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Slavoj Žižek, the Death Drive, and Zombies: A Theological Account

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Abstract

In this article, I discuss the question of the hybridity of the religious and the secular through the example of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and his psychoanalytically inspired notion of the undead. The undead is Žižek's rendering of the Freudian death drive, and as the undead is instantiated in the popular culture cliché of the zombies, we need to look no further than to George A. Romero's classic zombie movie Night of the Living Dead from 1968. Thus, this article proceeds in three steps: first, I trace the concept of the death drive from Freud to Žižek, supplemented, for their theological importance, by two contemporary philosophers, Jonathan Lear and Eric Santner. Second, I discuss the zombie in contemporary popular culture, with a focus on Romero's movies, and whether such cinematic representations can function as a kind of cultural critique. In conclusion, I return to the question of theology by showing what Žižek means by theology and contrasting as well as comparing his philosophy to Augustine's anthropology. Despite Žižek's atheistic confession and his dismissal of all pre-modern philosophy and theology, I show that Augustine's anthropology is structurally similar to Žižek's, thus suggesting that the relationship is more complex than Žižek allows. Both are united in rejecting any superficial and transparent understanding of self, and become, consequently, an example of the ambiguous relationship between religion and secularity in contemporary times.

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