Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

By Peter Day | Go to book overview

Looking in the Mirror: Vampires, the Symbolic,
and the Thing

Fiona Peters

Combining the philosophy of Kant with Lacanian psychoanalysis, Slavoj Zizek argues that vampires, in their perceived status as neither fully dead nor fully alive, become, within post – Enlightenment morality, transgressive representations of the “Thing in itself” and are thus able to elude the deathly Symbolic world to which human beings are condemned:

This Kantian background is most easily perceived in the
vampire novels: when, in a typical scene, the hero
endeavours to deliver the innocent girl who has become
a vampire by finishing her off in the appropriate way
(the wooden stake through the heart and so on), the aim
of this operation is to differentiate the Thing from the
body, to drive out the Thing, this embodiment of
perverse and traumatic enjoyment, from the body
subordinated to the “normal” causal link.1

According to Zizek, when within the framework of popular culture, we refer to the “living dead” or “the undead,” we are neither locating these “borderline phenomena” within the domain of the living or that of the dead:

The fact that vampires and other “living dead” are
usually referred to as “things” has to be rendered with its
full Kantian meaning: a vampire is a Thing that looks
and acts like us, yet is not one of us. In short, the
difference between the vampire and the living person is
that between indefinite and negative judgement: a dead
person loses the predicates of a living being, yet he or
she remains the same person. An undead, on the
contrary, retains all the predicates of a living being
without being one.2

In respect of vampires, the most striking instance of when they are not like us is when their lack of mirror image is revealed. It is only at this point in Dracula that Jonathon Harker begins to comprehend that he is a prisoner of the Count. Stoker cleverly links the two determining features that distinguish the vampire from the living being to instigate the beginning of

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