CONFERENCE TALK: Life in (Un)Death: In the Flesh, the Medicated Undead, and the Limits of the Biopolitical
At the 2015 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference, organized around the theme of “After Biopolitics,” I presented on the BBC Three series In the Flesh and its reconfiguration of the relationship between biopolitics and the zombie trope. Here’s the abstract:
Contemporary pop-cultural zombies seem to embody both the limits and the intensification of biopolitics. The singular zombie, evacuated of all but the most alimentary functions, makes reproductive regulation, pharmaceutical treatment, and life insurance irrelevant; it has scarcely enough bio remaining to politick. Plurally, the undead intensify biopolitical imperatives, forcing human survivors to regulate biological functions even more rigorously, every condom, antibiotic, can of soup, and drop of blood overdetermined by rhetorics of species survival.
What happens to the zombie’s biopolitical contours when the undead are not a swarm to buffer against or exterminate but a population to manage biomedically—when zombieism is not an irrevocable transformation but a treatable condition? BBC Three’s zombie drama In the Flesh offers such a scenario: after “The Rising,” a small English village struggles with the uneasy task of reintegrating the remaining, now safely medicated post-zombies into the social body. “Partially Deceased Syndrome” sufferers must consent to medical and cosmetic treatments that stem their rabid urges and allow them to pass as visibly human. Just as Haitian and West African iterations of the zombie trampled the fantasy that death might release one from involuntary servitude, PDS sufferers challenge the viability of undeath as an escape from biopolitics. But how might these even-more-liminal-than-usual zombies—socially human but biologically undead—rearticulate both the limits and the intensifications of biopolitics in an apocalypse-obsessed age? How do these half-zombies, not an embodiment of infection but an infection of embodiment, refigure subjection and resistance within a biopolitical or post-biopolitical world?