Monday 31 October 2011


'But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.'

I suppose a lot of us living in Europe recall this year's Summer as wet, and perhaps, some have spent Summer days reading (or watching) fictional tales of a horrific nature, like Mary Shelley did in 1816:

'Some volumes of ghost stories translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise.'

Byron, Shelley and co. read the French Fantasmagoriana ou Recueil d'Histoires d'Apparitions, de Spectre, Revenans, etc. as translated from German by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyriès. Curiously, a translation into English was published in 1812 as Tales of the Dead, and reviewed in The Monthly Review with a reference to both Dom Calmet and Abbé Lenglet-Dufresnoy and their writings on vampires and other revenants.

The German origins of Fantasmagoriana was the popular Gespensterbuch written and compiled by Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun (actually Friedrich August Schulze). According to the brilliant study of German ghost and revenant literature, Die deutsche Gespenstergeschichte (1994) by Gero von Wilpert, this is actually the best known German collection of ghost stories, including tales inspired by Erasmus Franciscus and Otto von Graben zum Stein. The first volume was published in 1811, and is today available as a reprint from De Gruyter, but can also be found on Google Books.

By 1811 a lot had happened since the time when debates on the existence of revenants were a struggle between more orthodox points of view. In the preface, Laun says that friends of Enlightenment would expect is to oppose superstition, while those more in favour of the spirit world would expect it to give their theories a helping hand. And Apel finishes the book by eloquently saying that while it is debated whether ghosts exist, it is certain that there are ghost stories, and that there are many people who like to hear and read them.

Obviously, by 1811 a book about ghosts and spirits no longer served to prove or disprove the existence of such phenomena. Apel states that the Gespensterbuch does neither: There is neither pro nor contra ghosts in the book. The reader can, as Apel says, read the tales of old castles, graves, treasures, white ladies, shrouds etc. without fearing to encounter such things.

Von Wilpert places Laun and Apel in between Enlightenment and Romanticism. Today, of course, most books about ghosts, vampires and other revenants only intend to make us shudder at the thought of 'what if' - what if such things were real? And today on this very day people in parts of the world even dress up to look and behave like ghosts and vampires, only to return to everyday life next day. Just as the reader could put the Gespensterbuch aside, 'ohne zu fürchten, daß dir etwas unheimliches der Art in Leben begegne.'

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Vampirismus und magia posthuma

Apparently now set for publication on November 25, the proceedings from the 2009 vampirism conference in Vienna, Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie, edited by Christoph Augustynowicz and Ursula Reber, is now available for pre-order from the publisher, Lit Verlag, and from German Amazon. The price is 19.90 €.

'Rund um den Vampir hat sich in der amerikanisch-europäischen Alltagskultur (Film, TV, Literatur) eine lebendige Mythologie entwickelt. In Subkulturen und Musikszenen wird seine Stellung als allgegenwärtiges, Kulturen übergreifendes Phänomen suggeriert.Vampire und Vampirismus werden laufend medial aufbereitet und präsent gemacht, sowie von diversen Wissenschaftsdisziplinen aufgegriffen und beleuchtet. Die hier veröffentlichten Beiträge zeichnen sich durch eine Erweiterung des Quellenkorpus zur Vampir(ismus)-Forschung und interdisziplinäre Neubetrachtung grundlegender Themen aus.'
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