Reconfiguring the contagion:

A Girardian reading of the zombie apocalypse as a plea for a politics of weakness

  • Duncan Reyburn Senior Lecturer, Department of Visual Arts, University of Pretoria.
Keywords: Mimetic theory, zombie cinema, zombie apocalypse, mimetic contagion, undifferentiation, René Girard


This paper explores the mimetic patterns found in a selection of zombie films with reference to the philosophy of René Girard. To begin with, it argues that the zombie apocalypse, rather than only representing a future upheaval of society is also apocalyptical in the literary and theological sense; this it to say that it represents present social conditions by taking a very particular stance on the trajectory of human history. This article describes how the zombie contagion can be read as a symbol of what Girard calls ‘mimetic desire’. Thereafter, it deals with the way in which this contagion of desire, through the hegemony of mimetic undifferentiation, results in the escalation of reciprocal violence in a global society. Finally, it highlights specific plot points in recent zombie cinema that suggest the possibility of curing this reciprocal violence in such a way as to imply the necessity of a politics of weakness.