- Mapping the Zombie:Diego Velázquez Betancourt's newfangled zombie in La noche que asolaron Tokio
. . . in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger.–Albert Camus
Zombie plots are laughable, the creatures unreal, their bodies repulsive, and their geneses unclear, yet in spite of their absurdity audiences can't get enough of them. The initial walking-dead, or "classic" zombie stories began with William Seabrook's The Magic Island (1929), a travelogue claiming that Haitian Vodou sorcerers resurrected dead men and forced them to work in cane fields. His text inspired the 1932 Hollywood b movie, White Zombie, featuring bela Lugosi as the evil "Voodoo" priest who uses the living-dead to run his sugar plantation. It was zombies' entrance to "pop-culture stardom" (Romero XV). In these stories, zombies are insentient animated corpses exploited and unaware of their oppressed condition. Images of subjugated zombies who mindlessly worked for a master crossed national borders with films such as El Santo contra los zombies (El Santo against the zombies), which opened in Mexico in 1962. In this lucha libre (wrestling) movie, a professor specializing in Haitian myths gets caught up in zombie intrigue, himself becoming a victim, beholden to a malevolent villain.
The walking-dead became persecutors instead of victims with George Romero's film series Night of the Living Dead (1968). Since then zombies have populated post-apocalyptic settings wrecked by climate change, epidemics, nuclear fallout, or other disasters in stories that offer little hope of a return to a pre-established order. These narratives poignantly illustrate a worsening of the human condition due to the collective crisis in which isolated [End Page 461] survivors find it ever more difficult to exist with one another as flesh-eating ghouls seek to destroy them.
Zombies' evolution in fiction is central to understanding how Diego Velázquez Betancourt in La noche que asolaron Tokio (2013) draws from various walking-dead narratives to address the ways in which modern ills have made human existence precarious, converting citizens into metaphoric zombies. It is an existential novel in which the main character, Andrés, tries to find meaning in an absurd and increasingly violent world, surrounded by zombies. The text evokes enslaved zombies as well as modern ones– and a new type of living-dead based in part on calaveras, skeletal figures popularized in Mexican satirical political commentary by Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913).1 Velázquez Betancourt offers readers a hybrid zombie creature that is both like the emblematic contemporary zombies and like Guadalupe Posada's calaveras. The following analysis examines how, through the evocation of the Haitian zombie myth, Posada's calaveras, and George Romero's living dead, the novel addresses the contemporary economic and existential challenges that also illustrate the alienation and dehumanization of people in an ever-changing and increasingly globalized world.
In the tradition of post-apocalyptic zombie stories, Velázquez bentacourt's text takes place in a day when the north and south poles have melted, the water is undrinkable, and resources are scarce. The complex non-linear postmodern narrative set in Mexico City revolves around the protagonist's reaction to the mysterious and slow disappearance of citizens after an inexplicable anomaly, something resembling a type of biblical rapture or alien invasion. Finding himself at the end of times and alone in a crumbling city, Andrés embarks on a journey towards the Pacific ocean wherein he occasionally encounters other disaffected people as well as lonely living-dead creatures, who in many ways mirror Andrés's own state of mind. The novel charts Andrés's struggle to hold onto his humanness through vignettes, journal entries, dream-like sequences, and a zombie themed play. In particular, as the following examples illustrate, the novel evokes and conflates multiple forms of the living-dead tropes to reflect on the human condition.
Critics, such as Persephone Braham and Sara J. Lauro, have analyzed how zombie fiction draws attention to a myriad of societal tribulations that critique [End Page 462] capitalism, neoliberalism, and technology.2 Zombies might also be used as a "global metaphor for the exploited masses" (Fischer-Hornung...