Zombies: What’s Freud Got to Do With It?

Just in time for Halloween, Kyle Bishop, associate professor of English at Southern Utah University and an authority on zombies in U.S. popular culture, will be at UC Davis at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 28th to discuss what zombies do for us and why they just won’t “die.”

Bishop’s talk, “The Stalking Dead: Zombies, Freud, and the Uncanny Valley,” draws on Freud’s concept of the “uncanny,” those images or impulses both “familiar and unfamiliar that use their cognitive dissonance to affect the return of the repressed.” Zombies, according to Bishop, are a vivid example of the “uncanny” since they are “creatures both alive and dead, both hale and decrepit, both known and unknown, that abjectly remind us of the thing we strive to repress most—our own mortality.”

The “Stalking Dead” event, hosted in Voorhies 126, opens a series of 2014-2015 Freudian Sips research talks for the UC Davis Humanities Institute’s new Multidisciplinary Psychoanalytic Research Cluster. The cluster includes participants from across the humanities, arts and critical social sciences; the cluster sponsors research, the popular Freudian Sips talk series, research seminars, digital humanities projects, symposium and other activities to foster the exploration of psychoanalytic ideas and texts across the disciplines.

In particular, the cluster is interested in work that engages psychoanalysis in innovative, pluralistic, and experimental ways. By putting psychoanalytic ideas, texts, and practices in conversation with themes such as temporality, memory, improvisation and performance, the cluster provides a space for faculty and graduate students to explore and develop work at the forefront of humanistic and critical social science engagements with psychoanalysis.

Bishop’s subject of zombies fits well within this broad framework since Bishop argues that the “uncanny zombie…function[s] as a weird kind of cathartic psychoanalytic therapy” by forcing us to “confront not only our impending deaths but a host of other fears and anxieties.”

Bishop’s scholarship has captured the attention of academics and media worldwide and spans zombie studies, film and screen studies, American literature, African-American literature, and genre fiction. His forthcoming book, Zombies Among Us: Manifestations of the Walking Dead in Post-9/11 Popular Culture, will be released in 2015; his popular American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture, appeared in 2010. In addition to publishing numerous book chapters and articles, Bishop has given interviews and appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Huffington Post Live, and Wired magazine among other leading media outlets.

The cluster’s Freudian Sips series brings prominent and cutting-edge scholars to campus for public events. Keep an eye on the DHI event calendar for upcoming talks and events sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Psychoanalytic Research Cluster.