samedi 16 mars 2013

Natures mortes et zombies

Sara Davis compare les natures mortes d'hier et les portraits de zombies d'aujourd'hui, elle découvre dans ces deux formes les symboles de l'inévitabilité de la mort, des memento mori.

I love this genre of painting for its perverse insistence on having it both ways: sensuous, appetite-stirring beauty and moralistic metaphors all in one piece; a celebration of consumption and consumerism, meant to be possessed and enjoyed, which also mocks the buyer’s futile mortal endeavors. It’s easy to ascribe this peculiarity to golden age Dutch weirdness — this is the same culture that sunk millions into tulip cultivation and shell-collection! — but I realized sometime between movie previews that our own culture has its own obsession with memento mori and self-chastising consuming culture.

 Academics have long shrugged off zombie television and film as loose metaphor for our brand-hungry culture’s fears of mindless consumerism, which has never seemed a satisfactory explanation to me. After all, 20th- and 21st-century zombies are a far cry from the original mindless zombies of myth, where the dead were raised by magic or the living was made dead-like with neurotoxins. Old school zombies were more or less puppets of a powerful shaman who would use them for repetitive labor — a mindless thralldom that definitely speaks to fear of mental enslavement. But contemporary zombies, even if they are of the old-fashioned slow and shambling sort, are predators. Many modern reimagined zombies are fast-moving, fast-multiplying, and always hungry — like a virus given a human face. Often they are problem-solvers, at least insofar as they may clamber over the barricade you place in front of them. Their capacity to produce horror derives less from their reanimated dead flesh or single-mindedness than from the cinematic situation that they (plural, unconcerned for life or limb, hungry for human flesh) are after you (singular, heart pounding, running for your life).

 This makes more sense — to me, at least — if you think of zombies as a modern-day memento mori. For the 17th century Dutch merchant class, a still life was a shrine to the beauty and pleasure that money can buy: luxuries, delicacies, fine things that could be held in the hand or captured in oils, a small and fine possession in itself. But for contemporary society, the ultimate shrine and symbol of prosperity is the well-kept body — that is, a body that falls into a fairly narrow category of healthy, beautiful, and athletic. Despite all the goods and brands and tech toys, so much more of our collective wealth is sunk into sculpting or tightening, brightening or darkening, coloring and trimming, running, counting calories, and swallowing gallons of “smart” water. It makes sense, then, that today's bogeyman and morality tale is a decaying body, a walking (or running) death’s head that all the cardio and training in the world can’t outrace. Zombies mock us, like the half-eaten fruits of the Dutch golden age and the weary speaker of Ecclesiastes, that though we may define ourselves by what and how we consume, it is all a pretty distraction from how we will be consumed.

[Sara Davis - Old is New Again - The Smart Set.]