In case for whatever reason my book review is not permitted on Amazon.com, I am posting a copy of my book review for Open Court’s “The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now” here on my WordPress blog.
Open Court rises from the dead! GRRRR!! ESS-AYS!! MUST – READ – ESS-AYS!! GRRR!!
I must say I am quite impressed with this collection of essays. I didn’t quite know what to expect, given the consistently bad past entries in Open Court’s “Popular Culture and Philosophy” series. “The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now” contains many well-written, thoughtful and thought-provoking essays. A few are even stellar. This is a book that will be enjoyed and re-visited by zombie fans in general, and The Walking Dead fans in particular. It’s a book you can really sink your teeth into and chew on (sorry, zombie imagery is getting the better of me). The few glaring missteps, such as the persistent typos (at least here, Open Court is being consistent and predictable), a handful of poor essays (chps. 4, 9, 14, and 19), and even the “curse of the book’s editor” (chp. 20), aren’t enough to detract from the positive aspects of this book. I might even be moved to say that the good essays overwhelmed the few poor essays… like a swarm of zombies over-running a shopping mall.
This book’s essays take advantage of the fact that the idea of a world overrun by zombies actually provides us with food for thought (ungh! Metaphor!) about the human condition. Are zombies even possible? If so, are they conscious? What do zombies “know”? Do zombies have rights? What is their moral status? Do zombies have moral dignity? Do the living owe them any duties?
After a zombie apocalypse, do property rights still exist? Do any rights exist? Whence will legal authority flow? Will there be any rules at all? What will gender roles be? How will women fare? Do “walkers” have gender?
In the world after a zombie apocalypse, is there still a case for optimism? Would life be worth living after the apocalypse? Is suicide a moral option? These are the types of questions addressed, and answered, by these essays.
There are too many good essays to cover all of them within the space of this review.
Most original theme
Dave Beisecker’s “A Stagger-on Role to Die For” talked about the paradox of horror in light of AMC’s contest where viewers could win a chance to be a zombie extra in a future episode of the series. Monsters provoke fear and disgust, yet many people “enthusiastically seek out the horrific” in novels and films. Why? Beisecker invokes aesthetician Noel Carroll to explore this paradox. And why would anyone want to pretend to be a zombie? It’s not like anyone could ever experience that condition, as philosopher Thomas Nagle would have argued.
Most audacious essay
Ashley Barkman’s “Women in a Zombie Apocalypse” threw me for a loop! She proposes that after a zombie apocalypse, gender roles will, indeed must, revert back to traditional roles. Although feminists maintain that gender is a social construction, Ms. Barkman argues that the reality of biological differences will prevail after a zombie apocalypse. Not an essay that will make Ms. Barkman a fan of feminists.
Most fascinating metaphor
Greg Littmann’s “Can You Survive a Walker Bite” asks us to consider whether we can ever truly know if a system is conscious. Mr. Littmann presents a scenario where zombies are corralled and organized into a type of large-scale binary computer. Given enough zombies, could such a system lay claim to being conscious? And if not, then why is the human brain considered to be conscious? (Trust me, you’ll eat your brains out over this one!)
Jason Walker’s “What’s Yours Still Isn’t Mine” was a superb compare-and-contrast essay that looked at the issue of moral status and property rights in the “state of nature”. Hobbes and Locke were presented, and I was surprised at how diametrically-opposed their philosophies are. And I’m willing to bet that many Political Science majors would be hard-pressed to be able to tell you this! I claim that this essay should have ended by noting that whereas America was founded on Locke’s ideas, we now appear to be slipping back toward Hobbes. Stating this would have made the ending perfect.
Brandon Kempner’s “The Optimism of The Walking Dead” was STELLAR. This essay looked at the theme of freedom and the responsibility of human choice that would exist in the world after a zombie apocalypse. Mr. Kempner invokes Sartre and Existentialism, and he shows that the clean slate provided by a zombie apocalypse would present the perfect opportunity for one to come face-to-face with one’s freedom. Mr. Kempner’s essay is stellar because he takes his theme and shows how two of the characters, Rick and Shane, react to their new-found freedom. Rick in particular goes through a growing process whereby he eventually comes to embrace his freedom in the face of an absurd universe. Shane never does. Mr. Kempner developed his theme and wove it artfully in light of the development of the characters. His essay is tallmanesque. I loved it!
Delfino and Taylor’s “Walking Contradictions” didn’t seem as though it knew what it wanted or where to go. It felt like a fluff piece, suitable for a magazine article. In addition, one point that they raised is discerning the “nature” of a thing. “For it is through studying the actions of a thing that you gain some insight into that thing’s nature.” (Sounds like Marcus Aurelius.) Clearly they are talking about the “essence” of a thing. What would Sartre say about that?
Pye and O’Sullivan’s “Dead Man’s Party” made a great observation: “walkers” are genderless! Too bad the essay as a whole felt loose and aimless. The same could be said of Greeley’s “Monsters of Modernity”.
Tauriq Moosa’s “Babes in Zombie Land” was scatterbrained. It was social commentary at its worst, seemed contradictory in places, with conclusions that appeared unsupported and unwarranted. I suffered as I read through this essay, and by the end felt like an orphan who had no more tears left to shed.
Finally, Editor Wayne Yuen’s “What’s Eating You” was an essay devoted to the morality of cannibalism. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t really sink my teeth into this one. Mercifully, it was a short essay. “The curse of the book’s editor” strikes again!
Overall, this is a very solid collection of essays. The persistent typos did annoy me, and I wish that Open Court would hire someone to proofread these essays before they get sent to the printer. And some of the attempts at humor fell flat. But I liked this book a lot, and plan on re-reading many of the essays herein. Zombie fans will enjoy this; fans of The Walking Dead will love it. Four stars. John V. Karavitis.
Typos/grammatical errors/convoluted sentences/incorrect statements can be found on pp.: xiv, 32, 33, 55, 57, 81, 82, 85, 88, 89, 97, 98, 99, 132, 152, 162, 172, 180, 185, 192, 193, 207, 223, 228, 230, 241, 242, and 251.