Monday, 28 July 2008

From the enlightenment of vampirism to the vampirism of enlightenment

The June 2008 issue of Ethic@, an International Journal for Moral Philosophy, contains an interesting paper by Constantin Rauer: Von der Aufklärung des Vampirismus zum Vampirismus der Aufklärung: Eine West-Östliche Debatte zwischen Einst und Heute (From the enlightenment of vampirism to the vampirism of enlightenment: A West-East debate between then and now).

The paper is in German, but Rauer has supplied an abstract in English:

In the first part of this essay, I shall sketch the debate about vampirism during the age of Enlightenment historically, while in the second part, I will interpret this debate philosophically. The historical reconstruction mainly relies on Gábor Klaniczay’s brilliant essay The Decline of Witches and the Rise of Vampires in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg Monarchy. My purpose, however, is different from that of Klaniczay. While he is interested in the connection between the decline of witches and the rise of vampires in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg monarchy, I am interested in the relationship between the performances of vampirism in Eastern European countries, and their theoretical responses in Western Europe. In the second, philosophical part of this essay, I shall read this whole phenomenon of vampirism, both in the Western European theoretical debate and in Eastern European performances, as a symptom, behind which I see an entirely different discourse at work: the power struggle between the old faculty of theology, and the new faculty of medicine. I argue here that Western European Enlightenment vampirism transforms into medical Enlightenment vampirism, and that the Eastern European peoples criticized precisely this through their actual performances of vampirism. Thus, the debate about vampirism actually conceals the dialectics of the Enlightenment. Looking back from the present, we are surprised to find that perhaps Western European scholars with their allegedly enlightened knowledge were not the ones who had the final say, but, on the contrary, the Eastern European peoples with their popular beliefs.

Rauer relies heavily on Gabor Klaniczay's seminal paper on vampires (the most recent and up to date version can be found in Bertschik and Tuczay's anthology Poetische Wiedergänger) and quotes copiously from it. As he says in the abstract, his aim differs from Klaniczay's, but I need to read the second part of his paper to really understand and evaluate his conclusions. So although there are some inaccuracies, some of which probably originate from Klaniczay, I will refrain from commenting on the paper before I have read the second part.

As Rauer should have easy access to Hamberger's anthology as well as other important German books on the subject, I am a bit worried by the fact that Rauer doesn't mention the Commercii litterarii which played an important role in the medical debate on vampires in 1732. I agree on the importance of Klaniczay's paper, but in my opinion it is necessary to study source material like that reprinted in Hamberger's Mortuus non mordet to fully understand the nature of the 18th Century vampire debate.

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