Whoever fights monsters


“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, IV, 146) (quoted Kratter, p.31)

Considering “the paradoxes that surround the mythologizing, demythologizing, and remythologizing of the traditional figure of the vampire” (p.31), Matthew Kratter draws on Girard to argue that “the scapegoat mechanism […] lies at the root of the vampire myth” (p.41). He considers five ‘moments’: “(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 [-p.32] contemporary popular novels) in order to demonstrate the various metamorphoses undergone by the vampire throughout a history….” (pp.31-32)

He writes: “Vampires are found in every traditional culture [Note: this is something Dundes refutes], 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.” (p.32)

“In Violence and the Sacred, Girard writes that [‘]any community that has fallen prey to violence or has been stricken by some overwhelming catastrophe hurls itself blindly into the search for a scapegoat. Its members instinctively seek an immediate and violent cure for the onslaught of unbearable violence and strive desperately to convince themselves that all their ills are the fault of a lone individual who can be easily disposed of.[‘] (79-80)” (quoted, Kratter p.34)

“Ernest Jones reminds us that even as late as 1855, a cholera epidemic in Danzig resulted in mass hysteria and the widespread belief that the plague had been spread by vampires (Jones 123). We know now that “plagues” are the result of bacteria or viruses—though with the advent of AIDS, the links between blood, plague, and the search for scapegoats (e.g. gay men, promiscuous heterosexuals, the CIA, etc.) have reemerged in a startling new constellation. Even as the vampire is being demystified in our world, even as we are at last becoming conscious of our new interpretive ability to “see through” myths and persecution texts, the vampire is being remythologized and reborn in a thousand new incarnations. Such is the durability of the old sacrificial order that under attack, like the HIV virus, it goes underground and reemerges in new strains. Before our culture congratulates itself on having moved beyond the need to believe in demonic powers, the need to project our own violence onto symbols of absolute evil, we would be well-advised to notice that any secularization of Satan that has occurred over the last hundred years has been accompanied by an extraordinary revitalization of the vampire myth.
In other words, if our age is no longer able to believe in the “opera Sathanae,” it does believe in Dracula, who is a kind of secularized or media popularized Satan. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, first published in 1897, has never [-p.36] been out of print and has been the subject of more films than any other novel.” (pp.35-36)

Stoker’s Dracula is a vampire at the crossroads, where the traditional monster of folklore meets modernity—where the primitive Sacred is incarnated in contemporary times and invades the modern metropolis.” (p.36)

We have seen how the vampire always invades the community from without, bringing with it violence, social disorder, undifferentiation, or (which is the same thing) the plague. Although the vampire is clearly a symbol of internal social meltdown, he is always connected to the invading Other.” (p.37)

With Rice’s attractive, almost Byronic vampires, we have come a long way from the bloated and pestilent figures of folklore, or even Murnau’s melancholic Nosferatu. In fact, much of Rice’s tremendous popularity seems to derive from her ability to reanimate other hackneyed nineteenth-century formulae, such as the fusion of sexuality and death. Take, for example, the following description of blood-drinking by one of the vampires in The Queen of the Damned:
[‘]The blood is all things sensual that a creature could desire; it’s the intimacy of that moment—drinking, killing—the great heart-to-heart dance that takes place as the victim weakens and I feel myself expanding, swallowing the death which, for a split second, blazes as large as life.[‘] (Rice 1988, 3)
In the era of AIDS, Rice’s vampires obviously provide vicarious titillation for a generation that has been taught to fear all exchange of blood and bodily fluids. Unfortunately, her uncritical portrayal of eroticized violence also turns the original victim into a victimizer. The vampire-outcast is remade in the image of sexual liberator and counter-cultural hero, and then imitated in neo-Byronic fashion—as is evident to anyone who has seen the black cloaks, fake fangs and blood on American university campuses, or witnessed the recent proliferation of neo-Gothic nightclubs and music videos, which manage to combine sado-masochism and blood-drinking with a renewed obsession with the undead.” (p.42)

“…our secular thinkers believe that the sunlight of modern scientific rationality has [-p.43] finally destroyed the phantom of superstition, but at the same time there is the growing concern that what we are witnessing is just one more version of the myth of regeneration through violence. Nietzsche’s comment about the growing inability to distinguish monster-hunter from monster becomes prophetic of our modem dilemma. How are we simultaneously to see absolute evil for what it is, while still maintaining pity for the innocent victim (Nosferatu? Mina?)? And how are we to side with the innocent victim without turning him into a victimizer or an idol (as Rice does), or succumbing to the endless cycle ofretributive justice?” (pp.42-43)

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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