Human nature is stacked with contradiction. The ruthless, people like Thatcher, summon hypocrisy and sweep it away. Identity contains a paradox, the need to establish a sense of authentic self but a desire to belong. We want to be independent yet require the group. Thatcher, who preached individualism to defend her economic prejudices, mentioned the group when it suited. ‘Is he one of us?’ she asked. She believed that victors and the strong triumphed and that this was permanent. Compassion should not be wasted on ‘them’.
But her revolution and its impact on modern identity undermined the notion of permanence. Identity changes to suit the group and circumstances. The authentic individual is obliged to be remote from others.
Victors impose their will. Meanwhile, artists become obsessed about identity and retreat to isolation in search of authenticity. The honest artists realise that, although we all die, nothing is as remote or as authentic as our individual death. This is why death features in novels so much. It permits philosophical suggestion but also attracts those interested in the remote and authentic self.
Most of us, though, settle for whatever identity is being defined for us at any particular point in history. This will consist of politics, language, fashion, status and social and sexual behaviour. Nobody should think he knows which is the most important. Inevitably, many wonder if they are unlucky, that another point of history could have perhaps defined them better. The pragmatic will think that another day and another place and they may not have been defined at all. Those who assume they are lucky, that they are well fed and have freedom denied other generations, still have cause for anxiety. The group cannot be avoided but could they have responded differently to the group and become another person? It is complicated and none of us know who we really are. This is what writers keep insisting. No wonder that so many rail travellers prefer to play on their iPhone rather than read a book. The iPhone consoles, insists that the present is the only option. All is progress and you are who you should be.
But even non-readers have doubts. Talk to any movie fan about their interest in the zombies and they will usually say, ‘It makes you curious as to whether you would survive, how you would be.’
Modern man and woman know that they have been shaped by society but are curious as to what they would be without the group. In the 60s, the alienated dreamt that a country cottage would help them discover their remote authentic self. But the country cottage had TV and a fitted kitchen. Now we think that if we had to slaughter zombies, not only would we be redefined but the group would also change. This rather than the threat of the apocalypse is the drama and promise of a zombie story. Something will prevail but who are the new ‘us’ and will they accept the rest of us when we are different?
Howard Jackson has had 3 books published by Red Rattle Books. He has written 3 zombie stories for Zombie Bites, the new collection of zombie stories to be published by Red Rattle Books in October this year. If you want to read more horror click here.