Immigrant stories

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I’ve been interested in how immigrant narratives impact on other stories for a while… hence my interest in Emilia Brescani’s comment about the impact of immigrant stories on her own life (in her memoir):

“During our first days in the country, we were bombarded with information about the proper way to behave, and how to avoid hassles: never walk alone after dark; always carry your address in your bag, and always keep important documents safe in the hostel. At night, I tossed and turned in my narrow bed, snuggled under my llama-wool poncho, making plans and pushing melancholic thoughts away. At times, I was besieged by fear, unable to clarify in my mind the real reasons for my trip. Anxiety crept into my heart in the eerie emptiness of the night. It was then that I pictured familiar scenes – the large dining table, and my brothers arguing over soccer clubs as Mama poured ladles of steaming minestrone soup into our bowls. Sometimes I thought of the university cafeteria, where one day, a friend had shown me an ad calling for women to work in Australia. Now, I was here,and my priority was to work, sweat and make it. All work was good work, Mama had told me. And I was prepared for anything. The immigrant stories I had heard as a child were filled with romance, dramas, mishaps, and triumphs. Just like in the soap operas Mama and I listened to. Stories about women beating all the odds to achieve their dreams, help their families, their community and themselves. Mama had been one one of those women. She had not bowed down to tragedy. I would do the same, I thought during my sleepless nights. And, hopefully, one day I would find somebody like Papa, a person with whom to stay forever.” (pp.270-271)

Ref: (emphasis in blue bold, mine) Emilia Brescani (2000) The Raw Scent of Vanilla: A Memoir. Macmillan: Sydney

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.

The need for family in vampire fiction – Benefiel

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Back in 2004, Candace R. Benefiel wrote; “In the vast, dark landscape of Gothic fiction in late twentieth-century America, the seminal figure of the vampire wanders in ever-increasing numbers. Much as the Gothic has seen a flowering in the past twenty-five years, the vampire has risen from the uneasy sleep of the earlier part of the century and experienced his own dark renaissance. Prior to 1976, in film and fiction, the vampire was portrayed in the mold into which he had been cast by Bram Stoker in the greatest of the nineteenth-century vampire novels, Dracula – an essentially solitary predator whose presence was the stimulus for an intrepid group of vampire hunters to form and bay in his pursuit, and whose time on center stage was limited to brief, menacing appearances and capped with a spectacular death scene. The vampire was, to borrow a term from film, a McGuffin – a device to drive the plot and give the vampire hunters something to pursue.
In 1976, this changed […when] Anne Rice published her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, and turned the vampire paradigm on its head. This breakthrough novel focused not on vampire hunters, but on the vampires themselves – and what a different breed they were.” (p.261) [Note that I think  Bruce A. McClelland (in Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006)) might have something to say about Benefiel’s approach to the slayer and their vampire)]

“After Rice, and even in her subsequent novels in the ‘Vampire Chronicles series, the vampire was used to provide a vehicle for social commentary, and vampirism itself became a convincing metaphor for such varied topics as drug addiction, homosexuality, AIDS, and the general selfishness and narcissism of the baby boomer generation. Vampire literature in itself has become a vast and varied body, and one whose many facets cannot be contained in one model. The figure of the vampire, so varying and adaptable in the hands of many authors, became a liminal, transgressive figure, a stage upon whom the fears and secret desires of society could be acted.” (p.262)

“Despite the general perception, particularly in vampire film, of the vampire as a solitary predator, many texts have sought to portray the vampire as a part of a family grouping.” (p263)

“Oddly, [Rice’s] vampire family is so close to the norm as to constitute a parody.” (p.264)

“The vampire family is a key topic in Interview with the Vampire. Throughout the novel, images of kinship abound….” (p.266)

Benefiel concludes her study of ‘the family’ in Interview with the Vampire, by writing: “‘A gothic text positions its reader in a potential space where the psyche’s repressed desires and the society’s foreclosed issues can be engaged and thus where healing can occur’ (Veeder 32). The family group of Interview with the Vampire, as well as subsequent iterations of the vampire family, allows the reader to explore issues of alternative family structures and incestuous attraction within the family, and to play out the consequences for good or ill of these imagined scenarios. The vampire, aloof from human considerations, nonetheless stands in for the reader. Whether the nuclear family, either in its distorted but disturbingly realistic portrayal in Interview with the Vampire or in a more prosaic setting, remains a viable mode of existence at the turn of the twenty-first century is a question that readers and viewers must answer for themselves. Anne Rice’s creation, the vampire Louis de Pont du Lac, loses his mortal family, and later, his immortal family, when Claudia and Madelaine are killed in Paris in a replay of that ancient trauma. After that, he loses what had remained of his humanity, what might be termed his soul. The need for family, in whatever configuration, remains constant.” (p.270)

Ref: Candace R. Benefiel (2004) Blood Relations: The Gothic Perversion of the Nuclear Family in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. The Journal of Popular Culture 38(2), pp.261-273

Werewolf romances

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You know you like the article when you highlight so much of it that you defeat the purpose of using a highlighter!

In her analysis of the werewolf romances of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn, Erin S. Young argues for a reconceptualisation of the borders around the genre(s) of Romance. She writes:

“In her introduction to Best New Paranormal Romance (2006), a collection of contemporary tales that explore the intersection of romance and fantasy, editor Paula Guran establishes a distinction between “paranormal romance” and “paranormal Romance”: “I contend that although some twenty-first century paranormal romance is still definitional Romance, another type of ‘paranormal romance’ has emerged that is not Romance. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge this duality or at least explore the idea” (8). Using Pamela Regis’ definition of romance—from A Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003)—as the foundation of her argument, Guran suggests that “the betrothal,” which signifies “happily ever after” at the conclusion of the conventional romance narrative, is one of the definitive elements that distinguishes “paranormal Romance” from “paranormal romance.” Romance novelists such as Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon, who occasionally venture into paranormal territory, are producing “paranormal Romance.” In contrast, the works of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn—which will be the central foci of this essay—are more appropriately labeled “paranormal romance,” because these novels violate the conventional romance formula by omitting “the betrothal,” as well as any other indicator of “happily ever after.”

Guran’s argument reveals the fundamental paradox that exists at the core of romance criticism. The “betrothal” must occur at some point in the romance novel. [-p.205] A romance novel without a betrothal is not a romance; it may contain a love story, but it should be categorized as belonging to some other genre. This logic suggests both the impossibility of a feminist reading of popular romance—if a romance novel must conclude with at least the promise of marriage, then the genre does, by critical definition, affirm the “patriarchal myths and institutions” that have long prevented feminist romance critics from giving it a stamp of approval—and more importantly perhaps, it suggests that women’s concerns, experiences, and ideas about love have changed minimally in the 200-plus years that have passed since the emergence of the domestic novel (Modleski 16). I would argue that it is more fruitful to read the paranormal romance’s nearly universal rejection of marriage—and reproduction—as a reflection of particular cultural fantasies about limitless consumption and flexibility, even in the development of romantic relationships. I hope to justify the inclusion of the paranormal romance in academic romance criticism, despite its significant deviations from the popular romance code, because it suggests a cultural shift in dominant ideas about identity and intimacy. If an acknowledgement of this shift leads writers and readers of romance to interrogate constructions of love, marriage, and reproduction as stable and permanent concepts, then new analyses of women’s subjectivity in the context of patriarchal and economic realities may become possible.” (pp.204-205)

Citing David Harvey, Young asserts: “[“]”The dynamics of a ‘throwaway’ society . . . mean[s] more than just throwing away produced goods . . . but also being able to throw away values, lifestyles, stable relationships, and attachments to things, buildings, places, people, and received ways of doing and being” (156, 286). The heroines of “paranormal romance,” like the multi-volume structures that contain them, fully embrace the “dynamics of a ‘throwaway’ society” as they experience a multitude of romantic relationships, sexual encounters, and adventures that yield only temporary satisfaction.” (p.207)

With regards to the werewolf romances of Armstrong and Vaughn, Young explains, “What both of these series offer, then, are heroines whose paranormal attributes play a key role in their refusal—and sometimes, inability—to marry and bear children. Through the absence of these two central characteristics of romance, Elena and Kitty (as well as the readers of their narratives) are granted access to a very particular kind of capitalist fantasy.” (p.208)

In the works of Armstrong and Vaughn, lycanthropy functions as a paranormal inheritance that endows their heroines with altered physical bodies and perspectives that facilitate the indefinite pursuit of temporary and disposable pleasures. Lycanthropy also enables Elena and Kitty to interrogate and reject traditional “human” standards of gendered behavior, thereby reflecting the dissolution of stable identities in a flexible capitalist economy.
The werewolf romances of Armstrong and Vaughn share particular formulaic conventions that are identifiable throughout the genre of paranormal romance, [-p.209] including a first-person female narrator, a multi-volume structure, and a parallel universe in which magic exists.” (pp.208-209)

To be a werewolf is, for the most part, to consume without consequence.” (p.210)

“…the werewolf lens enables a critique of the monogamous relationship and the institution of marriage.” (p.211)

In both series, sexual intercourse is depicted as a “natural” indulgence for werewolves, especially when it follows a successful hunt. In contrast, the strict boundaries that surround acceptable forms of human sexuality (that it must be explored with only one other person, that it must be associated with love, and that it must be legally sanctioned by the State), are portrayed as heavily constructed rules of behavior that are distinctly “unnatural.”” (p.211)

“Armstrong’s Bitten offers the following premise: a female werewolf, uncomfortable with her lycanthropic identity, chooses to abandon her Pack and “pass” as an ordinary human woman with a stable career in journalism and a loving live-in boyfriend. In “The Politics of Passing” (1996), Elaine K. Ginsberg claims that “the possibility of passing challenges a number of problematic and even antithetical assumptions about identities, the first of which is that some identity categories are inherent and unalterable essences” (4). The conventional romance novel accepts the traditionally gendered categories of “male” and “female” as “inherent and unalterable essences,” as illustrated by Jayne Ann Krentz’s defense of the romance novel in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance (1992): “[Romance novels] celebrate female power, intuition, and a female worldview that affirms life and expresses hope for the future” (8). Werewolf romances do not share this assumption; human standards of appropriate behavior—particularly along gender lines—are continually rendered “strange” as they are observed through the eyes of the werewolf protagonist. Elena’s painstaking attempt to “pass” as a human woman forces the reader to question the innateness of behaviors and values that are conventionally coded as “feminine.” Thus, Bitten poses a unique challenge to the romance genre; its focus on a werewolf heroine who is always conscious of performing human femininity is simultaneously a focus on gender as a socially constructed category of identity.” (p.214)

“…both series offer complex explorations of the lycanthropic inheritance as a specifically gendered form of power. Lycanthropy is constructed contradictorily as a condition that empowers its female hosts by granting them sexual, geographical, and economic mobility, while also signifying the source and consequence of patriarchal oppression. The explicitness of this contradiction may seem critically inconvenient, but it must be noted that the werewolf romance exposes a central contradiction at the heart of every romance novel. The conventional romance heroine is “empowered” by her access to the patriarchal institution of marriage at the novel’s conclusion, much to the dismay of early romance critics. In contemporary romances that feature career women, the heroine’s empowerment is dependent upon her access to the patriarchal business world—access that is solely the result of a fortunate accident of birth. Werewolf romances, in other words, may offer yet another fantasy of female empowerment—albeit one that suggests substantial changes in the needs and desires of women under flexible capitalism—but at least they reveal the incompatibility of that fantasy with the patriarchal conditions that continue to affect the choices available to contemporary women.” (p.225)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine; italics in original) Erin S. Young (2011) Flexible Heroines, Flexible Narratives: The Werewolf Romances of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn  Extrapolation, Vol. 52, No. 2, pp.204-226

Reference is to: Armstrong, Kelley. Bitten. New York: Plume, 2001.
Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1988.

Giddens, Anthony. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.
Ginsberg, Elaine K. “The Politics of Passing.” Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Ed. Elaine K. Ginsberg. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1996.
Guran, Paula, ed. “Introduction: What is ‘Paranormal Romance’?” Best New Paranormal Romance. New York: Juno Books, 2006. 7-17.
Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time & Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York and London: New York UP, 2005.
Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.
Krentz, Jayne Ann, ed. Introduction. Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992.
Modleski, Tania. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women. New York: Methuen, 1984.
Mussell, Kay. Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women’s Romance Fiction. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984.
Vaughn, Carrie. Kitty and the Midnight Hour. New York: Warner Books, 2005.

Zaretsky, Eli. Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

Race, Sex and vampires

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“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.

Gender Norms in the Twilight Series

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Just collecting the discussions… Rebecca Hayes-Smith had the following complaint about Meyer’s Twilight series…

“Among tween girls and their moms, these books have achieved tremendous popularity. On the one hand, I understand it. The books are entertaining (I read all four in a little over a week), and the romantic vampire story is somewhat beautiful and mysterious.” (p.78)

“What nags me is how, as a sociologist, I find it difficult to ignore the underlying message of gender conformity in Meyer’s books. As a society we have multiple ways to communicate how men and women should act in order to be happy. These messages play an important role in the marginalization of women and girls, and Twilight reinforces these messages in several ways: through traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, and intersecting stereotypes of race, class, and gender. / Throughout the series, women are weak, passive, and in need of protection, while men are strong and violent.” (p.78)

“[Bella’s] insecurity is what makes her easy to identify with, but how can we change women’s (and society’s) views without challenging the romanticization of victimhood?” (p.78)

“In the real world, most female victimization occurs between intimate partners, and this theme is prevalent in Twilight. When Bella has “sex” with Edward (if that’s what you can call it), she walks away from the event literally injured…. The expression of dangerous love-making in other vampire-themed novels is likely similar, but at least in those, the vampires are considered evil.” (p.79) [I thought this last point an interesting one, the ethical  thread of which is also in the following statement….] “In the end, Edward maintains his masculinity by acting aggressively even in a situation that is supposed to be about intimacy and love. The subtle message is that as long as you’re in love or at home, violence is not objectionable.” (p.79)

“Yes, these are novels: should feminists and scholars lighten up? These books might simply be innocent entertainment, or potentially harmful to young women. Plenty of research describes how people construct their social reality depending on the cultural messages around them. This is especially important when considering the sheer volume of media images young people now constantly absorb (both actively and passively). It occurs at all ages, but is especially important among teenagers who are navigating the in-between years of not quite being an adult, yet not a kid anymore. My concern is that the most popular young adult books of the last few years are repeating stereotypes sociologists have been debunking for decades.” (p.79)

Ref: Rebecca Hayes-Smith (2011) ‘Gender Norms in the Twilight Series’ Contexts 2011 10: 78

love and vampires in a time of war

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Reading some of the criticism of vampire fiction and came across this editorial by Joseph Natoli, which connects Twilight, the allure of vampirism, Twitter, the presence of history, etc. etc. … really quite interesting… anyway a couple of points Natoli makes include:

Some believe love conquers all but at the same time live in a world where love has been commodified, branded, and turned to profit. The compassionate heart has had its blood drained; witness the compassion of the George W. Bush years.

What time is it? It’s a time of war, dying, torture, maiming, ethnic, cultural, and religious hate. We Americans have been vampires to the world though it is refreshing to think that we are the good vampires enjoying a game of superhero baseball with the Fam, that we are not the marauding bad gypsies all jacked up on human blood and anxious for their next market. I mean fix. Opening a new market is not at all like opening a new vein. What did Hugo Chavez (Hugo who?) say when he nationalized his oil industry? Americans would no longer suck the blood of his people?

Losers get their blood sucked. Winners do the sucking. Bella wants to be a vampire; love will take her there. We sit in the dark theater and envy her. The guys want to be like Edward; the ladies want to be like Bella. Suffer death and move through to resurrection where Heaven is a life apart with your Fam and your kind, your own private vampire world. What ownership! What lovely apartness! Did I confuse Edward’s Fam with plutocrats? With the Have Mores who feast without ostentation or privileged entitlement? Edward’s family lives apart in the forest in what appears to be a very luxurious compound. They are isolated from the public throng, alone and unmolested in their private space. It’s rather like the private, gated space we all aspire to, but right now, at this moment on the American scene, it’s where the corporate looters retreat to, a sort of robber’s roost, waiting for either an indictment or a bailout.

A good portrait of American family life in 2009?” (p. 674)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Joseph Natoli ‘Guest Editorial: The Twittering of Twilight‘ The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 43, Issue 4, pages 671–680, August 2010 [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2010.00764.x/abstract]