Extrapolation

History Is What Bites

Zombies, Race, and the Limits of Biopower in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One

Extrapolation (2015), 56, (3), 311–333.

Abstract

This paper argues that the zombie serves as the limit point of biopower because it introduces an ungovernable third term into the biopolitical poles of human and non-human, life and death: the ex-human, the undead. Taking race as its central biopolitical concern, the first part of the paper reads the visual tensions between whiteness and blackness in Hollywood representations of the zombie. I then turn to Colson Whitehead’s 2010 novel Zone One, arguing that in this novel the zombie figures the return of a repressed history of racial trauma in a contemporary moment in which biopower operates increasingly under the sign of the “postracial.”

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White Zombie. Dir. Victor Halperin. United Artists Corporation, 1932. DVD. White Zombie Google Scholar

Whitehead, Colson. Zone One: A Novel. New York: Anchor Books, 2011. Print. Zone One: A Novel Google Scholar

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Print. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life Google Scholar

Ahmad, Aalya. “Gray Is the New Black: Race, Class, and Zombies.” Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Ed. Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. 130–146. Print. Gray Is the New Black: Race, Class, and Zombies. Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture 130 146 Google Scholar

Baldwin, James. “Stranger in the Village.” Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. 141–179. Print. Stranger in the Village. Notes of a Native Son 141 179 Google Scholar

Berlant, Lauren Gail. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. Print. Cruel Optimism Google Scholar

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. Print. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Google Scholar

Brown, Bill. “Reification, Reanimation, and the American Uncanny.” Critical Inquiry 32.2 (2006): 175–207. Print. Reification, Reanimation, and the American Uncanny. Critical Inquiry 32.2 175 207 Google Scholar

Bruce, Barbara S. “Guess Who’s Going to Be Dinner: Sidney Poitier, Black Militancy, and the Ambivalence of Race in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.” Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition. Ed. Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. 60–73. Print. Guess Who’s Going to Be Dinner: Sidney Poitier, Black Militancy, and the Ambivalence of Race in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition 60 73 Google Scholar

Canavan, Gerry. “‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative.” Extrapolation 51.3 (2010): 431–453. Print. ‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative. Extrapolation 51.3 431 453 Google Scholar

Charles, Ron. “‘Zone One,’ by Colson Whitehead: Zombies Abound.” The Washington Post 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 7 Nov. 2014. ‘Zone One,’ by Colson Whitehead: Zombies Abound. The Washington Post Google Scholar

Cheng, Anne Anlin. “Skins, Tattoos, and Susceptibility.” Representations 108.1 (2009): 98–119. Print. Skins, Tattoos, and Susceptibility. Representations 108.1 98 119 Google Scholar

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case For Reparations.” The Atlantic 313.5 (2014): 54–71. Print. The Case For Reparations. The Atlantic 313.5 54 71 Google Scholar

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Print. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Google Scholar

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International Google Scholar

Doane, Mary Ann. Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print. Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis Google Scholar

Evil Dead II. Dir. Sam Raimi. Renaissance Pictures, 1987. DVD. Evil Dead II Google Scholar

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Print. Black Skin, White Masks Google Scholar

Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76. New York: Picador, 2003. Print. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76 Google Scholar

Giroux, Henry A. “Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability.” College Literature 33.3 (2006): 171–196. Print. Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability. College Literature 33.3 171 196 Google Scholar

Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination Google Scholar

Hill Collins, Patricia. From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. Print. From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism Google Scholar

Hoberek, Andrew. “Living with PASD.” Contemporary Literature 53.2 (2012): 406–413. Print. Living with PASD. Contemporary Literature 53.2 406 413 Google Scholar

Hoberek, Andrew. “The Postapocalyptic Present.” Modern Language Association Conference. Boston. 11 Jan. 2014. Conference Presentation. The Postapocalyptic Present. Google Scholar

I Am Legend. Dir. Francis Lawrence. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008. DVD. I Am Legend Google Scholar

Jackson, John L., Jr. “A Little Black Magic.” South Atlantic Quarterly 104.3 (2005): 393–402. Print. A Little Black Magic. South Atlantic Quarterly 104.3 393 402 Google Scholar

Lauro, Sarah Juliet, and Karen Embry. “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” Boundary 2 35.1 (2008): 85–108. Print. A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism. Boundary 2 35.1 85 108 Google Scholar

Martin, Theodore. “Survival Skills.” Society for Novel Studies Conference. University of Utah, Salt Lake City. 5 Apr. 2014. Conference Presentation. Survival Skills. Google Scholar

Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Trans. Libby Meintjes. Public Culture 15.1 (2003): 11–40. Print. Necropolitics. Public Culture 15.1 11 40 Google Scholar

McAlister, Elizabeth. “Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies.” Anthropological Quarterly 85.2 (2012): 457–486. Print. Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies. Anthropological Quarterly 85.2 457 486 Google Scholar

McGurl, Mark. “The Zombie Renaissance.” n+1 9 (Spring 2010): n. pag. Web. 3 May 2014. The Zombie Renaissance. n+1 Google Scholar

Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004. Print. Ugly Feelings Google Scholar

Night of the Living Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. Image Ten, 1968. DVD. Night of the Living Dead Google Scholar

Nilges, Mathias. “Nostalgia for Immediacy—The Contemporary Zeitroman and the Time of the Post-Apocalypse.” Society for Novel Studies Conference. University of Utah, Salt Lake City. 5 Apr. 2014. Conference Presentation. Nostalgia for Immediacy—The Contemporary Zeitroman and the Time of the Post-Apocalypse. Google Scholar

Pippin, Tina. “‘Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock’: The Living Dead and Apocalyptic Dystopia.” Bible & Critical Theory 6.3 (2010): n. pag. Web. 5 May 2014. ‘Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock’: The Living Dead and Apocalyptic Dystopia. Bible & Critical Theory 6.3 Google Scholar

Ponder, Justin. “Dawn of the Different: The Mulatto Zombie in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.” Journal of Popular Culture 45.3 (2012): 551–571. Print. Dawn of the Different: The Mulatto Zombie in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. Journal of Popular Culture 45.3 551 571 Google Scholar

Raengo, Alessandra. On the Sleeve of the Visual: Race as Face Value. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2013. Print. On the Sleeve of the Visual: Race as Face Value Google Scholar

Ross, Marlon B. “This Is Not an Apologia for African American Literature.” PMLA 128.2 (2013): 395–398. Print. This Is Not an Apologia for African American Literature. PMLA 128.2 395 398 Google Scholar

Saldívar, Ramón. “The Second Elevation of the Novel: Race, Form, and the Postrace Aesthetic in Contemporary Narrative.” Narrative 21.1 (2013): 1–18. Print. The Second Elevation of the Novel: Race, Form, and the Postrace Aesthetic in Contemporary Narrative. Narrative 21.1 1 18 Google Scholar

Sorensen, Leif. “Against the Post-Apocalyptic: Narrative Closure in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One.” Contemporary Literature 55.3 (2014): 559–592. Print. Against the Post-Apocalyptic: Narrative Closure in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Contemporary Literature 55.3 559 592 Google Scholar

Squires, Catherine R. The Post-Racial Mystique: Media and Race in the Twenty-First Century. New York: New York University Press, 2014. Print. The Post-Racial Mystique: Media and Race in the Twenty-First Century Google Scholar

Wald, Gayle. Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000. Print. Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture. Google Scholar

Warner, Marina. Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-First Century. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print. Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-First Century Google Scholar

Wetmore, Kevin J. Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero Zombie Films as Markers of Their Times. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. Print. Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero Zombie Films as Markers of Their Times Google Scholar

White Zombie. Dir. Victor Halperin. United Artists Corporation, 1932. DVD. White Zombie Google Scholar

Whitehead, Colson. Zone One: A Novel. New York: Anchor Books, 2011. Print. Zone One: A Novel Google Scholar

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Hurley, Jessica