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"The reign of man is over": the vampire, the animal and the human in Maupassant's "Le Horla".

"Vampires go where power is.

--Nina Auerbach (1995, 6)

"[I]n melancholia not only is it unclear what object has been lost, it is uncertain whether one can speak of a loss at all."

--Giorgio Agamben (1993, 20)
   J'ai demande souvent a des vins captieux
   D'endormir pour un jour la terreur qui me mine;
   Le vin rend l'oeil plus clair et l'oreille plus fine!

   J'ai cherche dans l'amour un sommeil oublieux;
   Mais l'amour n'est pour moi qu'un matelas d'aiguilles
   Fait pour donner a boire a ces cruelles filies!

   [How often I have called for wine to drug,
   if only for a day, this wasting fear--my
   ears grow sharp on wine, my eyes grow clear!

   In love I've sought an hour's oblivion--but
   love to me is a pallet stuffed with pins
   that drains away my blood for whores to drink!]

--Charles Baudelaire, "La Fontaine de sang" (1982)


In his study of burial practices in Europe between (roughly) the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries, Paul Barber distinguishes between the "vampire" of folklore and the "vampire of fiction," the latter being "a figure derived from the vampires of folklore but now bearing precious little resemblance to them" (1988,2). What the "vampire" is in Barber's book is not always clear, a conundrum that prompts the following sentence which begins the last paragraph of the introductory chapter: "As we shall see, fictional and folkloric vampires are confused in many ways" (1988, 4). Such confusion arises in part from the geographic and temporal distribution of the "tales" considered (this problem haunts Montague Summers' The Vampire in Europe as well), but it arises also because the vampire begins to appear, at least in Barber's account, as a solution to problems threatening a given community. Most often, this problem is that corpses don't stay buried like they ought to and when they are revealed, their decomposition (or lack thereof) is disturbing to behold. Barber writes, "It is probably not going too far to suggest that a vampire might be defined as a corpse that comes to the attention of the populace at a time of crisis and is taken for the cause of that crisis. The disturbance of the grave is merely one means whereby the body makes itself noticed" (125). Although Barber is careful here to put the volitional credit where the folktales do, a page later he specifies the means by which a body can "make itself noticed": "Rotting flesh has an extraordinarily powerful smell, which dogs can detect if it is not buried too deep" (126).

The vampire is thus, at least in the folklore studied by Barber and Summers, the cipher for a set of problems involving a human community's occasionally disturbing encounters with wild animals, in particular wolves and dogs. That the vampire strays from this peculiar set of problems to insinuate himself in other anxious knots should not surprise us, given the long history of transformations this figure has undergone since the sixteenth century. Most contemporary studies (like those by Nina Auerbach, Ken Gelder, or Laurence Rickels) treat several centuries and multiple media (folktales, short stories, novels, comic books, film, television, etc.). Indeed, there seems to be something about the vampire that ties him rather intimately to the spread of new technologies. (1) One of the most recent variations on this theme is the film Blade, where an international cabal of vampires presides, in semi-secrecy according to strict patterns of encryption, over the flows of global capital and information.

This commingling of vampires and capital is far from new, however. In well-known passages in Capital Vol. I, Karl Marx's favorite simile for capital is this specific species of the undead: "Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more the more labour it sucks. The time during which the worker works is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he had bought from him" (Marx 1990, 342). The appetite of the vampire is taken as the best analogue for the capitalist's appetite for surplus labor--the extension of the working day "into the night" "only slightly quenches the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour" (1990, 367). This connection between vampires, time and capital is often taken by critics to indicate something of a methodological suggestion as much as an object to be studied. Gelder writes, "Much like capital for Marx, the vampire circulates; and this book attempts to understand what is at stake in this kind of designation" (1994, x). (2) One of the most persistent features of the vampire is thus his inability to remain the same thing for very long; perhaps, the vampire even comes to be a sort of explicitly untimely marker in a given text of what is precisely the most timely. (3)

Marx's discussion of the vampire, at least the most famous one just cited, comes within the chapter "The Working Day." There is something about time and the capitalist transformation of temporality that gives rise to discussion of the vampire. One of the common features of so many various accounts of the vampire is the way in which he is associated with an "unnatural" temporality. This goes far beyond the banality that he is a "creature of the night." While Marx is able to pinpoint the ways in which an extension of the working day may be remarked in the same terms as one describes a certain bloodlust, it is Charles Baudelaire, in Lesfleurs du mat, that goes the furthest in exploring the time of the vampire, and not just in the two poems explicitly "about" vampires. In "L'Horloge" ("The Clock") the final poem from "Spleen et Ideal," we find: "Chaque instant te devore un morceau du delice/A chaque homme accorde pour toute sa saison" (Baudelaire 1982,259). Here "every instant" figures as something of a vampire, draining away (devorer) all of the pleasures of life, very much like in "La Fontaine de sang," where "la terreur qui me mine" can be read as the terror corresponding to the passing of time. That the narrator seeks "un sommeil oublieux" to "put to sleep" the "terror" sets up a rather complicated scheme where sleep (the cousin of death, as Nas tells us (4)) is an escape from the horrible waking experience of time's passing. Such a problem again brings us close to "the animal." As Nietzsche tells us in "The Utility and Liability of History for Life," "the animal lives ahistorically, for it disappears entirely into the present, like a number that leaves no remainder" (Nietzsche 1995, 88). The human, unlike the animal, experiences temporal remainders.

Rather than let these considerations continue to spread out into a catalog of marginalia on vampires, I wish to consider a single appearance (which is already at least double) of the "vampire," one that fits uneasily into the histories of this "creature" either in folklore or fiction. Written in 1886 and then substantially revised a year later, Guy de Maupassant's tale "Le Horla," is something of a limit case in the vampire literature. This is so largely, although not only, because it's not clear that "the Horla" is a vampire (the word does appear in the story, but only as a citation, or citations as we shall soon see). An index of this is that neither Gelder nor Auerbach, who both treat the 19th century vampire in some depth, deal with the story at all. Rickels, while having some very interesting things to say about the story, treats it as he treats the hundreds of other vampiric texts that enter into his lectures: as a slightly disturbing but helpful lesson in psychoanalysis. For him, the story "is all about mirror relations and their psychotic crack-up" (Rickels 1999, 78). While the reading I will offer differs markedly from the one Rickels' proposes, he helps us approach the tale with a specific temporal problem in mind, one that I've tried to outline already: "Man is the being who can die any day at every moment. The Horla is the being that will die only at the proper hour and only because it will have touched the limits of its existence. What is it that only dies at its proper hour (and thus does not die)?" (81). This may be one way to put our question.

Maupassant's "Le Horla"

In the first version of "Le Horla," a doctor, named Marrande, invites three "confreres" and four "savants" over to his home one evening to consider a patient, "the most bizarre and disquieting case that I've ever encountered" (1982, 35; all translations from the story are my own). The men assemble and a servant brings in the patient, who then regales the group with his tale, a tale that constitutes all but a few pages of the story. The first four paragraphs in the patient's narrative remark his age, his position, his land holdings, and his domestic staff; that is, he presents himself as a "case" to be considered. (5) Curiously absent is the patient's name. After these preliminaries, the patient describes how last fall he fell victim to "a sort of nervous dis-ease," for which he consults a doctor who prescribes potassium bromide and baths. The illness seems to let up, but then one of the servants comes down with it. Having contracted the "dis-ease," through some mechanism of contagion, it is the servant who first gives us a description of the malady: "It is my nights that ruin my days" (1982, 39).

The ailment returns to our unnamed patient and, being a man of reason ("un homme raisonable et serieux," as he says [1982, 42]), he begins to experiment. When he goes to sleep he places several items on his bed stand: a pitcher of water, a bottle of wine, a glass of milk (which he hates), and a chocolate cake (which he adores). Upon waking, the patient finds that the water and the milk are gone but the wine and cake are untouched. Still wondering whether the problem is the appearance, at night, of some variant of himself in an "unconscious" mode (committing "ces actes inconscients" [40]), the patient speculates that perhaps his nocturnally modified state signals some sort of modification of his self which gives him "different tastes" (40). Such a conclusion quickly proves unsatisfactory and the patient is led to ask, "Who is thus there, every night, close to me?" (41).

This hypothesis of an other being takes hold of the patient. The appearance of "such hallucinations" as are simply not allowed to the reasonable man leads to the "certainty" that it must be an other and not simply an unconscious modification of the self. Indeed, one sees here a rather remarkable attempt to ward off contamination of the rational self by any unruly forces ("different tastes" even). The patient remarks, "I was certain, certain as of the day and of the night, that there existed close to me an invisible being that haunted me, then left me, then returned (revenait)" (43). This description is quickly supplemented by another, which finally prompts the patient to name this mysterious being:

Listen. The being! How can I name him? The Invisible. No, that won't suffice. I baptized him the Horla. Why? I don't know exactly. Thus, the Horla hardly ever left me. Day and night I had the sensation, the certitude of the presence of this insatiable neighbor, and also the certitude that he was taking my life, hour by hour, minute by minute. (Maupassant 1982, 45)

Although the patient is admittedly unable to offer reasons for his appellation, we can note that the need to repeat (as in incantation?) "day and night," combined with his marking of "hour by hour, minute my minute" brings us back to Baudelaire's poem "Le Horloge" where "chaque instant" devours the pleasures of life. We can now read the near homophones le Horla/le horloge together. This mysterious "invisible" being that eats away the life of the patient hour by hour, minute by minute, does little different than what time itself is thought to do. If this connection is correct, then the mysterious being that the patient so fears is nothing but a stand in for the machinations of what Walter Benjamin calls "homogeneous empty time" (Benjamin 2003, 395) or what Heidegger calls "Alltaglichkeit" or "everydayness" in Being and Time (1962, 38). If this were the case, why the insistence upon the novelty of this being? The patient tells his audience, "Thus, gentlemen, a being, a new being, who without doubt multiplies himself as we multiply ourselves, has come into appearance on the earth" (Maupassant 1982, 48).

The Horla cannot be simply another name for an experience of mortality as such, in other words. Could it be that while the Horla cannot be conflated with mortality it nevertheless represents or in some way indexes a new and qualitatively different experience of that mortality? This might be splitting hairs, but two details of the text following from this last quoted passage give us some food for thought. The first is a discussion of what escapes human vision (presumably to explain how the Horla can be invisible):

But our eye, gentlemen, is such an elementary organ that it can only fully distinguish what is essential for our existence. What is too small escapes it, what is too large escapes it, what is too distant escapes it. It ignores the billions of little animals (les milliards de petites betes) that live in a drop of water. It ignores the inhabitants, the plants and the soil of the neighboring stars; it likewise cannot see what is transparent. (Maupassant 1982, 48)

While at first this might remind us of Kant's sublime and the problem of its perception, (6) it is remark about the "millards de petites betes" that is most important for our purposes. This curious statement signals that whatever else has happened in his relations with the Horla, he must suddenly take into consideration billions of creatures that were previously excluded from his mental activities. Although there is no way to disentangle this realization from the various angles of epistemology, ontology, ethics and politics (each of these would seem to be affected by this "new" consideration), all of these must be brought into play in order to think what the Horla is here indexing, for it is nothing less than the disappearance of man:
   Who is it? Gentlemen, it is someone who the earth waits for, after
   man! Someone who comes to dethrone us, to enslave us, to tame us,
   and to nourish himself on as, perhaps, as we nourish ourselves on
   cows and wild boars. (1982, 49)

The analogy here is difficult to miss. The Horla is to us as we are to cows, to animals we encounter as beings-for-our-consumption. Man, that being who imagines himself at the top of the foodchain, must--for Maupassant's patient--now consider that a being is here that will knock us from this position and will forcibly modify us (dompter (7)) until we are as cattle to it. The fear, in other words, is not simply an experience of mortality, but a fear that our mortality will no longer be conditioned by an absolute supremacy over all other beings. Importantly, the animals usually unthought in our "everydayness," those microscopic beings and those we "merely" eat, become visible to the patient only when he discovers that he himself is being eaten.

While we will have to return to this point in some detail later, for the moment I want to set this set of problems involving temporality, mortality, and the sudden visibility of previously neglected animals aside in order to consider what happens when Maupassant revises his story one year later. The new version is much longer and its form has dramatically changed. While the first version contains only a single date (the 20th of July, the night the patient "baptizes" the Horla), the second version is obsessed with dates. With the opening words, "8 Mai--Quelle journee admirable!" (1982, 121), we discover that this version of the story takes the form of a diary. What was before a report to a group of learned men (mostly doctors) by a patient has become a man's documentation of his daily life written for his own purposes and addressed (at least immediately) to no one in particular. (8) Gone also is the sense of regaling that the first version contained. If that version allowed for all events to be related in light of the conclusions of the patient, the diary form allows the narrator (again nameless) to present each detail without any interpretive light cast by such an end. The effect, presumably, heightens the suspense of the story and marks the second story as much closer in style to those more famous vampire and monster tales of the nineteenth century. (9)

Another, complementary but very different, way to think the gap between the two versions is in relation to the story told by Marie-Helene Huet in Monstrous Imagination. Huet examines the relationship between imagination and creative production on the one side and theories of maternity and paternity on the other. She begins with monstrous births as an index of the monstrous power of female/maternal imagination and moves toward how the problem of monstrous paternity figures in (primarily) Romantic literary production. In her story, teratology (the science of monsters that involved creating its own monsters for study: think Victor Frankenstein) marks a shift from a maternal to a paternal model: "This restriction posited by teratology--that imagination does not have the power to reproduce images--also describes the unbridgeable gap between art and medicine that has widened since the beginning of the nineteenth century ... This exclusion of the imagination from embryology and teratology also entails an exclusion of the mother" (Huet 1993, 110). Huet finds this exclusion expressed in a spatial formation: "The laboratory has fully and successfully replaced the womb, and rational, male intervention has been substituted for the female imagination" (1993, 119). This male world of rationality and its corollary exclusion of imagination ("II n'est pas permis a un homme raisonnable et serieux d'avoir de pareilles hallucinations!" [Maupassant 1982, 42]) is the world of the first version of "Le Horla." The move away from such a spatial location (while the "setting" is not exactly a laboratory, it's quite close: it is a space where learned men gather to discuss cases in a rational and scientific manner) would suggest that Maupassant's tale is doing something rather different than Frankenstein, to give but one obvious example.

This background allows us to read the way the role of science changes in the story between the versions. There are several possible points of departure for such a reading: considering the differences between the doctors (Marrande in the first version, Doctor Parent in the second), the inclusion in the second version of a long anecdote about Mesmerism, or the use of a scientific journal as evidence immediately suggest themselves. It is this last I wish to consider. As previously noted, it's not exactly certain that the Horla is a vampire. The vampire, named as such, does appear in each version of the story, however. In the first, the patient cites, to the learned men, "un fragment de journal" that describes "vampires" in San-Paulo who drink water and milk and who seem to live by consuming human breath (souffle). This is, basically, how the first version ends. In the second version, this article appears much earlier (dated 19 August) and is attributed to Revue du Monde scientifique. What appears as a news item in version one is presented as scientific report in version two, complete with analysis by a Doctor Pedro Hernandez. This shift is heightened by a detail in the second version of the report not present in version one: an insistence that this report is about "a madness, an epidemic of madness (un epidemie de folie), comparable to the contagious insanity that attacked the people of Europe in the Middle Ages" (1982, 152). So, while we have left the (all male) realm of the research laboratory in favor of the personal and stereotypically feminine space of the diary, this shift is accompanied by a greater insistence on scientific judgment. In the first version, we never hear what the learned men have to say about what the patient says. In the second, the opinions of men of science are an integral part of the text's fabric. In the second version, to put this very differently, there is an explicit attempt to distance the Horla from the realm of folklore (which is described only as "folie"). To come back briefly to Barber's terminology, the vampire of fiction here insists that he is not a vampire of folklore. (10)

This is no simple declaration. If, as we shall see in section III of this paper, the vampire of folklore is a figure that allows narrativization of problems involving human corpses that only come to light because of how animals (mostly dogs and wolves) interact with graves, then we must consider how the vampire of fiction can distance himself from that other figure while at the same time remaining a figure--the "same" figure--that allows anxieties to be narrated. What anxieties can we read in the Horla? Immediately following the appearance of the journal article (19 August) we read the following (which is worth quoting at length):
   At the present moment, I know, I divine. The reign of man is over.

   He has come, he who was dreaded by the first terrors of naive
   peoples, he who was exorcised by disquieted priests, he whom
   sorcerers evoked on dark nights without seeing him appear, he to
   whom the presentiments of the passing masters of the world lent all
   the monstrous or gracious forms of gnomes, spirits, genii, fairies,
   and familiar spirits. After the course conceptions of primitive
   fear, more perspicacious men presented him more clearly. Mesmer
   divined him and doctors, ten years ago already, discovered, in a
   precise fashion, the nature of his power before he exercised it
   himself. They played with this weapon of their new Master, the
   domination of a mysterious will over the human soul, which became
   enslaved. They called it mesmerism, hypnotism, suggestion, what do
   I know? I have seen them amusing themselves, like imprudent
   children, with this horrible power! Woe to us! Woe to man! He is
   come, the ... the ... how does he call himself ... the ... it seems
   that he cries his name to me, and I don't hear/understand
   it ... the ... yes ... he cries it ... I listen ... I
   can't ... repeat ... the ... Horla ... I understand ... the Horla
   ... it's him ... the Horla ... he is come! ...

   Ah, the vulture has eaten the pigeon; the wolf has eaten the lamb;
   the lion has devoured the sharp-horned buffalo; man has killed the
   lion with an arrow, with a spear, with gunpowder; but the Horla
   will make of man what man has made of the horse and ox: his
   chattel, his slave, and his food, by the sole power of his will.
   Woe to us!

   Nevertheless, sometimes the animal revolts and kills the man who
   has tamed him ... me too I could ... I would ... but I must know
   him, touch him, see him! Learned men say that eyes of animals, as
   they differ from ours, do not distinguish as ours do ... And my eye
   cannot distinguish the newcomer who oppresses me. (1982,153-154)

This is, in a certain way, merely a repetition of moments in the first version that we've already read. But the effect of the diary prose, rather than the pre-thought and already controlled discourse of the public address on the "case" (even if it's delivered by the case himself), forces the anxiety into the foreground. The sentences break apart under this anxiety. Repetitions aren't smoothed over by the rationality of public address. We get, in other words, to see all the cracks more clearly, and they are many. First, the problem of naming this creature follows reading the report on vampires. There is legible, in this version, the problem of whether the Horla is or is not the same as these other vampires. More important, the diary author (no longer speaking in the strange role of specimen and observer of that specimen) does not baptize the creature, he rather seeks to recover or uncover the name that the monster itself cries out to him. The will (volonte) has shifted from "patient" to the Horla. This authority gap is made even more visible when the diarist attempts to read the past as a folklorist reads: explaining away the "irrational" myths by using modern science to name and control earlier fears. What is so stunning about this is that such a meta-discursive analysis can happen at exactly the same time that the diarist is caught in the most irrational of fears. He, the diarist, calls out for science to help him in a broken, stammering French that seeks science only to fall back into a curious set of analogies (which might conform, one could object, to a certain type of science or remark a kind of scienceicity (11)).

These analogies allow us to read what problems the Horla is an excuse for narrativizing. The words, "but the Horla will make of man what man has made of the horse and ox: his chattel, his slave, and his food" say quite a bit indeed. The anxiety is that what man has been doing to animals for hundreds of years will come to be done to man. Peter Singer writes that, "For the majority of human beings, especially in urban, industrialized societies, the most direct form of contact with members of other species is at meal times: we eat them" (in Linzey and Clarke 2004, 163). The vampire, in Maupassant's tale, is the figural form taken by the fear that other beings might relate to humans in the way we most commonly relate to them. If this is the case, vampirism might have to be read as part of a constellation of fears of human edibility: cannibalism, sharks, wild cats, maggots, Jonah in the belly of the wale, etc. Although it risks a reductiveness that further research will undoubtedly complicate, it doesn't seem like it's going to far to suggest that the definition of "the human" that emerges from readings like this is the following: man is the creature that can eat anything or anyone but must never be himself eaten. This is the "reign of man" that the Horla threatens.

We can close out our reading of "Le Horla" by reflecting on this stammering prose written by the narrator on 19 August (and elsewhere). In a context apparently radically removed from our own, Judith Butler writes, "incorporation is antimetaphorical precisely because it maintains the loss as radically unnamable; in other words, incorporation is not only a failure to name or avow the loss, but erodes the conditions of metaphorical signification itself" (Butler 1990, 68). Butler immediately links this antimetaphorical movement of incorporation to melancholy as well as to what reads an awful lot like a kind of vampirism: "But the refusal of loss--melancholy--results in the failure to displace into words; indeed, the place of the maternal body is established in the body, 'encrypted,' to use their term, and given permanent residence there as a dead and deadening part of the body or one inhabited or possessed by phantasms of various kinds" (1990, 68). Here, we see a link between failures of signification and naming on the one hand--a complex in which I would include the narrator's stammering that when he tries to name (not baptize) the "Being"--and the psychic mechanism of melancholia on the other. (12)

In "Mourning and Melancholia," Freud writes:
   In grief the world becomes poor and empty; in melancholia it is the
   ego itself. The patient represents his ego to us as worthless,
   incapable of any effort and morally despicable; he reproaches
   himself, vilifies himself and expects to be cast out and chastised.
   He abases himself before everyone and commiserates his own
   relatives for being connected with someone so unworthy. He does not
   realize that any change has taken place in him, but extends his
   self-criticism back over the past and declares that he was never
   any better. This picture of delusional belittling--which is
   predominantly moral--is completed by sleeplessness and refusal of
   nourishment, and by an overthrow, psychologically very remarkable,
   of that instinct which constrains every living thing to cling to
   life. (1963,167)

This passage reads like commentary on "Le Horla," especially if we can take "his own relatives" to refer to the entirety of humanity ("man," as such) in Maupassant's tale. Almost all of the narrator's descriptions of the Horla, as well as his experiments to learn about him, take place either at night or in the bedroom. The narrator, even of version one, is "very thin, thin as a corpse" (Maupassant 1982, 35). The man isn't sleeping or eating well and this problem spreads like contagion. (13) However it spreads, we can begin to discern here a connection between the problems affecting one man and a tendency toward globalization--this thing won't stop until it gets all of humanity. Here, another commentator on melancholia is helpful; "we ought to say that melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object" (Agamben 1993, 20). This is complemented by his observation that, "in melancholia the object is neither appropriated nor lost, but both possessed and lost at the same time" (21). Thus, the narrator of "Le Horla" mourns the loss of humanity through an anticipatory melancholia, through a loss that is ahead of itself. The narrator both has and does not have humanity. He is the last man: "The only thing that distinguishes the last man from the others is the fact that he is last. The peculiarity of being the last consists precisely in the loss of meaning of the peculiarity of this man with respect to man as such," writes Hans-Jost Frey (1998, 252).

The connection to melancholia is explicit in the story. On 25 May, the diarist writes, "I dine late, then I try to read; but I cannot comprehend the words; I only barely distinguish letters" (Maupassant 1982, 124). This problem causes the diarist to worry about how one can "make a melancholic from the most joyous of men." But the diarist doesn't refer to himself as melancholic directly. As in Freud's analysis, he doesn't notice the change taking place. Of course he cannot recognize this: melancholia is always shooting ahead of itself, mourning the loss of something that isn't yet lost, trying to find words that can organize the past into something narratable, something that isn't namable or narratable without such a word.

Vampires, History, Time

The most useful way to proceed at this point may be to ask the simplest, but perhaps the most difficult question: what is a vampire? I want to work through a few answers here, in something of a reverse order, dealing with Barber's definition last. The first paragraph of Laurence Rickels' first vampire lecture reads as follows:
   What is a historical fact? It is after the fact. With vampirism, in
   any event, history comes after to give definition to an unformed
   body of symptoms. If one could scan, on rewind, the facts and
   rumors circulating as vampirism, at any given time or over time--in
   real time--what we would find before us is the polymorphous
   confusion of activities and desires that go down and out and under
   the name of vampirism. There are many, many ways in which one can
   become a vampire, many ways in which one can exercise one's
   vampirism. And there are many different parts of the body where
   blood can be sucked. (1999, 1)

What is fascinating about this opening is that it presents the vampire, through a series of slippery and mobile formulations, as "a historical fact." Whatever else the vampire is (which will be somewhat "polymorphous"), it is a fact of history that only comes after the fact. One might say that the vampire is the late (at night?) figure that allows us to connect seemingly disparate "activities and desires" as "historical." (14)

In a very different context, Montague Summers writes in the introduction to The Vampire in Europe from 1930, looking back on his previous book The Vampire: His Kith and Kin from 1928, that:
   I also [in that book] essayed to find some explanation of the
   traits and activity of the vampire, to formulate some sort of
   hypothesis which may account for these terrible phenomena. In a
   matter of such difficulty and intricacy it were hazardous indeed to
   venture to claim that my suggestions cover more than a few cases of
   the well-known and credibly reported instances of vampirism. (1930,

Summers points to "well-known" and "credibly reported" "instances" and "terrible phenomena" linked to the name of vampire (although this "creature['s]" name will change depending on historico-geograophical situation). In the first of Summers' sentences, we might even go so far as to read a definition of the vampire as a "hypothesis" and "explanation." Much like in the definition given by Rickels, Summers sees the vampire as the name given to hold the place of a complicated knot of problems, historical in nature and described to be "terrible."

Because of certain tonal affinity with his reading of history as fundamentally driven by conflict and bloodshed, Marx was able to use the vampire as a general metaphor for any process involving the draining of force away from its source (that is, the metaphor works through a focus on "circulation"). Moving from Marx's writings in Capital, the Marxist literary critic Franco Moretti can write, "the vampire is a metaphor for capital" (Moretti 1982, 74). For him, Bram Stoker's Dracula is "the capital of 1897. The capital which, after lying 'buried' for twenty long years of recession, rises again to set out on the irreversible road of concentration and monopoly" (1982, 74). This reading of vampire as metaphor for capital informs the bulk of Moretti's essay on Dracula, Frankenstein and Polidori's "The Vampyre." The inclusion of this last story allows Moretti to make a strange claim in the second sentence of his essay: "The monster and the vampire are born together one night in 1816 in the drawing room of the Villa Chapuis near Geneva, out of a society game among friends to while away a rainy summer" (1982, 67). These three texts are treated as the expression of bourgeois fear related to various types of capital. In the middle of this metaphorical treatment of the vampire, we read another definition of the vampire, cut off from the main text by parentheses: "(and the vampire is, as we know, also a dead person who comes back to life to destroy those who remain)" (80). Here, distanced by so many attempts to keep it at bay ("and," "also," "as we know," the parentheses), we see that Moretti's entirely metaphoric reading of the vampire/capital must in some way rely on a common knowledge of what the vampire is, a knowledge that can't be taken up explicitly in his text or subjected to any sort of critical self-reading. One wonders if this indicates a certain instability of the vampire as metaphor for historical processes, an instability that exists because it stands on the assumed but unapproachable support of a presumably ahistorical and non-metaphorical formulation of "the vampire" that we all know. Is "history" here shown to be nameable only after the fact because its very name must always be borrowed from a mythical substrate? (15)

It's curious to find then, in Barber, an attempt to demythify this substrate through a scientific re-reading of "data" present in vampiric folklore accounts that shows "the vampire" to be the name given to very concrete, historically specific (if geographically and temporally scattered) problems. Barber can even write, on the first page of his introduction, "What this book is really about is how people in preindustrial cultures look at the processes and phenomena associated with death and the dissolution of the body" (Barber 1988, 1). Thus, Barber: "It is probably not going too far to suggest that a vampire might be defined as a corpse that comes to the attention of the populace at a time of crisis and is taken for the cause of that crisis" (1988,125). In his next paragraph, he explains how such bodies come to this attention: "a dog finds a grave, presumably by scent, and digs down to the body" (125). Earlier in the book, he writes, "there is a regular technology of vampire-detection" (68), which is:

Visible or not, a vampire may be detected by various animals, not just horses, a motif that fiction and folklore have in common. In fiction, dogs are likely to howl or snarl, hackles raised, in the presence of the vampire, as in Alexis Tolstoy's "The Family of the Vourdalak." In folklore, this particular motif is not especially common--indeed, in one area of Yugoslavia, the Moslem Gypsies take a contrary view, believing that "there is no vampire in a village if the dogs are barking, but if they are quiet then the vampire has come." (Barber 1988, 69)

Although Barber has not been much influenced by structuralism, we may note that whether defined positively or negatively, the dog's action (and more generally, that of "various animals") is the most useful indication of the presence or absence of a vampire. (16) What matters is that dogs perform some sort of action relative to the presence of a corpse that prompts the local people to examine the body for vampiric traits. As Barber notes, "it is only to be expected that the people of Europe knew what a vampire looked like: they were digging them up on a fairly regular basis. The seeming anomalies in the appearance of the body--the blood at the lips, the discolored face, the swollen trunk--are, as we shall see, normal concomitants of the process of decomposition" (1988, 86). This hints at Barber's main thesis: that "the vampire" is the name given to explain the fact that human bodies don't decay at exactly the same speed. If a body, dug up by dogs or otherwise found escaping its grave, was judged to be taking too long to decompose, it was declared a vampire and then "killed." (17)


For Barber, the historico-temporal difference that allows him to scientifically re-evaluate the "data" found in folklore, showing how vampire tales functioned as an explanatory mechanism for observations of decaying human bodies, is a shift in how we understand life:
   It must be stressed that, our modern conceptions to the contrary,
   bodies continue to act long after death. We distinguish between the
   two types of activity: that which we bring about by our will (in
   life) and that which is caused by other entities, such as
   microorganisms (in death). Because we regard only the former as
   "our" activity, we view the body as inert after death. Its
   movements, changes in dimension and the like, are not "real" for
   us, since we do not will them. For the most part, however, our
   ancestors made no such distinction. To them, if the body continued
   to change in color, move, bleed, and so on (as it in fact does),
   then it continued to live. Our view of death has made it difficult
   for us to understand earlier views, which are often quite
   pragmatic. (1988, 91)

In other words, the gap between folklore and fiction, which is revealed by science, amounts to a shift in thinking about the limits of human "will." It is important here to insist that in the "earlier views" discussed by Barber, the problematic only emerges because of the ways animals interact with dead bodies. In both of these terms (the animal, the dead body) we need to see limit-forms clearly related to, but different from, human beings. Human beings are (at least in part) animal although they somehow transcend this category, and dead bodies are human beings although they somehow descend from this category (into the grave, into the underworld).

Finally, we see that the animal and the vampire are two names given to figures touching on, remaining distant from, and (ultimately) shoring up "the human." The vampire that comes after man (Maupassant's narrator as the last man), and the animal that comes before man (temporally in Genesis, and juridically/ethically/logically in the manner of something like Kafka's "Before the Law" (18)) are both figures that allow for a certain historical situating of "man." When Barber asserts that the vampire of fiction is wholly other than the vampire of fiction, he does so in order to inscribe "man" within a narrative of scientific progress, continuing enlightenment, and a growing certainty of self-definition (the old humans had to play elaborate semiotic games to keep the animals at bay, while we have settled our species status once and for all). Metaphorical readings of vampires (like those of Rickels, Gelder, Auerbach, and Moretti) relate the vampire to all sorts of economies (textual, libidinal, monetary) while losing sight of the kernel of the real at the heart of the figure: the dead human body encountering the wild (un-trained) animal. What Maupassant's "Le Horla" accomplishes is a short-circuiting of any attempt to keep the metaphorical and the historical-materialist readings separate. I don't mean to suggest here that Barber is an historical materialist in the Marxian sense. Rather, I want to signal that what these texts are struggling to explain, contain and retain is a very material confrontation between bodies. When dog meets corpse, a strange new creature emerges, one that seems to reveal, contra Barber, that our new conception of "life" (as in the vampire as living dead) isn't as far removed from what Barber calls, obliquely, "our view of death" and that both are intimately related to what he wants to dislocate or project onto "our ancestors." This new concept of life, "ours," is related, unsurprisingly, to the nineteenth century. Richard Doyle traces the emergence of this concept of life in On Beyond Living (1997). He describes his project this way:
   By connecting life back up to its conditions of emergence, I hope
   to dislocate it, to mark the way it occupies not one transcendental
   "place" or position, but instead emerges out of a series of
   connections between words and technologies, human or otherwise.
   This dislocation, in a way, makes it possible to speak or write of
   "life" in general, insofar as the emphasis on the connections of
   narratives and networks of technologies marks the heterogeneities
   and differences of what has been called, since the nineteenth
   century, life. (1997,24)

In the nineteenth century--and in Marx, Baudelaire, Nietzsche's "last man" and Maupassant's "Le Horla" in particular--"life" becomes tied more and more to time. With this suturing, the privileged place of "the animal" as the negative Other of humanity gives way to, or is displaced by, the emergence of the vampire as a privileged marker of the human's borders.



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Gelder, Ken. Reading the Vampire. London: Routledge, 1994.

Ginzburg, Carlo. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath. New York: Penguin, 1991. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1962.

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Maupassant, Guy de. Histoires fantastiques. Paris: L'ecole des loisirs, 1982.

Moretti, Franco. "The Dialectic of Fear." New Left Review 136 (Nov.-Dee. 1982): 67-85. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Unfashionalbe Observations. Trans. Richard T. Gray. Stanford CA: Stanford UP, 1995.

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Rickels, Laurence A. The Vampire Lectures. Minneapolis, Minnesota UP, 1999. Summers, Montague. The Vampire in Europe. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1930.

Wolfe, Cary. Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame. Chicago: U of Chicago P: 2012.

(1) It has not escaped critics' attention that the form of Stoker's book is obsessed with the proliferation of media of global communications: the post, the telegram, the railway, etc. Ken Gelder's chapter on Dracula contains a section called "Mina, Writing and Mass Technology" (1994, 79-85).

(2) Nina Auerbach suggests much the same thing when she writes, "There is no such creature as 'The Vampire'; there are only vampires...Because they are always changing, their appeal is dramatically generational" (1995, 5; see also Rickels 1999, "Lecture Three").

(3) It's not surprising, therefore, that Freud's essay on "the Uncanny" finds so many readers among vampire scholars (see Gelder 1994, chapter three, "Vampires and the Uncanny"; see also Rickels 1999, whose book might be read as attempt to conduct an entire series of lectures on the Uncanny in a certain style of the Uncanny). By throwing the "Uncanny" and the "untimely" together in this way, a certain sharing is suggested between an experience of the comforting and homely and a specific experience of temporality. Does "home" have a time of its own? Nietzsche: "The ahistorical is like an enveloping atmosphere in which alone life is engendered, and it disappears again with the destruction of this atmosphere. It is true: only when the human being, by thinking, reflecting, comparing, analyzing, and synthesizing, limits that ahistorical element, only when a bright, flashing, iridescent light is generated within that enveloping cloud of mist--that is, only by means of the power to utilize the past for life and to reshape past events into history once more--does the human being become a human being" (1995, 91). We need to be in the cloud and not in the cloud; we need to be at home, and we need the Uncanny; we need (to use Heideggerian language) vulgar time consciousness and experiences of a "more originary" temporality in order to "become" (here we return to Nietzsche's language) human beings. The vampire, again, appears at the center of a knot of problems holding "the human" together.

(4) "N.Y. State of Mind" on Illmatic (Columbia Records, 1994).

(5) In Discipline and Punish we read: "The examination, surrounded by all its documentary techniques, makes each individual a 'case': a case which at one and the same time constitutes an object for a branch of knowledge and a hold for a branch of power. The case is no longer, as in casuistry or jurisprudence, a set of circumstances defining an act and capable of modifying the application of a rule; it is the individual as he may be described, judged, measured, compared with others, in his very individuality; and it is also the individual who has been trained or corrected, classified, normalized, excluded, etc." (Foucault 1979, 191).

(6) In [section]26, Kant writes, "This makes it possible to explain a point that Savary notes in his report on Egypt: that in order to get the full emotional effect of the magnitude of the pyramids one must neither come too close to them nor be too far away. For the in the latter case, the parts that are apprehended (the stones piled on top of one another) are represented only obscurely, and their representation has no effect on the aesthetic judgment of the subject. In the former case, however, the eye requires some time to complete its apprehension from the base level to the apex, but during this time the former always partly fades before the imagination has taken in the latter, and the comprehension is never complete" (2001, 135-136). This gives a lot to consider, not least because the pyramids are, of course, burial monuments (part III of this paper will hopefully illuminate this importance). Worth noting also is that for Kant vision is limited by temporal demands (Lyotard's Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime is instructive here), an insight not explicitly present in Maupassant's tale, although it can be inferred from the patient's assertion that our eye can only take in what is necessary for our (mortal, temporally limited) existence. I don't want to overstate the case, and this argument would require far more precision than I can offer in this brief paper, but it seems possible that what we see between Maupassant and Kant, in different ways and in different registers, is a sudden, historically determined problem whereby certain previously invisible or imperceptible phenomena (but already this word ruins everything) come into perception by a necessity of our existence.

(7) On the various words to describe how humans relate to animals and animots, including "dompter," see Derrida (2006). The first discussion of these words occurs on page 28.

(8) Barthes (1982): "If I reread my journal pages several months, several years after having written them, though my doubt hasn't dissipated, I experience a certain pleasure in rediscovering, thanks to these lines, the events they relate, and even more, the inflections (of light, of atmosphere, of mood) they bring back. In short, at this point no literary interest (save for problems of formulation, i.e., of phrasing), but a kind of narcissistic attachment (faintly narcissistic--let's not exaggerate) to my doings (whose recall is inevitably ambiguous, since to remember is also to acknowledge and to lose once again what will not recur" (480). It seems that even when the reader is to be one's "self," the passage of time makes that self into an Other. The journal is perhaps one of the most important sites for the ongoing construction of "identity" (this Barthes notes explicitly in "Deliberations"), which means it also makes legible the greater or lesser distances between my "self" at any moment of reading and the "self" that inscribed the pages with such "intimate" text.

(9) Stoker's Dracula in 1896, but also Byron's "Fragment" in 1816 which takes the form of a letter, and which tradition generally regards as coming from the same matrix as Shelley's Frankenstein, told in diary entries, letters, and the direct address of the "monster."

(10) Marx and Engels (1845) write: "Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization" ("First Premises of Material Method").

(11) The science of Buffon, for example, is founded on analogy: "I pretend not, therefore, to lay it down as a demonstrated fat, that progressive motion, and the other external movements of animals, have no other cause but that of the impressions of objects upon the senses. I only say, that the fact is probably, and seems to be founded on strong analogies" (1785, 220).

(12) The readings offered by Butler (1990) that I'm quoting would, along with Auerbach (1995) and Huet (1993), suggest a critique of "Le Horla" that focuses on how the vampire in the tale allows anxieties about gender and sexuality to congeal. The brief reading already mentioned in Rickels' The Vampire Lectures points strongly in this direction as well. Such a critique would need to account for the long-standing association between vampirism and hypersexuality (and/ or homosexuality), as well as address the reasons why women and homosexuals would be likely candidates for vampires.

(13)"Le Horla" isn't concerned with the specifics of the contagious movement, but in both versions the household personnel get it first. The spread of vampirism by contagion is another common feature of the folkoric and the Active vampire. Barber explains, "because they [the people in the preindustrial societies discussed] live in a world governed by personal relationships, not impersonal laws, contagion tends to be seen as meaningful and deliberate and its patterns based on values and vendettas, not on genetic predisposition or the domestic accommodations of the rat flea" (Barber 1988, 178).

(14) The "untimeliness" of the vampire can be both an earliness and a lateness. Rickels focuses on late vampires, while Maupassant dwells on one that arrives too early. Of course, this earliness or lateness can only be remarked from a human point of view. While man may die at any moment (recall Rickels' formulation cited in the introduction), the vampire can only die at "the proper hour," which is another way of saying that humans can, through narrative, force the untimely into a timely figure.

(15) At the very end of Ecstasies, Carlo Ginzburg writes, "Diffusion and preservation also depend on elements of a formal character which ensure the solidarity of myths and rituals. The constant re-elaborations to which they are subjected clearly illustrate this intermingling of history and morphology ... Its transmission, like that of the deep structures of language, is unwitting--although this dos not imply the presence of a collective unconscious. The myth or ritual transmission through historical channels implicitly contains the formal rules of its own re-elaboration" (1991, 266). With this insight, we lose the ability to sharply divide the mythic and later "scientific" or "fictional" formulations. The vampire, perhaps, is a figure that carries with itself a set of rules allowing for dissemination and variation. It functions, in other words, like a virus.

(16) See "La logique des classifications totemiques" in Levi-Strauss (1962, 50-94), as well as the first few pages of "Les systemes de transformations" in the same book (1962, 95-101 in particular).

(17) "And Taller tells of a body that was taken to a border and decapitated. A stone was then inserted into the mouth, and the body was cut open, washed out with boiling wine, staked through the heart, and left for the animals to eat. In that order" (Barber 1988,75). Here, "killing" the vampire sounds remarkably like a recipe. The human corpse is transformed into cuisine for wild dogs and wolves. Thus opens a new direction for research into human fears of being eaten. Such research would have to pursue how this human (corpse)/animal relation is figured in the literature on so-called "bio-politics." Immediately, we are confronted with the first-cousin of the vampire, the werewolf. In [section]6 of Homo Sacer, "The Ban and the Wolf," we read: "What had to remain in the collective unconscious as a monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the forest and the city--the werewolf--is, therefore, in its origin the figure of the man who has been banned from the city" (Agamben 1998,105). Agamben's conception of the werewolf isn't developed enough, however, and we would need a historico-figural analysis of that creature like the one we've been trying to sketch of the vampire. The essay "Metamorphosis and Lycanthropy in France-Comte, 1521-1643" by Caroline Oates offers plenty toward such a project. She writes, for example, "In view of the fact that wolves normally avoid human contact, and human flesh does not usually feature in a wolf's diet, any encounter with a wolf near human habitation, especially if it attacked people, could seem unusual or abnormal, and worthy of explanation" (1989, 307). We can no longer be surprised, then, by assertions like this: "If an observer approached a feeding wolf [feeding on a human corpse, that is], he might see the wolf leave and note that what was left behind was a typical vampire, quite inactive, and he might then conclude either that the wolf had killed the vampire or that the vampire had left its old body behind and had become the wolf" (Barber 1988, 93).

(18) For more on the doubleness of "Before the Law," see Wolfe (2012).
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Title Annotation:general articles; Guy de Maupassant
Author:Snaza, Nathan
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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