Friday, April 30, 2010

Random Items Time!

Time to give this blog some semblance of activity by sharing some items I've stumbled across on the wonderful world of Google!

The first one's Kyle Van Helsing's Amazon list, "Vampirology: The Study of Vampires and the Undead". He's got some interesting selections on it, but much of it's disposable. You should also check out his 80 (!) Listmania! Lists, which covers other horror/paranormal stuff. This guy is hardcore.


A few blog entries you might wanna peruse over at Buzzy Multimedia, namely, Stefica Budimir-Bekan's "Hollywood's Crush on Vampires", and Theresa Bane's "My Favorite Vampire" and "Bite, Hype, and Bandwagons – The Truth About Vampires".

Bane's certainly getting around on the vampirologist hobby horse and...good on her! It's nice to see a vampire scholar proud to trumpet the field!

Her vampire encyclopedia still won't be out for a coupla months, but she's certainly been getting good media coverage, in the meantime.


Speaking of reference works, here's a couple for the sanguinarian (i.e. "real" vampire) crowd.

First off, there's Sanguinarius' The Dictionary of Sanguinese: Terminology and Lingo in the Vampire Community (2nd. ed. 2009). He (?) followed that up in 2010 with the second edition of The Dictionary of Vampspeak: Terminology and Lingo in the Vampire Community. Presuming, of course, that they're not the same book. I'm gonna say...they are.


I've seen several references to Pam Keesey's status as a vampirologist, usually accompanied by the "lesbian" tag. She also looks a lot younger than I thought she was. Anyhoo, to my knowledge, her biggest contribution to the field is Vamps: An Illustrated History of the Femme Fatale (1997).

I gotta admit, I haven't read the thing, but it don't sound all that substantial to the genre! Who knows, maybe she's got other tricks up her sleeve. She does seem to have an interesting blog, though! I'm gonna add her to my list!


Oh, I didn't realise the Across the Forest blokes had mentioned my review of their doco, until just now! And here's the review itself.


Katherine Ramsland, an Anne Rice apologist (heh heh) has some interesting things to say about the Twilight phenomena in Katie O'Brien and Cassie Wierenga's "Coming Out of the Coffin".

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Vampires and Philosophy

During the course of the "Q & A" with Bruce, he mentioned his contribution to a book called True Blood and Philosophy.

That book's full title is True Blood and Philosophy: We Wanna Think Bad Things with You, and will be released on June 1, later this year.

It's part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, which also includes Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality (2009). Got a copy of that a few weeks ago.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Q & A with Bruce A. McClelland, Part 4

For the previous installment, click here.
AH: A few years before you wrote your book, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended its run on television. During its time, there was a resurgence of interest in the vampire hunter (like Blade and Van Helsing) but now we're back in the realm of vampires again with Meyer's Twilight series.

Do you see the vampire hunter coming back into fashion and are there any examples you can think of, which would provide the catalyst for its return?

BAM: As with my answer to question 5, above, the "fashions" or permutations of the main elements of the vampire myth may or may not involve "infinitely malleable signifiers." Among my current interests (see below, q. 8) is to determine what is so marketable about this genre, and what its possible transformations are. I once thought, as a kid (same time as I was watching Hammer films, I suppose) that rock-and-roll also was permanent, and since it lasted into the 90s, by some definitions, and since those vampires The Rolling Stones are still kicking around, it appears that it is possible to hold onto a category, so long as you are willing to extend its boundaries and make it malleable and permeable. But there comes a time when the essential components of the category, which constitute its essence or identity, are no longer visible, at which point it becomes useful to wonder whether you still have the same thing, or something, Monty Pythonesquely, completely different.

Abstractly, your question involves two intersecting dimensions: one has to do with the nature of the cycles of popular culture fashions, the other with the philosophical dynamics that are at the base of the vampire theme. Crudely, the latter is easily represented as a dualistic conflict between good and evil, life and death, light and dark, blah blah. That essential human social drama, like the vampire perhaps, is not going to die, at least in my lifetime. But the specifics of the myth, like those of the defunct mythologies of the Greeks or Egyptians or Hittites or Etruscans or whoever, with their attendant ritual verbiage and gestures, may indeed pass into other forms.

I think the better way to think about it, especially nowadays with global mass media, is that the world's societies are coming into contact more frequently and faster than ever before – much faster than in centuries past – and so the capacities of societies to rearrange their categories and boundaries, in order to update knowledge of who is one of us and who is one of them, are being outpaced by this increasing contact, with its concomitant conflicts of styles and modalities. In the final analysis, the vampire story is essentially about that: who is us (the living, the real, the valuable), and who is them (the dead, the unreal, the worthless or abject). The role of the slayer, as I point out throughout my book, is to validate the boundaries that a society creates in order to exclude (literally excommunicate) certain members. The slayer, the seer, the hunter of vampires is, like a superhero, by definition always on the side of the ostensible Good (Us). And where We may feel guilty about designating certain among us as Other, we need someone to validate our need for a scapegoat without holding Us responsible.

So I think of the dyad of vampire/slayer as a dynamic for expressing a certain range of social tensions, among a drifting palette of other, similar dynamics to represent other types of social tension. In the case of the vampire, as well as the witch, the issue has always been the Enemy Within: someone who is so much like us that he or she might be attractive to us, but is also a threat because he or she is also essentially alien (dead, Communist, what have you). In socioeconomic terms and with respect to the history of vampire cinema/TV, now that Eastern Europeans are starting to look so much like those of us in the NATO world (and I am in Sofia, Bulgaria as I write and attest to that), the image of the terrorist is now starting to absorb much of the semantics of the East European monster of the 1930s. That is, in America at any rate, we must now all take off our shoes to get on an airplane, even 93-year-old half-crippled WASPs like my father-in-law, because any one of us may be a terrorist (or Communist again, if the Republicans have their way in changing the predominant label back to something more familiar). The hunter has to re-emerge. To all extents and purposes, Jack Bauer (of "24") is a vampire hunter: he is outside the system, he is as violent and morally degraded as his enemy (i.e. he can "see" them), yet he is on the Right Side because he allows the rest of the system to wrap its citizens in ignorant comfort, blind to any sense of injustice or moral compromise.)

Whether the fashion of the vampire hunter per se will re-emerge is unclear. Certainly if the dangerous vampire is co-opted and ingested into human (read: European) society, so that he no longer seems so foreign or threatening, then we may be tacitly admitting that there are other stories in which real people (e.g. "terrorists") can be portrayed as much more dangerous than the vampire ever was. In any case, we still seem to need hunters and seers (e.g. Blackwater), people who know who the terrorists are and how to destroy them, so we can stay safe and keep on doing whatever it was we were doing before.

AH: Do you have any upcoming works in the vampire genre? Are there other avenues within it that you'd like to explore?

BAM: Well, as I mentioned above, I just finished a chapter for a new book on True Blood, in which I look at the co-optation of the vampire as the potentially eternal consumer. There are some people urging me now to look at what incentives (social, financial, …) are driving the current reconfiguration of the vampire story into something almost unrecognizable from the early horror and Orientalism of Dracula. I even have a tentative title: "What's Up with All These Vampires? The Truth about the Untruth about the Undead." The point of that subtitle is that, except for the emergence of blogs like yours, and Niels', and Rob Brautigam's Shroudeater and a few others, most people really don't want to understand the sociodynamics, true history, cultural anthropology or even the psychology of the vampire mytheme. There is a reason, going back to your second question above, that people really don't want to look too deeply at the Slavic or folkloric or religious roots of the vampire (a reason, that is, that goes beyond the general Enlightenment chauvinism behind Western European attitudes toward East European culture). The fact that there are so many TV pseudo-documentaries called something like "The Truth about/The Real Story of/behind {Dracula, The Undead, Vampires, Bloodsuckers, etc.}", each consulting the same talking heads with the same talking points (usually taking us all the way back to Vlad the Impaler[!], suggesting this may be a Romanian conspiracy), suggests a kind of cover-up. None of the stories on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel or any of those pseudo-educational televenues (I don't know what you've got in Australia) really goes very far or very deep, and I suspect that's exactly the way people like it.

So I'm interested, vaguely, in that: what is it about vampires (or other phenomena similarly treated) that we don't really want to know? There's something there, some thrill or frisson or furtiveness –eroticism?-- behind our tendency to always prefer the sensational over the actual. This something is what allows the media industry to keep spinning stuff out of the very term 'vampire', even though the vampire's shape has shifted drastically.

Another avenue, if I get the time, is the relationship of the vampire to the early Enlightenment, that period of magia posthuma that Niels is rightfully so gung-ho about. I gave a talk at the University of Chicago in 2008, where I was invited by Bruce Lincoln, who was then teaching a course on vampires at the Divinity School, in which I looked closely at the imperative to explain away the folkloric vampire on the part of both the scientists and clergymen (esp. Dom Calmet) of the day. I'd like to expand on that theme, and look more closely at what I consider a concerted attack on the imagination when it is not in the service of technology, which leads to the death or incipient irrelevance of religion, folklore, etc. It's a critical time, in European intellectual history, and the vampire – once a networked member of an elaborate and confusing South Slavic demonology – plays a significant part.

Otherwise, I'm trying to get back into fiction. I defined myself as a poet for thirty-plus years, and while I don't think I can move back into that space for now, I would like to return to "creative writing." The only long fiction I've ever had published, by the way, was a novel I wrote in Russian (and published in a Petersburg literary journal), which was entitled "Hot War: Memoirs of an American Vampire in Moscow."
I'd like thank Bruce for his time, patience and excellent responses to my questions. I'd also recommend checking out his interview with Chris Detloff, for further discussion on his view of the undead and those who hunt 'em.

Q & A with Bruce A. McClelland, Part 3

For the previous installment, click here.
AH: In this light, what do you think the next phase of the vampire's etymological evolution holds? Or do you believe that the current incarnation is too firmly embedded in popular consciousness to fade away?

BAM: That's a great question, and one I am considering for a new book. Clearly, the vampire is no longer a consequence of an ecclesiastical belief system, but rather what an anthropologist friend of mine once referred to as an "infinitely malleable signifier." More cynically, the vampire is a theme that has become so deeply engrained in our [Western] consciousness, which is increasingly less ecclesiastical as official-political religion becomes desperately more fundamentalist and thereby makes itself less and less relevant, that its way of encoding the conflicting positions and desires of the powerful and the powerless continues to make for new stories. Which can, it seems, be sold to ever younger audiences for new dollars. I think the new phenomenon of Twilight and True Blood, which starts, probably, with Anne Rice's simplistic but clever inversion of the protagonist/antagonist dynamic in Interview with the Vampire, may represent a kind of death knell for the vampire as we know him/it. We are getting further and further away, with each new unbaptized generation, from having any awareness of the deeper religious and eschatological conflicts that underlie the vampire myth. Certainly, the scapegoat theme is still the profane essence of the story, so what we have now are movies and TV shows in which outsiders no longer seek autonomy or identity, but inclusion in the post-liberal manufacturing and consumption system. The blood-drinking aspect of the vampire represents a nice Freudian combination of eroticism with violence, but there are so many other dramas out there that deal with that subject more literally and directly.

Twilight, it seems to me, is aimed at neutralizing the fear of the male that has been generated by the proliferation of the pornographies of sex and violence, and by glorified popular culture images of sexual behavior as soulless and violent (leaving adolescent and pre-adolescent girls with no better models of the female/feminine than such degraded, manufactured images as Brittany Spears and her desperate retro-pubescent exhibitionism).

The popularity of the vampire waxes and wanes, historically, but let's not forget that his true popularity is only 80 years old, hardly eternal. Stoker did not die a rich man, and in the Slavic countries, the vampire is nothing special (at least in the folklore history). I have recently contributed a chapter to a forthcoming book entitled True Blood and Philosphy (Wiley/Blackwell, 2010), the very existence of which suggests that as soon as these media events (Buffy, True Blood, Twilight, etc.) are produced, they are analyzed to generate meta-products for another, ostensibly sympathetic audience. There is a new industry, in other words, of neo-scholarship trying to make itself relevant to an increasingly illiterate society, by paying almost serious attention to what would otherwise pass as mere entertainment. How long that can go on is anybody's guess, but currently, it doesn't feel as though the vampire has many places to go to get out of this trap.

AH: The ninth and tenth chapters of your book present your case for Bram Stoker's characterisation of Abraham Van Helsing being inspired by Dutch physician, Gerard van Swieten. Would you care to explain the link between the two and why you believe Stoker was influenced by him?

BAM: Because Stoker played so close to the vest regarding his model for Van Helsing, the subject is of course liable to much speculation, and my opinion on the subject is far from being widely accepted. I should say at the outset that there was one brief moment, several years ago, when I came across an article on the Internet by a scholar, a physician I think, whose name I don't remember and whose article I can no longer find, who had absolutely independently come to the same conclusion on the basis of some of Stoker's notes he had read at the Rosenbach Foundation Museum in Philadelphia. Elizabeth Miller patently rejects the idea, claiming, not without justification, deep familiarity with the Stoker collection at the Rosenbach. Still, I was encouraged by the same conclusion being put forth independently by someone who mentioned the link between Vans Swieten and Helsing, almost in passing. How I wish I could find his paper! [Dear Sir: if you are reading this, please contact me with the reference that led you to the conclusion that Stoker had drawn upon the character of Van Swieten for his character Van Helsing.]

First of all, while I'm willing to admit that Van Helsing is a fictional character and thus a composite of possibly multiple acquaintances and prototypes, I can't buy the common argument that Arminius Vambery was the model for VH (see Arminius Vambery). They have virtually nothing in common. Stoker's reference to his "friend Arminius" in Dracula is homage, of course, but I think more a matter of gratitude and indeed, respect or friendship, not a winking hint that Vambery=Van Helsing.

At the famous 1890 meeting between Stoker and Vambery at the Beefsteak Club, this Hungarian adventurer and agent provocateur supposedly regaled his British audience with his knowledge of not only Transylvania, but also Central Asia, where he had traveled widely, sometimes as a spy speaking a Turkic language and dressed as a dervish or what-not. Recall that Vambery's personal and somewhat covert mission in London was to garner support for his brand of Pan-Turkism, which in theory the British might have supported because of its anti-Russian position. Vambery gave lectures in London about his ideas, and it is possible, perhaps likely, that Stoker attended one or two. Pure speculation so far.

But although Elizabeth denies the significance of the connection between Stoker and Vambery, being, in my opinion, unnecessarily cautious but nevertheless scholarly, she ignores the fact that two years before the publication of Dracula, Vambery had published, in English, with Allen and Unwin, The History of Hungary. In that book, which I have a copy of, he mentions both Dracula (Vlad III) and Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria and Hungary, albeit in different chapters, of course. (So far as I recall, he does not mention Van Swieten.) As an historian of Hungary, including Transylvania, he certainly knew more about Vlad's exploits than he brings into his book, since these were widely known from the fifteenth century on. Considering that Vambery was a Pan-Turkist, and that Vlad's father, Vlad II Dracul, was a member of a paramilitary band sworn to fight the Turks, this might explain both the short shrift that Vambery gives to Dracula in his history, and a reason to associate Dracula's widely known bloodthirstiness and anti-Turkish rage with evil. (Though without the Romanian fighters against the Turks, Hungary may have remained under Ottoman domination longer than it did.)

Furthermore, Vambery must have known a good deal about Van Swieten, since he was the principal and most trusted advisor to Maria Theresa in a number of matters. If he knew about Van Swieten, he also knew about his Consideration, Swieten's treatise on magia posthuma, since among the first significant duties of Van Swieten was to investigate the goings-on with vampires in Silesia in 1755.

Following the above logic, we so far have a link between Stoker→Vambery→Vlad III/ →Maria Theresa→Van Swieten. Interesting, but not yet convincing. But if we now look at the common characteristics of Van Helsing and Van Swieten, in this context they seem to be more than purely accidental. Both are, for example:

(a) Dutch (Vambery was Hungarian);
(b) knowledgeable about vampires (Van Swieten was one of the first Western authors on the subject);
(c) physicians;
(d) holders of professional credentials in other areas (Van Swieten was Chief Censor and Head Librarian for the court of Maria Theresa); and
(e) perhaps most importantly, Catholic (see "Envisioning an indulgence: Dracula (1897) & Van Helsing (2004)").

Vambery, meanwhile, possesses virtually none of those features in common with Van Helsing (or Van Swieten), but he would have known all those things about Van Swieten. Or, if Vambery did not mention them specifically, Stoker could have easily learned more about Van Swieten, as a result of interest piqued by Vambery's stories, at the British Museum (speculation).

Between the demonstrable pathways from Stoker to knowledge about vampires (Transylvanian folklore, which of course he also learned about later from Land Across the Forest), Vlad Dracula, and Gerard van Swieten, on the one hand, and the more-than-coincidental morphological similarity between the fictional Abraham Van Helsing and the real Van Swieten on the other, I am hard pressed to accept any other model for Van Helsing proposed to date. This is especially true because no other hypotheses ever offer evidence that even comes close to refuting that put forth above. But, to be honest, although I think this connection is close to being demonstrated, it's not a subject I'm going to pursue any further, at least actively.
To be continued...

Q & A with Bruce A. McClelland, Part 2

For the previous installment, click here.
AH: Your book puts particular emphasis on a Bulgarian etymology for the origins of vampires. Do you think their contribution has been more historically important, than, say, the Serbian influence? If so, why?

BAM: If by Serbian vampires you are referring to the vrakolaka (with variant spellings) described by Perkowski, the etymology for that term is both clearer than and entirely different from that of the word vampir, from which, of course, the English vampire/vampyre derives. My dissertation focused on the Bulgarian vampire because, I believe, that is where the term comes into existence (recalling that present-day Macedonia was part of the Bulgarian empire, yet is only a stone's throw from present-day Serbia). My hypothesis concerns the religious and social conflict between the Christianizing forces coming into Bulgaria from Byzantium and the indigenous groups (Slavs and leftover Thracians, mostly) that in some cases resisted the attempts to make them give up their lifestyle, rituals and beliefs, which consisted of animal sacrifice and (possibly) belief in reincarnation, or at least a cyclical view of nature (where Christianity is teleological). I would contend that in much Bulgarian folklore, the frequently encountered hostility between vampires and wolves might in fact reflect some friction in the contact between the Serbian vrkolaka (literally, "wolf pelt") and the Bulgaro-Macedonian vampir. The "demon contamination" problem in the Balkans that Perkowski alludes to is very real, but is in fact just an example of semantic shift due to cultural contact. The more interesting question to me is when and how both of those vampires acquire some of the features of the western witch.

AH: Another angle explored in your book, is the transition from the etymological origins of the vampire as a type of heretic to a bloodsucking corpse. How did this transition take place and why?

BAM: The answer to that question, I'm afraid, took me an entire dissertation to provide (and even there, we don't really have enough data to be completely confident in the analysis). But, quickly, my claim is that the word vampir originally designated a small group (for if it were a larger group, we'd expect to find more evidence of the term) of people, probably agrarian Slavs, who had drawn the enmity of the Byzantine Christianizers because of their participation in pagan rituals, in particular, animal sacrifice. (The frequent polemics, although superficially directed against sacrifice, upon closer inspection turn out to have been directed at the revelry and abandonment (e.g. drinking, licentiousness) that accompanied such sacrificial rituals, as these were offensive to the Christian requirement for self-restraint and denial, or at least sublimation.) Eventually, the "pagans" were absorbed into the mainstream Orthodox Christian society, having no longer any official apologist for their beliefs. But, I surmise, the word vampir persisted, now with a general connotation of "someone who participates in anti- or un-Christian behavior." I suppose the term may have smacked of political resistance, since the Byzantines were indeed a political as much as a religious force in the late medieval Balkans. When the dualist sect known as Bogomils gained a foothold in the Balkans, their dualist and clearly anti-ecclesiastical beliefs represented a clear threat to the project of Christianizing Bulgaria, and they were the first "heretics" in the Balkans. I believe that the term vampir was then once again extended to refer not to the defunct pagans, but now the heretics (who, unlike their pagan predecessors, did not perform sacrifices, and in fact believed that the entire liturgical system of Orthodox ritual and symbolism (including the crucifix) was nonsense). Now the term took on an even broader meaning, suggesting apostasy and anathema. When the Bogomils went underground (to reemerge in southern Europe as Cathars, etc., where Dan Brown and Michael Baigent pick up the story), the word vampir, which no longer had any specific referents, came to be synonymous with "excommunicate." In late XVI or early XVII Macedonia, if I recall, the word is definitely associated with excommunication. Excommunication was a serious adverse status in an Orthodox Christian state, and among its eschatological implications was that the excommunicate could not undergo proper funerary procedures, and that his (or rarely, her) soul would not be able to rest, and the body would be rejected by the earth (admittedly, a later folk explanation). It is not a far leap from the soul being in a state of unrest (merging with the broader, proto-Slavic category of the "unquiet dead") to the image of a deceased body that is somehow still animated but soulless. Blood-sucking is a much later attribute, perhaps derived from desacralization/desymbolization of the Christian Eucharist, and most likely connected to ideas about witchcraft. I don't see much evidence for blood-sucking until the early 18th century, though there may have been some reflexes of Dionysian ritual involved (where the wine=blood symbolic connection seems to have preceded the Christian myth).
To be continued...

Q & A with Bruce A. McClelland, Part 1

As promised, here's is my interview with Bruce A. McClelland, author of Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006).

He's the third subject of "Q & A", after Niels K. Petersen (part 1; part 2) and Martin V. Riccardo (part 1; part 2).

As per usual, I sent the questions by e-mail ("RE: Possible Interview", Monday, 15 February 2010 11:29:31 AM), but revised the last question ("RE: Possible Interview", Wednesday, 17 February 2010 2:10:14 PM). His answers arrived soon after ("RE: Possible Interview", Tuesday, 30 March 2010 10:26:14 AM), only held up by his general busyness and trip to Bulgaria.

I do warn you though, his responses are quite lengthy. So, I've decided to break the interview up into four parts, with two questions/answers per part. Rest assured, they're worth it.

I even considered sending the thing off to Folklore or the Journal of Folklore Research, before realising they'd probably edit the hell out of it. I didn't want to rob you guys of the fullness of the interview, so I decided to stick to the original plan and post it here. Not such a bad thing, considering that Bruce also provided a few weblinks within his responses. The ones he's typed out, I've integrated into the relevant piece o' text.

Bruce A. McClelland (Photo: Jen Fariello)

So, dear reader, I now present the first part of "Q & A" with Bruce A. McClelland.
Anthony Hogg: You've published "four books of poetry, a book of translations of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam", among others, so what exactly drew you to the vampire? When did they first start capturing your attention?

Bruce A. McClelland: The first horror movies I went to as a kid were those great Hammer Studios/Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee updates of the Universal Pictures monster movies of the Thirties (particularly Horror of Dracula (1958), as it was called in the US, and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The Technicolor dimension made the bloody scenes more vivid than blood really is (I don't know whether it was the film color or the way they made stage blood, but in my memory, Hammer blood was bright, scarlet red, without the blue component that characterizes real human blood). A few years later, as an early adolescent, I was further attracted to such horror films by the bustiness of the faux Central European milkmaids, vampire wives and girlfriends, etc. Mario Bava and Barbara Steele didn't hurt. So: to answer your question, I was generally interested in monster/horror at the ripe old age of 7, and vampires were just members of the monster club: in fact, I was a charter subscriber to a magazine called "Famous Monsters of Filmland", which I think I subscribed to until it went belly-up.

I should add that as I grew more, um, serious, my passion for horror movies waned. But my interest in Dracula returned in the mid-70s with the publication of McNally and Florescu's In Search of Dracula, which led me to investigate the historical aspects of the Dracula story. Out of that came other investigations, including reading Perkowski's Vampires of the Slavs, which first united my interest in Slavic language and my interest in vampires, and my thinking coalesced into my first book of poetry, The Dracula Poems (1976).

AH: In 2006, you published what has been called the "first book to explore the origins of the vampire slayer", Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Why do you think this trope of the vampire mythos has been largely neglected in academia?

BAM: Academia, as you call it, until recently was never really aware of any aspect of the vampire outside the literary and cinematic (especially the former). The vampire was received, or as I usually claim, stolen from the Balkans in a kind of Orientalistic frenzy, without any regard for the accompanying religious and folk context. The Slavic vampire was only one type of folkloric being among several in Balkan lower mythology, even up to the 1980s, and nomenclature for only one member of a class of entities across the entire peninsula that had similar and historically related nocturnal and demonic attributes. If you look at the history of English language vampire research, you'll note that most articles and books don't cite even one primary Slavic source, and the usually erroneous statements about the pre-history of the vampire always rely on secondary or tertiary sources. Until Perkowski's work in the mid-Seventies, with few exceptions Anglo-American and continental European research on the vampire confined itself to the research available in Germanic and Romance languages. It was the English novel Dracula, after all, that made the vampire a hit (with a tip o' the hat to Varney, of course), at least in the US and UK. And in Dracula, as in most subsequent films, the image of the slayer is much less important than the character of the protagonist, Count Dracula.

The usual struggle between a hero/superhero and some dragon/demon/devil/evildoer that is the basis of countless popular movies isn't really present in the Dracula story in quite the same way: there are four or five rather bumbling heroes in Stoker's novel (which Polanski satirizes brilliantly), and Dracula's incredible (if putative and only circumstantially discovered) powers are only equaled by the combination of two psychic forces among the human antagonists (viz. Mina and Van Helsing, a point I elaborate in my book). Furthermore, in virtually all cases, the focus is on the method of vanquishing Dracula, but not so much on the character of the destroyer. (Going back to Peter Cushing in The Horror of Dracula, his Van Helsing is more heroic (and flawed) in nature than most other versions, he has more personality or stage presence, so there certainly is a precedent for making the vampire's antagonist a protagonist, but the identity and character of the hero are still less at issue than what kinds of powers are required to meet those of the vampire.)

I'm sorry to be so longwinded about this, but your question has lots of implications. It's really not until Buffy that academics writing about American popular culture actually began to make an industry of discussing an interesting, but hardly incredible television series. I might add that Buffy talks a good game about vampires, but in fact most of the demons in the show are anonymous and draw their physical attributes more from the same pool of visual characteristics and effects as are applied in those films that derive from latter-day neo-Catholic misappropriation of Inquisition demonology (e.g. The Exorcist, The Omen, and the Dan Brown stuff).
To be continued...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Not Quite Dormant

Bruce A. McClelland, author of Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006) is next in line for my Q & A series, so stay tuned for that.


In the meantime, here's a little something I came across not long ago: a call for papers to an upcoming conference on vampires, called "Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture":
The aim of the conference is to relate the undead in literature, art, and other media to questions concerning gender, technology, consumption, and social change. It will provide an interdisciplinary forum for the development of innovative and creative research and examine these creatures in all their various manifestations and cultural meaning.
It'll be held at the University of Hertfordshire, in the UK, on April 16-18.


Yesterday, I finished reading Mark Collins Jenkins' Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2010), which I briefly discussed here.

With hindsight, I may have been a little hard on the book in my first assessment. For starters, I wasn't aware, at the time, that it had a notes section (277-287) to cover the source material of the chapters. This was because there are no footnotes throughout in the primary the text. I presume they weren't included to make the narrative flow more smoothly. But, of course, for the scholar, this can frustrating for cross-referencing purposes.

Interestingly, the coverage given to vampires proper, is relatively slim. The majority of the book seems to concern itself with funerary rites, burial practices and scraps of folklore from around the world, to give broader context for the vampire belief.

The range of sources (288-296) consulted for the book is fairly diverse and interesting, but also means that the book tends to lose sight of its vampire focus. I would've preferred the Slavic angle to be given much bigger scope than the treatment it got. For this aspect, I simply need to revert to the works of Perkowski, Barber and McClelland, which made the book a little redundant for me.

That's not to say it's not well-written, mind you. It certainly is. Collins has a rich prose and unites seemingly divergent threads under a single banner, but that doesn't cut it for me. Not when it comes to the undead. Especially with a book called Vampire Forensics.
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