Saturday, August 11, 2012

Allegories of Vampire Cinema, by Jeremy Magnan

So, I am going to give myself a couple of hours this luxurious Saturday morning to learn something about the folklore of mirrors, and the folklore of mirrors and vampires in particular. It's not something I have ever looked at systematically (vampires have actually never been a real interest of mine, but I loved this novel by Stoker!), so I will have lots of learn.

I start with Google… but I know better than to just search for "vampires mirrors" - the sheer abundance of fan fiction and fakelore on the Internet is a bad problem in general, and I suspect for vampires it is especially bad. So I am going to search for "vampires mirrors site:edu" to see what I can turn up at university websites; maybe I will get some conference papers, materials from courses, etc. Yep, lots of results. And the first result is an article that is so darn interesting that I am going to devote a whole post to it here.

ALLEGORIES OF VAMPIRE CINEMA by Jeremy Magnan - online here - downloadable PDF.

This is an article focused on film, so it doesn't really get at the folklore angle, but the mirror motif in vampire films is definitely something I would like to know about! (I have not seen any of the vampire movies.) The author brings in material from three dozen vampire films, so this will be worth skimming at least. The author's focus is a "reader-response" approach, looking at parallels between vampires and victims / vampires and spectators.  Intriguing; one of the things I liked most about Stoker's book was how the Count is really repulsive; the really powerful seductive effects are more focused on the his three female sidekicks (but of course the gender questions in this novel are just huge... I wish we had Mary Shelley's take on vampires, ha ha). Anyway, the idea of spectators and spectating is one that is really fascinating to me, so I am going to plunge into this article with a lot of questions… ooooh, and the questions are well worth it. This is a good article I see as I get into it.

Lacan's mirror stage is invoked as a theoretical model, and sure enough, the author asks what Dracula's "mirror stage" would be. He then invokes another scholar, Fiona Peters, who says "Vampires have no need for an unconscious - nor can they be seen in mirrors because they do not need to rely on the process of identifications that Lacan describes; in other words, they have not become formed as human subjects." YES - that is very much the feeling I was getting from Stoker (sans Lacan). The author then invokes a HILARIOUS quote from Slavoj Zizek: "It is therefore clear why vampires are invisible to the mirror: because they have read Lacan and, consequently, know how to behave." HA: that is perfect! That was, in fact, just the feeling I got when Dracula smashed Harker's mirror, as he made a moralistic, self-righteous argument to justify his action, while cloaking his real motive. Gotta love Zizek.

The author then deploys his film-specific argument, which he adapts from Christian Metz: the film itself is a mirror; (quoting Metz) "although everything comes to be projected, there is one thing, and one thing only that is never reflected in it: the spectator's own body." Magnan then goes on to apply this idea to vampire cinema; here is his claim: "the mirrors in which vampires cannot be seen are analogous to the film-mirror that we encounter when we go to the cinema to view on of these films. As such, it is clear that not only are we aligned with the vampire through the space we wenter and the darkness we become enveloped in, but we are the vampires we see in front of us."

Now, that is interesting - and I think just the OPPOSITE is happening with Stoker's book, exactly because the only first-person experience we are denied is that of the Count himself. Writing is different from film; it is not 'spectating' in the same way (although I should probably think about that some more). When Stoker gives us diaries, documents, even phonograph records, he is prodding us to share the first-person experiences of so many different characters in the novel… but never the Count! I wonder if Magnan will comment on this - but his interest is in the films, so it's not exactly relevant to his topic.

Yep, as expected, the rest of the article is really concerned with questions of film and visual representation (it's fun stuff; in general, I enjoy film criticism so much more than literary criticism… I wonder why that is… hmmmm). Anyway, this was very useful. I probably cannot get hold of Zizek's "Enjoy Your Symptom!" as cited here, but I would read it with pleasure. Eegad, I guess maybe I should read some Lacan. But really, I would rather read some FOLKLORE.

So, while this article was good fun and thought-provoking, I am going to seek out some folklore to read next.


  1. Reading your wonderful post I thought: Maybe you can connect Christian Metz point with the one from Fiona Peters and come up with something like: Vampires have lost their "human soul" that's why they don't have to face themselves in the mirror. (like the saying: After that, how can you still look in the mirror?). And when we watch a vampire in the movies we can see the dark part of our own unconsciousness, but since like the vampire who doesn't has to see himself and can not be seen by anybody else, we don't realize it is our reflection. We vanish and without guilt (we believe nobody can see us), we can enjoy what we see there: the reflection of somebody else. Us excluded. The same way it would look for Dracula to stand in front of a mirror with us by his side (just that he might prefer to see some yummy bags of blood instead of repressed urges).
    That would maybe even fit with Bram Stoker, who seems to try so hard to destroy evil. An evil so different and split off from his world with his spotless heroes, that he even doesn't deserve his own diary. :) But nonetheless Dracula seems to incorporate all the desires and fears of Stoker's times. They can watch him like he is no part of them, because they don't see themselves, they see just his reflection. Especially that the book is so morally. Isn't it often that we forget our human nature when we get morally?
    No time to think about it more now, but that's what popped up. I love that you tell people how they can get good search results on the internet. And yes "Gotta love Zizek". But Folklore is fun too.

  2. Wow, Celine, I had not even thought of it in moral terms, of the Count not deserving his own diary - but I think you must be right about that; all the religious vocabulary, the references to hell and demons and such... so in addition to what I took to be the weird quirk of "vampire science" that he does not have a reflection, probably does indeed have a moral dimension for Stoker - just as the the dead in Dante's Inferno recognize that Dante is not one of them because he casts a shadow... while they do not. Part of me was just resisting that religious dimension of the book because I guess I did not find it very well done (I love Blatty's The Exorcist, and also the film Rosemary's Baby - those really resonated with some deep religious thought, and I don't seek Stoker as being in that league at all... but he probably aspired to be!)

  3. Eeegad, here it is almost two years since you responded to my (admittedly) very preliminary readings of "Dracula" films to the date of publication (forgive my lack of italicization, such is the internet). I'm very happy I was able to get wheels turning even at this early point in my academic career. I've since moved on almost fully to international film with a concentration in Irish, South African, and Serbian film whilst pointing back to the American cinema at every turn. If you or your readers have any, I would be more than happy to answer questions on this article or other topics.

    Jeremy Magnan



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