English | Topics in English and American Literature and Culture
L208 | 14383 | Michael Adams


L208 14383 TOPICS IN ENGLISH AND AMERICAN LITERATURE AND CULTURE
Michael Adams

2:30p-3:45p TR (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

TOPIC:  “Vampires”

Nearly every culture in the world has vampires or something like
them in its folklore. The universality of the vampire story suggests
the universality of some of the themes it illustrates, the
relationships among Death, Sex, Life, Sex, Immortality, Sex, Power,
Sex, Horror, Sex, and Desire. The Vampire simultaneously attracts
and repels; it’s not alive, but it’s also not dead, at least not in
the conventional sense: it’s undead. Vampires stand for paradox
implicit in the relationships described above. They evade physical
and spiritual limitations, but there’s a price (sometimes more than
one) for the evasion. In some cultures, at some times, such evasion
is unnatural and horrific; in others, it is liberating and
attractive. The American Vampire, for instance, transcends history
and geography: by living through all time and in many places, it
offers the prospect of universal knowledge while maintaining
something like innocence (if you have seen the film of Interview
with the Vampire, think of Kirsten Dunst’s child-vampire character,
for instance).

The Vampire, though, is an enigma without a solution. Or, put it
another way, because the Vampire is fundamentally a paradox, it’s up
to each time and place to make sense of that paradox on its own
terms. In this course, we’ll study the structural similarities of
vampire stories, but we’ll also consider how different cultures at
different times emphasize different things about the legend, how
they develop and embellish it to reflect their particular needs. So,
the jiang shi or Chinese “Hopping Ghost,” a soul stealer, is like a
vampire, but not quite the same; the New England Vampire struggles
with Puritanism; Dracula is embedded in the history of Old Europe;
the Rwandan genocide was accompanied by accusations of vampirism
along ethnic lines; Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu represents 20th
century (German) angst, while Buffy’s vampires, at least some of
them, are angsty in a very American way. Goth subculture, Japanese
manga, Hong Kong martial arts movies, German New Wave cinema, the
novel, the story, television: everyone wants a piece of the vampire
and understands it simultaneously in terms of a place, a time, a
zeitgeist, a genre. The Vampire is a sort of permanent Other:
cultures define whatever their Other is on the basis of who they
are; in fact, the Other, which “we” create, is often an unknowing
expression of who “we” are. The Vampire, in other words, is totally
zeitgeisty.

Reading and Viewing: Reading for the course will include Montague
Summers’ The Vampire in Lore and Legend (1928, an introduction to
the folklore of vampirism across European cultures) and Tony
Thorne’s Children of the Night (2001, recent cultural criticism);
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1898) and Anne Rice’s Interview with the
Vampire (1976); the Penguin Collection of Vampire Stories, edited by
Alan Ryan (1989), as well as stories by Ji Yun and Pu Songling (18th-
century Chinese authors). In addition, we will view F. W. Murnau’s
silent film, Nosferatu (1922), Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1978), and
Ricky Lau’s Hong Kong martial arts fest, Mr. Vampire (1992). We will
view a few episodes of Joss Whedon’s television series, Buffy the
Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004) in class.