Race, Sex and vampires


“Drawing on several feminist and anti-racist theorists,” Shannon Winnubst “use[s] the trope of the vampire to unravel how whiteness, maleness, and heterosexuality feed on the same set of disavowals—of the body, of the Other, of fluidity, of dependency itself. I then turn to Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (1991) for a counternarrative that, along with Donna Haraway’s reading of vampires (1997), retools concepts of kinship and self that undergird racism, sexism, and heterosexism in contemporary U.S. culture.” (p.1)

She begins with a consideration of the ‘nightmare’ of the black rapist in white America, explaining that “With no foothold in actual statistics on interracial violence or rape, it nonetheless functions as a myth that structures race, gender, sexuality, and class in the United States. Both real and unreal, it is a collective nightmare that structures power in U.S. culture.” (p.2) She goes on: “Several subject positions are idealized and worked out in this scene. They are idealized not as utopic but as regulative ideals.” (p.2)

“The codings of this particular scene are fairly explicit: the “raced” man is designated as violent; all girls are designated as potential victims of rape; the white girl is designated as the most highly cathected target of “raced” male violence; and rapists are designated as “raced.”” (p.2)

“The dynamics between these subject positions are ones of fear, aggression, violence, and mutual distrust—and threaded through all of these is a subtle intonation of desire, evidenced in the fantasizing of the crime as a sexual crime.” (p.2)

“This collective nightmare performs some of our worst cultural anxieties—about desire, fear, and aggression; about gender, sexuality, and race; about history, bodies, and violence. It sets the scene of gender and race as the scene of sex and violence, instilling fear in all gendered and raced (that is, all “marked”) bodies. It is a myth that will not stop haunting us, even as we prove its mythical status.” (p.2)

Methodologically speaking, Winnubst explains: “I begin with Lacan (1977) and his predecessor, G.W.F. Hegel (1977). [/] As both of these writers, writers who are surely exemplars of “western civilization’s ethos,” develop across their corpus of texts, Otherness is that disavowed but constitutive necessity for the possibility of subject formation. Otherness is that which “we” (that is, we white, rational, upstanding subjects) depend on and simultaneously disavow. We disavow our dependence, thereby announcing ourselves as freely created individuals, freely chosen subjects in a world made for our taking.” (p.3)

“I want to look more carefully at these boundaries—boundaries between self and Other; and the projection of this internal, psychic Otherness onto boundaries between physical selves and others. I want to look more carefully at these boundaries and projections, at our cultural obsession with them, and at the violences that these produce.” (p.4)

“Richard Dyer, in his provocative book White (1997), argues that heterosexuality always protects whiteness in the contemporary cultures of the United States and Great Britain (1997, 3–8). (One could argue, further, that this protective stance between heterosexuality and whiteness also extends globally….” (p.5)

“The principle of incarnation, which sets Christianity apart from other monotheistic religions, is to be in the body but not of it—to appear in the world in flesh but always to be capable of transcending it, to suffer the temptations of the flesh but always to transcend them into the purified realms of spirit.” (p.5)

“As Dyer writes, “[t]he invisibility of whiteness as a racial position in white (which is to say dominant) discourse is of a piece with its ubiquity” (1997, 3). Invisibility and ubiquity. Whiteness maintains its power in our racist cultural symbolic through its invisibility: to be white is not to be of a race, it is just to be “human,” “a person,” “an individual.” This is also how maleness and heterosexuality operate: in erasing themselves as anything particular, they parade (silently, invisibly) as the universal, as the norm, as “natural.” Again, the erasure of the body, as the material index of particularity, is a fundamental necessity for the universality of the subject. It can maintain its strict and rigid boundaries from all others by denying itself the very condition of possibility of boundaries, corporeality.” (p.6)

“In Modest_Witness @ Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_Oncomouse (1997), Donna Haraway beckons us to the figure of the vampire: she initiates us into the rituals surrounding the vampire’s nutrition, the rituals of blood. As she writes, “A figure that both promises and threatens racial and sexual mixing, the vampire feeds off the normalized human, and the monster finds such contaminated food to be nutritious. The vampire also insists on the nightmare of racial violence behind the fantasy of purity in the rituals of kinship” (1997, 214). If the obsession with strictly defined and rigidly upheld boundaries haunts western conceptions of subjectivity, perhaps the figure who lives by crossing those boundaries tells us something about how they are made and how they might be dismantled. And so I turn to the vampire, that figure who confounds corporeality itself.
The iconography of vampires has been alive and well in Western European and North American cultural psyches since the popularization of vampire stories in the late eighteenth century (Haraway 1997, 215; Case 1991, 4). As many studies have shown, the linking of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism is often unmistakable in the majority of these stories.8 Jews, like whores and blacks and queers, are vampiric—in the fantasy life of Western European and North American psyches.
And so what is it to be a vampire? And what are these anxieties that keep calling us white folks back to their bloody stories?
Veronica Hollinger (1997) explains that, in these days of deconstructing boundaries, vampires have become “the monster-of-choice . . . since it is itself a deconstructive figure” (1997, 201).” (p.7)

The vampire pollutes all systems of kinship, pollutes all systems of blood, pollutes all systems of race and sex and desire that must be straight. He infects the body and thereby alters the spirit—no body can transcend the metamorphoses of his bite, not even the straight white male body that is in the flesh but supposedly not of it. The vampire crosses even these boundaries and, with powers that are transfixing for the rigid self of the white male heterosexual, brings his victims across them as well.” (p.8)

I particularly enjoyed Winnubst’s discussion of how the vampire challenges our conception of kinship systems with its different reproductive strategies (using Jewelle Gomez’s vampire novel. The Gilda Stories). Drawing on Donna Haraway’s Modest_Witness @ Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse, Winnubst continues:

“Running with these transformed and transformative dynamics of vampiric kinship, Haraway offers ways around apocalyptic prophesies of twenty-first century technoscience. She develops these vampiric kinship dynamics as dynamics of affections and affinities, not of substance (1997, 214–16). No longer a matter of nature or biology, kinship becomes a particular mode of reading the many fl owing affections, affinities, connections, and intensities that circulate amidst bodies in the world. Removing us from romanticism’s last vestiges in the neo-Darwinian valorizing of organic bonds (whether read through hematology or genetics) towards the technoscientific, cyborg connections of affinities, intensities, and energies, Haraway asks us to follow the vampire through its mazes of connections and disconnections—not just to continue to indulge it in some unexamined voyeuristic fantasy” (p.13)

As vampires teach us, blood is not what we, trapped in a metaphysics of solids, might like to think it is. No longer can we draw neat boundaries between what is organic and not organic, what is natural and unnatural, what resembles us and what does not resemble us.
But rather than read this as apocalyptic, Haraway encourages us to see the liberatory effects here. Leaving behind the natural/unnatural dichotomy, and all of the (sexual, racial, religious, national) violences it has brought upon us, can we not at last engage kinship, as Haraway encourages, as “a technology for producing the material and semiotic effect of natural relationship, of shared kind” (1997, 53; italics added)? Can we not at last rethink relation as a set of open-ended affections, affinities, and possibilities, rather than a predetermined, closed set of (often incompatible) organic bonds?
In echoes of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987), Haraway’s vampiric retooling of kinship categories and concepts turns things upside down just a bit. No longer is kinship—that is, that joining of race and sex in the reproduction of a pure, unsullied, white, straight bloodline—a matter of discovering pre-made, biological, organic identities. Rather, in good late-twentieth-century form, identity itself is turned inside out. Identity is no longer the precious stronghold of all things private, internal, “natural,” and sacred; rather, it is the fabrication of nodes of connection via affinities, affections, tastes, distastes, labors, pleasures, technical wirings, attractions, repulsions, and chemical responses. Identity changes and shifts and cracks open as these dynamics change and shift and crack open. Stability or fixity becomes a matter of effects—historical, material, semiotic, chemical, etc. Radically open-ended, radically temporary.” (p.14)

“These multiple vectors of kinship that cross so many precious boundaries are already circulating in our bodies, our bodies that are far from purely organic, in the early twenty-first century. And the dramas of relations and kin no longer move down the linear paths of identities and reproductions and weighty moralistic questions about who shall marry whom. They no longer circulate around “family values”—the family itself, that bastion protecting racism, sexism and heterosexism, has been retooled.”(p.15)

Ref: Winnubst, Shannon (2003) Vampires, Anxieties, and Dreams: Race and Sex in the Contemporary United States Hypatia, Volume 18, Number 3, Summer, pp. 1-20

Reference is to: Haraway, Donna. 1997. Modest_Witness @ Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse. New York: Routledge.


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