Pandemics and 'Zombies': How to Think Tropical Imaginaries with Cinematic Cosmologies
Keywords:cinematic cosmologies, bio-social imaginaries, corporeal heteronomy, zombie cinema, tropical imaginaries, Buddhist imaginaries
The tropics in occidental imaginaries are typically coded as either edenic paradise or as hell. It is in the latter mode that they come to be linked with zombies, diseases, and questions relating to the autonomy of the human body. In this article I first summarise historical connections between colonialism and the tropics as expressed through dealings with disease set against a background of Christian-secular cosmology. I then further think the issue with two films that approach disease and the tropics through the zombie, which I conceive of as radical heteronomy. One film, Zombi 2, is a Euro-American engagement with the tropics as imagined from a temperate zone and a Christian tradition. The other, Cemetery of Splendor, is a Thai film that engages notions of disease and the autonomy of the human body from within the tropics and a Buddhist imaginary. I tie these questions of disease, ‘zombies’ and the tropics in with more general discussions of cosmologies, including those of the moderns. The displacement of modern ontological certainty (which is imagined through the zombie and conditioned by cultural and ideological imagination) opens a space for engaging the problem of a pandemic with notions of subjectivity and corporeality. An underlying thematic throughout this article is an argument for the importance of the cinema image in dealing with bio/socio/political issues. Here, in this translation of the cinematic world into discourse we are engaged at the intersection of tropics, disease, bodies and heteronomy.
Ancuta, K. (2016a). The Smiling Dead, Or, on the Empirical Impossibility of Thai Zombies. In D. Fischer-Hornung & M. Mueller, (Eds.), Vampires and Zombies: Transcultural Migrations and Transnational Interpretation, (pp. 21-42). Mississippi University Press. https://doi.org/10.14325/mississippi/9781496804747.001.0001
Ancuta, K. (2016b). That's the Spirit!: Horror Films as an Extension of Thai Supernaturalism. In P. Bräunlein & A. Lauser (Eds.), Ghost Movies in Southeast Asia and Beyond: Narratives, Cultural Contexts, Audiences, (pp. 122-140). Brill.
Anderson, E. N. et al. (Eds.). (2011). Ethnobiology. Wiley–Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118015872
Aulino, F. (2019). Rituals of Care: Karmic Politics in an Aging Thailand. Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.7591/9781501739743
Benjamin, W. (1980). A Short History of Photography. In A. Trachtenberg (Ed.), Classic Essays on Photography, (pp. 199–216). Yale University Press.
Benjamin, W. (2002). The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility. In H. Eiland & M. W. Jennings (Eds.), Selected Writings: Volume 3, 1935-1938, (pp. 101-133). Belknap Press.
Boehler, N. (2011). The Jungle as Border Zone: The Aesthetics of Nature in the Work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. ASEAS – Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies 4(2), 290-304. https://doi.org/10.4232/10.ASEAS-4.2-6
Bogue, R. (2004). Apology for nomadology. Interventions 6(2), 169-179. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369801042000238319
Brenez, N. (1998). De la Figure en général et du Corps en particulier. L’invention figurative au cinéma. De Boeck Université. https://doi.org/10.3917/dbu.brene.1998.01
Cassaniti, J. (2018). Remembering the Present: Mindfulness in Buddhist Asia. Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.7591/cornell/9781501707995.001.0001
Curtin, P. D. (1998). Disease and Empire: The Health of European Troops in the Conquest of Africa. Cambridge University Press.
Dalton, D. S. (2018). Antropofagia, Calibanism, and the PostRomero Zombie: Cannibal Resistance in Latin America and the Caribbean. Alambique. Revista académica de ciencia ficción y fantasía / Jornal acadêmico de ficção científica e fantasía 6(1), Art. 6. https://doi.org/10.5038/2167-6522.214.171.124
De la Cadena, M. & Blaser, M. (Eds.). (2018). A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781478004318
Deleuze, G. (1988) Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights Books.
Deleuze, G. (1989). Cinema 2: The Time Image. University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1994). What is Philosophy? Columbia University Press.
Dillon, E. M. (2019). The Plantationocene and the Performative Commons - A Brief History of Uncommoning. Minnesota review 93, 83-93. https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-7737297
Fisher, M. (2018). Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction. Exmilitary Press.
Haraway, D. J. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies 14(3), 575-99. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066
Haraway, D. J. (1989). Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066
Headrick, D. (1981). The tools of empire: Technology and European imperialism in the nineteenth century. Oxford University Press.
Hui, Y. (2017). On the synthesis of social memories. In T. Lundemo, E. Røssaak, & I. Blom (eds.), Memory in Motion: Archives, Technology and the Social, (pp. 307-326). Amsterdam University Press.
Jasanoff, S. & Kim, S-H. (2015). Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity. In. S. Jasanoff & S-H. Kim (Eds.), Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. The University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.001.0001
Klima, A. (2002). The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand. Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400824960
Langford, J. M. (2013). Wilder powers: Morality and animality in tales of war and terror. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3), 223-244. https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.3.010
Latour, B. (1993). We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard University Press.
Lauro, S. J. & Embry, K. (2008). A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism. Boundary 2 35(1), 85-108. https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2007-027
Lock, M. & Farquhar, J. (2007). Beyond the body proper: Reading the anthropology of material life. Duke University Press.
Lock, M. & Nguyen, V-K. (2010). An Anthropology of Biomedicine. Wiley-Blackwell.
Lury, C. (2012). “Bringing the world into the world”: The material semiotics of contemporary culture. Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 13(3), 247-260. https://doi.org/10.1080/1600910X.2012.728144
Mbembe, A. (2019). Necropolitics. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781478007227
McKinnon, S. (2005). Neo-liberal Genetics: The Myths and Moral Tales of Evolutionary Psychology. Prickly Paradigm Press.
Mintz, S. (1985). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books.
Montgomery, E. J. (2019). Gothic "Voodoo" in Africa and Haiti. eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics 18(1), 11-28. https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.18.1.2019.3666
Moreman, C. M. (2018). Dharma of the Dead: Zombies, Mortality and Buddhist Philosophy. McFarland & Company.
Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1994). Brain Death and Organ Transplantation: Cultural Bases of Medical Technology. Current Anthropology 35(3), 233-254. https://doi.org/10.1086/204269
Quammen, D. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. London – New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Rath, G. (2014). Zombi/e/s. Zur Einleitung. Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 1, 11-19. https://doi.org/10.14361/zfk-2014-0103
Rennesson, S. (2019). Wrestling Beetles and Ecological Wisdom: How Insects Contribute to the Cosmopolitics of Northern Thailand. Southeast Asian Studies 8(1), 3-24. https://doi.org/10.20495/seas.8.1_3
Sahlins, M. (1996). The Sadness of Sweetness: The Native Anthropology of Western Cosmology. Current Anthropology 37, 395-428. https://doi.org/10.1086/204503
Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. Vintage Books.
Schiebinger, L. (ed.). (2004). Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World. Harvard University Press.
Schlockoff, R. (1982). Interview with Lucio Fulci. Starburst 4(12), 51-55.
Stonington, S. D. (2020). Karma Masters: The Ethical Wound, Hauntological Choreography, and Complex Personhood in Thailand. American Anthropologist 0(0), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13464
Strathern, M. (1992). Reproducing the Future. Manchester University Press.
Strathern, M. (2017). Naturalism and the Invention of Identity. Social Analysis 61(2), 15-30. https://doi.org/10.3167/sa.2017.610202
Tambiah, S. J. (2013). The Galactic Polity in Southeast Asia. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3), 503-534. https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.3.033
Thacker, E. (2015). Horror of Philosophy, Vol. 3: Tentacles Longer Than Night. Zero Books.
Tsing, A. L. (2005). Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400830596
Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvc77bcc
Treichler, P. A. (1999). How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822396963
Walters, J. S. (2003). Communal Karma and Karmic Community in Theravada Buddhist History. In J.C. Holt, (ed.), Constituting Communities: Theravada Buddhism and the Religious Cultures of South and Southeast Asia, (pp. 9-40). SUNY Press.
Webb, J. & Byrnand, S. (2008). Some Kind of Virus: The Zombie as Body and as Trope. Body and Society 14(2), 83-98. https://doi.org/10.1177/1357034X08090699
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2020 CC-BY
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who submit articles to this journal agree to the following terms:
1. Authors are responsible for ensuring that any material that has influenced the research or writing has been properly cited and credited both in the text and in the Reference List (Bibliography). Contributors are responsible for gaining copyright clearance on figures, photographs or lengthy quotes used in their manuscript that have been published elsewhere.
2. Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License that allows others to share and adapt the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
3. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository, or publish it in a book), with proper acknowledgement of the work's initial publication in this journal.
4. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (see The Effect of Open Access or The Open Access Citation Advantage). Where authors include such a work in an institutional repository or on their website (i.e., a copy of a work which has been published in eTropic, or a pre-print or post-print version of that work), we request that they include a statement that acknowledges the eTropic publication including the name of the journal, the volume number and a web-link to the journal item.
5. Authors should be aware that the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License permits readers to share (copy and redistribute the work in any medium or format) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the work) for any purpose, even commercially, provided they also give appropriate credit to the work, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. They may do these things in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests you or your publisher endorses their use.