Material Antagonisms; Melancholia, Undeadliness and Performance

  • Abstract:
    Christine Ross argues that the subject within liberal democracy is expected to conform to prevailing identity norms “personified by the model of the entrepreneur.” Ross claims that contemporary medicine effectively understands depression as the subject’s inability to ‘perform’ this normalisation of economic productivity as part of her social identity. Melancholia was previously recognised as a “subversive force” within the psyche that was able to refuse the hegemony of the status quo. However, this term has been replaced by the contemporary condition of depression which is understood as the subject’s failure to assimilate the normative identifications determined by late Capitalism. The zombie rejects these configurations of identity; it refuses to be laid to rest within ordered categorisations of subjectivity. Instead, through its internalisation and inhabitation of death, the zombie can be understood as a melancholic body that resides within the “symbolic collapse” of the Real. It is precisely the zombie’s evacuated materiality – its status as a mindless corpse – that positions it as a subversive presence outside the constraints of human identity. Undeadliness becomes a haptic texture that transforms the subject’s body into a site of abject and transgressive materiality. I propose that the zombie might encourage the contemporary practitioner to reclaim the materiality of melancholia in order to trouble the ‘exclusionary systems of identification’ enforced by contemporaneity. Instead of being framed as depressive failure, the practitioner’s melancholia might post-critically collapse the identity-based protocols of a live situation with a performance of zombie-like affect. The practitioner would harness melancholia as an embodied and haptic objectivity beyond the constraints of subjective identity. This melancholic performative practice might then be recognised as a glitchy material antagonism to the economic identity norms perpetrated by the dominant cultural hegemony. I claim that my paper would itself perform, rather than simply describe, this post-critical melancholic practice.