Free dissertation topics: the first in an occasional series

Zombies have become a regular fixture in popular culture, with well-known properties and behavior patterns that remain more or less constant across a wide range of cultural artifacts. How can we explain the fact that this fictional creature is so well-understood? It is possible that this basic uniformity is solely the result of dynamics within the postwar pop culture tradition, but the widespread fascination with the zombie seems to point toward deeper roots. In this dissertation, I propose to demonstrate the connections between the contemporary figure of the zombie and medieval conceptions of the leper.

21 thoughts on “Free dissertation topics: the first in an occasional series

  1. Intriguing, except that zombies are fictional constructs, while lepers were actual folks, overlaid with fictional constructs. But, it’s extremely interesting. See Kim Paffenroth’s book on zombies and theology.

  2. In the third chapter I will discuss “zombie acceleration” in as much as the horror factor of zombie films increases in direct proportion to increases in the average velocity of a pack of zombies. I will then compare this acceleration to the average speed of a leper.

  3. So, the historical existence of lepers is set aside? Fair enough. Then you’d have to account for the emergence of fictional lepers as out of historical existence vs. fictional zombies as out of public historical conciousness. Or something like that.

    Is it too late to change my dissertation topic? I’m only three chapters in.

  4. Or the zombie could emerge out of the ideas that were associated with lepers but then took on a life of their own — as a common-sense reading of my proposal would reveal.

    I don’t want to seem overly defensive here, but your comments seem weirdly combative to me.

  5. Not trying to be combative–I think there are some thematic connections to be sure, but I think making the case has to take account of the historicity question of actual lepers vs. the a-historical roots of zombies. That’s all I’m trying to suggest.

  6. Real lepers give rise to a myth about lepers. The myth about lepers contributes to the myth of zombies. I still don’t understand why you’re acting like you’re bringing up a problem I hadn’t thought of.

  7. True: real lepers lead to mythical lepers which lead to mythical zombies.

    What I’m trying to say, apparently badly, is that comparatively, the myths of lepers and myths of zombies have distinct starting points such that discussing mythical lepers have different ethical considerations than that of purely fictional constructions like zombies. We can talk about zombies as pure fictional constructs of a cultural conciousness, but talking about fictional lepers involves talking about actual lepers and their marginalization, such that zombies aren’t simply modern leper discourse, but something with a different origin which has to be taken into consideration when considering comparative discourses.

    How did a conversation about a non-existent dissertation get so tense?

  8. This reminds me of a kind of “comment terrorism” technique that I devised, though I never used it. If you want to drive a blogger to despair, then comment on his posts saying, “That’s all well and good, but it’s symptomatic that you don’t mention [the main point of his post].”

  9. It is traditional to distinguish between “the infected” (i.e., the current conception of the zombie) and the zombie proper. “Zombieism” qua virus is a relatively new development; previous pop-culture zombies were generated via disaster (e.g., Romero-zombies).

  10. Thanks for that, Anthony: now I have to work through my irrational fear at 28 days again too.

    Do you not reckon the golem would make an interesting comparison? Then you could draw funky triangle diagrams in the introduction that you’d have to redo every time you revise the thesis or change format or something.

    Plus, lepers very soon became non-existent in the Middle ages, so their thought was soon much more effective in European history than their reality. As everyone who gave up after the first chapter of Foucault’s History of Madness will testify…

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