Propagation and Procreation: The Zombie and the Child

  • James Berger


Toward the conclusion of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, we find the following odd conversation between Jack Gladney and his son:

“There are more people dead today than in the rest of world history put together …”

I looked at my son. I said, “Is he trying to tell us there are more people dying in this twenty-four-hour period than in the rest of human history up to now?”

“He’s saying the dead are greater today than ever before, combined.”

“What dead? Define the dead.”

“He’s saying people now dead.”

“What do you mean, now dead? Everybody who’s dead is now dead.”

“He’s saying people in graves. The known dead. Those you can count.”1


Death Camp Death Drive Warm Body Pandemic Disease World Trade Center Tower 
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    Don DeLillo, White Noise (New York: Penguin, 1985), 266.Google Scholar
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    Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 459.Google Scholar
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    James Joyce, Dubliners (New York: Dover, 1991), 153.Google Scholar
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    Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry, “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism,” boundary 2 35 (2008): 85–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    An exception may be the invasion of aliens from space. Even here, though, evocations of colonial invasion are often unmistakable. We certainly have seen visitors with superior technologies dominating and destroying the traditional lives of less technically advanced civilizations. See my After the End for a more extended argument regarding the historical, traumatic contexts of apocalyptic imaginings. James Berger, After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).Google Scholar
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    I recall writing shortly after the turn of the millennium, in a somewhat light-hearted spirit, of what a dud (in millennial, apocalyptic terms) the year 2000 had turned out to be. It could not even pull off its much-anticipated Y2K computer glitch. Not that I was especially optimistic, that’s not my temperament; but as a scholar of apocalyptic sensibilities, I could find little to say. It turned out I was writing a year too soon. James Berger, “Twentieth-Century Apocalypse: Forecasts and Aftermaths,” Twentieth-Century Literature 47 (2000): 1–10.Google Scholar
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    See first, of course, Freud’s articulation of these issues in “Mourning and Melancholia.” In Lacanian psychoanalysis, we see the notion of the “second death,” which refers to the symbolic as opposed to the biological closing of life. As Dylan Evans explains, “the first death is the physical death of the body, a death which ends one human life but that does not put an end to the cycles of corruption and regeneration. The second death is that which prevents the regeneration of the dead body.” Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1996), 32.Google Scholar
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© James Berger 2015

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  • James Berger

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