Pielak: Zombies are the perfect way to examine the limits of humanity

Photo of Chase Pielak and the cover of his zombie book

Interest in zombies is huge in the world of pop culture, but studying zombies as a topic of research may seem almost as unlikely as a zombie apocalypse. But for Chase Pielak, an English lecturer in Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts, that research topic isn’t so far-fetched. 

Pielak joined the Auburn Family in the fall of 2017, and his research interests include British and transatlantic Romanticism, animal studies, post-human criticism and, you guessed it, zombies. 

“It started off with the first season of 'The Walking Dead,'" Pielak admits. “I just watched it for fun, but as I was starting to think about it, I realized that there were a lot of theoretical overlaps with the kind of work I do—post-human criticism—which considers the boundaries of what we mean when we say 'human being' and how our understanding of being human is changing."

Pielak believes that zombies are the perfect way to examine the limits of humanity.

“What better boundary for the ends of the human than the zombie? It’s what happens after you die if you don’t really die.”

Pielak recently co-authored Living with Zombies: Society in Apocalypse and Film, Literature and Other Media with Alexander Cohen, assistant professor at Augustana College. The book studies how zombies reflect aspects of our culture and what we fear—government control, lawlessness, relationships, etc.—providing a mirror for us to look at our fears that we’re unable to face directly. Pielak explains that zombies serve as an “empty vessel” that helps us imagine our more deep-seeded fears.

“My favorite definition of the zombie is that it’s like a human but without the guts. It’s perfect. Whatever makes us human is gone from this thing, so we can project onto it whatever we need, whatever we want to talk about.”

And Pielak has been doing just that. His newest project, The Collected Sonnets of William Shakespeare, Zombie, shows the classic sonnets of William Shakespeare—only written as if he was a zombie. 

“The kinds of themes that we tend to talk about with Shakespeare—the idea of death and the possibility of love transcending death—are in these sonnets. Those things overlap nicely with being a zombie.” Pielak’s collection is set to be released early in 2018, but is already available for preorder on Amazon. 

In addition to all his work on the undead, Pielak has had a close eye on the living as he adjusts to his new home in Auburn.

“I’ve really enjoyed Auburn,” Pielak says. “The dedication that people have to this place is aweing. I feel like a vampire—I take in the life of this place and it’s fascinating. People are fervent fans for this place, it’s wonderful.”

For more information on Chase Pielak’s publications, check out his page on Amazon

Written by Lydia Sinor, '17, former graduate assistant in the office of external affairs  

Last Updated: March 06, 2018