Saturday, September 20, 2014

Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732-1933 – review

Author: Erik Butler

Release Date: 2010

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: For the last three hundred years, fictions of the vampire have fed off anxieties about cultural continuity. Though commonly represented as a parasitic aggressor from without, the vampire is in fact a native of Europe, and its "metamorphoses," to quote Baudelaire, a distorted image of social transformation. Because the vampire grows strong whenever and wherever traditions weaken, its representations have multiplied with every political, economic, and technological revolution from the eighteenth century on. Today, in the age of globalization, vampire fictions are more virulent than ever, and the monster enjoys hunting grounds as vast as the international market.

Metamorphoses of the Vampire explains why representations of vampirism began in the eighteenth century, flourished in the nineteenth, and came to eclipse nearly all other forms of monstrosity in the early twentieth century. Many of the works by French and German authors discussed here have never been presented to students and scholars in the English-speaking world. While there are many excellent studies that examine Victorian vampires, the undead in cinema, contemporary vampire fictions, and the vampire in folklore, until now no work has attempted to account for the unifying logic that underlies the vampire's many and often apparently contradictory forms.

The review: It is a singularly impressively difficult task to undertake; attempting to “account for the unifying logic that underlies the vampire's many and often apparently contradictory forms.” A Grand Unified Theory of the media vampire, so to speak.

In truth Butler does not succeed, in my opinion anyway, which is not to say that this book is without merit – indeed it is brimming with merit. I just think that such a theory, such a logic is ethereal – running from the light like Nosferatu at dawn and obfuscated by each piece of literature, theatre or film that does not fit in with the logic.

However Butler takes us on a fascinating jaunt through the hubbub of the media vampire drawing into parallel with cultural changes in Europe. The date range should have kept us firmly away from the burgeoning Hollywood vampire but it does rear its head on occasion.

Interesting to me was some of the sources that I had not come across before. Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is now in the “to read” pile as is Memoires of my Nervous Illness. The latter by Schreber has a chapter built around it and, whilst I believe that its association with vampirism might prove to be less overt, I find the idea of it fascinating.

This is not a book, however, for the casual reader. Butler has a PhD in comparative Literature and thus this volume is very scholarly – not that it should put you off, and his style prevents the contents from becoming dry, but the warning is there. Indexing, citation lists and notes are all present and correct allowing the student to use the volume properly as a source itself. 7.5 out of 10.

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