Sunday, 24 May 2009
I am stagnant unmind;
like a tourist.
The moon rising sooner,
an incoherent professor.
You and I
must not speak like this
To speak and convince
We have invested in melody
and married it off to Canadians
caught up in bilinguals.
Rehearsing such codas in artful reduction,
sick of having sex, tired of a finite self.
We invested in melody
because there looked like no other way
to conjure up in harmonies
the sweet versatility of an transient subjectivity
cast away to creation, an indulgence of privilege. For
like photography or rhyme in some loose vocal line-
the colour of your hair in whatever:
This temper's illumination, bespoke, aligns.
Our impromptu transatlantic jams
affirm the bittersweet pleasure of jazz.
Alive though in coma
the dancing crowds
with unthought motion.
These moments are sweet,
fleeting and incomplete.
Towards a catalogue of history
One moment passed,
one moment fast-
Was this moment just like the last?
Snapshots in lines,
documents of time:
A library of infinities
pleasing and deceiving me.
Friday, 22 May 2009
Imogen Thomas and I went to buy a car from Sarah Palin's son. As far as this transaction goes, we're BUYING TRIG'S.
Imogen Thomas and I want to make a wood shack a la Ray Mears, so we're in the forest CARRYING TWIGS.
Imogen Thomas and I travelled back in time to the 19th Century, and tried buying our way into Parliament. The Tories weren't keen, so we're BRIBING WHIGS.
Imogen Thomas usually eats ready meals from the co-op, but I think she should broaden her palette. So tonight, we're TRYING FIGS.
Driving past the slaughterhouse in an afternoon haze, Imogen Thomas suddenly shrieked “what's that awful noise?”. “That, my dear,” I replied, “is the sound of DYING PIGS”.
In an absurd alternate reality, Imogen Thomas witnessed a love story between two offshore oil platforms. I don't know where to begin explaining this, but it looks like she's MARRYING RIGS
Imogen Thomas was reading the compendium of Ancient South American archeology, entitled MAYAN DIGS.
Debating what colour apparel would be most suitable for her friend's baby, Imogen Thomas decided the child looked nicest in CYAN BIBS.
Imogen Thomas understood that MTV had pandered in recent months to the Jewish market, as she watched ZION CRIBS.
There's no accounting for taste, but Imogen Thomas had stayed up all night on Ebay bidding for tickets to those Celine DION GIGS.
Business at the costume shop that Imogen Thomas and I have been running in Soho seems to be going well but perhaps worryingly, we're selling a lot of ARYAN WIGS.
She'd dropped her smokes in the bath, and it was a whole week til her Giro- so Imogen Thomas found herself, somewhat pitifully, DRYING CIGS.
“It's not a question of freedom of speech,” Imogen Thomas began. “Rather that people shouldn't be interested in this stuff. It's banal” “Yes”, I sighed “...But you'll sooner see FLYING PIGS”
Monday, 18 May 2009
Light remained hanging in the air. Shards of broken glass, refracted by mathematics; the damp windowpanes through burnt out curtains loosely drawn in haste, the apprehension of carnality. You too would sleep happy. You too would dream, and let the odours hang if you could. Better this gentle surrender than shards of broken glass, refracting across a ruined bedscape.
As winter has been forgotten in the joyous embrace of all things seasonal, soleil and magick incarnate, it would return slowly with frost. A decline as tempting and nauseous as hints from a cold lover not yet yours: you would remember and fall into her arms, into the bitter winds of winter and embrace them, dancing barefoot in the storm crying impassioned and making games in the snow with your beautiful friends. Soon you will hurt, stumble on some isolated forebodence, and the blood would run cold with fever. Like ravenous crows of winter suffering, the colds will lash at your very existence and behave like guilt. You will hurt.
The evening had passed off well. It had been six months since the last business trip the company had organised. They were in Albany, staying in a modern but by no means luxury hotel. All expenses had been accounted for, and at the downstairs bar, a tab had been reserved to the sum of two thousand dollars. The company knew how to take care of its staff, and adhered to the old capitalist adage (which if truth be told, was but a prettified and somewhat whimsical means of dissecting a master / slave dichotomy, but no means toward overcoming it). Still, these two were in Albany, attending an annual conference on ethical corporate investment that would start in the city's proud civic centre the day after tomorrow. They had arrived the evening previous to the morning of the present, after a long, uncomfortable drive, sharing the responsibilities of driving the hired car taken out in his name. Upon checking in, they had unpacked their suitcases precisely and made their way downstairs, exploring the smoky luxury of the Crowne Plaza Hotel’s bar area. There they remained all evening, making noble attempt at exhausting the company’s pre paid bar tab. They did not discuss any aspect of the debates surrounding responsible capitalist behaviour in free markets nor did their minds once express loose or unconscious suggestion of grafted interest in domestic economies.
Their affair had stretched four years now and survived alongside their respective marriages and children (whom were genuinely loved), their state-considered partners were considered by each of them as responsibilities in the same way as their work for the company, and regarded retrospectively by each of them in no different light. Their infidelity was a matter of necessity, some poetic and casual occupational therapy for the arduous and selfless jobs they had, one way or the other, by state marital ceremony or traditional job interview, become completely and irrevocably entangled with. Their sex, when it happened, was furious and came to them like an impoverished sigh of relief or one’s last tumbled gasp for air, drowning in each other. They were, and had always been, perfectly professional. Moreover, their consciences were clear. Entirely. There is no single essence to anyone, we have learned to work so that we may play. This is the understated ethos of a model capitalist and these two had succumbed so sweetly to the practise they had hardly noticed and barely cared. We learn and forget and this is the making of our characters. I have learnt that dizzy dreaming holds no valid romanticism in its acquiescence.
Their drunken, messy fucking had dishevelled the hotel apartment to its remits. Sheets lay tangled on the floor, cupboard doors lay open, three empty wine bottles were strewn across the room, red stains from even the smallest spillage would frustrate and dismay an already annoyed and exploited member of the cleaning staff, made so redundant by culture as to feel manifestly liminal here in Albany. The light hung across the room, Buddhist prayer flags removed of the knowledge that makes anything sacred, like shards of glass broken by such knowledgeable arrogance, covering his naked body. They too had forgotten the power of the ritual and the importance of poetry and love. The light dimmed slightly, a cloud passing over a towering omniscient star. They too have learned that there is no essence to anyone. His drowning thoughts linger in dreams, caught between the thin pools of the room, changing colour of their own accord, sudden like shards of broken glass, again again. They have forgotten themselves in work and practise. Sin is a lack of conviction. The light moves.
He woke up, startled suddenly by the heavy presence of a deep and smoky absence above his crown. He saw into nothing. His eyelids had been fastened tightly together with small metal hooks, ringlets, the kind used for catching fish. They pierced his skin and proved resilient to the natural impulse to open his eyes. The pain made him shoot up in spasms, fully awake, and jerking in a confused terror, knocked over half full wine glasses from the bedside table. In shock, he choked, and fell to the floor untidily. Pain was searing raw and bloody across his face. Tears welled up against the inside of his eyes and seeped through entry and exit wounds, running with crimson down the side of his face, dripping eagerly from the tiny ringlets hooking his eyelids neatly in place. He tore, ripping the skin of his fingers. Slowly the darkness gave way to the horror of a reddish vision. His eyelids had torn through the hooks now lying uncomfortably, small whitish clumps of flesh dangling like feed proud from their claws on the floor where they had fallen. He could see, just, through the smeared blood and water across his open eyes, through the agony of torn skin, shapes loosely fitted with colours, and the madness of the pain. On all fours, face down beside the bed, dripping from his eyes to the carpet floor, to later infuriate already disgruntled members of the cleaning staff. Through the smudged red veneer he recognised a door open and shut, and hearing footsteps from across the bed, slowly ache toward him, He would cry out for this nightmare to be over and for solace in the loving and reassuring arms of whoever but his cries would go unheard and echo in the silence of the room, silence if not for the footsteps, now drawing to a halt. There, feet away from the wrecked cries woven in tongues of agony, she stood over him, letting his insanity settle like a virus in the body, allowing it time to become him. His spluttering would stop and he would question if he had ever heard those footsteps, or if he had dreamt it all. He would look up, and seeing her, she would laugh loudly and directly at him, spitting with pride into the running raw cavities of his face. Joanna? And walking away, leaving him torn and fucked up, lying bloody and broken on the floor, like glass refracted through winter seasons in slow lost memories.
She returned through the hotel lobby, casually using the lift to ascend to their suite, taken out in the company’s name. A polite attendant kindly and professionally operated the lift on her behalf, but she did not return the conversation offered, instead standing silently whilst the most temporary of rooms elevated to floor thirty-six, not making eye contact. As the polished doors wound ajar before her, she projected herself forward by seconds and free of the lift, like a fiction. Turning to face the polite lift attendant, whose uniform did not fit, whom she considered had probably been in that lift for hours, and who would in all likeliness remain there for hours in that most temporary of spaces, she felt herself truly believed in him and, giving him warm and gentle thanks, gave in. Shame had got the better of her, the prospect of a moment of genuine gentility proving a temptation even her working ethic could not refuse. Not only was it harmless, it veered in a whole other direction that she did not give herself to fully, but indulged in nonetheless, if for not entirely unselfish reasons. Their hotel suite door opened, making no sense. The key fitted as perfectly as she remembered it to, and took it no notice. She snuck in quietly, setting her bags on the kitchen table. From the kitchen tableside she could see him.
Footsteps, remembered footsteps. She checked the body which lay face down, and smiled over him. She saw his forgotten coffee, the cold froth sinking into a temperate ring outlining in striking beige the deep ochre inside the cup. The half empty wine bottle. She liked how he slept and quietly went about warming fresh cappuccino and toasting the croissants she had bought just now, by chance, from a discovered faux-Parisien bakery three streets along. It was a beautiful day. She poured herself a glass of orange juice and drank it as breakfast warmed, standing at the feet of the bed, consoling herself and indulging in the idea of the man. The bed they had slept and fucked and fucked and slept in. Again, she smiled, biting her lip in embarrassment to herself. Again, a little indulgence.
She took herself about the room, collecting the empty and abandoned wine bottles and glasses, many (for they had not reused, but made a game in the fun of using all the room’s available glasses), and making upon a clumsy collision of wine bottles in her hand, the resultant shrill tone woke her sleeping lover, who rose slowly from his deep sleep, the deepest and most profound he had been witness and subject to his living memory. He murmured, the remnants of sleep dangling tired still from the corners of his mouth, “What time is it?” She ignored him, facing the grill as she pulled the croissants out and laughed a little to herself “Aren’t you going to wish me good morning? I’ve made you breakfast”.
It was colder than he remembered it being. He looked outside and wanted nothing more than to stay in the warmth of the hotel duvet, like a child in a warm tender womb- it was mournful. He got out of bed, the cold biting at his neck, which remained a sore reminder of the previous night’s infidelity. He looked in the mirror and saw the bruising. “Uh…Thank you.. That was very kind of you. You…didn’t have to” He winced. The aroma of warmed morning fancies floated over and enveloped him. Noticing from the bedside his colleague slicing croissants, her back turned; the smell of morning now fresh, coffee and cigarettes: the day reborn. He imagined his children running through the bathroom door, their school uniforms brightly coloured and neatly ironed, their smiling faces eager for learning; is innocence too much? He watched as they flickered and dissolved, as daydreams do, into the pale and expectant expression of his colleague, her blonde hair tied back, strands wistfully hugging the sides of her narrow face. She smiled, passing him coffee with both hands, her eyes suggesting some hasty gentle excitement, a kind of involvement to which his uncollected subconscious had real trouble processing and acting on. He looked around the room for his clothes and glasses. He got up, putting the coffee aside and next to the other, which had been delivered just as dutifully. And remembered. He got up and she had already imprisoned him with affection. This whole business trip was a charade enclosed distinctly within an elaborate but overproduced performance of his life, a version of events which provoked interesting questions but ultimately was too contrived to be either prfound or realist. He grinned for the first time that morning as he thought of his wife. The beautiful dress that she had worn at the public performance of their marriage. No one would write about it being the seminal moment in the narrative of their individual lives, now intertwined by fate or storytelling, though perhaps it could be seen to have been that way.
He took her hands from around his waist, and with a slight frustration knocked her back. She paid him no heed as she moved back to her cigarette, for she had studied the perils of emotion and knew to avoid familiarity and kindness: these things would brew in anyone seeds of contempt like shards of broken glass.
He drank his coffee quickly, and washed it down with the other, disregarded, remembered coffee. He scoured himself to be awake and in this belatedly risen morning find awareness and Zen. They heard children playing outside. Riding bicycles as the sun dipped behind a cloud. It would not be seen again for days. The storms that were hiding behind the mountains, creeping with every moment closer would rain hard on the delegates attending this year’s conference on ethical corporate investment, hosted proudly, if with some anonymity, by the city of Albany. The second coffee was difficult and cold. He reached for the bedside table instinctively, and drawing a cigarette from his packet, acknowledged the effort and tenderness to which she had allowed herself whilst he had slept, his mind elsewhere, dwelling on remembrance, and indeed remembering. Like seasons changing, his mind remained true and elsewhere, away from the smoking of cigarettes and the residue of cold cappuccino lurking at the back of his mouth, far apart from the turned back of the woman he misrecognised, smoking herself. The room remained silent for several minutes as he rested the cigarette in a nearby ashtray, the glass kind, and buttoned his shirt, tightening a blue tie casually around his neck.
Outside, in what was beginning to be rain, in what the kids would admirably call 'drizzle', and stop and wonder at the sudden and ridiculous beauty of that word, repeating it in jest: our visionary and inspired children did play on their bicycles. They knew the risk all too well, built on familiarity and routine. This was safe territory, and in and around this learned knowledge they were free. As the rain would later begin to pour, their mothers would open doors and look in disbelief at their games, now soaked in the ecstasy of the storm. Their mothers would yell at them in voices so shrill as to break the beautified noise of the torrential downpour, and call to their rusting bikes in tongues of angered disbelief. Their desperate adventure would run short and they now, playing amiably in what would later be stunning and torrential downpour, knew this all to be the case, and accepted it in all its fleeting torment. There was poetry in the colds they would catch and they had not yet learned what regret was.
His trousers were on, socks had found their way to his feet. He had by this point eased the tension of the room with amiable smiles and knowing hugs, though kisses were neglected upon his colleague. He returned to the bedside table, his manner in order and at once missing, an automated morning sickness brought forth by the coffee. His knowing intention. His mind was elsewhere, on seasons changing and drawn to the sound of the children playing outside. She drew the curtains. And though a member of the cleaning staff would have some trouble rendering the carpets clean, they would be grateful in some small forgotten way not to be outside in torrential downpour, which had hidden so sweetly behind the mountain, and given Albany days of basking in now muted defiance of seasons changing.
The display on his silver watch read the mid-afternoon. Hands fastened its straps and he noticed the time at a glance, in the same motion becoming most acutely aware of some very present absence. The bruises around his neck were smoothed brashly by an intruding gust of fresh and biting air, and he shivered, putting his hands to his neck, acknowledging at once the presence of her sex emblazoned on his neck and the sheer and chasm-like lack he had become so inherently and subtly attached to. The absence lay there, in his hand on his neck: the absent wedding ring. He shot up, shouting panicked pleas to an indifferent lover. He flung his arms wildly, knocking the ashtray over, sending falling embers artfully across the floor. After repeated complaints from the unfortunate cleaning staff of an altogether different narrative, the Crowne Plaza Hotel would charge the Company what would later be considered extortionate and insulting amounts for the replacement of the ruined carpet and torn bedsheets.
Things were remembered and forgotten and missed forever. She stood silently against the fridge of the room, her heels raised in defiance of the situation, her lips drawn around her second cigarette. He paced the room, turning up bedsheets, not really even looking anymore: the fear had set in. The remnants of some forgotten memory, blocked with coffee and the life composed thereof and in that room, with that woman, and those children playing outside, their voices dying.
The Conference held at the Civic Centre on responsible corporate investment, amongst other things, passed neatly and auspiciously for the executives involved in ethical decision making on behalf of the Company. Indeed, the Company’s decisions in the past could even be seen in retrospect to have been carried out in accordance with their now universal and uniform policy measures, outlined succinctly later that year in pamphlets and websites, and followed precisely without regret. This was the nature of responsible corporate investment, amongst other things, such as ethic capitalist behaviour in free markets, global or domestic. That decisions had always been made on a basis of ethical and social responsibility was, in all its construction, an implicit acknowledgement of the Company’s raison d'etre. And would be judged accordingly to its own ideas of ethics and responsibility, which would have been outlined in their stylishly printed pamphlets and skilfully crafted websites published accordance to what was learned at the conference on responsible corporate investment, held kindly in Albany, at the Civic Centre.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Dracula’s principle companions and alternate forms- rats, wolves, and bats- were associated with disease.
However, this theory of the cultural production of vampires can be considered historically determinate, a thesis of causality wherein subjectivity borne of society determines the nature of the vampire. This does not allow for the possibility that readerly subjectivity can inscribe random, intertextual effect. The relationship between our subjective selves and our fictional vampires is one then of continual rewriting. Trevor Holmes argues that
It may in fact be the case that vampire production itself determines what sorts of subjectivities are available to subsequent generations on both individual and historical levels.
The intertextual development of the vampire as a literary device has reached an apex in postmodernism. Postmodern thought stresses the questioning of notions of political, ethical, moral, aesthetic and conceptual truth; it decentralizes thought and celebrates difference, the validity of difference and the right of the Other(s) to speak in a language which they can claim as their own. It mourns homogenization in all its forms, by the very nature of its mandate. This has led to what some call a ‘legitimation crisis’; that all our overarching institutions, religion, the rule of law, sense of self, are revealed as being rooted in fraudulent systems. Sharing its concerns with post-structuralist thought, postmodernism critiques the binary relationships, which are always subject to power, to hierarchy, that structure our linguistics and therefore, our subjective selves. In this sense, the vampire has developed as our most postmodern of metaphors, the most deconstructive monster. Gina Wisker writes that
Whether used as the worst kind of terror to be exorcised or, in its contemporary form, as potential social/sexual transgressor to be celebrated, the vampire disrupts polarised systems of thought. It undermines and disempowers western logical tendencies to construct divisive, hierarchical, oppositional structures.
The most telling of these transgressions is rooted in the most essential facet of any vampire, the nature of their sustenance: blood. Using Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject (arbitrary objects which produce subconscious reactions of Othering or Otherness, which in turn exist to establish and reify definitions and boundaries of self), we can read the vampire’s dependence on blood as a metaphorical incorporation of aspects of the Other into self.
The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest, an otherness, ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire…The abject has only one quality of the object- that of being opposed to I.
Our response to blood is similar to our response to the uncanny, because it is that which does not belong. It exists inside our bodies, underneath skin, in veins, hidden. Vampires, rupturing the veins of victims and surviving on the nourishment of drinking blood, this abject, profoundly disturb boundaries of inside and outside, of self/other.
It is as if the skin, a fragile container, no longer guaranteed the integrity of one’s ‘own and clean self’ but, scraped or transparent, invisible or taut, gave way before the dejection of its contents.
As a metaphor suitable for postmodernity, vampires by their very nature transgress what we would consider boundaries and embody the doctrines (or anti-dogmatic principles) of postmodernism most effectively.
This deconstruction of boundaries helps to explain why the vampire is a monster-of-choice these days, since it is itself an inherently deconstructive figure: it is the monster that used to be human; it is the undead that used to be alive; it is the monster that looks like us. For this reason, the figure of the vampire always has the potential to jeopardise conventional distinctions between human and monster, between life and death, between ourselves and the Other.
This dissertation takes a study of three vampire fictions: Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Angela Carter’s The Lady in the House of Love and Suzy McKee Charna’s The Unicorn Tapestry, and examines whether their vampires may or may not be termed ‘postmodern’, and the extent to which boundaries in subjectivity are transgressed through readings of these vampire texts.
Chapter One: Queering the Narrative Order and Desire in Carmilla
Sheridan Le Fanu's enchanting short story 'Carmilla', from the 1872 collection In A Glass Darkly is a gothic story of terrifying seduction, rendered uncanny through the deployment of the lesbian vampire. In making Carmilla both lesbian and vampire, and rendering the two synonymous, Le Fanu aimed to disturb the well-to-do readership of the time to great effect. Furthermore, the simple use of a female vampire was something that in itself, patriarchal Victorian society would find hard to swallow, and impossible not to reject almost entirely.
Onto the figure of the female vampire is loaded all her fear and loathing of libidinous enactment. Seen as potential castrator, she appears as dangerously powerful, sexually voracious and engulfing[…]
Carmilla is characterized in these terms through the establishment of a narrative patriarchal order, comprised of the male characters in the novella. Female vampires inherently serve to potentially disrupt hierarchies of power maintained by patriarchal systems. However, Le Fanu’s motive in the character of Carmilla was not to critique or distance himself from these power systems and patriarchal discourses, but to reify them, to shun the Other. It would be fair to say that Carmilla is a vampire that has been ‘created by and for the interests of males.’
The Victorian view of lesbianism conventionally saw it as ‘unnatural’, against Nature: the illness that overtakes Laura and the village is a nearby indication of this.
Through the coming together of male characters; Laura's father, General Spielsdorf, Dr Spielsberg, Baron Vordenburg and the narrator, Dr Hesselius (to whom Laura's case is referred), both in terms of argument (the scientific notation and examination given by Hesselius and Spielsberg) and the manifest action taken by Laura's father and the General, a patriarchal order is established, which the text posits as dominant and morally superior.
It is only through the descriptions of Laura’s father and the general, both patriarchal restrictive figures, that Carmilla is seen as ghostly, dangerous, to be destroyed.
This contrasts with descriptions of Carmilla as 'so beautiful and so indescribably engaging' and 'gentle and nice' given by Laura and a maid of the house. In making synonymous Carmilla’s contradictory status as both demonic and beautiful, as playful and deadly, the texts posits the feminine and the lesbian form embodied by Carmilla as a distinct threat to the men in the text, and their authority as men to identify and neutralise such potential threats. She threatens them with castration and the destruction of their power. After finding revelatatory evidence to suggest that Carmilla is a vampire, the men refer to her through her sixteenth century title, Countess Karnstein or as Millarca, her ancient name- invoking elements of the aristocratic vampire tradition, as made infamous by the vampire figure of Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s later text. In Millarca's case, the reign of the vampire Karnsteins is but a memory and she, the last of her family. It is clearly in the interests of the male order to name the vampire- to distinguish her from them, (a patriarchal act of colonising, in itself), and reify her threat at the plot’s conclusion. With the traditional stake-through-heart procedure, the General reasserts the dominance and authority of the patriarchal order and naturalises this gendered hierarchy and seemingly ending the vampire’s active subversion.
The men...form a kind of beaurocracy which signifies Carmilla as a vampire precisely in order to manage the threat- and eventually, to destroy it.
And this would seem like narrative closure: a patriarchal order is established and then threatened, reasserts its natural and essentialist dominion over all Others. This would be an adequate reading. Certainly, Laura remains haunted and disturbed, as do the readership, by the lingering images of the simultaneously enticing and repulsive vampire/lesbian. But she does not succumb to lesbianism or vampirism herself; as the patriarchal interests of the text construct this lesbian vampirism as wholly Other to Laura, and through her narration, to us. Turning again to Kristeva’s notion of the abject, Laura’s mixed feelings of disgust can be read as reification of the self in opposition to the Other, that she cast out the vampire. Kristeva notes that the abject
beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside, sickened, it rejects.
How, then, is Carmilla at all transgressive? I have established that Le Fanu held no sympathy with lesbianism, and used the vampire only to induce the horrors of the abject. But I believe that the text contains enough moments of ambiguity, through the confused but clear narration assigned to Laura to merit a contemporary re-reading. Roland Barthes’s infamous poststructuralist assertion that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” seems wholly relevant given that ‘every age embraces the vampire it needs’.
Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Laura are male generated narrative constructions. This is certainly not to suggest that there is some totalising meaning in them that we can therefore pin to them, but simply to point out that it is through their appropriation from a differently situated perspective that one configures these texts as lesbian narratives.
Far from naturalising the ideological and moral values of patriarchal discourse through its conclusion and narrative resolution, through Laura’s subjective position as narrator, a rereading shows that Carmilla offers instead open conclusions, bittersweet elegies and missed, confused desires. It is only through the biased speech of the men that Carmilla is construed as a threat. Although Carmilla makes Laura feel 'something of repulsion' this is portrayed as being felt simultaneously with an overwhelming sense of closeness and attraction. That Laura is 'charmed with her', that the 'sense of attraction immediately prevailed' is not surprising given Laura's condition in the deep isolation of the foreign and unforgiving lands of Styria is one of utter loneliness and desperate yearning for friendship. She is Laura's 'only available source of intimacy'. Regardless of these details of characterisation though, that Carmilla is recited through Laura's narrative (which is left largely untouched by Dr Hesselius) is fundamental. The text constructs reader subjectivity in such a way as to allow a valid queer reading of the pre-modernist text, despite the intentions of Le Fanu and how it was received initially. David Punter argues along this line when he says that
It is as though each new social crux-from class anxieties through late nineteenth century sexual liberation and on to later struggles around race and sexual orientation traces its own representation on the curious body of the vampire.
Reading as Laura, we feel all her attractions and repulsions, we understand her 'ambiguous feeling' as authentic documentary; and gain an understanding of Carmilla more intimate and expressive than the aggressive threat signification of the patriarchs in the text. In Vampires and Violets, Andrea Weiss argues that
The lesbian vampire is more than simply a negative stereotype. She is complex, at once an image of death and an object of desire, drawing on profound subconscious fears that the living have toward the dead and that men have toward women, while serving for repressed fantasies.
And it is perhaps notable that subsequent film adaptations of Carmilla, those films in which narrative is obviously influenced by Le Fanu’s novel, or even more explicitly, wherein the vampire is named Carmilla (most notably, The Vampire Lovers) are more pornographic male fantasy than potential egalitarian transgression metaphor. But reading Le Fanu’s text with the postmodern province of queer theory can affect such a reading. Writing on the postmodern vampire aesthetic, Trevor Holmes defines queer theory simply as “a varying set of texts and lived experiences that together work to produce turns of meaning in other texts and experiences.”. Queer theory operates within linguistics, that is; it posits gender and sexuality as social constructions, rooted essentially within the symbolic framework of signifier and signified. Nina Auerbach suggests that “the province of Queer Theory is language.” Therefore, the argument follows, our gendered and sexually orientated subjectivities, our identities are no more than illusory constructs, held together by strands of signification and continual renewal/reification. Suzanna Danuta Walter comments on the liberatory potential of queer theory when she says that
Queerness is theorised as somehow beyond gender, a vision of a sort of transcendent, polymorphous perversity deconstructing as it slips from one desiring/desired object to the other.
I do not wish to debate the shortcomings of queer theory, and by this I mean, the extra-linguistic effects on the construction of subjectivity and ego, the emotional stimuli that cannot be represented in signification. I do wish to highlight however that Laura’s narrative cannot be read as a necessarily feminine dialogue. Not for the reason that Le Fanu was obviously male, and therefore could not hope to ever transcend his biological sex and achieve a feminine semiotic, because what is paramount in our relationship to the text is how we read. Queer theory applies here, because gender is somewhat dismissed. We do not read Laura’s narrative as temporal female subjectivities because her character is female, nor am I, reading Carmilla, merely limited to voyeurism defined by exclusion from her biologically determined narrative. I suggest that we read not as only male or only female in spite of the narration, but that we read her experience inter-subjectively; we experience a temporal dis-location of our measured and taut sense of self: suspense of disbelief. In many ways, we read exactly for this pleasure, the desire not to experience ourselves. Ken Gelder states that
The story turns on the fact that the reader must know more than Laura does – or her father, for that matter...It also allows readers the privileged position of seeing what occurs in the privacy of Laura’s bedroom, which thus enables readerly knowledge to be contrasted with the ignorance of the otherwise self-satisfied ‘ paternal figures’ whose homes is literally their castle. Readers can identify with Carmilla...through the various erotic scenes and through her seductive powers of Laura
We are seduced as much as Laura is, and so the text foregrounds this intimate relationship, with all its confusions and desires, with adequate distance from the men's vampirisation narrative, which runs only to manage and eliminate the threat of same-sex desire. Even at the story's resolution, after Millarca's death, the text portrays Laura's (and our own) queer desire as unending:
It was long before the terror of recent events subsided, and to this hour the image
of Carmilla returns with ambiguous alternations— sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing-room door.
The narrator’s ‘non-ending’ continues to license this queer desire against aggressive patriarchal reactionaries, the manifest return of the repressed. It is an affirmation, I believe, of the empowering potential of the postmodern that a text steeped in and read originally as celebration of patriarchal victory over the chaos of feminine desires can be read and in some ways claimed, as a sad soliloquy of missed queer desire. This in itself is transgressive, but this transgression is present by its absence, it is a latent potential of the text and so mirrors the missed desire that Laura experiences. Trevor Holmes notes that
At any given stage of cultural phenomena, there are multiple entry points for readings based on embedded genealogical codes, whether or not these codes were intentionally put there by anyone.
As Nina Auerbach observes, “Carmilla is one of the few self-accepting homosexuals in Victorian…literature.” , and though the reserved attitudes of Victorian culture would read of the seductive lesbian vampire with utmost terror and disgust, this says more about them than it does Carmilla. The same text, read with the postmodern validation of sites of difference, celebration of the Other, allows a quite transgressive reading. The queer lies dormant in the text, repressed by the violent acts of the male order against the vampire, but portrayed as ultimately unending through the juxtaposition of untrustworthy characters and Laura’s personal, affected narrative.
Chapter Two: The Loneliness of the Transgression in The Lady in the House of Love
Whereas a postmodern and queer reading of Carmilla actively disturbs polarities of gender and sexuality in subjectivity, providing ambiguous, unreliable narratives (the vampire is liberated as queer and never silence and killed completely, through Laura’s desire), Angela Carter’s 1979 short story The Lady of the House of Love portrays the vampire not as something inherently empowering and by its nature defiant, but as a creature haunted by reflections of itself, lost in loneliness and time, transgressing nothing, but regressing into fortune cards and perpetual sadness. Published in Carter’s The Bloody Chamber collection, The Lady of the House of Love has been described by Veronica Hollinger as
A self-reflexive allegory about the disappearance of the fantastic in the face of an intensely smug human rationality whose definitions of the Real are clear-cut and confident, leaving no room for creatures like vampires.
The lady of the title is the last of an ancient, fading dynasty of vampire lords, the line of Vlad the Impaler, and is solitary Countess to an ancient, imposing, cobweb-laden castle passed through generations of her family.
She is so beautiful she is unnatural; her beauty is an abnormality, a deformity, for none of her features exhibit any of those touching imperfections that reconcile us to the imperfection of the human condition. Her beauty is a symptom of her disorder, her soulnessness.
Carter is ‘writing back’ to canonised literature throughout The Bloody Chamber collection. The characterisation of the Lady recalls Stoker’s seminal vampire text, Carter goes so far as to name the girl ‘Nosferatu’- an overt reference to the infamous Count. Moreover, the location of the Castle, ambiguously and somewhat playfully demarcated merely as ‘the land of vampires’ invokes the entire vampire genre as its literary point of reference. Similarly, elements of the vampire Countess’s isolation and the position of her elderly governess evoke images of Jane Eyre’s much discussed ‘madwoman in the attic’, Bertha, who is both a product of overarching patriarchy in characterisation and a feminist site of resistance for later rereadings. The vampire Lady remains inside the Castle at all times, the curtains are left permanently shut, and her fingernails are left to grow, as they are tools of her vampirism, the talons of a predator. The governess (who is mute) attends to the Countesses every need, luring those passing through the abandoned village at the castle’s foot toward her lady’s bedroom and feeding chamber. The Countess is not, however, a proud creature, and does not take pleasure in consummation of this essential vampiric act. Gina Wisker comments that female vampires, by and large,
…lurk seductively and dangerously…they chiefly act as a warning against being taken in by appearances and becoming victim of women’s active sexuality, equated with the demonic.
And this can be seen in the feeding patterns of the Lady, as evidenced in this passage:
She would like to caress their lean brown cheeks and stroke their ragged hair. When she takes them by the hand and leads them to her bedroom, they can scarcely believe their luck.
Afterwards, the governess will tidy the remains into a neat pile and wrap it in its own discarded clothes. This mortal parcel she then discreetly buries in the garden. The blood on the Countess’s cheeks will be mixed with tears; her keeper probes her fingernails for her with a little silver toothpick, to get rid of the fragments of skin and bone that lodged there.
Carter demonstrates the erotic seduction through which the victims are brought to their deaths, the process which for the men signifies carnality, the prospect of this wiry but beautiful female body, guided and handed to them for their pleasure, their whim. But this is no erotic narrative and there is clearly no sexual inclination in the vampire’s intent; hers is a primal hunger drawn from her nature, built up from forced starvation, until the very point where she is ‘ravenous’. Although the luring of the victim turns on the process of erotic seduction (and so can be seen from the victim’s perspective as a cold and stern warning against the outward and immediate truth of how things appear to be), the vampire Lady’s sexuality is far from ‘active’ or ‘dangerous’, and instead the entire seduction, from wandering in the town below the castle and being retrieved by the dutiful governess, to being led by the hand to the maiden’s bed, is portrayed rather as a performance, an act of deceit and trickery to which the Lady is irrevocably tied and seemingly fated to repeat throughout her timeless existence, through which she is as much deceived, albeit knowingly, as her victim, captive and victim to her own desires. Carter uses the symbolic ritual of the Lady revealing of Tarot cards daily to signify her hopelessness, the futility and irreversible tragedy of her position.
She counts out the Tarot cards, ceaselessly construing a constellation of possibilities as if the random fall of the cards on the red plush tablecloth before her could precipitate her from the chill, shuttered room into a country of perpetual summer and obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden.
The ‘beautiful queen of the vampires’ as she is initially described is a creature of utter loneliness and absence, she does not even wish to claim her ancestry. She comprises everything a vampire by its nature should, and as a construct, fulfils the requirements of the vampire mode: she survives on blood, for example,the cultural connotations of which signify the intrusion of the inside, the private, Self, and so disturb the inner/outer, self/other boundaries through which we subconsciously define our subjective selves; but the vampire queen does not experience postmodern pleasure, or touch emotional plenitude or completion through transgression of this linguistically determined, culturally sacrosanct boundary. Hollinger argues that contemporary female vampires can often be considered postmodern
…to the extent that they themselves are victims of the self same absence they have come to represent; they are as trapped within the framework of meaningless as are their human counterparts.
If we consider queer theory briefly, in relation to The Lady of the House of Love, and specifically, the character of the Vampire Queen, the text appears to operate on a different, oppositional and far subtler mandate than say, Carmilla, whose narration proposes latent queer readings for postmodern audiences. Although the Lady of this novel can be described as heterosexual (and therefore, perhaps, of no interest to queer theorists), I would argue that this position can be considered ‘hetero-phobic’. Queer theory exists as a cultural mode through which to critique the often-essentialising marriages of gender and sexuality, and the cultural capital, or the hierarchical power relationships at play within these contesting modes of sexual and gender identification.
Despite postmodernism’s emphasis on the importance of the identity and voice of those at culture’s moral margins and recognition of the Other, mass media generally still propagates gender stereotypes, and helps to reinforce and naturalise largely heterosexual, patriarchal modes of discourse. These ideologies are; of course, wide open to critique and indeed, explosion- as Queer Theory bravely and nobly aims toward.
My point with regard to The Lady in the House of Love, and indeed, heterosexuality in general, as a signifier and as a trope of identity/ies, is that heterosexuality does not exist as one unified and common experience, that as with all defined sexual modes of practise, orientation and leisure and all gender definitions, is that they are all entirely rooted within a fraudulent system of empty signifiers.
The ‘subject’ is produced in language through an act of foreclosure…What is repudiated in the formation of the subject continues to determine that subject…The subject is, as a result, never coherent and never self-identical precisely because it is founded and indeed, continually refounded through a set of defining foreclosures that constitute the discontinuity and incompletion of the subject.
As such, constituted through semiotics, subjective experiences of heterosexuality are continually reified within (and largely subconsciously by) the subjective ‘heterosexual’ self, he/she who would define himself or herself as ‘heterosexual’ that is, not homosexual, or queer. Repressing fears regarding what they define as ‘Other’, they claim ownership over a myth (sexuality and gender constructions), and mythologise their own bodies and sexualities. In their online paper regarding gender and language, Janet Bing and Victoria Bergvall argue that
Because the terms male and female insufficiently categorise our experience, English also includes tomboy, sissy, cross-dresser, transvestite, bisexual, gay. lesbian, hermaphrodite, androgyny, etc. The negative connotations often associated with these words suggest that although such a multiplicity exists, these are aberrations and departures from a basic dichotomy: female and male.
Bing and Bergvall argue that despite many sites and points of identity existing and being recognised, it is precisely because of existence of a base binary from which all others stem, and can be considered of lesser importance; more to do with social construction than biologically determined essentialism, that the expression and evocation of these ‘grey areas’, the sites of experience which don’t so neatly fit into this overarching and disturbingly simple binary, male/female, is so necessary.
Much of our experience does not fit into binary categories but is much better described as a continuum with indistinct boundaries.
It is hard if not impossible to locate such ‘indistinct boundaries’ as conducive to the ordering and ‘essentially categorical’ structural properties of our linguistic interface. The ultimate desire of any queer transgression is that of escaping the political limits of language with regard to both the body and intimate sexuality. The search for cohesion between language and the body, then, can be read as a kind of search without an answer. The linguistic system constructs genders and sexualities as meta-archetypes, mirrors for self-identification or appropriation of self, and fundamentally misses the point; that continuums of experience and emotion can’t be expressed in a logically constructed, ordered system of categorical distinctions. Speaking for egalitarian purpose, the effect that a utopian queer theory would aim for is simply not conducive to systems ordered around relationships of power and clear boundaries. At best, queer theory then becomes a mode of counter-criticism, and although this is much needed to question the authority of defined meta-narratives, such as patriarchy, cannot possibly hope to overcome the over-mythologised and essentially empty desire toward transgression. Returning to The Lady in the House of Love, by creating a vampire character so beset by sadness and loneliness, who is both potential transgressor and victim simultaneously, Carter pre-emptively addresses these concerns within Queer Theory, the postmodern mode of discourse argued by some to be best manifest in the literary device of the vampire. When confronted with the possibility of love, Carter’s vampire withers and dies.
How can she bear the pain of becoming human? The end of exile is the end of being.
Whereas her exile is a loss of her humanity, and she would seek to transgress herself to attain this; ours is one from the imagined state of plenitude. By implicating this into the vampire’s death, the text suggests that transgression as a concern is one that has been wholly over-mythologised and articulated in a manner not unlike the possible search the mythical creature of the vampire itself: a futile and empty search through time. In Carter’s text, the fantastic- the transgressive is ‘an absence.’
Chapter Three: The Limits of Transgression in Unicorn Tapestry
In Suzy McKee Charna’s Unicorn Tapestry, vampirism is constructed as something entirely Other to human rationale and the space of human conceptual understanding. The text constructs the figure of the vampire, as embodied by Dr Edward Lewis Weyland, as a predator, whose sole instincts function as those of a predator (for survival) through a series of conversations and professional counselling sessions with Dr Floria Landauer, a New York psychotherapist, whom the third person narration makes it’s protagonist. The text, published originally as a short story, a novella unto itself- grew and became but a chapter in the chronicles of Edward Weyland, vampire. For the purposes of this dissertation, I wish to concentrate only on Unicorn Tapestry and not on the surrounding, and later added chapters in The Vampire Tapestry. Unicorn Tapestry has been referred to as ‘one of the most successful’ of the postmodern vampire fictions. It has been described retrospectively by its author as ‘in some respects an animal story, like The Call of the Wild or an inverse Lassie Come Home.’ Veronica Hollinger explores this suggestion:
Charnas defines the relationship between the vampire and its human victims as one of simple necessity, in which the hunter has no moral obligation to its prey. For her vampire, Weyland, this particular configuration is a necessary antidote to the dangers posed by empathy; the vampire who empathizes too strongly with its human victims risks starving to death.
The psychotherapist, Floria Landauer, is a women who is, from the outset, under a lot of pressure (which affects her subjective authority as a psychotherapist) a single professional working mother who is grossly overworked and stressed, before she acquires the vampire case. The seeming disbelief toward the prospect of real, live vampires drew her initially toward taking on the extra work, despite the protests of her narrative conscience, friend and fellow psychotherapist Lucille, whose voice is constructed as moral and rational, in whose view vampires are the creatures of fiction and nothing more. Initially, and as one would expect from someone of psychoanalytic training, Floria approaches Weyland’s case with strong suspicion, a kind of precious refusal to acknowledge vampires. In notes that she takes after the psychotherapy sessions, Floria records her professional opinion:
Surely his problem was a transmutation into ‘vampire’ fantasy of an unacceptable aspect of himself. For men of his generation the confrontation with homosexual drives could be devastating.
Drawing an analogy between the social positions of vampirism and homosexuality, the psychotherapist seeks to logically pull apart the vampire ‘fantasy’ which she believes Weyland has constructed, perhaps subconsciously. There are some obvious parallels between the social constructs of vampirism and homosexuality- their position as social Other to the moral code, but simultaneous apparently similar constitution. Indeed, much has been made of the aesthetic potential of the vampire to represent accurately the discursive figure of the homosexual, as Richard Dyer (quoted by Ken Gelder) suggests
The analogy with homosexuality as a secret erotic practise works in two contradictory ways. On the one hand, the point about sexual orientation is that it doesn’t ‘show’, you can’t tell who is who isn’t just by looking; but on the other hand, there is also a widespread discourse that there are tell-tale signs that someone ‘is
However, Charnas’ refuses to eroticise the vampire so completely, instead offering us a vampire who is ‘largely impotent’,
Once my hunger is active, sexual arousal is impossible. My physical unresponsiveness seems to surprise no one. Apparently, impotence is expected in a grey-haired man, which suits my intention.
And gradually, Floria becomes convinced that Weyland is indeed, the genuine article, a real vampire.
My purpose can’t be to cure him of what he is. Suppose vampirism isn’t a defence he has to learn to drop? Suppose it’s the core of his identity? Then what do I do?
Through the focus of the narration on the character of Floria, we gain a ‘human’ understanding, or perspective toward the figure of the vampire, which is constructed as a creature with extra-human attributes and the instincts of a predator.
One of the most deconstructive aspects of this story is that it manages to keep both vampire and human at the forefront of the narrative: the point of view character is the psychiatrist, while the subject, not the object of the analysis is the vampire.
Presumably, by approaching the vampire from this subjective human prerogative- that of Dr Floria Landauer, the text offers us a kind of understanding we can grasp- a human perspective, if you will, of something quite beyond the rational. In doing so, the text claims to validate this site of difference as authentic and real, not incorporate into ourselves, or be appropriated for personal, cultural or political ends, and thus destroyed. However, Floria constructs an eroticised image of Weyland as a means of validating him, and falls in repulsed attraction to the idea of this predatory Other. There was, she notes,
Something attractive in his purely selfish, predatory stance- the lure of the great outlaw.
Floria reaction is akin to that of the well-intentioned coloniser. Her attempt to validate and recognise the vampire merely eroticised his Otherness and reasserted the problematics of difference. In a tender final passage, Floria attempts to balance the polarities, break down and unify self/other. When Floria sleeps with Weyland, a creature whose sexual impulses are minimal and feels no more than the compulsion and drive for blood, she is trying to incorporate his difference in the only way she understands.
She lived the fantasy of sex with an utter stranger; there was no one stranger than he. Yet there was no one who knew him as well as she did either. If he was unique, so was she, and so was their confluence here.
Ultimately, I do not believe that one short lived and rather clichéd carnal encounter with the vampire merits the simultaneous recognition and inclusion of the vampire Other. For Dr Landauer, the encounter is highly sensual, an imaginary, fictionalised space to achieve narrative closure in her mind. For Weyland, the encounter appears not to move him; he remains cold and silent afterward and leaves almost immediately, in continued silence. Because of this, the text cannot hope to allow the vampire space to act as an metaphorical mirror of repressed desire, cannot allow for any more than a reinforcement of the self/other and good/evil binaries. Charnas clearly believes that her vampire
Shows up the monstrosity of true human evil, as well as calling forth to match that evil the full exercise of human virtue.
And that in doing so, exercises manifest postmodern action- critiquing the contradictory values of the human characters in the novel. But ultimately, the figure of the vampire remains distinctly Othered by the text. By reifying the otherness of the vampire, we cannot hope to possibly identify with the aesthetic qualities that the vampire construct has been embodied, as I have shown with the two previous texts.
Despite the best efforts of the patriarchal moral order, Carmilla allowed for unending queer desire in the protagonist and so disturbed the self/other dichotomy entirely. The Lady in the House of Love reveals reinforcements of good/evil and self/other to be severely problematised, dependant upon individual subjective experiences- through the innocent and ignorant figure of the soldier, with whom the vampire queen falls in love. To the soldier, she is a withered and desperately sick young girl, and taking pity on her, cannot possibly conceive of her vampirism. Furthermore, Charnas defines that vampires, indeed by their very nature, cannot operate successfully when female.
The predator-male identity is endowed with romantic trappings by women to make life in the world that is run by and for this identity bearable.
I would contest this point, on the very literal examples of Carmilla and the Vampire Queen of Carter’s text. I believe that female vampires are utterly essential to critiquing the very patriarchal order that would seek to demonise and destroy them. Moreover, our male vampires can, and to a degree should be feminised vampires. Weyland’s predator male vampire critiques nothing, and although the text validates his position- the help and ‘virtue’ he calls forth in Floria, the Other is not incorporated, merely recognised for his Otherness. Crucially, the vampire is allowed to exist but only to remind ourselves of what we are not. If the vampire is to mean anything significant within postmodernity; it has to be a two-way mirror, through which we see both our desires and fears manifested, simultaneously. Trevor Holmes argues that
Vampires function as more than just metaphors or archetypes in contemporary culture; in the case of at least some subjects in the boundary-crossing culture that is both queer and goth, vampires are sources of self-invention and the very much out-staging of the problematics of gender identification and sexuality.
Joan Gordon suggests that “the boundaries between ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ become increasingly problematised” in our vampire stories, and arguably this metaphoricity is the very essence of postmodernist thought: the fundamental critique of normalising ideologies. Vampires must function as mirrors through which we can identity with ourselves, and seek consciously not to run from the discursive elements of this fictional monster, but to achieve more than an ironical symbolic validation of the Other. Such a representation, as found in Charna’s Unicorn Tapestry appears to recognise and include the Other, but is dismissive and accomplishes no more than a politically correct façade under which self continues to be construed through its direct opposition. The vampire is not validated and celebrated, but fetishised by both Floria and the text. Le Fanu’s Carmilla expresses the political dominance of patriarchy and the pain it can assert upon queer desire, which it poetically portrays as unending, missed and defiant in spite of the authority of the patriarchal order. Angela Carter’s Lady of the House of Love recognises that ultimately, the transgressive or postmodern potential of the literary vampire figure should be recognised in its metaphoricity for our own transgressions, or indeed, as the text explicitly suggests, our mythologies regarding transgression. Vampires may be the most suitable metaphor for postmodernism, but what can the vampire accomplish under postmodernism? When subjective human selves are defying boundaries and triumphing difference in themselves so constantly, what use is another undead transgressor? Despite its seeming ‘normality’ in postmodernism, I believe that our vampires will continue to grow with us and continue to reflect, challenge and indeed form modes of subjectivity.