A History of Sacrifice, Girard, and vampires…

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It is possible to read the history, first of the Christianized West, then of the Westernized planet, our modern history, as … a process of vindication and rehabilitation of more and more persecuted victims. New hidden victims of society are continuously being brought to light; the consensus against them always dissolves after a while. First it was slaves, then the lower classes, then people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Today the victimization of ethnic groups, of women, of handicapped people, of the very young and the very old, is coming to light.” (Girard Reader 208)

cited p31, Matthew Kratter ‘Twilight of the Vampires: History and the Myth of the Undead’ Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Volume 5, Spring 1998, pp. 30-45

Kratter continues: “It may well prove that “Sacrifice” (with a capital “S”) is the single most important and comprehensive word that we possess to describe our history.

The central contention of this essay is that the phenomenon of the vampire offers itself as a privileged site for exploring this work of the Paraclete in history. The very processes of “bringing to light” and “exhuming victims,” described by Girard above, are certainly metaphors appropriate to the twilit world of the vampire, in which the undead are always being dug up or exposed to die light. If I maintain that, this late in the twentieth century, we are living in the “twilight of the vampires,” the allusion to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and Nietzsche’s Götzen-dämmerung is not accidental. The ambiguity of the German verb dämmern(which can mean “to grow dark” or “to grow light”) captures all the paradoxes that surround the mythologizing, demythologizing, and remythologizing of the traditional figure of the vampire. I will explore these paradoxes in five successive moments (in the most archaic and traditional form taken by the vampire, then in a medieval persecution text, a late-Victorian novel, a German Expressionist film, and finally a series of [-p32] contemporary popular novels) in order to demonstrate the various metamorphoses undergone by the vampire throughout a history which may be viewed as overseen by the Paraclete—and by a recalcitrantly violent humanity.

Vampires are found in every traditional culture, where they always inspire fear, horror, revulsion, as well as fascination and even reverence. In world mythology and folklore, the traditional vampire is represented as a terrifying sacred figure, a monstrous Other who threatens to destroy, but also paradoxically possesses the ability to benefit, the community. The dual nature of this representation suggests that we might read the traditional vampire in the light of Girard’s “double transference,” in which a persecuting community attributes its own disorder and order to a persecuted victim (Things Hidden 27). This would seem to imply that the traditional vampire is originally nothing more than an innocent victim who has been transfigured (or “mythologized”) by collective persecution. One way of testing this hypothesis is to see if we can discover any tell-tale signs of the original victim(s). In The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, Montague Summers provides a useful composite portrait of the vampire as it is represented throughout the world:

‘A Vampire is generally described as being exceedingly gaunt and lean with a hideous countenance. . . . When, however, he has satiated his lust for warm human blood his body becomes horribly puffed and bloated, as though he were some great leech gorged and replete to bursting. . . the nails are always curved and crooked, often well-nigh the length of a great bird’s claw, the quicks dirty and foul with clots and gouts of black blood. His breath is unbearably fetid and rank with corruption, the stench of the charnel.’ (179)” (pp31-33)

Kratter continues: “In this passage, physical deformity and moral monstrosity are so bound up with each other that it is difficult to disentangle them. Yet, if Girard is correct in his analysis of myths and persecution texts, the physical deformity always corresponds to actual traits possessed by the victim (which serve the dual function of originally attracting the violent mob’s attention and appearing as a physical signifier of the victim’s supposed moral flaws), while the moral monstrosity exists only in the minds of the victimizers and is projected onto the innocent victim (Scapegoat 34-5).” (p33)

Ref: Matthew Kratter ‘Twilight of the Vampires: History and the Myth of the Undead’ Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Volume 5, Spring 1998, pp. 30-45

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