A zombie is a functioning mass of meat, bone and digestive tract with no purpose other than its own physical being and with no need for any purpose other than this. It is perfectly autotelic. It has no need for meaning, or interpretation or narrative or decision. It just is. It is raw physical existence from which ego, sentience, thought have been expelled and radically obliterated. The zombie is in a sense the human Real – the brute material reality of our being before it is carved up by language. The zombie achieves a complete wholeness and unity that the living cannot attain. It is a human body fully reconciled with the world around it and at one with it, knowing no separation or distance from it. This is why we’re so fascinated by the undead – it’s because, secretly, we envy them.
At least that’s part of it. The other part of the fascination of course is anxiety. But this is the other side of the same coin. The zombie myth reveals the repressed truth of our existence – which is that the sentient, conscious part of us (the ‘I’) is at most the mere tip of the iceberg of our full being (in fact the ego is probably more ephemeral than that and possibly a fiction). The figure of the zombie represents our terror of ourselves. Our fear of that part of us that sleepwalks, that drives on autopilot, that breathes, digests, repairs, grows, degenerates without any conscious decision or supervision. It symbolises our estrangement from our unknowable shadow self over which we have little or no control and which is also most of what we are. Who can look into a mirror for more than a minute without a nagging sense of the uncanny? Who and what is this that stares back, familiar and strange? This form onto which we project a name and a history and an ‘I’. This mass of skin and flesh and skull. You and I are zombies who dream that we are not.