Jaime Cuenca talks at the conference "Phantasmata, techniques of the uncanny" in Berlin

6 April, 2009 (All day) - 8 April, 2009 (All day)
Flyer Phantasmata

Jaime Cuenca has been invited to talk about zombies at the "Phantasmata, techniques of the uncanny" conference, organised within the frame of the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry’s current core project Tension/Spannung, in collaboration with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. It aims to gather scholars and artists from different disciplines and backgrounds to engage in a three-day interdisciplinary workshop, where participants are expected to present their papers.

Abstract of his paper:

The Political Potential of the Uncanny. The Zombie as a Metaphor for the Consumer

Ancient monsters lived beyond the frontiers of civilization: in the wood outside the polis or in the terra incognita of the maps. When the last remains of wild outside were explored and the world became a large interior (Sloterdijk, 2005), the monstrous chaos moved inside and settled at home. This tension within the modern interior is the uncanny. The ancient monster was a natural anomaly that was supposed to show a message of the gods. The uncanny also shows something to us: this part of ourselves we are afraid of recognizing as our own. The uncanny awakens the suspicion that chaos does not come from outside, but from the center of order and is perhaps its very foundation. This suspicion has a large political potential. I will try to show it on the example of the zombie.

The zombie is one of the most present figures of the uncanny in the current collective imaginary. Since its reinterpretation by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, 1968), its presence in popular culture has steadily increased. This is not a coincidence, as Romero’s zombie embodies our current fears much better than any previous version. Before 1968, cinema showed zombies as dead brought back to life by a villain who uses them as slaves. Romero turned zombies into insatiable cannibals deprived of consciousness that bring about an apocalyptical catastrophe. From then on, they can be satisfactorily described by the expression ‘unconscious consumption’.

By developing this two defining features (consumption and lack of
consciousness), I will try to show why the zombie is a monstrous metaphor of ourselves. I will relate it to the main themes of Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis of consumerism: the obsolescence of market products, the desire as driving force of consumption and the failed promises of the consumer market. The tension that characterizes the hyper-stimulated consumer in the society of boredom (Svendsen, 2006) is projected on the tension between life and death, ultraviolence and apathetic inactivity that defines the zombie.

I will illustrate the paper with a practical example of how art can work with the political potential of the zombie: the project Stay Inside, close windows and doors (2008) by the artists Iratxe Jaio and Klaas van Gorkum, which included two zombiewalks through shopping centers in Utrecht (Holland) and Barakaldo (Spain).

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