The following is a translated and transcribed version of a french podcast recorded in March 2021 by Jonathan Pageau and Jean-Philippe Marceau.
Thanks to Norm Grondin for the translation, transcription and edition.
JP: Welcome everybody to this second episode of The Symbolic Life with Jonathan Pageau and JP Marceau. Last time we began with a general introduction to symbolism and for this episode, I feel like getting into story, into something more narrative to help us apply these ideas more concretely. At the same time, it will provide some continuity with what we’ve already spoken about, because I want to talk about zombies, who provide us with a myth to think about how we’ve lost our symbolism today. The fact is that zombies are creatures that have lost their capacity to perceive the patterns beyond the simply material. We’ll start by talking a little about common themes in zombie myths, what they mean, and how they apply to us today. Doing so will help us better understand zombies and the world in which we currently live.
I’d like to begin with the most basic thing about zombies, which is that they are undead. It’s an inversion of the Christian apocalypse, where instead of having creatures that come back to life after death with a glorious body, they come back to life with a dead body and only a semblance of significance. They have a simulacrum of meaning in their zombie existence.
For example, zombies don’t have the capacity to interact with other people. They can’t even establish a communion with other zombies, they just follow the mass. They don’t even have the capacity to talk, so they lack access to the Logos, the ability to make sense of things. Zombies don’t have access to those patterns. They evidently don’t have complex relationships with others that have meaning, no family or what have you. They are reduced simply to the passions, like the desire to devour things, most notably brains, and this is super significant because the brain is the material organ that permits us to perceive meaning in the world. It’s a mediator between the spiritual world and the material world. Our perceptions pass through the brain. So zombies want to devour this organ because it is the only remainder for a materialist to approach meaning. It’s super common, I even heard a term for it once: “neuromania”. For a good bit of time, there was a big movement of a bunch of philosophers and others who tried to reduce everything to the brain, and we’ve even heard about this in the popular sphere . . .
Jonathan: … speak to normal people and try to speak about spiritual things, and they say “yeah, but it’s just chemicals in your brain, it’s just endorphins, it’s just . . .” ok, but that doesn’t at all explain your experience.
JP: It’s the classic zombie, to just dive into material things because it’s all that remains in your world.
Another aspect of zombies is that they don’t really have a goal, there isn’t really a place they’re going. They follow their short-term passions to devour brains, but they don’t have more long-term goals, they don’t have a destination. They don’t even have a clear position between good and evil. Zombies are simply amoral. And we sense a real lack of hope in zombie films, where people are just trying to survive. In a lot of movies everybody just ends up dying, and it’s understood that they’re hopeless. In other movies, people try to kill the zombies, but it isn’t even viewed as good, they’re just doing what they can. Sometimes people try to create pockets of civilization, but it doesn’t really get beyond that. And we sort of expect everybody to die anyway.
We can talk later about the potential solutions in some of these movies, but for now, let’s just start with the basics, such as zombie origin myths. In zombie stories, often it will be a virus that came out of a laboratory. We spoke about this in the previous podcast, that this is what happened with materialism. To look for the genesis of the zombie, recall how Galileo started removing the qualities from the world, and to say that the world was just mathematics. In a certain way, it wasn’t bad, it was a reasonable hypothesis to make, so long as it remained well restrained to the lab: “here we’re going to try to reduce these things to their quantities, we’ll see where we can get to with all of this”. But sadly, this way of thinking—this virus—escaped the laboratory and people began to think more and more exclusively in material terms in everyday life. We became zombies: reducing everything to quantity, to mathematics, and we ended up removing all meaning from the world.
Jonathan: Or to see meaning as artificial. I think I really like your angle here: we began last week with an introduction, with a beginning, and now we go directly to the end! Just to the end where the sense of meaning falls apart, and what’s fascinating with zombies, is that it’s one of the few contemporary myths we have. The zombie, as we conceive of it at the moment, with Ramero’s Night of the Living Dead and all those movies, is actually something that happened in the 60s. We can find seeds of that in ancient stories, but not really something that holds together in the way that it’s presented now. I even saw philosophers, like Jacques Derrida, who said that the zombie is really the myth of today. It’s the monster of our society. The monster that best represents our society. When you look at the origin of the zombie, in most films, you don’t actually know where it came from. It’s super-interesting that there isn’t a reason. And when there is one, it’s an accident, that’s to say, it’s an error. The error is already a place where the meaning falls apart. It’s basically a sin. It’s to miss what you were trying to do, and because of that error, it brings about an absence of meaning and this void manifests itself in the zombie. But also, like you said, that void isn’t just in the zombie, but also in those who resist them.
Characters often become very pathological in those films. The real story of the film is often not about the zombies as such, but more about how people try to survive amidst them. How their society, community, or group degenerates, and how they even kill and, eventually, devour each other. It’s this idea to show how people, even those who try to survive zombies, already have the zombie within themselves, even if they aren’t physically zombies. They can’t arrive at communion together and move toward a goal that will transcendent their material survival. More or less every zombie movie finishes in despair because the zombie apocalypse doesn’t end. The most striking example of that is that in my youth, many video games had a sort of “zombie version”. It was always the same thing. There was no end. The goal was just to kill the most zombies possible, but it was certain that the end of the game would be that at one point, the zombies were going to get the upper hand, and you were going to die. That’s really an aspect of nihilism. We see materiality as the only causality. But we know that materiality decomposes, that it doesn’t have an infinite, eternal, solidity, and so we end up nihilists.
JP: There’s a parallel that we can make in comparing zombie myths with what has happened in the 20th century. There are two branches that come out when one starts to reduce things to their material composition. One can become nihilistic, a zombie that sees no meaning in anything and sees “just matter”. On the other hand, there are people who are not nihilistic and try to remain human, but like you say they are not capable of communing like they should, so they end up gathering into tyrannies. Once we lose the capacity to perceive more elevated, religious patterns, we fall into a secular simulacrum that often ends up being nationalism. This is what happens in zombie films, either you become a zombie (you become a nihilist), or you join a tyranny.
Jonathan: Yes, a type of hyper-rigid thing where everything is controlled and there is a leader who decides everything. What really fascinates me in relation to zombies is how they are coherent with a traditional view of the world. Even in our materialistic vision, we cannot avoid talking about and participating in the universal pattern of the story. If you think of the ancient world, it had a spiritual identity at its centre—you know, every community had either a temple or an altar. The Greeks had the navel of the world, a kind of central point by which one measured identity. And the more you distance yourself from that, the more you encounter strange things unconnected to your meaning. Things that are hostile to you. That’s why in ancient myths, at the edge of the world, there were monsters, inversions, parodies, idiosyncrasies, types of extremely marked exceptions where you can’t come to see relationships. Inside yourself, you can see the same pattern: you have a spiritual identity that is transcendent, the nous, or intuitive intelligence. After that, you have reason that manifests itself, then you have desires, passions, and at the edge of that you have primordial desires, like eating and sexuality. The things that can grip you and make you forget everything else.
The zombie has all that in his story, but at the social level. Each zombie lacks an identity but is also strangely idiosyncratic at the same time. Each is really particular in his decomposition and often in films that’s manifested by particularities. They will dress zombies up to resemble social clichés. Maybe something like a rapper zombie, a skater zombie or whatever, all the human categories that we have, but that are degenerated. At the same time, like you said earlier, the only thing that animates the zombie is desire, but this desire makes it so that he is in a mass, and not in communion. Even the idea of the mass is the idea of going from quality to quantity. Zombies are always like that. It’s always a sort of uplifting of quantity, there is always a mob of zombies, a horde of zombies coming toward you and this horde is animated only by the desire to devour. It’s such a perfect image of the end of the world, or the end of a world.
It’s our particular myth, the one we have come to. And you know, we have had trouble since the secularization of culture in finding identities and stories to gather us together. We try to do Earth Day, and all these other things, but they don’t work. It’s always a bit forced, a sort of imitation, like National Women’s Day. You put a little post on Facebook, but there isn’t really a celebration. The thing is though, the one story that has succeeded in our age is the zombie story. There aren’t as many now because of COVID and all that, but for many years there were big liturgies of zombies, where people would meet together in the street all dressed up as zombies and would do processions on the street, a sort of zombie parade with thousands of people. And that worked. We succeeded in creating a communion around this story, the story of the end of a world.
JP: Yes, it was super popular, and it’s a good moment to see the link between our stories and the world. How it’s not arbitrary that the zombie myth captivates the attention of so many people. There are millions of people who watched The Walking Dead or zombie movies over the years, and there were lots that came out, it was never-ending. Then there were these processions with thousands of people dressed up as zombies. We can see that people were really trying to grapple with nihilism, unconsciously, because the majority of people aren’t too conscious that the zombie represents a loss of meaning and nihilism. So people can play with this structure, and practice their perception of the patterns and learn how to behave in a nihilistic world. When dressing up as zombies, I wonder what’s the percentage of people who recognize, symbolically speaking, what they’re doing?
Jonathan: Probably very few, as usual. There are very few people who understand why they go to Church or what’s happening there. The majority of people participate without understanding. That’s okay too. It’s just funny that in this case it’s really a participation in a Mass for the end of the world.
JP: Yes, it’s like you were talking about earlier. All hierarchy is destroyed, but people keep all their particularities, uniting in a large mass, united by the passions, by the lowest possible thing.
Jonathan: Yes, and at the limit there are people who have seen anti-capitalist imagery in that, which isn’t totally false. It’s not limited to that, but the idea is that society is based on desire, not just at the level of capitalism, but also in our obsession to give value and legitimize all sexual desire, to put things like that up at the forefront. Often people don’t realize that the motor behind legitimizing all sexual desire is the same motor as that of capitalism. So the world is legitimized by my desire to consume. Zombies are reduced to that same desire.
Also, it’s understandable that the zombie doesn’t eat just anything, but eats people. For the zombie, people are reduced to sources of pleasure. That’s really an illness we have today in our world, which is that we see others only as sources of what we will receive. You know, either we go to the store and buy things or we see others as objects of desire. It’s this idea that if we are unhappy, it’s within our right to fulfill our desires through others, which reduces human beings to objects of consumption. Whether it happens with the girl who posts pictures on Instagram, who wants to be devoured by others, or the person who searches to devour images of women, or those types of things. That’s really the reduction of the person to an object of consumption.
The only relationship the zombie can have with others is to eat them, to take them as objects of desire for himself. Ultimately, the most caricatured representation is the zombie that wants to eat brains because he wants to eat what he doesn’t have. That is, he doesn’t have any meaning or goals. He has no reason, so he desires that. You could say that his aim, his real hunger, is for a desire that he can’t satisfy. He can’t eat meaning, so he eats the brain as a type of caricature. It incarnates the caricature of scientific materialists that want to reduce human experience to the brain.
JP: A good way to see how we reduced the world until all that was left was the brain, is in the genesis of zombies. Things usually remain vague in those movies, but most people tend to expect that it has to do with something coming out of a laboratory. It’s materialism getting out of the laboratory and spreading like a virus.
Jonathan: The idea of a virus is perfect because a virus is also a parasite. And zombies become a parasite, like us when we aren’t in communion in a system, when we are just there to benefit from it. At most, we give, we pay taxes, we benefit from the system, but we don’t have any idea or sense of communion like ancient people had in sharing an identity and a common story. The virus is the first image of that. Something that comes and destroys the meaning in devouring the cells that are in communion together, in breaking their unity.
JP: This was done over time. First, to facilitate science, we reduced things to a materialist level and observed what happened. Advancing that hypothesis, while proving incredibly fruitful for scientific discovery, also destroyed all sorts of levels of meaning. A few centuries of that and we’ve become zombies, having lost connection with the idea that behind all the matter in the world, there is a spirit, an intention. We lost our connection to God and to each other. We lost the idea that there are real patterns of interaction between people, that the social constructions holding us together are not just arbitrary. We lost the idea that there really is a possible communion between people. In the end, we came to no longer even believe that there is a connection between body and mind, matter and spirit, believing instead that there is just matter in the world.
But, like we discussed last time, you hit a wall when you push materialism too hard. It’s really hard to deny that humans have a consciousness that is not purely material. Like Galileo who took qualities out of the world to locate them in our minds, we end up denying the existence of meaning out there in the world and locating it all in our brains. But, by jamming all meaning up into the brain, we make it arbitrary. We detach ourselves from the world and we become nihilistic. We become zombies, detached from God, from the world, from others and even from our own bodies.
Jonathan: We arrive at the end of the story, and the zombie gives us a mythological image of its fruits. Recently, Paul Vanderklay cited a text by C.S. Lewis that was really interesting, where he spoke of the modern desire to remove intelligence from the world. In the beginning, that desire was just ridiculing the idea that there are intelligent beings, like fairies and these types of principalities governing the world: angels, gods, and all that. We wanted to reduce the world to its material casualty. Lewis goes on to say that the end result of that is the depersonalization of creation. While there is something absurd in personalizing animals or natural phenomena in stories by making them speak, Lewis says that the final result is that we depersonalize the human being. We arrive to a point where we are incapable of even seeing the human in the human being and, in the end, we reduce him to an animal. I have already heard people say that. It’s pernicious. People, with a kind of Machiavellian smile, say, “oh, we are just animals.” It’s super-interesting because other animals don’t have the capacity to be subversive like you to say that. When you say that, you take for granted that there are people who do not conceive of themselves as animals, and then you say, we are just animals.
JP: It’s true. It’s really a good observation for zombies too. It’s like someone who is happy to have an excuse to just live by their passions: “we’re just animals, just zombies”. How convenient.
Jonathan: Yes, there are people who desire to be zombies, not necessarily in the image of the myth but in the reality that we can live today as machines that just consume pleasure. This is even described as “well-being” from certain thinkers, who say that well-being is a type of hedonism, where we are not limited in our capacity to participate in our pleasures.
JP: Yeah, I see that relationship now.
Anything else you’d like to add on that point before we move on to a question I have? I’ve been wondering why the zombie myth seems to have been declining in popularity.
Jonathan: I would like to maybe mention one thing before we get to that. There is an interesting analysis of zombies by Jacques Derrida that can help us understand the function of the zombie, which is the undefined. Our obsession with the undefined in our society and then in the zombie myth. The zombie exists between life and death, he’s undead. He isn’t settled in death, but he isn’t alive either. He is like an unresolved problem, a type of residue of a process, and we don’t know what to do with it.
This type of indecision is really the tool of the nihilist, it’s the tool of the postmodern to destroy categories. The idea is to take undetermined things, things that are in between two categories, things that do not have a clear name, and then to use them as weapons to devour the world. To say: “Yes, but there is this exception” to a pattern, so then to try to put this exception—because we like equality—at the same level as the rule, and in so doing, the exception comes to devour the pattern and starts to chip away at it until it becomes the rule. Until it’s the exception that defines the system. In the zombie story we see a really classic example of this, and it’s so fascinating to see a philosopher like Jacques Derrida who himself wanted to do that. His goal was to destabilize systems with indecision, that he recognized in the image of the living dead, in the image of the zombie, an avatar of what he himself wanted to accomplish. It’s hard to think that someone can be so conscious of this desire, but Derrida said that his project was one of virology. That his system, his way of acting was like a virus on society to destabilize meaning. With a parasite, you can have a being that’s between the inside and the outside, so that it can devour its other.
JP: I wonder if this is the way that the zombie myth works with us today, because it makes us all question ourselves too. Often you’ll see that in the zombie myths themselves, in the films and series, at a certain point, characters question what distinguishes them from zombies: “are we better than them? What’s the difference between us and them?” And it’s also an invitation for viewers to ask themselves the same question. I wonder if having this common myth opens up a space in the minds of many viewers where we ask ourselves in what way are we, or are we not zombies? The indetermination of the zombie makes the human characters question themselves, and it makes the viewers question themselves too.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s right. And in this recognition of the arbitrary or of nihilism, there are two reactions. One is to subscribe to it and become consuming machines, or to adopt an attitude where we want to impose a strong solidity from the outside. To make an extremely strong system of control, and I have the impression that that’s the response to your question earlier about the decline in popularity of the zombie myth. That is, the reason why the story of zombies is in the process of fading out is that we have reached the other side of it. We have come to the lockdown. That’s where we are. We are no longer celebrating the virus, even if it’s still slightly present. We are more at its opposite. We want lockdown: total systems of control, absolute systems of identification, all those things that are in the process of manifesting themselves. But they aren’t really a solution, but more a sort of mirror of the problem.
JP: I don’t know if you’ve heard John Vervaeke, who said something about the movie Joker.1 It really comes back to mind here. The film came out before COVID, but it still came out after the big wave of zombie films and series, which have been in decline over the past few years. John made an interesting observation, noting that instead of trying to combat the nihilism in zombie films, we passed maybe to another type of myth, where we would be like the Joker, deeming the world absurd and just wanting to create even more mayhem.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s right. It’s the clown in the end, coming to bring the solution to nihilism. And that’s sort of the function of the clown too, who has a tendency to show the cracks in a system. He points to the problem of the collapsing system, but he mocks nihilism too. He exists as a revolving/spinning spirit. And it’s possible that it’s a good sign, as I often speak of in my videos, in the sense that it’s in the nature of the clown to flip situations. When we arrive at the end, the clown will create mayhem in society. He will demolish the system, but he will also signal a return. It’s true that, at the moment, people want to destroy. It’s what we saw with Black Lives Matter in the U.S., with Antifa, and with this culture of protest. Even now, all the people getting cancelled, all these absurd things, like Disney films getting cancelled, warnings for the Peter Pan movie on the Disney site and Dr. Seuss being cancelled! It’s a desire to demolish society.
JP: Yes, what happened at The Capitol was really farcical too. It was eerie. You could almost feel that these people were not totally in the world. It’s easy to imagine how they felt, as in a kind of dream, in a reality that doesn’t totally land. Or, practically like in a video game: you can do things that you normally can’t do, like you never did that before and feel totally bizarre. But, there is nothing that immediately stops you and brings you out of your daze, so you keep going in that altered state. It’s eerie.
Jonathan: Yes, it’s that too, because that’s the function of the carnival, to give meaning to the absurd, or to show the place of the absurd, and laughter is part of it. The absurd is part of a world that is turning toward a new identity, that has arrived at the end of one and is in transition toward another. It’s real, but maybe The Joker and the aesthetic of the clown is a type of medicine for the problem of the zombie, albeit not a particularly pleasant one. It’s this mockery, in showing and pointing and laughing at the zombie. In laughing both at zombies and those who try to defend themselves against them, there is the possibility of ending the carnival and returning to a normal world. But the carnival can last a long time. And remember, there also exists the carnival of terror. The carnival isn’t just fun, it’s also It.
JP: I’ve also seen some books that propose a good solution to the zombie problem, without having to pass through something so difficult, such as the carnival we just spoke about. There is a book called Warm Bodies, also made into a film. It’s the story of a zombie that relearns to perceive the meaning of things, and it’s really step by step. Initially, there is a Eucharistic aspect to the film. In eating the brain of someone, a zombie starts to experience the love that that person had. It doesn’t go so far as Christian love; it’s a type of modern romantic love. Nonetheless, in eating the brains of a person who had that love, the zombie begins to develop a kind of affection for the girlfriend of the guy whose brain he ate. He goes on to sort of kidnap the girl to save her from other zombies, and in time he redevelops his perception of the world thanks to this new relationship. The first book ends with the zombie becoming practically human. But this happens only because he had to sacrifice himself. After the redevelopment of feelings, there is a scene that is almost a baptism. He is attacked after he regretfully eats someone, and after that he goes and walks in the street. He falls in front of a church, it’s raining, and he says a type of prayer …
Jonathan: … a type of confession …
JP: Yeah, a type of confession. He washes his mouth out. Eventually, it is in trying to give up his life to save the girl that he returns to life.
Jonathan: Interesting, it’s really a Christian story. Really fascinating.
JP: Yeah, I think he really had the right intuition, though he strays away in the next books in my opinion… Anyways, the right solution to the zombie problem that he identified was that, like Jesus, you give up your life but ultimately that is to destroy death. In this film, you have the zombie who eats the brains of someone and after that becomes progressively more human again thanks to that sacrifice. In this first case, it wasn’t a voluntary sacrifice, he just killed the guy and ate his brain. The sacrifice of himself is the last step. After benefiting from the sacrificial love of someone else, you can participate in that and become human once again. You no longer have to just be a zombie.
Jonathan: This story is really interesting in the sense that it highlights the vision of what a human being really is, which is the opposite of the zombie. That the truth of meaning comes through sacrifice of the self, that it’s there that we really find our meaning. It’s when we give to our family, when we give ourselves to others, that we really find meaning to life. It’s the opposite, in the end, of a materialistic and nihilistic society. At the level of evolution and of materialistic reductionism, it’s a mystery to sacrifice yourself for others because it doesn’t appear to be practical. You know, your genes supposedly will not continue. But nonetheless, there is a sort of continuation that affects the world. It is the story that continues, that perseveres. The story of the person that sacrificed himself for others will be kept in the collective memory. That person will be highly esteemed, and he will leave something that will model reality in relation to that story. So it isn’t necessarily an idea of biological reproduction but more an idea of memetic reproduction. It’s a story that becomes like a structure for society and that gives it lifeblood.
It’s a kind of mystery of reality that even at the level of identities, there is always a type of sacrifice. Any thing or object has an identity, like a chair, and it has to sacrifice itself to be incarnated. It has to accept the compromise, and it’s the same thing for the parts of the chair. They have to sacrifice an aspect of their particularities to participate in the unity of their goal. A chair leg is made up of all sorts of things, but it’s a chair leg to the degree that it participates in the chair. To be a chair leg, it can’t be a baseball bat. The chair leg can’t be all the other things that it could be. It has to sacrifice its potential to participate in a common body. And it’s like this for us. If we want to participate in society, we must sacrifice an aspect of our particularity, our particular desires. For example, say I want to take the $10 from my neighbour’s wallet, I have to sacrifice that to remain in communion. I have to sacrifice an aspect of my desires, of my passions. Society follows this sacrificial pattern. It’s contrary to the society of pleasure and of consumption that is presented to us as the apogee of civilization. That apex is in fact zombies, that is, zombies incarnate it in story.
JP: Another way to understand this is to take the example of a mother and her child. For a long time, due to materialism, people had the impression that the human being was mostly determined by their genes. The idea was that there’s no need to be too concerned or busy with the baby because, in any case, it’s his genes that do the job, so the mother isn’t too important. There were communist regimes that just left babies in orphanages and only fed them. They didn’t touch them or give them any affection, because they really were materialists that thought genes would do the work, and that was it. But it really didn’t work at all. It created people with serious problems and caused a lot of deaths.
What is becoming clearer and clearer in childhood psychology is that in the beginning, children are mostly potential, with no ordered consciousness. They are not a united personality in the sense that we are when we are adults. While capable of becoming persons with complex and unified psychologies, at the outset they are just full of battling passions. They don’t even have clear emotions or a clear sense of where their body starts and the world ends, or even of the difference between themselves and their mother. Everything is in flux. And it’s this type of chaos, this potential, that is shaped by the love of the mother who sacrifices herself for the child, with time, and the physical sacrifice of her health too . . .
Jonathan: She gives her body to her child. It’s not a metaphor! That’s really what she’s doing.
JP: And in this gift, you see the opposite of the zombie. The child eats his mother in a way, but because the mother gives herself through love, in sacrifice for the potential that her child has, the child will become a person. Psychologists are able to see in the face of the child and mother, and how they interact together, how the child displays a bunch of his passions, a whole lot of disordered emotions and at a certain moment the mother is able, through empathy, to know what emotions the child is having and how she should respond. She responds a certain way to the child who, through this repeated cycle, becomes a person, learning to order his emotions. He learns where he begins and where the world ends, and how to interact with the world.
Mothers will say in turn that the experience was full of meaning, which really speaks to the sacrifice and the child becoming a person. As the mother sacrifices her body and her time and as the child sacrifices his potentiality, you have two people who grow and who can be in a communion full of meaning. It’s the opposite of zombies. Instead of devouring someone just to consume and destroy them, which is meaningless, you have a sacrifice of someone that permits someone else to become a real person and not remain just a bunch of zombified matter driven by passions.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s it. Also, you can see another example of the inversion of the zombie trope, which is that higher identities eat lower ones. This is normal, like how a city feeds off of us. For the city to continue to exist, we have to offer our bodies, our power, our energy, our money, all these things, to certain higher identities. It’s not just the city. You could consider a basketball team or any type of community or higher identity. At that moment, what is above will devour what is below to sustain itself, to keep its identity whole and from that, conversely, the lower identities receive communion. We receive the possibility to be together. We receive an identity with a goal or project, and also protection from the outside. A protection that makes it so that we exist as an identity.
Considering that there are moments like when a mother gives herself to her child, or when we give ourselves to a project that is higher than us, it’s not totally absurd to think that the image of devouring or of eating people isn’t monstrous. It’s something that we can understand in its symbolism and that brings us to communion, to the Eucharist as its ultimate image. Often people said, and I think it’s true, that zombies are a parody of the Eucharist. That the zombie really is a type of mockery. The zombie could only come from a Christian world where there is something like the Eucharist at the centre of society, because zombies are the opposite of coming together, of becoming the Body of Christ.
So eating the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven, given to us from above, that we receive and that we eat, well, it’s through this that we commune together. Zombies represent all the elements of the body that devour each other, and become disassociated particles. They aren’t really a body, not really a society, they aren’t a communion of people.
JP: Yes, that’s good. I think we said a lot here. I am inclined to leave it on a positive note, too. We spoke of solutions but …
Jonathan: The solution is the Eucharist. (laughs)
JP: Ultimately, that’s true. In talking about the Eucharist, I think it was St. Augustine,2 but many others have equally noticed that we eat the Eucharist, like zombies eat flesh, but we do so that we can be devoured by the Body of Christ.
If you look at it at the individual level, it looks like we’re simply eating the Eucharist, but if you look at it at the level of the Church, it’s the Church that’s eating us. We come back each week, and it’s us who take care of making the bread, preparing the Altar and the church in general, etc. We become the cells of a body, all revolving around the Eucharist. We’re eaten by the Eucharist much more than it eats us.
So we can say that by giving us part of His Body in the Eucharist, Christ integrates us into His Body. It’s the same as when I eat normal food that makes up my body. If I eat an apple for example, I actually have to give it certain enzymes to be able to digest it. I need to give part of myself to the apple so that the apple actually becomes part of myself.
Jonathan: But it’s important to understand that it’s us too, who in the liturgy, offer the elements, the untransformed body as potential. Then a superior identity descends on that body, and in communing with it, that Body transforms us all. It’s like you say, in a city, we offer our potential, we have time, we have energy, money, and that potential is baptized, it is brought into a unity by the superior identity that descends upon it. That’s the image of a normal world, and that’s the complete opposite of the zombie trope.
This idea of the Eucharist is really important because the Eucharist means the gift of gratitude, to give gratitude. That, too, is the difference between the zombie and a community, in that the zombie is completely enslaved to his desires and is never satisfied. He has an infinite dissatisfaction that makes it so that even if he eats someone, he can eat another right after. He is always hungry. It’s what motivates him, whereas the Eucharist or the gift of gratitude is the opposite of that. We look at what we have, and we thank what comes from above for what we have. That’s the opposite of the zombie story.
JP: I would like to go back through some of the things that we’ve said and show how the Eucharist provides the solution to the problem. The zombie represents disconnection from God, from the world, from others, and even from one’s own body. It’s a powerful mythological representation of where you end up with materialism and nihilism. And the Eucharist heals all of those disconnections.
By learning to see God in a piece of bread, you regain the ability to see more to the world than mere matter. You can reconnect your mind with your body. And the Eucharistic liturgy will reconnect a zombie with those around him as well. Instead of being a zombie horde, where everyone is merely next to one another, parallel, like in a suburb, groaning but never speaking to each other, in the Eucharistic liturgy we all meaningfully sing and commune with one another. We are in communion, with everyone together offering our potential toward something higher. We do our best to love and forgive each other together, to cohere. In so doing, we gain a connection to something that surpasses the world, that completely surpasses matter, to the Creator behind it all. We regain all the levels of meaning that we’d lost with the materialist virus that cut us off from God, from others and even from ourselves.
Jonathan: Yes, and it’s particularly important to understand this at the moment, because both the virus and the reaction to it are in the process of cutting us off from each other, seemingly without anybody noticing the ways that it impacts the existence of society or the world. Humans are Eucharistic beings, beings of communion, who need to assemble together and show their gratitude toward something above them. If not, we will just fall apart and become zombies who watch Netflix and order things on Amazon. In a world without meaning where we can buy everything but can’t commune together.
JP: I think that’s a good conclusion. We did well to elaborate the problem and the solution, so that will be all for the episode today, unless you want to add anything else?
Jonathan: No, I think that that’s good. I am happy that we did the beginning and the end, and then we can do the story in the middle!
JP: That’s good. Thank you everyone and see you soon.
- Vervaeke, John and Chapman, Unpacking the Meaning Crisis, Letter 1, Letter, October 2019. https://letter.wiki/conversation/209?fbclid=IwAR29aOk3BLizhWuwTlEE6U_Az04YHcAPiK9K4U4JacXQ5QWhELJgPvv4FlY
- Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book VII, chapter X. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110107.htm