Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

By Allienne R. Becker | Go to book overview
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Vampirism as Political Theory: Voltaire to Alfred Rosenberg and Elfriede Jelinek

Clemens Ruthner

Motifs as textual components and traces of the literary past lead, so to say, an undead existence. They arise out of traditions, they break out of old texts through literary reception and inter-textual references, they outlive the original text's meaning and context, continuously returning and rejoining to form new texts. In fact this is an everyday problem of narrative theory, one, however, that becomes doubly acute when it is a matter of fantastic imagery. In this case it is not simply a question of any motif taken at random that haunts the literary mind (as, for example, the notion of the "feuding brothers"); these images themselves represent a visitation by something primeval and alien, as in the case of revenants and vampires.

It is the latter that I would like to discuss here. However, I do not attempt an historical investigation of the reality behind such fruits of fantasy, unlike, for example, medical researchers who appear from time to time in the international press claiming vampirism to be a folk "translation" of a rare blood disease or even of the great rabies epidemics of early modern times.

It is not for us to deal with such historicocultural enigmas like these. Instead we are to ask what reality the vampire creates as a literary construction, i.e., to what purpose he is used as a literary figure, both as a character and as a metaphor. What is striking in the use of these fascinating yet horrifying bloodsuckers is the strong affinity between fantastic literature and political discourse. Since the aim of this paper is to highlight this affinity, I feel justified in bringing together such opposing figures as the following under one thematic roof: the famous Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire ( 1697- 1778), the forefather of the political left Karl Marx ( 1818- 1883), the chief Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg ( 1893- 1946), the two turn-of-the-century authors Bram Stoker ( 1847- 1912) and Hanns Heinz Ewers ( 1871- 1943), as well as the contemporary Austrian feminist author Elfriede Jelinek (b. 1946).

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* Authorized translation by David Matley and Steven Geukens

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