Sunday, 8 February 2009

The real "living dead"

Vampires crop up everywhere, e.g. here in For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (1991) by the philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek:

'Apropos of the "transcendental apperception", Kant points out the utter voidance of the "I" that thinks: "I" is the empty form of thoughts, we can never accomplish the step from it towards substance and attain the hypothetical X, "the Thing that thinks" - yet the apparitions in the Gothic novels are precisely this: Things that think. This Kantian background is most easily perceived in the vampire novels; when, in a typical scene, the hero endeavours to deliver the innocent girl who has become a vampire by finishing her off in the appropriate way (the wooden stake through the heart, and so on), the aim of this operation is to differentiate the Thing from the body, to drive out the Thing, this embodiment of perverse and traumatic enjoyment, from the body subordinated to the "normal" causal link. Let us just recall the scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula in which Arthur stakes Lucy, his ex fiancée:

The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions, the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam.

- desperate resistance of the Thing, of enjoyment fighting not to be evacuated from the body. When, finally, the Thing is driven out, the expression on Lucy's face changes back to normal, assuming again the features of innocent beatitude - the Thing within the body is dead One of the usual phrases about the Thing in the Gothic novel is the horrified exclamation: "It's alive!" - that is to say, the substance of enjoyment is not yet mortified, quartered by the transcendental-symbolic network. The paradox of the vampires is that, precisely as "living dead", they are
far more alive than us, mortified by the symbolic network. The usual Marxist vampire metaphor is that of capital sucking the blood of the workforce, embodiment of the rule of the dead over the living; perhaps the time has come to reverse it: the real "living dead" are we, common mortals, condemned to vegetate in the Symbolic.' (p. 220-1)

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