacities of this letter of support. Solidarity cannot exist within the circumscription of spectatorship and while we write now to demonstrate our affinity with your struggle, and of course while understanding the importance of such a correspondence, our real solidarity, that is, a solidarity which acts as a material force against our common enemies, resides in our determination to continue with our own struggle. It is from your own actions however, that our perseverance gathers a strength, which in turn makes our mangled era tremble.

In solidarity,
La Rimaia


“La Rimaia” is a social project in a squatted building in the centre of Barcelona. This so-called “free university” is an endeavor by a group of activists to create an alternative teaching-learning environment.

The activists behind the project previously squatted the historic building of the University of Barcelona as part of the student movement fighting the implementation of the Bologna Process in Catalonia. The students’ international commission has superseded its previous form and has risen, much like a phoenix, to set fire to everything and build an international network of people willing to fight for an emancipating education.

The plague turns back on its source (Or, zombie tin miners on fire killing their overlords!)

We haven’t entirely answered the question raised before: who, then, are the zombies? To proceed negatively…

They are not extensions of the capitalist injunction to consume. Or if they are, not because “purchasing unnecessary shit to bolster your social capital is like becoming part of a roving horde of undead cannibals.” To be sure, the real linkage is that of non-necessity. In the Romero vision of zombies, they physiologically need to eat like we physiologically need a certain brand of jeans: not at all. But the analogy ends here. For their consumption is not the will to possess, the momentary grasp of the New in the form of the passing fashion. It is a mode of consuming that is against all ownership, against exchange value, against reification, against representation itself. [1]

Allegorically, they are both the dream and nightmare of the ruling class, the motor that turns the gears of the system and the rotting wrench forced into those gears. In an era of overproduction and overcapacity, when they are both too many workers and too many factories, what are zombies if not the total fantasy of “creative destruction”, of clearing the ground of the dead weight of outmoded industry? Provided, of course, that the living eventually rid themselves of the pesky undead, the opportunities for growth, for rebuilding! As a character in the oddball Italian zombie film Nightmare City puts it, “It’s part of the vital cycle of the human race. Create and obliterate until we destroy ourselves.” Well, perhaps not “the human race,” but we know for certain that this economic regime cannot function without the cyclical destruction of whole swathes of productive capacity. Recalling our earlier discussion of the sadism of false necessity, the zombies serve another crucial function: they are the crisis which allows for powers that be to declare a “state of emergency,” to suspend the normal channels of legislation and to bring about drastic changes (the barricading of cities to “foreigners,” forms of martial law, etc). And as with the false necessity of but I had to, she was going to turn…, we should ask here: sure, but for how long were you waiting for the excuse to do these things?

And yet… even in that vision of creative destruction, of being the accidental tool of the order against which you rage, helping them do a bit of necessary clearing to allow growth and being the excuse to restructure the social order, the center on which the fantasy of the zombie hinges is the horror of that which cannot quit. For what has been trailing along but missing, hinted at but rarely brought forth, in our analysis should be obvious by now: it’s about labor. It’s never been about consumerism gone bad, but the lost heritage of the zombie film to be necromanced, the horror from the Haitian origins, of being forced to work, of the obscene truth of the “free labor” contract of capitalism, of knowing that I’ve never had a choice, that “choosing” to see one’s labor is a particularly nasty illusion of free will. If the surplus-life nightmare of zombies sticks with us, fascinates, and disturbs, it is because what has been brought to its logical conclusion isn’t the vapid barbarism of the consuming classes but the buried antagonism of the labor relation, of a world order dragging us from our rest incessantly, to do what “must be done” yet for which we will be blamed. The infernal position of workers, cursed for doing wrong what can never be right.

To be clear, if recent zombie films have involved a certain betrayal of the Romero trajectory and its ability to think how the abstractions of totality messily affect the local, the Romero trajectory – and with it, the dominant line of zombie thought – is itself a betrayal of a history that could have been. This is the lost heritage of those forced to work, raised from the dead to do the compulsory bidding of a master, to labor indefinitely. Yet in this “betrayal,” a word that should perhaps be cast out, we can register a powerful shift, one that ultimately has fidelity to the core of the voodoo inflected zombie model. The particularity of that nightmare form is distinctly postcolonial, the deep existential horror of being a slave still or once more, even after death, and the recognition that relations of domination and subordination have distinct faces: someone is doing this to me, particular actions had to be taken by that individual in order to control me as the hollow remnant of an individual. Power is personal, and so too the antagonism on which it uncertainly rests.

The zombie film, from Romero on, derails this particular emphasis on forced labor [2], and with it, the closer connection of the zombie and the laborer (in favor of the zombie and the consumer), yet in doing so, it nails something else. Not that class antagonism and its attendant anxieties are “about” consumption now: those fears are the underbelly of an older period, of postwar boom and new sectors of society getting to purchase in ways never before available to them. Rather, if the later films symptomatically capture something of the particular anxieties of the emergent post-Fordist/post-capitalism’s-golden-years period, it has to do with those relations of domination. For what it approaches, however darkly, is an awareness that the problem of the age is no longer the horror of being controlled by a discernible master but the indecipherability of those relations of domination, the lack of discernible masters at whom to aim. While the voodoo-inflected zombie film recoils at the thought of being forced to assume a direction dictated by your master, the Romero mode remains troubled by lack of direction: my God, what if I’m doomed to not get anything done, other than some reprehensible cannibalism, and worse, what if there’s no one I can blame for this? The powerful capacity of the zombie film to approximate totality is a consequence – if it is to be located historically at all – of 1) the violent foreclosure of organized resistance to global capitalism by counter-revolutionary state action, 2) the related dissolution of working class power and the very idea of working class identity, and 3) the emergent new planet-spanning structure of flows of finance, information, and goods. To be sure, these are trendlines that gain shape only in hindsight, but it is no stretch to see the torsion and tension of these massive shifts in the cinema of the long 70’s into the 80’s. And nowhere more so in the zombie film, particularly when we don’t simply mean films in which the undead eat the living. [3]

But to get a sense of that lost history that roils beneath the surface of the films from this period on, absently present in the ecstatic splatterfests and dystopian grim allegories alike, we should turn to a remarkable other beginning, the British 1966 Plague of the Zombies. If we imagine the openings and closures of different traditions and lineages, this is one that both continues and reworks the Carribean roots of earlier zombie productions (White Zombie, I Walked With a Zombie) while also blazing a path that was not to be followed, one of overlapping modes of production, the literal return of the postcolonial repressed “brought home” to solve labor shortages, and a peculiarly British awareness of decorum, class, and general nastiness towards others. We are speaking of a film, after all, in which zombies work as tin miners.

Released two years before Night of the Living Dead, it shares little with that genre forger. It’s a period piece in brilliant color, complete with cadmium paint blood, diabolical squires, and the other trappings of the Hammer Studios films in that period (recognizable actors, plenty of cleavage, an insistence on telling fully fleshed out narratives, even while they collapse under the weight of their own contradictions). It is not a “siege” film, thereby lacking the spatial ordering of inside barricading/outside threat. And most crucially, it features non-accidental zombies that require the active efforts of individuals: there is no zombie holocaust here, no threat of it spreading beyond the small town.

To summarize very briefly: Sir James, a retired professor of medicine, receives a letter from his ex-pupil, Peter, telling him that strange things are going on in his Cornish village. Sir James and his daughter Sylvia go to the town, it becomes increasingly apparent that the vague plague is in fact the work of voodoo, a skill picked in Haiti up by the local Squire Hamilton, who rules over the area with an occult-ring bedecked fist. Conditions in his tin mine had become too dangerous to convince laborers to work there, hence he started killing off and resurrecting members of the working class to employ as shambling corpses who require a lot of whipping to get any work done. Things go from bad to worse: Peter’s wife Alice is killed, Sylvia falls under the voodoo command of Hamilton only to be saved at the last moment from becoming a (presumably) virgin sacrifice by her father and Peter bursting in. They escape, the zombies catch on fire (their voodoo dolls were burned elsewhere), attack and kill their controllers, the tin mine explodes.

From the start, Plague develops a world of barbed pleasures, of getting to respond to your daughter’s exhortations with, “I don’t know why I put up with you at all. I should have drowned you at birth.” Unlike the sadism of false necessity, this is a world in which antagonisms remain conversational, with each character hell-bent on not giving others the satisfaction of feeling as if their satisfaction or happiness matters. That is, of course, with the exception of the class hatred on which the film turns, posing a striated world of landed aristocracy, non-landed but quite comfortable aristocracy, upper middle class educated doctors trying their hand at village life, the various government and police functionaries of the town, the farmers and working class, colonial exports brought to serve as butlers and “voodoo drummers”, and the tin miner zombies. (One should ask, in all seriousness, how the film positions the last two categories, the black servants and the zombies, in terms of who is afforded more respect.) Yet while the film makes very apparent this hierarchy, it cannot – at least on the surface – deal with its implications without fleeing into a certain language of transhistorical human nature and of evil. Consider the early exchange between Sir James and Sylvia, after Sylvia has witnessed, with great displeasure, the goons of Hamilton hunting a fox.

SIR JAMES: “Men have always hunted.”

SYLVIA: “For food, yes, not for bloodlust.”

At that point in the film [4], we are intended to side with Sylvia, in supposing that there is indeed something qualitatively different here. Yet this difference is not that of new historical forms of cruelty and micro-barbarism. Rather, it is coded as a throwback to a blood-dimmed pastoral of aristocratic rule, of incontrovertible laws and superstition. If there is an explicit arc to the film, it is the movement toward Sir James’ position away from that of Sylvia: men kill because that’s what that do, but there are some who are pathological in what they do, in how they combine bloodlust with greed. And they do so because they missed the news about the Enlightenment and the solid rationality of the British middle class: they are brutes and haughty elites, superstitious fools and sadist perverts. The most explicit formations of class antagonism function in this way, as a battle between modernity and the bastions of country life. When Peter refuses – because he is unable – to give the villagers a satisfactory account of just what the hell is going on, he couches it in terms of a betrayal of his principles of scientific rationality: to give them a lie to appease them just wouldn’t be “good enough.” To which, in a moment that would likely elicit a cheer from not a few readers, one of the “working class” men responds, “You’re not good enough for us!” However, the champions of “local custom” hardly far better from our perspective. As given in the film, the range of their positions range from sullen anger and inability to question the social structure of the feudal/pastoral to the canny nastiness and calculation of those in positions of power, well aware that the world is changing but equally aware that capitalizing on it requires an insistence on preserving the status quo. As we are reminded, “This isn’t London,” and it is hard to grasp this as anything other than a condemnation. That said, similarly to Lucio Fulci’s brutal masterpiece, Don’t Torture a Duckling, Plague is largely about a battle between “modernity” (London/science) and “backwardness” (Cornish village/superstition) in which neither option appears worth saving, in which it is precisely the contagion, slippage, and fraught intersections between the two in which violence emerges most viciously.

What the film approaches, yet remains unable to fully comprehend, is the particularly capitalist – and distinctly not retrograde – nature of the wrongdoing. To be sure, Plague paints a world in which that edifice of landed gentry and all its social codes still has sway. But it is out of sync with the progress of time: the voyage to the Cornish village is a voyage to a backwater, an earlier organization of feudal life confronted with the peculiar new horrors of capitalist accumulation. (In this case, the grinding horror of knowing that just because a job is too dangerous for workers doesn’t mean that workers will not be forced to do it.) If one of our preoccupations here is the question of combined and uneven development/apocalypse, of overlapping regimes of production and accumulation, of pockets of Hell and infernal circuits of capital, Plague captures this out of the corner of its roaming eye. Literalizing all those vague allegories of undead labor, of the black magic of drawing forth value from nothing, of undermining the natural order in the name of profit, Hamilton’s “disgusting” enterprise is an oblique, parodic freeze-frame of a moment in the unfreezing of capital via advanced techniques, imported from afar and brought home to mine the heart of the empire.

This first becomes evident in the assumed opposition between science and superstition. In the bravely immoral new world of Hamilton, the rational calculations of profit margins and labor affordability turn to esoteric, “magical” means. It is the scientific application of non-scientific techniques: even Sir James, upon reading on voodoo methods in the priest’s library of occult volumes, declares that, “it’s all clearly scientifically stated.” The film here actually differs from a majority of “men of science vs. supernatural occurrence” horror movies, in which the enterprise of Enlightenment critical thought is abandoned in the face of that which cannot be explained, complete with the requisite invocations of faith and the failure of those men of science to adequately become men of action, to stop theorizing and just pull the trigger. Conversely, what we see in Plague is an indeterminate zone, in which the problem of the zombies is that they are not supernatural: they are the result of hard work, ingenious arcane methods brought to bear on a ruthless drive to reopen that abandoned tin mine. Hamilton preserves his status as the squire of the region by adopting fully the mechanisms of that new social structure which will displace him. In struggling to cling to the vestiges of authority granted by feudal order, he overleaps the logic of that order. Of course, he keeps this all quite literally underground. For he is the emergent product of a mode of domination in which nothing is sacred, a saturnine hack Nietzschean who insists on raising the dead only when the living become too expensive. A moral debate between science and superstition matters not at all. It is at that point, when the cost and difficulty of obtaining labor “scientifically” ( a calculation of wages, resources, proto-industrial reserve army, etc) as an extension of the feudal mode that Hamilton turns from science, at least in its Western conception. When you can no longer squeeze a profit from your workers, the point is not to squeeze harder. It is to change the nature of the work. To change the nature of the workers, of the structure of exploitation itself.

And change this he does. Not however, because the workers are technically dead and hence mindless slaves. (As we see, they require a fair amount of coercion – i.e. constant whipping – and remain capable of striking back when their moment comes.) Rather, because his enterprise represents a radical innovation in the shape of the colonial enterprise, folded back upon itself. Free labor is no longer to be extracted from the colonies by the intellect, will, and brute force of its colonizers. Rather, the colonial heritage comes home to roost: the repressed truth of empire returns to corrupt and innovate its tired home market, the blocks to increased productivity and profit. Black plagues strike indeed, but from afar. In short, the innovation – and perhaps the undergirding 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 imperialism to ignore.

To be more specific: it is black knowledge, wielded by a white man. The racial composition of the film – and its portrayal of value creation – needs to be considered. A rich white squire left England to travel abroad. In Haiti, he was somehow educated in the arts of voodoo. (Foreign currency opens a surprising number of surprising doors.) He returned to find his father dead, the stable hold on the content of landed aristocracy in crisis. Worse, the rich vein of tin running below their lands could not be mined; the white townspeople refused to engage in that work. They refused the equation of the compensation offered for work that would possible kill them, in an approximation of worker power that is necromantically overcome. As such, he employs Haitian drummers (and, in one of the more compelling minor roles, a black butler) to aid him in the rites which kill, raise, and control the townspeople.

Here, however, is the crucial question. In what possible way is it economically advantageous to create zombie laborers? (And more, zombie laborers out of those same white villagers who turned down the work in the first place?) The film seems to say, obviously, because they are mute slaves who work for free, they just ceaselessly mine and turn a profit. But in one of those remarkable moves in which what the film is “about” and what actually happens become unmistakably divergent, it becomes unmistakably clear that maintaining an army of undead miners is a lot of fucking work, particularly for wanna-be overlord Hamilton. (What also becomes apparent throughout the film is that the only real reason for him to be doing all this is because he quite enjoys it, that he gets off on being “beyond morality,” on getting to put on his voodoo mask and robes, and mess around in graveyards at night.) He does not simply dig up corpses that come to un-life to work for him. No, he has to find a way via clumsy subterfuge to cut each future zombie, surreptitiously gather a bit of that blood, perform complicated rituals, wait for the “plague” death of the individual, and dig him or her up. And it doesn’t stop there.

In the establishing shots of the tin mine, we notice two things. First, the zombies require a lot of whipping to keep moving. Even though it is the sadistic stooges of Hamilton who do the whipping, they don’t seem particularly to be enjoying it, as we might imagine, asserting their position in the hierarchy of masters. They seem genuinely worn out from constantly trying to goad the shambling dead into action. And when they do “work,” it seems startlingly ineffective, some pathetic approximation of human labor. Raising the hammer weakly to let it fall. They may work for free, but they surely don’t work very well.

Second, this would be fine if we imagined a real horde of them, hundreds of fumbling, ineffective, rotting hands pulling shreds of tine from the earth. But Hamilton’s tin mine is woefully understaffed, with no more than fifteen to twenty of these workers. And hence we can only ask: how does he turn a profit? The presence of the Haitian drummers and butler immediately raise the seeming obvious solution, exporting cheap labor from afar. If the townspeople are not willing to work in the mine, Hamilton surely knows that there are those more desperate who would throw – or more realistically, be thrown – themselves into this situation at the prospect of escaping crushing poverty and famine. The other solution, one that again is more obvious than it appears, is to make the mine safer. Put in some structural reinforcements, draw workers back with minimum wages and the assurance of non-collapse, and start drawing tin from the earth at a rate far faster than that of your “free” labor. Put your very able-bodied thugs to work not whipping zombies or digging up corpse, but mining some tin themselves. If living humans won’t work there, consider not just inhuman labor but non-human labor: the shadow of the real historical development, of automated machinery, looms large over this film.

If there is an answer to this question, it is in part simply that the film couldn’t be this kind of film without this intersection of the occult, the murderous, the witty class-based barbed jokes, the lust and loss. In short, it couldn’t be a horror movie, and that was what Hammer did consummately well. And yet, we need to clarify what kind of horror movie. More precisely, what is the horror that the film purports to be about? We know what kind of horror movie it is, in a way: lightly bloody, pseudo-surreal, atmospheric, one that splits between a whole lot of carefully scripted talking and moments in which one cannot talk, the mute fear and shock of watching your wife die a second time. In this way, it is a horror movie with intended scares every so often (the seemingly dead man threw down her corpse! Sir James just cut off her head! Hamilton is about to rape/stab her!), with a generally atmosphere of creeping unease. But what about the horror it depicts, rather than the terror/unease it hopes to provoke in us? First, there is a sense of the horror of everyday relations and their minor exceptions that merely cut away the fat to show the nastiness that lays below. Like the other Hammer (and, in a sense, the Romero inflected zombie lineage) films, equal stressed is placed on the problems caused by vampires/reanimated corpses/daughters of Jack the Ripper and by those who have to deal with them but who are plenty capable of inflicting psychic and physical damage on their own, mobilizing the external threat to justify what must be done.

Second, the horror of the “natural order” being disturbed, that doing this with corpses just goes against nature, coupled with the sense of disturbing the peace of the dead. Yet as a character in the film wonders: “peace… what is that?” And further, what is so wrong about any use of the dead? We should briefly interrogate this attachment, even from within a framework of the capitalist reproduction of life and wealth. For we could easily imagine a form in which we wouldn’t care, in which we would happily sell our posthumous labor. That is, if we were properly remunerated for it. That is the true problem lurking behind the blind of meddling with the natural order of things. In a conservative form: well, if I’m not getting paid, there’s no way I’m working for someone else. And in a radical form: if we refuse work, if we refuse to accept a system in which I should put myself at risk for minor recompense, if we refuse to play the game, we refuse to be brought in against our will, black magic tricked into participation. In short, the seething anger at the prospect of not having a choice. The true underbelly of “freely selling one’s labor,” the realization that it has been a non-choice from the start.

And out of this anger, lurking along the surface, something bursts through, intermittent at first before truly exploding at the end. Its first real expression is not one of labor betrayed, at least not in the form of masculine mining labor. It is an expression of desire that the staid middle class-ness of the film’s world cannot fathom.

Peter’s wife Alice, voodoo-seduced and killed by Hamilton, is to join his dead work force. (A rather odd plot conceit, given that the miner-zombies are resolutely male and that when he gets Cynthia in his clutches, his interest seems primarily in threateningly molesting her before pulling a sacrificial knife. We might question just what he has in mind and the ways in which this indicates how much Hamilton does this things for pleasure and the reassurance of knowing that he can.) When Peter and Sir James interrupt her dis-interring by Hamilton and his masked crew, they witness her skin and hair go gray before she rises. And walks, with a look of direct lascivious lust, or perhaps a proper graveside smile of some knowledge of other horizons, the likes of which has no place elsewhere in this film about men and the things they enjoy talking about. If there is a return of the repressed here, it cannot be separated from this instance as easily as her head is cleft from her body.

For as before, the question is one of apocalyptic fantasy. And this should be stressed in its particularity: apocalyptic, in the sense of the revelation of what was hidden all along, and fantasy, in that it is a mode of narrative that consists of frozen captures, a distorted way of organizing desire [5] so that it can approach what it “wants” while prohibiting ever reaching it, without having to confront the shock of drive’s blind repetition. For what are all these films and cultural objects, political theories and ideologies if not series of crystallized desires, ordered to avoid the real apocalyptic confrontation, which is that of the anxiety of the same, of realizing that the emergent new – the end of days punch line – has been hidden in plain sight all along? Hence, to speak of return and repressed is misleading, for these things have never left. Shunted to the side, caught at the edge of our vision, perhaps, but only because we so resolutely turn from them, again and again.

And in this case, none more so than the colonial past repurposed in Plague, a bloody, teeming site of experimentation and innovation, brought back to break the impasses of stagnant capital. But like the attempts to manage and control these pasts, fantasies slip and fail, symptoms overwhelm, the never-left comes back wrongly. It’s just a matter of time before your undead miners get their shit together. Here the occasion is perhaps an accident (the burning of the voodoo dolls that preserves their control), but what happens is striking. Because when the technics of control and animation are destroyed, the dead don’t just go back to being dead. We might imagine that the destruction of the instruments of plague, the willful sickness that put them to death to put them to work, would be the end of the zombies, now just lifeless corpses in an abandoned mine. But no. The plague persists and turns back on its source. The zombies, some on fire in psychic bonds with their voodoo dolls, swarm and attack their whipping overlords. It is a plague that cannot be separated from its victims: they are nothing but the embodiment of this sickness to be given back, in full ferocious rage, to all who have capitalized on it.

And so the film ends consumed in flames, consuming the site of their condemned labor. In the particular history that could have been, of which Plague is the outpost, the zombie film writes the full apocalyptic obscenity and frivolity of this scenario: you are raised from the grave to perform the work of digging the grave of the world that brought you back. Yet we should stress this is no impossible imagining relegated to schlock horror. However hyperbolic, this is the plague of capitalism. The point is to learn how to give it back, to become infectious. Following Italian Marxist Mario Tronti, we begin to grasp that the development of capitalism is not a story imposed from above, of new technologies and modes of accumulation and circulation, of a constant drive forward against which workers struggle, like harpooning a leviathan that drags us forward and casts us off. For Tronti, capitalist development must be understood from below: it is because workers struggle, because they refuse to freely give their power to production, that capitalism develops. It innovates, becomes stronger, more flexible precisely because workers resist the world and wages it offers them.

Class antagonism – and its expressions in riotous moments and long grinding struggle, in the gulf between bourgeois ideology and proletarian theory – is not the secondary consequence of the drive to profit. It is the motor that drives the whole ungodly enterprise forward. And as this trajectory of films shows us, when the condemned and damned, plagued and unwanted begin to act in concert, when hell isn’t just full but mined for its innovations, the dead won’t just walk the earth. They will share that hell with us, one and all.

[1] It’s hard to imagine a zombie film in which zombies felt ashamed for consuming wrongly, although I’d love to see a version in which the zombies collectively shame one of their own for hoarding flesh, rather than sharing with the collective hunt, for consuming wrongly “wrongly.”

[2] There are, of course, exceptions, and the 2006 film Fido, on which I'll eventually write, raises the question of zombie labor again. However, it is telling that in that film, it is an issue of capitalizing on the already zombified, fitting them with control collars, in the arch-entreprenaurial move, making money out from something that nobody wanted.

[3]More on this shortly, in our consideration of the punk, the homeless, and the lumpen.

[4] The insistence on “not giving” satisfaction shows itself clearly here, in Sir James’ further response: ““I have not come all this way to interfere with local customs and antagonize the people just to satisfy your sensitivity about the welfare of wild animals.” Perhaps, but he shows little hesitation in that interference and antagonism when it’s on his terms.

[5] Desire here should not be thought of as the act of wanting what you really wants but rather the structure that allows for the simultaneous approach to and endless deferral of reaching those objects of desire. Desire self-reproduces in its inverted ladder of pleasure, where pleasure is taken in the negotiations with the Law of prohibition.