Civilization After The End

I am posting my final paper for my Violence and Metaphor class because I think it is some really good shit. Enjoy.

It’s below the fold to not annoy people too much and to not take up my whole front page. (Edit: 10-8-09: It’s now split up into multiple parts -hopefully- to make it easier to read)

Civilization after the End:
Violent Metaphors of the Post-Apocalyptic World
The importance of discovering together violence and metaphor lies in the various ways it promotes our advanced understanding of our own nature and society, and how they are then portrayed in the literature that mirrors or predicts our lives. In Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, the author dissects society in a way that reveals facets of human nature. The most fascinating of these is the much felt, but little understood, inherent tension between civilization and the individuals that comprise it. Not only is Freud’s work easy to relate to our discussions of violence and metaphor applied to daily life, but also it is dispersed throughout literature that is fraught with further metaphors of mankind. E.C. Tubb’s little known, and somewhat obscure, short story entitled “Fresh Guy” is both exemplary of and in contrast to Freud’s theories, and is a fascinating prediction of the fate of humans in its own right. Both Freud and Tubb analyze and employ violence and metaphor in ways that illuminate the human condition and enhance the complexity and richness of the literature.

The set up of E.C. Tubb’s short story “Fresh Guy” sounds rather similar to the set up for a joke. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s the end of the world and the only beings left on earth are a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghoul. The punch line is unfortunately not very funny, but it does resonate with our own fears of everything
ranging from the vampiric or undead infection/enlightenment, to what a post-apocalyptic world might look like. The story begins with Smith (a very new vampire) meeting Sammy (the ghoul) sitting by a fire. After Smith meets the rest of the group (which consists of his accidental father Boris, and the werewolf named Lupe) he witnesses the inner workings of the society that now exists in place of the world he knew in life. When he begins to propose changes to the way Sammy, Boris, and Lupe are running their civilization, he finds himself the object of their contempt, and ultimately their dinner.

Freud’s text explores all of the components of tension between civilizations and the individuals that comprise them, and Tubb’s take seems to be a playful call back and enhancement of Freud’s theories. Freud explores a contention that states “what we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery, and that we should be much happier if we gave it up” (86). The Smith character seems to echo this stance, with the exception of his focus on being a “modern man” of which he constantly boasts. But Freud claims “all the things with which we seek to protect ourselves against the threats that emanate from the sources of suffering are part of that very civilization” (86). Smith has no weapon to use that the pre-existing civilization does not already embody or employ. But it is the arrogance of the individual that prompts him to, at the very least, resist society. Freud also posits “power over nature is not the only precondition of human happiness” (88). Freud explains that telephones may allow family members who are far from each other to remain in touch, but that those same family members would not have been able to move across the country without the advent of the railroad. Technological advances breed misery, with which we seek more technology to ease the pain. Smith and his desperate clamoring to be the most modern “man” and his fresh ideas about how to run the society are perfectly exemplary of Freud’s point. Whether Tubb had read and was channeling Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents or not, there is enough common ground to read the two together.

Tubb’s “Fresh Guy” is immediately reminiscent of Freud’s theories about an ongoing and necessary tension between society and the individuals that comprise it. The story begins in a post-apocalyptic world in which a “Big Bang” has driven all of the humans underground and the only remaining creatures are a ghoul, a werewolf, and a vampire. There is an immediate correlation to Nietzsche’s tendencies toward anti-humanism and the transitory existence of humans on this earth. Nietzsche reminds us in “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense” that one might invent a believable fable in which “there was once a planet on which some clever animals invented cognition. It was the most arrogant and most mendacious minute in ‘the history of the world’; but a minute was all it was” (141). The remainder of these creatures is also in direct connection to our discussions of the residue often connected to metaphor making. It is in the violence of making metaphors, forcing one thing to be or act like another, that there are remainders, things that do not fit, or a residue. It is Lakoff and Johnson who reveal that this residue, or things that do not fit, is necessary, otherwise the two things would be the same, and not a metaphor. “If it were total, one concept would actually be the other, not merely be understood in terms of it…thus, part of a metaphorical concept does not and cannot fit” (13). At any rate, it seems appropriate that it is a violent and metaphorical occurrence that leaves the residue of the creatures now roaming and ruling the earth; they are the residue and dregs of human life and are each in their own ways literally and metaphorically violent. The reader is then almost simultaneously introduced to Sammy and Smith, an existing member of the post-civilization and its newest member, respectively. Sammy, the ghoul, sits by a fire that is strategically located near “The Tombstone” under which it is stated the humans left alive now reside. Smith stumbles in; he is both unaware of what has happened in the world and to himself. Eventually, Boris the vampire (inadvertently and violently Smith’s new father) and Lupe the werewolf join the group and are introduced to Smith. There is immediately tension and dislike from all parties; Smith, who considers himself “a modern man” ridicules the “old ways” of the existing civilization, and the others resent the fresh ideas of the disrespectful Smith. He is a perfect exemplar of Freud’s claim that the individual has some “strange attitude of hostility to civilization” (87). In the end, Smith’s fresh ideas and thirst for liberty from the society earn him a virtual expulsion and an immediate execution.

One of Freud’s first revelations is that “unhappiness is much less difficult to experience” than happiness and that there are three potential sources of suffering for man. Freud lists them as: “from our own body…from the external world…and finally from our relations to other men” (77). Smith, who becomes Tubb’s representation or metaphor for the individuals that resist society, experiences each of these sufferings through out the course of the tale. Before Smith even realizes what has happened to his body (though he senses something is wrong when he claws his way out of a ditch/his grave) he experiences suffering from the world; Freud says this suffering from the world “may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction” (77). First, there is the initial shock of the dramatic changes in the structure and landscape of the world, not to mention its apparent lack of people. When Smith admits to Sammy that he must be “in some sort of trouble” Sammy replies that, “Everyone’s in some sort of trouble…what’s your particular brand?” (140). After Sammy reveals to Smith that neither of them is human, and that the humans all live underground, Sammy informs Smith about the catastrophe. “’The Big Bang.’ Sammy grimaced. ‘The thing everyone knew would happen, said they didn’t want to happen, yet made happen anyway” (142). The profundity of Sammy’s declaration seems to be a very conscious echo and expansion of Freud’s closing remarks in Civilization and Its Discontents. In the final paragraph, Freud hauntingly proclaims:

Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. (145)
Freud narrates what Tubb later predicts: a feeling of unrest that still disturbs our society, whether in our apocalyptic visions of a nuclear holocaust or our unquenchable fear of a deadly pandemic.

The next source of suffering applicable to Smith is the suffering that, according to Freud, comes “from our own body, which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals” (77). When Smith is initially introduced, even he is unaware of the transformation he has undergone. What he remembers is being human and living a human life. However, he also remembers his body causing him suffering before his new life: “I was sick. I remember that well enough what with Uncle screaming about doctor’s bills and the price of medicine” (140). Even as a human Smith experienced the trauma of bodily suffering and decay. When his uncle calls a doctor who “only [comes] after dark,” Smith is forced to undergo a second bodily suffering. This second suffering is substantially more violent than the normal wear and tear (or “decay” as Freud says) to which a fully alive human body must submit. At the hands (or teeth) of Boris, Smith’s body endures a death and a rebirth into undeath. His body suffers the ultimate pain, a pain that Laurence Rickels (among others) argues is unknowable. In The Vampire Lectures, Rickels states that, “your unconscious cannot conceive of your own death” (5). This example is further illustrated by Smith’s disbelief in his own vampirism and his insistence that he must instead be “a poor, crazy madman” (141).

The third and final suffering that Freud introduces is from other men, and is “perhaps more painful to us than any other. We tend to regard it as a kind of gratuitous addition, although it cannot be any less fatefully inevitable than the suffering which comes from elsewhere” (77). This violence and suffering caused by our fellow humans is not at all surprising and has been referenced and explored in literature, philosophy, and psychology perhaps more than any other subject. Of particular significance here is a phrase that defines much of my research that I lovingly lifted from Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic film, 28 Days Later: “people killing people” (Boyle 2003). The character that utters these words in the film is remarking on the inseparability of those infected with the “Rage Virus” from the murders, suicides, or wars taking place before the outbreak of the infection. The character, Major Henry West, insists that there is no difference, or that the infection makes no difference:

This is what I’ve seen in the four weeks since infection: people killing people. Which is much what I saw in the four weeks before that, and the four weeks before that, and as far back as I care to remember…people killing people. Which to my mind puts us in a state of normality right now. (Boyle, 2003)

And Smith is, whether he realizes it or not, in a state of normality in his post-apocalyptic world and his undead body. It is no mistake that Tubb’s story revolves around non-human characters behaving in the same way humans behave. The forms of violence Smith experiences from his fellow “men” or “non-men” range from the violence of Boris devouring his blood to Smith’s ultimate destruction or involuntary sacrifice at the end of the story. There is a further layer of violence between beings, or “people killing people,” when the metaphor of vampirism is investigated. Vampirism has long been representative of plague and infectious disease, and the nature of its spread from human to human, while in terms of the real plague is generally accidental, is not lost in the blatancy of a father vampire and his many vampiric children. It is unavoidable that most or all of Smith’s problems are related to or caused by other humans or non-humans.
In a mild diversion from Freud are Tubb’s other metaphors that are inherently violent in nature. As previously mentioned, the use of infection (vampiric infection) as a method of breeding brings intense violence, decay, death, and rebirth to something that is usually accompanied by what Freud deems “sexual love” (80). There is an apparent sexuality in a vampire feeding off of (and sucking on the neck of) an otherwise healthy human. Vampirism is, by itself, a tangled mess of economies of metaphor; it is a whole system of life or non-life that circulates, substitutes, transforms, and infects. By sinking his teeth into Smith’s neck, Boris is both feeding himself and infecting Smith. Meanwhile, Smith’s body is both dying and living, transforming yet remaining outwardly the same. The things that once nourished his body may now be useless or even cause a permanent death; sunlight is an example worth noting. The blood that once provided his body life in a circulatory system must now provide him nourishment in a more digestive sense. All the economies, circulations, and transformations are bodily and visceral, but they are all changing.
There is a second inherent violence in vampirism that is excellently illustrated in Tubb’s tale. That is the unnatural familial bond that is forged from “siring” or creating another vampire. In the most obvious sense, Boris (though he was merely feeding off of Smith and did not mean to transform him) becomes Smith’s new father. Sammy gains a certain amount of joy in illuminating this bond to father and son; he says to Smith, “your new father for your new rebirth…it’s the only way vampires can breed, you know, they depend on their victims to perpetuate their race” (144). Alternatively, however, Smith is in many ways violently maternalized, from the way his blood nourishes Boris to the way his flesh gives Sammy necessary strength for traveling at the end of the story. The image of Boris sucking on Smith to nourish himself is so overtly reminiscent of a child suckling a mother for breast milk, that the comparison is unavoidable. Smith is at once son and mother for Boris. Even more shocking than the blatantly sexual nature of vampirism is the innate incest that accompanies it. Rickels calls to mind the image of Stoker’s Mina being held lovingly as a daughter while he drains her of blood and life. He later states, “no matter how you turn it, there is something incestuous going down when one creates a vampire” (40).

Not all of the characters in Tubb’s story are officially “undead” however. We must analyze Lupe the werewolf, whose character motivates much of the action in the story, though he is somewhat absent from it. Lupe seems to be the most likely of all the survivors to see through to the end this period of waiting for the humans. He is able to survive on animals that the others cannot, and he has a family that promotes his desire to live (a desire that will motivate Sammy to destroy Smith). Werewolves are, in general, related to vampires and zombie more through the infection and plague metaphors rather than the metaphor of being dead and reborn (or undead). In some tales of Lycanthropy, the official term for the condition, becoming a werewolf is even hereditary. So what does Lupe bring to this otherwise undead society? Life? Perhaps he is their unspecified leader because he has what the others no longer have (life) or lacks what the others do have (a rebirth).

There is also a strange correlation between the nature of Smith’s (or any vampire’s) rebirth and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In Plato’s The Republic, man in his initial, unenlightened state lives in the darkness of a deep cave. On his journey to enlightenment and understanding he is dragged up a steep hill, out of the cave and into the sunlight where his eyes are forced to adjust and he cannot see everything all at once, but gradually over time sees everything. In the same way that Plato describes man’s achievement of an enlightened state, in most vampire tales, and specifically “Fresh Guy,” the vampire, upon his rebirth, must claw his way out of his own grave and back up into the world. Plato describes man’s plight and his initial struggles upon reaching the surface: “He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves” (The Republic). In Smith’s case, not only must he now see things differently with his vampire body, but also the world itself has changed. Not to mention that, in general, vampires are considered to be “shadows” and “reflections of men.” Upon his enlightenment, Smith best sees his own kind. It is a fascinating connection, and one that asserts a somewhat problematic postulation: the undead are more easily able to reach enlightenment than humans. There are many facets of the vampirization process that appeal to the process of man’s enlightenment. A kind of death and rebirth is inevitable in reaching enlightenment, and vampires execute this with perfect grace. What the consequences of a vampiric enlightenment versus man’s struggle toward it are difficult to ascertain. It is a strange theory to put forth, that perhaps one must die and be reborn as something other than human to become enlightened in the way that Plato describes. But the vampire clawing his way out of his fresh grave comes closer to making Plato’s allegory literal than any experience in human life.

Similarly to undeath equaling enlightenment, there is the extremely significant facet of Tubb’s story in which all of the humans are underground, underneath something called “The Tombstone.” The likeness of the Plato-like caveness in the “The Tombstone” is overwhelming, and readers are forced to question what it means for humans to be living (or not) there. First of all, in the context of the story alone, the reader must consider the name of “The Tombstone” and the likelihood of humans remaining alive at all. But if the humans are alive or even truly dead (as opposed to undead) there is added significance to their refusal to come back to the surface. For one, if they come back to the surface there are the vampires, werewolves, and ghouls waiting to use them as nourishment again. For those who, like Smith, will later be transformed into undead beings themselves, this means a rejection of undeath. Therefore, in correlation with Tubb’s story and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the humans, whether alive or dead under “The Tombstone” are rejecting the path to enlightenment by refusing to leave their underground hideout, or refusing to die and be reborn as a vampire, werewolf, or ghoul.

There is also room to consider the synecdoche that is present in Freud’s text and how it affects the reading of “Fresh Guy.” For instance, in Freud, the reader comes to understand the individual as a synecdoche of civilization. This still holds in Tubb’s tale if we consider Smith to be the representative part of the whole civilization consisting of a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghoul. Though we must then consider that the body, the physical and visceral body, both living and undead, is a synecdoche of the entire person. There is an inherent violence in this particular metaphor, wherein a body infected with vampirism (like Smith is infected by Boris) affects the entire person: the mind, the soul, the body, and all parts that complete the person. Similarly, if there is an individual vampire that is representative of a society of humans, infection and breeding will lead to the spread of vampirism, resulting in a society of the undead instead of the living.
Tubb’s story does in a sense depart from Freud’s in the way Tubb dramatizes ending. In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud rather mildly states that realistic societies, such as that we live in, “lets things pass that it ought to have punished” (105). Tubb darkly works against this and lets Smith get away with nothing; he is punished in the harshest way possible. Throughout Tubb’s tale there is often mentioned the “Gentleman’s Agreement” which we understand to be a suspension of inter-species violence in an effort to work together for survival until the humans come out from their hiding place. When Lupe alerts Sammy that there is a female ghoul nearby, Sammy laments that he has not the strength to travel to her since he’s had nothing to nourish him for a long time. Boris, who abhors his new “son” and the disrespect and resentment he apparently harbors for Boris, Lupe, and Sammy, starts to persuade Sammy to suspend the “Gentleman’s Agreement” to purge their well-oiled civilization of this fresh guy. “’He’s young,’ said Boris. ‘That means that he’ll have a hell of an appetite…and you heard what he said about contacting them. What’s the betting that he just cuts us out?’” (154). It is at this point in the story when Tubb both departs from Freud, allowing Smith to experience the punishment that Freud posits society often overlooks, but also very simply expands on Freud’s visualization of what should theoretically happen, but often does not. Tubb closes “Fresh Guy” with this punishment:
“What are you two freaks talking about?” snapped Smith again. Youth and confidence in his superiority made him contemptuous of the old has-beens. Sitting beside the fire he had made his own plans and they didn’t include either of the others. He lost both confidence and contempt as he read Sammy’s expression. “No!” he screamed, understanding hitting like a thunderbolt…He rose together with Sammy and, turning, raced into the dark safety of the woods. He didn’t get far. Fresh guys rarely do. (154)
Tubb’s ending very pessimistically outlines what will result from the individual’s arrogance and resentment toward civilization.

Perhaps Tubb’s “Fresh Guy” ends in such a bleak and disastrous manner because of the haunting erasure and preservation present, something that Freud’s essay uncovers. For instance, as mentioned earlier, there is always a residue in metaphor making, and especially as a result of the violence of seeing one thing in the terms of something else. Similar to the palimpsest of our discussions this semester, there is erasure when Sammy, Lupe, and Boris invite Smith to join their society, but the trace of the conflict underneath remains, and is unable to be erased. There can be no true reconciliation between the individual and civilization while the trace or residue of a conflict remains. Also in line with Freud’s work is Smith’s system for self-preservation (which ultimately fails). Smith, in order to gain entrance to the society, momentarily exchanges his individual ideas, liberties, and happiness for the security with in the group. With arrogance, Smith is unable to relinquish his ideas for very long. He becomes annoyed and claims his superiority as “a modern man” (152). Smith banks on the fact that he still looks human, something that Sammy certainly cannot boast, and Boris also is apparently too old fashioned. Smith claims, “they’ve bred true down there and they aren’t going to want mutations around at any price” (152). Smith’s insistence that he is strikingly different from the others is what will ultimately result in his death.
Civilization and Its Discontents ignites a whole new lens through which readers can analyze not only Tubb’s little post-apocalyptic story, but nearly all post-apocalyptic, vampire, or plague-related texts. One author in particular resonates with Freud’s theories. Gregory A. Waller, in his book The Living and the Undead, carries out an investigation of zombies and vampires and the relationships between the living and the undead. In his discussion of Stoker’s Dracula he puts forth a theory that sounds eerily similar to Freud’s discussion of individuals and society. Waller’s claim also enhances the reading of Tubb’s story and therefore cannot be ignored when analyzing it. He explores the attempts of individuals and their failures, stating that, “his failure is a reminder that the isolated individual cannot halt the progress of the vampire” (33).  He goes on to hail the heroism of Stoker’s community of vampire hunters in particular, but his assessment is seen in Freud and Tubb: “…the confrontation between Good and Evil…becomes synonymous with the struggle between the values of a selfless, unified community and the destructive excesses of egotistical individualism” (40). Waller even goes a step farther than Freud by placing the moral center with the community and placing the individual in opposition to that. From my extensive research of plague literature and post-apocalyptic texts, this seems to be where other authors place morality as well. Even in instances in which the individual is the protagonist of the text, they seem to be lacking some kind of morality or overlooking the ethical principles that drive the story. For example, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend sees its protagonist, Robert Neville, executed by a community of people he saw as less than human. Neville’s final thoughts at the close of the book echo Waller and Freud’s points of this unavoidable, irreparable, and violent tension between individuals and societies:

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain…I am legend. (170)

While the reader sympathizes with Neville because he is the protagonist of the novel and unaware of his apparent lack in morality, his execution is both predictable and unavoidable.

The similarities between “Fresh Guy” and Civilization and Its Discontents uncover a limitless discussion of post-apocalyptic literature, contagious disease narratives, the connection with the horror genre, and all of the violence and metaphors associated with these topics. It is nearly impossible to delve deeply into just one work from these sub-genres without addressing one or many of its counterparts. The interconnectedness of these stories defies time period, author, and genre entirely. A brief look at Danny Boyle’s 2003 film 28 Days Later does not seem out of place in a discussion of E.C. Tubb’s 1959 short story. Waller seems drawn to addressing many of the same topics as Freud without once mentioning his name. Vampires and zombies feel at home with ghouls and werewolves, and they work as eerily sustainable metaphors for Freud’s idea of society and our own visions of a post-apocalyptic world. At a pivotal moment, Freud takes a moment in his text to state very profoundly the simplest meaning the reader might glean from the work: “Necessity alone, the advantages of work in common, will not hold them together. But man’s natural aggressive instinct, the hostility of each against all and of all against each, opposes this programme of civilization” (122). It is this simply put statement that unleashes the innumerable complexities of studying our own society and civilization as it is mirrored and represented so often by the violent metaphors of our own creation.

Works Cited
28 Days Later. Dir. Danny Boyle. Scr. Alex Garland. Perf. Cillian Murphy, Naomie
Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson. British Film Council, 2003.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. London: Hogarth Press and Instituteof Psycho-Analysis, 1930.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1980.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1995.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On Truth and Lying in a Non-moral Sense.

The Republic. 1994. Daniel C. Stevenson, Web Atomics. <

Rickels, Laurence A. The Vampire Lectures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Amereon House, 1981.

Tubb, E.C. “Fresh Guy.” Science Fiction; ’59; The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and
Fantasy. Ed. Judith Merril. Hicksville, New York: The Grove Press, 1959.

Waller, Gregory A. The Living and the Undead. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,


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