Saturday, 7 March 2015

Foreshadowings: Bloodlust; or The Enduring Appeal of the Vampire

Vampires are arguably the chicest of all revenants. They never get old. Literally. Like the Gothic genre, vampires have endured numerous transmutations over the centuries, progressing from primitive folklore phantasm to Byronic aristocrat. Christopher Frayling’s anthology of Vampyres (1991) charts this metamorphosis and illustrates the upward social mobility of the vampire as it is adapted and elevated from its folklore origins by writers in the nineteenth century who felt compelled to experiment with the increasingly popular gothic genre. Frayling identifies that the infamous summer of 1816 clearly played a prominent role in the development of the vampire. It was there, on the shores of Lake Geneva, that the vampire (as we have come to recognise it) was born. That fateful summer, the Villa Diodati gave birth to the monstrous progenies that have come to define the gothic: Frankenstein’s creature and Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, the first Byronic, romantic vampire. Polidori inadvertently started the ‘trend’ that established a new breed of vampire, characterised by charisma, sexual appetite and, crucially, upward social mobility. Indeed, the word ‘vampire’ is strongly associated with a discourse of economics and excess today. 

Just take a look at the synonyms listed in Microsoft Word:
Parasite, Freeloader, Sponger, Scrounger, Hanger-on, Predator, Sponge, Leech

Of course, it is perfectly logical that the vampire should come to signify economic ‘drain’. Karl Marx famously employed the vampire as a metaphor for capitalism in his seminal text Das Kapital and it has since been widely recognised as a powerful signifier of the iniquities of consumerist culture. Rather aptly, the vampire has become a commodity in itself, particularly over the past couple of years. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the undead are everywhere at the moment. Television adaptations of vampire sagas such as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries are testimony to the mainstream appeal of the vampire in Western culture, whilst quirkier, independent films such as Stoker and Only Lovers Left Alive prove that, despite this proliferation, the theme of vampirism continues to occupy cult terrain. 2013 was, for me, the year that saw the return of ‘edgy’ interpretations of the vampire: Stoker implicitly hints at a predatory, visceral form of vampirism, whilst Only Lovers Left Alive offers us a pair of vampires for the twenty first century: endangered, disenchanted with modernity and fixated on the paraphernalia of a receding past.
These films elegantly rethink, recast and destabilize previous cinematic portrayals of vampirism and, in doing so, lay the foundations for grittier interpretations of the bloodsucker in years to come. Indeed, the resurgence of vampirism in literature, film, television and popular culture in recent years certainly seems to suggest that the vampire will continue to resist burial, at least for the foreseeable future.

"It's nighttime and we're wearing sunglasses..."
"Let's roll!"
But why do vampires continue to transfix the Gothic imagination? What is it about these predatory, liminal beings that ensure their recurring resurrections? Come along to our next meeting THIS WEDNESDAY 4-6pm in the Richard Roberts Building (room 184) to discuss these questions and more! The theme for said meeting is BYOV (bring your own vampire). In other words, we invite you to share your favourite vampires from literature/film/TV/etc. with us so we can build a transhistorical dialogue about the changing nature of this gothic phenomenon. As always, refreshments will be provided. We always guarantee #cakeanddeath. See you there!

Carly Stevenson is a postgraduate researcher studying Keats at the University of Sheffield.  She's always on the look-out for new blood...

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