Vampires: important aspects

As a quick overview, I characterised the appeal of the vampire as an erotic symbol in terms of three main aspects, namely its ability to represent issues of otherness, intimacy and power.

The notion of the other is frequently used in postcolonial discourse (see Homi Babha, particularly) but is very useful in this context as well. The other is whatever is different to the self, that which is constructed as outsider to the self’s insider. Difference can be threatening and terrifying, and I talked about the inhuman other in other symbols, most notably monsters and aliens, which find echoes in the frequent conflation of the vampire with the bestial, not just its predatory hunger but its ability to take wolf or bat forms. However, and particularly in the context of the vampire, otherness can simultaneously be thrilling and exotically appealing. The attraction of otherness can be linked to the notion of sexual interaction on a more basic level – the sexual act is an attempt at the union of the self with the other (in purely physical terms, but also in the mutual loss of self in the moment of climax), most sharply defined in the case of heterosexual sexuality.

The vampire bite is intimate in its exchange of fluids, and in its focus on erotic and/or vulnerable areas such as the throat and mouth. It appeals to the basic, visceral bodily needs of hunger, and the intimate identity of blood as life. Today’s Carmilla discussion also touched on the terrible intimacy of the vampire’s need for the victim, the tempering of predatory power with dependence on blood for existence. Modern-day vampires are psychologised, suggesting that we respond to the inherent intimacies of the symbol with a need for emotional intimacy, to know and understand the subjectivity of the vampire rather than othering them in simplistic terms as a threatening monster.

The eroticism of the vampire symbol is inherently sado-masochistic, so that the vampire is simultaneously terrifying and appealing in its construction as an immensely powerful inhuman other. The vampire’s physical strength and mind-control powers tend to be coupled with other kinds of power, most notably social power in the case of the classic Victorian vampire. The tropes of wealth and aristocratic status are interestingly translated into corporate power, money and big guns in more recent texts such as Blade. The erotic appeal of the vampire is precisely in the power of the symbol, the victim’s passivity and submission not just acceptable but inevitable in the face of the vampire’s power. While the vampire’s possession of the victim see-saws between the poles of seduction and rape, the victim’s submission is inevitable either way, allowing the pleasurable abdication of responsibility. The pleasure of submission to invasion, penetration and loss of instrumentality reaches its logical conclusion in the conflation of orgasm with death, but the victim’s submission proffers the pleasurable frisson of a sado-masochistic relationship legitimated by its non-realistic presentation.

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