Gift-giving in Interview with the Vampire; oral and textual promiscuity

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Sara Wasson adopts the theory of gift-giving to analyse Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire – and presents an interesting discussion as a result. She writes:

Between 1976 and 2003 Anne Rice wrote twelve sprawling, interconnected vampire “autobiographies” which continue to be hugely influential for vampire fiction and other artifacts of popular culture. Rice’s vampires come together to set up house, produce offspring, tour the world, and form passionate attachments. Two tropes structure and enable the vampire communities throughout the twelve texts. Both are gifts: the “Dark Gift” of blood to be swallowed, and the gift of autobiography to be shared. Originally a field of anthropological inquiry, gift theory emerged as scholars sought to articulate how gift exchange creates and maintains communities, and gift scholarship is a fruitful tool for analyzing the way exchange functions in Rice’s texts. Rice’s vampires create communities by exchanging gifts of blood and gifts of words, joining mouths that swallow and mouths that speak.” (p.197)

From the nineteenth century through to the 1970s, a majority of popular fictions assumed that vampiric transformation was effected by a vampire biting a human. This approach shifted in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) became a bestseller. In Rice’s influential mythology, one [-p.198] cannot become a vampire merely by being bitten; one must be drained of blood and then swallow vampire blood. In her second vampire novel, The Vampire Lestat (1985), Rice coins the term the “Dark Gift” for this creation process (234, 246), and the language of gift returns throughout the subsequent ten books that comprise her Vampire Chronicles and the New Tales of the Vampires. Under Rice’s influence, other vampires have become increasingly inclined to procreate by giving in this way, and other authors similarly posit communities developing around the process.” (pp.197-198)

Wasson describes some of the history behind this shift in vampire creation – and discusses the authors who have adopted it since, then writes: “These vampires, then, are created by receiving a gift, and their vampiric communities are founded on gift-exchange. As such, their gift exchange invites comparison with gift theory that examines how gifts create and maintain community. Anthropological gift theory was pioneered in 1950 with Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, an anthropological investigation of the way gifts functioned in the society of Trobriand islanders.” (p.198)

This painfully yielded, inalienable gift does create community— but a far from Utopic one. Rice’s vampires are profoundly ambivalent about the value of community, simultaneously yearning for and rejecting it. The mere idea of vampires having any kind of fellowship [-p.201] with each other takes Lestat by surprise at first. After he becomes vampire, he muses: [‘]Do devils love each other? Do they walk arm in arm in hell saying, “Ah. You are my friend, how I love you” …? ….Well, now I know, whether I believe in hell or not, that vampires can love each other, that in being dedicated to evil, one does not cease to love.[‘] (Lestat 114)” (pp.200-201)

“…vampire ambivalence over community is reflected in the two political implications which Rice’s “Dark Gift” model has for the way her vampire communities are organized: on the one hand, the gift condemns the recipient to a kind of slavery, a brutal power relation; on the other hand, the gift frees the recipient into radically unconventional sensuality. In both cases, a focus on the gift brings fruitful attention to that which passes between.” (p.201)

“Post-structuralist distrust of the gift is echoed in the emotional choreographies that follow the Dark Gift in Rice’s novels. The cozy family of Lestat, Louis and Claudia, a child whom they jointly transform into a vampire, lasts for 60 years, but the domestic bliss is deceptive. Both Louis and Claudia experience Lestat’s control as implacable and cruel. Lestat himself tells Louis that the only relationship possible between vampires is slavery: “If you find one or more of them together it will be for safety only, and one will be the slave of the other, the way you are of me” (Interview 83), and he adds “That’s how vampires increase … through slavery. How else?” (Interview 84). Claudia ultimately slaughters Lestat and, with Louis’s help, dumps him in a Louisiana swamp. A similarly bleak disintegration befalls the family Lestat tries to form in later years with Louis and two other vampires (Merrick and David Talbot)….” (p.202)

Rice’s Dark Gift affects intimate relationships in another way, too: the second consequence of the blood gift in Rice’s texts is that it frees the receiver into transgressive sensuality, into unstable, radical, [-p.203] forms of sensual desire.” (pp.202-203)

“Rice’s vampire family has been extensively discussed in critical literature, with every critic noticing its dark mockery of a conventional bourgeois pairing (e.g., Keller 17, Gelder 113, Benefiel 263–64, 266–67), and Benefiel notes that Rice’s vampire family has influenced other vampire fiction since (264–66).” (p.204) [NB Wasson seems to take a slightly different approach to the way families are presented in Interview than Benefiel does]

Because vampires eroticize blood, they inevitably eroticise veins and skin surfaces. As such, they invite the reader to contemplate an erotics of the in-between: of skin surfaces and contacts.” (p.205) “[Elizabeth] Grosz and [Alphonso] Lingis see such attention to the surfaces of desire as a valuable alternative to the traditional psychodynamic approaches to sexuality, which define desire in terms of psychological interiority. Furthermore, when blood becomes the fulcrum of desire, it can begin to represent other intensities, other sexual delights: it draws the eye out to the limits of the human body, the place of connections. The characters in the vampiric encounter need not map onto neat identities in order for us to appreciate the suggestiveness of the blood that passes between them. Concentrating on the transactive gift, rather than the transgressive body offering the gift, moves beyond the essentializing idea that disruption is endemic within certain bodies.” (p.205)

Ever since Dracula, vampire fiction has been fascinated by multiple, fragmented text, and Rice’s vampire characters themselves share this fascination: her vampires write, speak, and film their stories compulsively.” (p.207)

Wasson explains that the vampire autobiographies that constitute Rice’s Chronicles, “themselves create community. They are filial texts and competitive texts: each narrator challenges and elaborates the tales of the previous, until the books themselves circulate as communication between the characters and as symbol of their relationships. Rice’s community of hunger is one of relentless words, and to enter the coven of their kinship, one must not merely accept the gift of blood, but must make a gift of text.” (p.208)

Like exchanging blood, writing is both transgressive and sensual. The act of writing anything about vampire existence flagrantly breaches the fifth “Rule of Darkness” which decrees that “No vampire must ever reveal his true nature to a mortal and allow that mortal to live…. No vampire must commit to writing the history of the vampires or any true knowledge of vampires lest such a history be found by mortals and believed” (Lestat 329). By definition the Articulate Coven defy the mores of the wider vampire community around them. As well as being transgressive, writing itself is a sensuous act for the Coven; each member relishes the materiality of writing. Armand, for example, relishes writing on “startlingly white paper scored with fine green lines” (Armand 31)….” (p.208)

“Rice wrote her vampire novels over 27 years, and her use of the Dark Gift does change over time. The language of gift accretes more positive meanings as Rice’s novels progress. The Coven of the Articulate begin referring to vampiric supernatural powers as gifts: the Fire Gift (incinerating others by the power of mind), Spell Gift (entrancing others), Mind Gift (telepathy), Cloud Gift (flying), and the Spirit Gift (astral projection). This litany of gift dilutes the ‘darkness’ of the Dark Gift by emphasizing what the vampire state adds to the receiver, rather than how the Dark Gift constrains her. In addition, the novels become a little more optimistic about the possibility of quality.” (p.210)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Sara Wasson (2012) “Coven of the Articulate”: Orality and Community in Anne Rice’s Vampire Fiction The Journal of Popular Culture, 45(1) February, pp.197-213

Reference is to: Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. 1950. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York: Norton, 1990. Print.

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