Lecture 08 - “the walking dead in a horror film”


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Eighth lecture for my students in English 165EW, "Life After the End of the World," winter 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/w13/

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Lecture 08 - “the walking dead in a horror film”

  1. 1. Lecture 8: “the walking dead in a horror film”* English 165EW Winter 2013 4 February 2013 “[…] every word is at home, Taking its place to support the others, The word neither diffident nor ostentatious, An easy commerce of the old and the new, The common word exact without vulgarity, The formal word precise but not pedantic, The complete consort dancing together […]” — T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, lines 217-223 (sec. V) * McCarthy 55
  2. 2. The Völuspá● “Völuspá” means “song of the Völva [seeress].”● This is the first and best-known poem of the Poetic Edda, one of the primary collections of Norse and Germanic mythology and heroic legend. ● The Poetic Edda is difficult to date with any certainty. ● The oldest known written copy is the 13th-century Codex Regius, but the poems were part of an oral minstrel tradition long before that.
  3. 3. Odin Consults the Völva Lorenz Frølich, 1895
  4. 4. A few words on Norse cosmology The Ash Yggdrasil (1886), by The Norns Urðr, Verðandi, and Friederich Heine Skuld Beneath the World Tree Yggdrasil (1882), by Ludwig Burger.
  5. 5. Ragnarök in Norse mythology ...● literally means “Twilight [or ‘Fate’] of the Gods”; you may know this phrase better from its more modern German equivalent, Götterdämmerung.● is a predicted future series of events that was generally understood by the practitioners of the religion to be literally true.● may have been influenced, in the forms in which the story comes down to us, by medieval Christian beliefs about the Last Judgment.● may perhaps be best understood as the final stage in a cyclical series of events.
  6. 6. Sequence of (Major) Events● Garmr, the bloodhound guarding the gates of Hel, breaks free. The god Loki also breaks free.● Yggdrasil shudders; the World Serpent, Jörmungandr, lets go of his own tail.● A great battle occurs between the gods (the Æsir, and perhaps the Vanir) and the giants (the Jötunn). A number of major deities are killed, including Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki. Great fires destroy the earth.● The sun turns black, and the world is submerged in water.● The world re-emerges, new and fertile. A number of deities who had been killed return from Hel. Earth is repopulated by two surviving humans, Líf and Lífþrasir.
  7. 7. Brother shall strike brother and both fall,Sisters’ sons slay each other,Evil be on earth, an Age of Whoredom,Of sharp sword-play and shields’ clashing,A Wind-Age, a Wolf-Age, till the world ruins:No man to another shall mercy show.The waters are troubled, the waves surge up:Announcing now the knell of Fate,Heimdal winds his horn aloft,On Hel’s Road all men tremble.Yggdrasil trembles, the towering AshGroans in woe; the Wolf is loose:Odin speaks with the Head of MimirBefore he is swallowed by Surt’s kin. (stanzas 39-41)
  8. 8. A further woe falls upon Hlín [Frigg/Freya]As Odin comes forth to fight the Wolf [Fenrir];The killer of Beli [i.e., Frey] battles with Surt:Now shall fall Frigg’s beloved [i.e., Odin].Now valiant comes Valfather’s [i.e., Odin’s] Son,Vidar, to vie with Valdyr in battle,Plunges his sword into the Son of Hvedrung [i.e. Fenrir, son of Loki],Avenging his father with a fell thrust. (stanzas 46-47)
  9. 9. A new earthEarth sinks to the sea, the Sun turns black,Cast down from Heaven are the hot stars,Fumes reek, into flames burst,The sky itself is scorched with fire.I see Earth rising a second time,Out of the foam, fair and green;Down from the fells, fish to capture,Wings the eagle; waters flow.[…]Unsown acres shall harvests bear,Evil be abolished, Baldur returnAnd Hropt’s Hall with Hoddur rebuild,Wise Gods. Well, would you know more? (stanzas 50-51, 54)
  10. 10. “It is increasingly difficult …“… to comprehend the world in which we liveand of which we are a part. To confront thisidea is to confront an absolute limit toadequately understand the world at all.”(Thacker 1)“thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon ofits own possibility – the thought of theunthinkable that philosophy cannot pronouncebut via a non-philosophical language.” (2)
  11. 11. Apocalyptic thought“When the world as such cataclysmically manifestsitself in the form of a disaster, how do we interpret orgive meaning to the world? […] In modernity, theresponse is primarily existential – a questioning of therole of human individuals and human groups in light ofmodern science, high technology, industrial and post-industrial capitalism, and world wars.” (3)“tragically, we are most reminded of the world-in-itselfwhen the world-in-itself is manifest in the form of naturaldisasters.” (5)“we have even imagined what would happen to theworld if we as human beings were to become extinct.”(5)
  12. 12. “the world can mean many things” (2)● “the world-for-us” (or “the World”) is the world as we experience it, the world as a phenomenological construct with which we interact. (4)● “the world-in-itself” (or “the Earth”) is the world that “‘bites back,’ resists, or ignores our attempts to mold it into the world-for-us.” This is the world as an object of scientific study; it is also an imaginary construct that “constitutes a horizon for thought, always receding just beyond the bounds of intelligibility.” (4-5)● “the world-without-us” (or “the Planet”) is an unknowable (“spectral and speculative”) construct in which we attempt to subtract human meaning and activity from “the Earth.” (5-6)
  13. 13. Main take-away points● Our primary engagements with “the world” are infused with human values and human constructions based on human activities.● “[T]he world-without-us is not to be found in a ‘great beyond’ that is exterior to the World […] or the Earth […]; rather, it is in the very fissures, lapses, or lacunae in the World and the Earth.” (7- 8)● “I would propose […] that horror be understood about the the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).” (8)
  14. 14. Life on The Road“[C]ontrast our situation. The Earth is intact,unscarred, still fruitful. It can provide us withfood and raw materials. We have repositories ofknowledge that can teach us to do anything thathas been done before.” (Michael Beadsley onWyndham 96; ch. 7)“Mostly he worried about their shoes. That andfood. Always food.” (McCarthy 17)
  15. 15. Some notes on the world“the days more gray each one than what hadgone before. Like the onset of some coldglaucoma dimming away the world.” (3)“Then they set out along the blacktop in thegunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, eachthe other’s world entire.” (6)“He thought if he lived long enough the world atlast would all be lost. Like the dying world thenewly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading frommemory.” (18)
  16. 16. The vanished world“Then he picked up the phone and dialed thenumber of his father’s house in that long ago.The boy watched him. What are you doing? hesaid.” (7)“They trucked on along the blacktop. Tallclapboard houses. Machinerolled metal roofs. Alog barn in a field with an advertisement infaded ten-foot letters across the roofslope. SeeRock City.” (21) Dont you want to see where I used to live? No. (25)
  17. 17. The new world“A blackness to hurt your ears with listening. Oftenhe had to get up. No sound but the wind in the bareand blackened trees. He rose and stood tottering inthat cold autistic dark.” (15)“In those first years the roads were peopled withrefugees shrouded up in their clothing. […]Creedless shells of men tottering down thecauseways like migrants in a feverland. The frailty ofeverything revealed at last.” (28)“The mummied dead everywhere. The flesh clovenalong the bones, the ligaments dried to tug and tautas wires. Shriveled and drawn like latterdaybogfolk.” (24)
  18. 18. Grauballe Man (Jutland, Denmark) Photo by Sven Rosborn
  19. 19. Social order“So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothingelse construct ceremonies out of the air and breatheupon them.” (74)“My brother at last. The reptilian calculations inthose cold and shifting eyes. The gray and rottingteeth. Claggy with human flesh. Who has made ofthe world a lie every word.” (75)Suggestion: as you read onwards, focus on theconstruction of a shared narrative understanding of“the world” by the boy and the man.
  20. 20. Media credits● Slide 3: Odin and the Völva, engraving by Lorenz Frølich (1895), is out of copyright. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Odin_og_V%C3%B6lven_by_Fr %C3%B8lich.jpg● Slide 4: The Ash Yggdrasil, engraving by Friedrich W. Heine (1886), is out of copyright. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Ash_Yggdrasil_by_Friedrich _Wilhelm_Heine.jpg● Slide 4: The Norns Urd, Werdanda, Skuld, under the World-Ash Yggdrasil, engraving by Ludwig Burger (1886), is out of copyright. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Die_Nornen_Urd,_Werdanda,_Sk uld,_unter_der_Welteiche_Yggdrasil_by_Ludwig_Burger.jpg● Slide 18: The photo of Grauballe Man, by Sven Rosborn, has been released into the public domain. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grauballemannen1.jpg