Tuesday 28 February 2012

A bibliographical haunting

Readers sometimes point me to articles or web sites, but unfortunately it often takes me some time to write about it here. So, Roberto Labanti recently mentioned a bibliography of books and papers on vampirism that is now available online. The bibliography, Wissenschaftliche Vampir-Literatur: Eine bibliographische Heimsuchung by Gerd H. Hövelmann, was originally published in a journal called Anomalistik in 2007, so obviously it is not up to date, still it is relatively comprenhensive, so I am sure that most will find something useful.

I find the bibliograhpy of articles and papers the most interesting and useful, although some entries in my opinion are placed under a wrong category. Consequently, even if you are not particularly interested in one or more of the categories, I would suggest that you take a look anyway.

There are, as one might expect, a number of curiosities, like e.g. a paper on a Norwegian medical experiment, Does garlic protect against vampires? An experimental study with this abstract:

'Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires. We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally. Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead. In strictly standardized research surroundings, the leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases (95% confidence interval 50.4% to 80.4%). When they preferred the garlic the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand (p < 0.05). The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true. This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Therefore to avoid a Balkan-like development in Norway, restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.'

As for Anomalistik, according to the web site, 'the Gesellschaft für Anomalistik (Society for Anomalistics) is recognised as a charitable organisation for the advancement of science by the German state. Its roughly 130 members, with professional backgrounds in the natural and social sciences as well as in the humanities, advocate a critical but open-minded approach to controversial scientific claims and exceptional human experiences.

Based on multidisciplinary empirical, conceptual and historical research, the Society seeks to promote and cultivate an informed and respectful dialogue between proponents and opponents of controversial scientific claims and seemingly incompatible epistemic positions. The Society's only corporate view is a careful scepticism – meaning 'investigation' rather than 'dogmatic denial' in the original Greek – regarding unconventional claims and scientific orthodoxy alike.'

Monday 27 February 2012

What manner of man is this?

I decided to have the poster from the Dracula voievod si vampir exhibition in Bucharest in 2010 framed, but now that I have it at home, I must confess that I am not sure that I would like to have this portrait on display in my home...

Is that really a face you would like to look at on a daily basis?

Sunday 26 February 2012

An Uncertain Place: Highgate, Kisiljevo and Medvedja

Vampire history very infrequently turns up in fiction, and as I only sporadically inform myself about fictional vampires, and by the way have never been a fan of crime fiction, the vampiric connection in Un lieu incertain (An Uncertain Place) by Fred Vargas somehow slipped under my radar. Fortunately, a reader recently mentioned it, so I have picked up and read the 2008 novel in the Danish translation, Et uvist sted.

Definitely a page-turner, although I personally find that the gallery of more or less eccentric characters smacks a bit too much of a crime fiction cliché, this novel in the series about Commissaire Adamsberg takes him and his colleagues to Highgate Cemetery in London and to a small village on the Danube in SerbiaKisiljevo, on the trail of a murderer who literally destroys his victims. The plot not only involves the infamous 'Highgate Vampire', but also the famous 18th century vampires Petar Blagojevic/Peter Plogojowitz from Kisiljevo and Arnold Paole from Medvedja, as well as their ancestors. What kind of sense this combination makes, if any, you should read the novel to learn, because I am not going to spoil the fun by giving it all away here.

Fred Vargas herself is actually a French historian and archaeologist called Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau, who became a successful author of crime fiction in the mid 1990's. Some of the Adamsberg novels have been made into a TV series, Collection Fred Vargas, including Un lieu incertain as shown in the youtube video below. This episode, unfortunately, is not yet available on DVD.

'An example of modern legend-building,' according to English Wikipedia, the Highgate Vampire case, to the extent one can actually call it that, has taken on a life of its own, in particular on the internet. Because of the legend-building, perhaps even cult surround the subject, it is probably difficult to be certain what actually happened in 1969 and 1970 when a 'vampire hunt' purportedly took place in the famous cemetery.

Fred Vargas couples this incident with another legendary occurrence in the old part of the cemetery, the one initiated by poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti when in 1869 he had the corpse of his late love, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal (also visit this site devoted to her), dug up from its grave in Highgate Cemetery to obtatin the one and only copy of a book of poetry that he had left buried in her hair. Rossetti's operation is told in Felix Barker and John Gay's Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla (1984):

'Much secret preparation took place in which [Dante Gabriel Rossetti] enlisted the help of a young man called Howell who, as well as being Ruskin's secretary, had a talent for conspiracy. Through Howell, Rossetti obtained the Home Secretary's permission for an exhumation, and on a night early in October 1869 'the ghastly business', as Rossetti called it, was carried out. The deed was done by the light of lanterns and the warmth of a small bonfire watched by Howell, a solicitor and a Camberwell doctor. The receipted bill of two guineas for the workmen is still in existence. Rossetti could not bring himself to be present. Full of self-doubts he waited alone at Howell's house in Fulham.

When the coffin was opened, it was said that Lizzie's pale beauty remained unimpaired, and someone - it was probably Howell - carried back the message that her lovely hair had retained its colour and had grown in death. The vital manuscript, discovered to be intact, was eased gently from her face. After being disinfected and dried by the doctor, it was conveyed to Rossetti.'

The preservation of Lizzie, and particular the claim that her hair had grown in death, is of course reminiscent of the phenomena related to vampirism, the 'vampire state' reported about in the early 18th century from both Kisiljevo and Medvedja.

Imperial Provisor Frombald's 1725 report from Kisiljevo, which today is only known in a copy in the Viennese archives, is well-known from a contemporary newspaper, the Wienerisches Diarium, reprinted and translated in a number of journals and books, and the inspiration for the young Michael Ranft's first edition of his De masticatione mortuorum in tumulis from 1725, commenting on the similarly titled book by Philip Rohr published in 1679. Frombald's report is the oldest known use of the word vampire as spelled that way (the copy actually has: 'vanpiri').

The occurrences in Kisolova, i.e. Kisiljevo, concerning the vampire Peter Plogojowitz (probably Petar Blagojevic) are recounted in English on Wikipedia. In An Uncertain Place, the villagers in Kisiljevo are today familiar with the vampire story, and one can still locate the grave of Plogojowitz, but this is mere fiction, because Serbian media have been unable to locate any local information on this contender to the title of the world's first vampire.

In that respect Plogojowitz plays a central role in defining 'vampirism', so it is important to point out that the people who said there were haunted by Plogojowitz did not complain of bloodsucking but of being suffocated by him as he lay on top of them. Furthermore, his wife said Plogojowitz had come to her to retrieve his shoes (Oppanki = opanci, according to Wikipedia: Opanak are 'traditional peasant shoes' worn in Southeastern Europe). As Peter Kremer has pointed out, this is the well-known motif of a deceased returning as a revenant to retrieve something that he requires to rest in peace after death, in this case his shoes.

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Source for this map: Wikipedia

The exhumation and examination of Plogojowitz' corpse, including his penile erection, forebodes the large scale examinations carried out seven years later in Medvedja in the Southern part of Serbia under Habsburg military control. Commissaire Adamsberg doesn't visit this village, but Arnold Paole, probably Arnaut Pavle, contender for the title as the world's most famous and influential vampire, also plays a role in An Uncertain Place. Oddly, Vargas places Medvedja in the Branicevo District, not very far from Kisiljevo, but I am not aware of any Medvedja in that area.

For more information on this, the most famous incident in vampire history, see my post on the Visum et Repertum, as well as other posts on this blog.

This vampire case also turns up in a work of popular fiction, as German author Markus Heitz includes it in his 2006 novel Kinder des Judas.

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Saturday 25 February 2012

Einen schönen Hals hat Eure Frau

'Is this your wife? What a lovely throat!' says the Count in Murnau's Nosferatu (here in this English language version of the script).

I was reminded of this complimentary remark when I saw a documentary video on Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) as part of an exhibition on Hammershøi and Europe at the National Gallery of Denmark. A number of Hammershøi's paintings from the late 19th and early 20th century show a woman in an austere apartment, usually from the back or the side, leaving her face unseen. In the documentary, one of the curators of the exhibition opines that Hammershøi this way indulges in the beauty of the female neck, and that other painters did the same during that period. Well, personally I think that at best this would be a secondary feature of these paintings. Anyhow, Count Orlok certainly had an eye for a beautiful neck, in this case that of Ellen Hutter portrayed by Greta Schröder.

'Einen schönen Hals hat Eure Frau...' is also the title of a new score to Murnau's film composed by Stephan v. Bothmer and performed live in a numbere of places this year, cf. the video below.

Finally, I should mention that the similarities between Hammershøi's paintings and those of other European artists which is a fundamental premise of the current exhibition has been criticised in Danish media, including another feature that may interest some of this blog's readers: A handful of paintings of empty rooms by Hammershøi and De Deuren (The Doors) by Xavier Mellery. Mellery's painting, apparently, is understood in term of Freud's Das Unheimliche, which in this context is translated not as usually: The Uncanny, but more literally as The Non-homely:

'The German word unheimlich is obviously the opposite of heimlich, heimisch, meaning “familiar,” “native,” “belonging to the home”; and we are tempted to conclude thatwhat is “uncanny” is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar.' (In the original: 'Das deutsche Wort »unheimlich« ist offenbar der Gegensatz zu heimlich, heimisch, vertraut und der Schluß liegt nahe, es sei etwas eben darum schreckhaft, weil es nicht bekannt und vertraut ist'). Cf. e.g. this talk on youtube.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Serbian vampires and a journey along the Danube

While the Serbian documentary on vampires I posted about last year has been removed from youtube, here is a video from Radio Television Vojvodine about, as far as can I gather, a specific vampire incident in Radojevo. However, readers more familiar with the language are welcome to supply more exact information.

As for Serbia, here are a couple of extracts from Servia and the Servians by the Reverend William Denton, published in 1862. The book contain Denton's observations from a journey along the Danube. In Northern Serbia, Denton one evening 'strolled to the village of Dobra about a mile and a half to the west of the place where our boat had been moored for the night':

'The way to the village led past two small cemeteries, one apparently deserted, and both of them at least half a mile from any houses. The little village cemeteries of Servia are less squalid and forlorn looking than similar ones in France and Germany, but they lack the neat appearance and the shade and repose of an English churchyard. The entrance lies through what is known in England by the name of a lych gate. Such gates, however, as with us are only seen at the entrance of a churchyard, are in Servia common not only to cemeteries, but also to private houses> the piece of shingle roofing being absolutely necessary for the protection of the wood work of the gate from the effect of the sun. In the centre of the first cemetery which I entered stands a square piece of cob-wall with a shingle roof, but whether tool-house or chapel it was impossible to determine. One or two dry twigs stuck at the head of some of the grass evidenced an attempt at planting a tree, which seemed to have failed from want of water. The tombstones were of very singular forms, but scarcely any could be met with older than the time of the War of Independence. Over the little mounds of earth and in and out of the graves sported large green lizards, besides troops of small brown ones. In no place are so many lizards found as in these cemeteries; the dry hillocks of earth which rise over the graves, and the uninterrupted quiet which reigns around makes the abodes of the dead a favourite retreat for these beautiful beings. Eastern fables represent the spirit of man under the shape of a lizard: and the reason for so doing seemed clear enough, as I looked on the number of these reptiles sporting around the graves or lying basking in the rays of the sun on the top of a tombstone.' (p. 110-1)

Denton also visits the village Medvedja in Eastern Serbia, that some people have erroneusly identified with the Medvedja of Flückinger's Visum et Repertum:

'A drive of about an hour and a half brought us to the village of Medvedje, where we found the parish priest the service in the church having been over more than two hours before seated under the far projecting roof of a little tavern, and engaged in explaining to his flock the provisions of a bill, as we should call it, then before the Skoupschina, or Servian Parliament, for an alteration in the law of assessment to the public service. The main feature of the new bill was, that it proposed to lighten the amount of taxes to be paid by the classes which had been hitherto the sole contributors to the revenue of the country; but by enlarging the area of taxation to maintain, or perhaps to increase, the whole sum received by the Treasury. In order that the wishes and sentiments of the people should be made known, the Government had directed the various parish priests throughout the country to assemble their parishioners, and invite a discussion on the proposed alteration. When we drove up to the inn-door, the pastor or pope of Medvedje was engaged in reading the proposed enactments clause by clause. An animated and very creditably conducted debate on the part of the people then ensued, and the opinions of the village parliament appeared to be much divided as to the prospective advantages of the new bill. On the whole, however, it seemed to me that the proposed scheme of the Ministry of Prince Michel was regarded with disfavour by the majority of the community. At least, the villagers of Medvedje, which probably comprised a larger proportion than some other districts of hitherto non-paying members, were not disposed to acquiesce in the alteration of the law, which would deprive them for the future of exemption from taxation. Of course, it is impossible to please those who feel the constant pressure of a direct tax, but it must be owned that the temper and ability with which the bill was discussed by the Medvedjean Parliament was very creditable to them, and might advantageously be imitated in larger popular assemblies.

Though the village of Medvedje does not, so far as I know, appear in any map - at any rate it is not marked in Kiepert's map, which I carried with me - it lies about equal distances from Swilainatz and the monastery of Manassia, on the cross road which leads to towns and villages in four different directions. The village itself seems to have grown out of the necessities of such a position, and consists largely of small taverns and eating houses, mingled with the homes of labourers and small cottage proprietors. For their needs a church was just about to be erected. The ground had been cleared, and the stone for building had been collected and brought to the spot, by the various inhabitants, and a small assessment on real property would soon supply the means for paying the workmen. Judging from what I saw in the course of my rambles, there must be a considerable amount of church building going on in Servia. My travelling led me through thinly peopled and rural districts more than through towns and amongst a concentrated population; yet merely taking account of those which were building by the road-side, there seemed to be every disposition on the part of the people to supply themselves with churches adequate to the population. Indeed, a monk with whom I had an interesting conversation on the state of the Church in Servia, whilst lamenting that so many persons neglected the service of the Church, yet added, what might well be the confession of other priests than those of this country, "The people are ready enough to build churches and are willing to die for their religion at any time, but it is not so easy to get them to come to church." There is great truth, no doubt, in these words; but the difficulty, as I assured the monk, was not altogether and solely a Servian one. In the present case it may perhaps be a satisfaction to sermon-writers to know that the disinclination does not arise either from the length or the quality of the sermons as people are but little troubled with preaching in the orthodox Church - at any rate in this part of it.' (p. 188-90)

Sunday 12 February 2012

C'era una Volta

Those of us who got interested in books on vampires in the Seventies or Eighties will probably have memories of the name Ornella Volta, as she was the author of an influential book titled Le Vampire: La mort, le sang, la peur, published as volume 8 in the French Bibliotheque internationale d'erotologie by Jean-Jacques Pauvert in 1962, highlighting various erotic aspects more or less related to the vampire theme, and not least including a lot of interesting illustrations. With Valerio Riva she was also the editor of an Italian anthology of both non fictional and fictional vampire texts, published in French as Histoires de Vampires in 1961, and popularly attributed to Roger Vadim, who at the time had just directed his vampire opus Et mourir de plaisir (hard to find on DVD, but currently available on youtube) inspired by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla.

While collecting a bit of information on various editions of her vampire book some time ago, I noticed on the internet that she moved on to become an expert on the French composer and pianist Érik Satie, and that she is today running the Satie museum at 6 Rue Cortot in Mortmartre, Paris.

I had almost forgotten about this, until I recently decided to supplement what I had of Satie's compositions for solo piano with a 5 cd collection of his complete solo piano music performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and noticed that the liner notes were written by - Ornella Volta!

Thibaudet, by the way, has also recorded the complete works for solo piano of another French composer, Maurice Ravel, including Gaspard de la nuit. The second movement of this composition should be familiar to vampire film enthusiasts, as it was featured in Tony Scott's The Hunger starring Bowie, Deneuve and Sarandon.

Saturday 4 February 2012

An inexhaustible theme

''On the Nightmare', another of Jones's essays from the period 1909-10, has also endured. It was expanded into a book in 1926, with a terrifying illustration by the Swiss-born British Romantic painter Henry Fuseli. Jones wrote it as a psychiatrist who had had considerable experience of listening to patients. Unlike clinical doctors, who tend to have short attention spans, Jones was accustomed to spending an hour hearing the random thoughts and dreams of those who consulted him, and they did not always talk about sex. That he understood what fear feels like is apparent from this essay: 'No malady that causes mortal distress to the sufferer, not even seasickness, is viewed by medical science with such complacent indifference as is the one which is the subject of this book.'

His wide reading was displayed in a review of myths and legends of fiends, hags and monsters: 'The modifications which nightmare assumes are infinite; but one passion is almost never absent - that of utter and incomprehensible dread ... In every instance, there is a sense of oppression and helplessness.' The victim 'can neither breathe, nor walk, nor run'. The three cardinal features of the 'malady', in his clinical summary, were '(1) agonizing dread; (2) sense of oppression or weight at the chest which alarmingly interferes with respiration; (3) conviction of helpless paralysis'.

In mid-century the power of his prose reached someone no stranger to terror. In 1956 Sylvia Plath gave Jones's On the Nightmare to her new husband, Ted Hughes, as a present for their first Christmas together. She boldly underlined passages about sadism and sexual curiosity, and also Jones's definition of the essential characteristics of a vampire: 'his origin in a dead person' and 'his habit of sucking blood from a living one'. She starred (less than seven years before her suicide) his pronouncement that 'the interest of the living in the dead, whether in the body or in the spirit, is an inexhaustible theme'.'

Brenda Mannox: Freud's Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis (John Murray, 2006), p. 88-9.
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