Monday, 25 April 2011

Google books at its worst

Apropos of Google Books, this example is really one of the weirdest examples I have seen on Google Books. In fact, the above clip looks almost psychedelic :-)

Unfortunately, as a scan it is absolutely useless, so this is not the way to gain access to Johann Christoph Pohl's 1732 Diss. de hominibus post mortem sanguisugis, vulgo sic dictis Vampyren. By the way, you can find a couple of old posts referring to this book.

I have removed the illustration because of an update to this Google Book, see the comment to this post.

Ranft in colour

I was delighted to find the above colour scan of the second edition of Ranft's work on vampires, De masticatione mortuorum (1728), on Google Books. I have now added it to my list of noteworthy books in the right hand column (but have kept the link to the other online scan of the book, who knows, it might come in handy some day). I have also added a link to the first edition from 1725, which is now also on Google Books. So now it is possible to do some armchair research into the development of this essential work in the vampire canon.

I might add that a couple of years ago I stumbled upon another, much shorter text (in Latin) by Ranft concerning vampires, but I am saving that for a special occasion. I have not seen it mentioned anywhere yet, and I do not know of an online edition.

Vampires of Venice

'The answer must be lurking somewhere in these ancient tomes,' the narrator of the above documentary says, as we see Italian forensic anthropologist Matteo Borrini studying old books in a gloomy, old library, echoing the description of vampire research in Eric Steinhauer's Vampyrologie für Bibliothekare.

Borrini finds Philip Rohr's 1679 De masticatione mortuorum, and I can not help being amused by how dramatically they present the book, even claiming that it contains 'an ancient ritual' with 'instructions for killing an undead corpse'. They then cut to Borrini, who without further ado identifies the masticating dead with vampires.

In the book accompanying the documentary, Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend, Mark Collins Jenkins includes a few references to the contents of Rohr's book (p. 140f): 'Rohr went on to cite a certain Adam Rother, who claimed that, as pestilence ravaged the German univesity town of Marburg in 1581, the dead in their graves could be heard uttering ominous noises from all over the town and surrounding countryside.'

Rohr actually writes: 'Sic Adamus Rotherus, Superintendens Martisburg. in Medit. de pest. meminit aliqvot cadaverum, qvæ Martisburgi, & in vicinis locis an. 1581. glocitarunt.' The reference appears to be to the book Piae meditationes et commonefactiones ex verbo dei/ Quas tempore pestiferae, luis, publice pro concione proposuit auditoribus suis Adamus Rotherus published in Wittenberg in 1584, and Rohr just says that Rother(us) in his book remembered that a number of cadavers cackled in Marburg and its neighbourhood.

It is interesting that he uses the word glocitarunt to describe the sound of the dead, as this signifies the natural sounds made by hen (glocio or 'glocito', to cluck or cackle). Other authors have tended to describe the sound as similar to that of pigs.
Anyway, the documentary is, of course, about the archaeological find of a skeleton with a stone in its mouth, which lead Borrini and others to speculate that it might be archaeological evidence of beliefs in vampires in Venice. One single sentence in Rohr's book, apparently, led Borrini to this hypothesis: 'Alii hoc medium non satis tutum rati, etiam mortuo, priusqvam ejus os claudatur, lapidem & nummum ponunt in ore, ut si in sepulcro mordere incipiat, lapidem & nummum inveniat, & ab esu abstineat.' I.e.: Others regard this means as not quite safe, so before the dead person's mouth is closed, they place a stone and a coin in the mouth, so that if the corpse begins to eat in the grave, it finds the stone and the coin and abstains from eating. One should note, that it says here that the mouth is closed, after the stone and coin have been placed in the mouth, so one must assume that the stone is just a small one and not a brick like the one found in Venice!

And by the way, Jenkins obviously quotes from the translation by Montague Summers in The Vampire in Europe, as he says that the stone and coin is placed 'in the cold mouth', the coldness of the mouth being an embellishment added by Summers.

In any case, as Jenkins writes: 'When Matteo Borrini read that, he understood why the brick had been thrust into the mouth of ID6: This person was suspected of being a vampire.' And the rest is history: The vampire theory made its way to global media, and in turn inspired a piece of vampire fiction!

At least I suppose that is why we find vampires in Venice in an episode from 2010 of the ongoing Doctor Who TV series, as you can see in the trailer below.

And as is often the case, fiction itself creates a myth, in this case an elaborate piece of science fiction as presented in the following video. Bricks thrust into the vampire's mouth, however, do not have a place in this mythology.

Some further surprises from the Doctor's time travel to Venice can be found in a making of featurette, and the National Geographics documentary is available on DVD, cf. the review here.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Why librarians should be interested in vampyrology

As should be apparent from this blog, I and others interested in this subject of magia posthuma or vampires spend a lot of time perusing books and other texts. We hope to find more information through books or archival material instead of going on a field expedition to regions of the world where, perhaps, we can find people who believe in vampires or other revenants. In that sense, vampyrology – as some call it – is rarely thought of as an empirical endeavour. For that reason, people who are or have been part of or in contact with a society whose ‘belief system’ includes something akin to a ‘vampire’, can be bewildered and perplexed by our interest.

Of course, a lot of research (if I dare use that term in this connection) is done in an office, but in many cases it does in fact relate to empirical data, like in the case of so-called desktop experiments. In the case of vampires, we somehow expect the subject to be part of something remote, something in the past or at least something that is hard, most likely even impossible to observe, so the endeavour to gain some understanding of the subject usually involves, as Eric W. Steinhauer says in his Vampyrologie für Bibliothekare, ‘Ein Haufen Papier’: a pile of paper. And, as he points out, this was certainly the case in the 17th and 18th century, when people debated vampires. For a great number of the learned people of that day, the library was their equivalent to a laboratory. The texts of e.g. the Serbian vampire cases themselves, in particular Flückinger’s 1732 Visum & Repertum, became the source of knowledge:

‘Was bedeutet das methodisch? Nun, der gelehrte Forscher nimmt die Vampirschilderungen so hin, wie sie berichtet werden – war doch das plötzliche Dahinsiechen offenbar vorbei, wenn der vampirische Leichnam vernichtet wurde – und sucht dann nach einer plausiblen Erklärung in den Texten und Theorien der in den Bibliotheken präsenten philosophischen und theologischen Autoritäten. Hier wurde er leicht fündig. Und so konnte der Vampir aus der spezifischen Medialität der Bibliothek heraus erwachsen und so konnte seine Existenz intellektuell plausibel werden.’ (p. 47)

The way that the vampire research of the 18th century was related to archives and libraries is the first point in Steinhauer’s vampyrology for librarians. The second point relates to the importance of texts and libraries in certain pieces of vampire fiction: Polidori’s The Vampyre, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Stoker’s Dracula, and Kostova’s The Historian: Books and libraries connect the fantastic world of the undead with the reality of our present day, making libraries, in Steinhauer’s terminology, into a mechanism that materializes the uncanny.
The third and final point, however, relates to the nature of books themselves. They somehow stand there on the shelves waiting for a reader to pick them up, only to suck him into the world and thought of the author, who may have been dead for centuries. Here Steinhauer quotes Jorge Luis Borges who says that a library is full of dead people who can be reborn:

‘… eine Bibliothek sei …voll von Toten. Und diese Toten können neu geboren, wieder zum Leben gebracht werden, wenn man ihre Seiten ôffnen.’

But too much study of books can make you weak and pale, as I recall my grandparents telling me when I was a child who, apparently, at times spent a little too much time reading books and comics. Other descriptions of the effects that books can have on the health and imagination of researchers and other people who spend a lot of time over books are dealt with in Steinhauer’s Vampyrology, which is a delightful little book on vampires with some tongue-in-cheek observations meant for fellow librarians.

Vampyrologie für Bibliothekare is brief, just 101 pages, but the notes and bibliography show that Steinhauer himself has spent many hours studying vampire books! In fact, I found a few interesting references that I will now check up on. There are also a number of very nice illustrations, which - although it is slightly flawed by some unfortunate typos - altogether makes the book a pleasure to read.

And it is, of course, worth reading not only for librarians. In fact, it would make for a nice gift for anyone interested in books in general.

Eric W. Steinhauer: Vampyrologie für Bibliothekare: Eine kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüre des Vampirs (Eisenhut Verlag, 101 pages, €12.90)

Let down by Amazon...

Although Florian Kührer kindly wrote of this blog that, 'an diesem Blog geht kaum eine einschlägige Publikation aus dem deutschen, englischen und französischen Sprachraum vorbei' (on this blog hardly any book in German, English or French is overlooked), I must say that I am let down by Amazon in helping me keep track of new books. Although they send me e-mails like the one above, they seem to mainly recommend vampire fiction, because I just found a couple of recent books that I had unfortunately not been notified about.

First up is Heiko Haumann's Dracula: Leben und Legende (C. H. Beck, €8.95) which not only deals with the 'historical' Dracula, Vlad Draculea, but also with vampire beliefs and the construction of Dracula as a vampire. A sample text is available here.

Next up is what looks like a new edition of Hagen Schaub's Blutspuren: Die Geschichte der Vampire from 2008, this time called Vampire. Dem Mythos auf der Spur and published by Marix Verlag (320 pages, €7.95). You can find a sample text here.

From Vergangenheitsverlag a cultural history of the vampire by Leah Levine is going to be published this May: Blut ist ein besonderer Saft: Eine Kulturgeschichte der Vampire (180 pages, €14.90). However, I think there is good reason to be cautious, as Amazon describes the author as a well-known German witch and a founder of a school for witches in Hannover! She, of course, has a web site, so you can judge for yourself.

The cover of Levine's book is based on the famous painting The Vampire by Philip Burne-Jones, and curiously this is also used on the cover of another new book: Vampire: Mythische Wesen der Nacht (Belser Verlag, €29.95) by Joachim Nagel, author of Femme Fatale: Faszinierende Frauen. The book appears to be a 128 pages, fully illustrated, large format history of vampires from antiquity to Twilight: 'Der Kulturhistoriker Joachim Nagel spürt dem dämonischen Phänomen, seinem atmosphärischen Zauber und seinen erotischen Verheißungen nach. Auf dieser Reise in die Nacht begegnen wir Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee und Robert Pattinson, aber auch der Comic-Heldin Vampirella und literarischen Vorgängerinnen wie Clarimonde und Carmilla. Gemälde von Goya, Füssli, Munch u. a. bebildern dieses längst überfällige Panorama des Vampir-Mythos.'

And these are only some of the new books. Others will be mentioned or reviewed as I get hold of them.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A stone's throw away

Living next door to a cemetery, earlier today I noticed a grave where the family had placed various sorts of food and drink: Fruits, biscuits etc. as you can see in the photo above. Out of respect I am not disclosing the identiy of the buried person, but the gravestone carries an Oriental name so this is obviously a tradition from those parts, like e.g. the Chinese Qingming festival which, however, I think took place earlier this month:

'The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, joss paper accessories, and/or libations to the ancestors. The rites have a long tradition in Asia, especially among farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They believe that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit that wanders on Qingming.'

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Vaccination Vampire

James John Garth Wilkinson (1812-99) was an opponent of vaccination, as Nadja Durbach describes in her study Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in Negland 1853-1907 (Duke Univ. Press, 2005):

'The poor, claimed Wilkinson, are all “imbrued in each other’s taints”; vaccination “mingles in a communism of blood the taints of the community.” Since blood was transmitted through “hundreds of thousands of beings” by way of arm-to-arm vaccination, every “hereditary sewer opens up into every nursery; nay, into each infant’s very heart,” Wilkinson warned. The sewer, which carried the waste of society and which had connotations of sexual pollution, was infecting the child, who was supposed to be pure and innocent, untainted by physical and moral corruption. Since vaccination had passed blood from arm to arm to arm, no matter how healty a child seemed, each vaccinated infant was a repository for the diseases of the entire community. Each person’s blood was no longer his own, Wilkinson suggested, for each individual shared in the diseases with which the “residuum” infected the social body. Vaccination, its critics maintained, was thus a dangerous form of “body-mixing.”' (p. 130-1)

In 1881 Wilkinson published a handbill titled The Vaccination Vampire with the purpose of metaphorically describing vaccination as vampiric:

'The state tracked anti-vaccinators, pursuing them like criminals through the use of a creature that, like the vampire, was specifically trained to track the smell of the blood. Vaccination, Wilkinson further argued, was like a raven perched on “parturient” sheep, waiting to pluck out and devour the eyes of the newborn lambs. It “hover[ed]” over the pregnant woman who waited in the “shadow of its wings,” primed and ready to attack the infant. Winged and hovering, vaccination here figures as both a bird of prey and a vampire haunting the laboring mother. The vampire’s concern is with the blood, but, according to Wilkinson, vaccination disrupted the entire fluid economy of the body. The “Vaccination Vampire” polluted the “pure babe” precisely at the point of its “suckling,” the handbill warned, for the mother’s milk was “blighted” by fear of the “poisoned lancet”; thus, the “Vaccination Vampire” was a source of “universal pollution” and degeneration, for it led to “degradation and extinction.” The “cradle is born to an immediate medical hell,” Wilkinson warned, for the “Vaccination Vampire” “befouls” and “demonizes” and is the “Supreme Quack and grand Apollyon or Destroyer of the Human Race.” Wilkinson’s “Vaccination Vampire” thus epitomized what anti-vaccinators considered an invasive and violating operation.' (p. 138-9)

According to Durbach, from the middle of the 19th century the vampire 'came to symbolize the bloodthirsty doctor':

'Orthodox medicine was seen to be vampiric because of the Galenic tradition of bloodletting. In 1850, the medical botanist Albert Isaiah Coffin declared that, since the doctor asserts that disease is in the blood, he “attacks your veins like a vampire.” In 1885, Wilkinson claimed that medicine was dead “but stirs and rises from its grave as a vampire; and is the night-haunting demon of the end of the Nineteenth Century.” In language that was apocalyptic as well as gothic, Wilkinson both dismissed orthodox medicine as dead and yet feared its reanimated return, for vaccination, he implied, had breathed new life into the medical profession. (p. 139)

Over the next pages of her study, Durbach relates these notions to views of blood transfusion as well as themes from pieces of 19th century vampire fiction like Braddon’s Good Lady Ducayne and Stoker’s Dracula.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Dracula Lives!

This evening German TV channel ZDF aired a new documentary, Dracula lebt (Dracula lives), which is fortunately available online here. In German, of course, but worth watching even if you do not understand that language for its scenes from Romania, Vienna, Whitby etc. Elizabeth Miller, Dacre Stoker, Hagen Schaub, Mark Benecke are among the participating experts. A number of photos from the documentary can be found on Der Spiegel's web site.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Vampirology for Librarians

Eisenhutverlag presents a new book by Dr. jur. Eric W. Steinhauer from Universitätsbibliothek Hagen: Vampyrologie für Bibliotekare, i.e. Vampirology for Librarians. It is subtitled Eine kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüre des Vampirs and is apparently based on a 'Halloween-Lecture' Steinhauer presented at the Humboldt Univesity in Berlin in 2010:

'Die Vampyrologie gehört zu den wenig beachteten Lehrgegenständen der Bibliothekswissenschaft. Gleichwohl sind entsprechende Kenntnisse für jeden verantwortungsbewusst handelnden Bibliothekar unverzichtbar. Die vorliegende Einführung vermittelt hier unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der historischen Hintergründe die wesentlichen Grundlagen, damit man später nicht sagen kann, man habe es ja nicht gewußt …'
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