Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture

Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture

Article excerpt

Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture. Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger, eds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger's collection of essays, entitled Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, examines the late twentieth-century domestication or "taming" of the literary vampire. The editors and most of the collection's authors accept as a foundational premise that vampires have transformed from their late nineteenth-- century signification as monstrous Other to become largely sympathetic characters. For example, Lestat and Louis of Anne Rice's popular Vampire Chronicles novels invite audience identification. This literary domestication has progressed to the point where now, at the end of the century, the vampire serves "not as the literal horror in some `night of the living dead' reconstruction, but as a metaphor for various aspects of contemporary life" (5), such as sexuality, power, alienation, illness, secularized evil, and the persistence of the fantastic in a supposedly rationalist age. The collection, in terms of its eclectic coverage and range of writing styles, makes a worthwhile addition to the scholarly canon of vampire studies, such as James B. Twitchell's The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (1981), Margaret L. Carter's Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics (1988), Ken fielder's Reading the Vampire (1994), and Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves (1995).

The book is divided into four parts: "Reading History," "Reading the Writers," "Reading Consumption," and "Reading the Other." The first section, "Reading History," includes essays by Nina Auerbach, Jules Zanger, Margaret L. Carter, and Joan Gordon. Each of these essays treats some aspect of the vampire's metaphoric transformation from the nineteenth century into the twentieth. One of the strongest and most concise contributions, Nina Auerbach's essay (excerpted from her book), notes how "the coming of the impersonal, imperial Dracula in 1897" (11) supplanted J. Sheridan Le Fanu's much "friendlier" prototypical vampire Carmilla and has problematically affected adaptations of Carmilla ever since. Jules Zanger writes of the demystification process that has turned the Anti-Christ vampire into a much more mundane "social deviant ... eroding in the process of transformation many of the qualities that generated its original appeal" (17). Margaret Carter maintains that American vampire novels and stories since 1970 often assume in sympathetic fashion the vampire's point of view-a shift that suggests the alien outsider in the late twentieth century is no longer to be feared by desired. Joan Gordon sees many vampire tales, such as Le Fanu's Carmilla at one end of the historical spectrum and Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls at the other, as metaphoric searches for an all-powerful mother figure and family.

Part two, "Reading the Writers," is in some ways the most interesting section of the book, in that it allows writers in the contemporary vampire genre to speak directly to the question of the vampire's domestication. Suzy McKee Chamas, author of The Vampire Tapestry, explains that in her book she set out to avoid romanticization of evil and instead depict "a simple and ruthless predator ... without the softening effects of sentimentalism and snobbery" (60). Her fictional predator, Dr. Weyland, is male because "the most successful predatory identity in human society is male" (62). Brian Stableford, author of the vampire novels The Empire of Fear (1988) and Young Blood (1992), writes of his attempt to give vampirism a biological (as opposed to a supernatural) basis. Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories (1991), concludes the section by outlining her literary project: to explore a traditional, patriarchal form through the character of a black lesbian vampire in order "to contribute to a new, more feminist-grounded mythology" (92). …

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