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Critical geosophies: a pyschotopological reading of rice's vampires and Romero's zombies.


Anne Rice and George Romero are two of the foremost transformative authors of vampire and zombie fiction in the United States. This reading of their work applies a psychotopological lens to the first two novels of Rice's Vampire Chronicles and the first three films of Romero's Living Dead series. It differs from numerous preceding analyses of monster fiction mostly in the theoretical apparatus it articulates to link the psychic fear vampires and zombies evoke with the topologies of space and power they evince. This intervention invokes a negative understanding of dialectical materialism to analyze human-monster thresholds as political sites. It builds this theorization primarily from the works of Slavoj Zizek, Sara Ahmed, Julia Kristeva, Kojin Karatani, and to a lesser extent Joan Copjec. The result is a psychotopological analysis that challenges understandings of the monster as either timeless allegories for the systemic order or as endlessly interpretive contingencies. It also reads the topological forms of Rice's vampires and Romero's zombies in relation to each other. Understanding psychic space and topologies of power as integral to each other helps read the vampire and the zombie as myths which endure because of the fears of class exploitation and social collectivism they stoke.


Topology, pyschoanalysis, psychotopology, vampires, zombies


It is well known that the vampire was Marx's preferred metaphor for the exploitation intrinsic to the capitalist order. That is not to say, of course, that vampire fiction necessarily seeks to illustrate Marxist theory, as the vampire as a literary figure pre-dates capitalism, let alone Marx. But the ease with which the vampire as popularly understood finds congruity with Marxist critique has rendered anxieties about economic life as one of the foremost theories of not just the vampire, but the monster in general. As the theory goes, the vampire sucking the blood from its victim to assure its immortality parallels the extraction of value from living labor (the worker) by dead labor (capital) to be dialectically reified in built structure (Latham, 2002; McNally, 2011). I think there is a great deal of merit in this interpretation, but even so, it involves a fair amount of conceptual slippage. For example, within this broad interpretation McNally (2011) also posits the ideological function of monster fiction as normalizing capitalism by rendering the crises its creates as anomalous. In his analysis the vampire slips from being a fact of everyday material reality to signifying the exception to that reality, a contradiction which, in my opinion, results from the fact that he conflates vampires with all forms of monster. McNally attempts to resolve this problem by arguing that vampiric capitalism, by re-invigorating dead labor, dialectically produces that which is symbolized by the zombie: a social order guided by a logic alien to its own interests. (1) Newitz (2006, 3) likewise argues that the fundamental message of monster fiction is that "capitalism creates monsters that want to kill you." No matter the monster nor the context, then, they are capitalism one way or another.

The above theories assume that all viewers are invested in improving their own material lot above all else, as if they are sub-consciously anti-capitalist and fear no "Other" save the social difference capitalism articulates (e.g. "false consciousness"). So if monsters are not allegories for the systemic order, what are they? Can they, as some argue, stand in for any particular Other, anywhere and anytime? Auerbach (1995: 3) argues that vampires "are too mutable to be allegories," meaning that they take shape within their political contexts and cannot be reduced to any one critique. From a Freudian perspective, Wood (1986: 70) offers a "general theory of the horror film" wherein zombies (and other monsters) can be explained as expressions of whatever is psychically repressed in a given society; in other words, that monster narratives exist has a structural explanation for Wood, but their form needs to be situated historically. Likewise, Mariani (2015) describes the zombie as a "handy Rorsach test for America's social ills." Rather than the one true ideological function of the monster, these authors see them as adaptable based on the needs of the consuming subject.

But as I aim to show, this understanding of the monster as suitably adaptable "Other" has its conceptual flaws as well. While monsters are mutable in many ways, they still endure in others--specifically in terms of the topologies of power and space they evince. The vampire is conscious of its actions but unfeeling toward them, preying upon powerless and unsuspecting commoners of a different social stripe. Gaining its strength from theirs, it is an immortal parasite from above. This can be seen not only in classic European Gothic fiction (such as Dracula [1897]--to be discussed later), but in its American counterpart. For example, the year before Anne Rice penned the first installment of The Vampire Chronicles, Stephen King (1975) portrayed the terrorization of small town Americana by a wealthy German vampire living high on a hill in Salem's Lot. The frequent grousing of the townsfolk about cultural decline is set against less obvious material changes in economy, land tenure and technology (including real estate speculation, the corporatization of agriculture, the privatization of utilities, etc.). The central tension of the novel is whether the communal ties that bind are strong enough to resist the blood-sucking ways of the wealthy businessman who lives high on the hill. The vampire is dead, but gains its social power by sucking the life from the living, as capital drains living labor.

The American cinematic version of the zombie (its Haitian origins notwithstanding) is its topological reverse; it is weak individually, but gains its power only as the "masses" so to speak. As a dead but mobile human it is not "from above" but "from within." Zombies operate collectively to close in on their prey--which represent the last remnants of sentient individualism. The vampire is hyper-individualistic; the zombie cannot think on its own, but threatens the wholeness of the individual. I approach my interpretation on the theoretical grounds that the spatiality of the monster is "always-already-read ... through sedimented layers of previous interpretations" (Jameson, 1981: 9). As such they can be understood as symbols of what Jameson (1981) terms a political unconscious, thus linked through an interdiscursive or intertextual fabric and intelligible relative to each other. This is why I address both vampires and zombies in the same article. As a first approximation, the vampire is more unfettered capitalist than the zombie, and the zombie is more socialist collective than the vampire. While the latter interpretation may be unorthodox, concerns about the grabby, conforming masses who threaten freedom are very real, commonplace, and serviced by cinematic zombies. Perhaps vampires and zombies have endured in literature and cinema as long as they have because they stoke social anxieties that are politically incommensurate.

I use Cresswell's (2011) term "critical geosophy" in my title because a psychotopological reading of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and George Romero's Living Dead movies can tell us something about how the narration of space is potentially transformative of power. "A 'critical geosophy' would be an account of geographical ideas and the roles that they play in the production, reproduction and transformation of power" (Cresswell, 2011: 75). Furthermore, a psychotopological reading can promote what Kristeva (2002) calls an intimate revolt. Her point is that revolt is not only a matter of outward action, but is also a matter of "psychical life and its social manifestations (writing, thought, art)" (Kristeva, 2002: 11). A critically geosophical approach to these manifestations--in the form of vampires and zombies--can help accomplish these goals by unseating meaning and affect from individuals to the circulation of externally intimate ("extimate") objects. Secor (2013: 436) advocates the power of a psychoanalytic approach to topology to figure the subject within its lived space as "untapped potential of topology in geography."

Hence psychotopology is the most useful theoretical framework for tracing the modalities of space and power discussed above. Topology can take any number of forms depending on how it is used analytically; it is at once "a metaphor, a heuristic device, an analytical approach, a figure and an ontological relationship" (Martin and Secor, 2014: 421). I borrow the term psychotopology itself from Blum and Secor (2011). I theorize it more fully in the next section, but in short I mean it to connect the psychoanalysis of subject formation to the realities of political economy, and in that sense it differs from Deleuzian or post-Actor Network Theory (post-ANT) varieties of topology. Thus I initially couch my theorization within Zizek's (2006, 2011) insistence on dialectical materialism (as opposed to materialist dialectics). Whereas Zizek's work in this regard is limited to the psyche, Ahmed's (2005, 2010) theory of affective economies spatializes the psychic attachment to the external (hence connecting "topology" to "psycho"). Fear, for instance, "establishes distance between bodies whose difference is read off of the surface, as a reading which produces the surface" (Ahmed, 2005: 63); that is, emotions are not strictly psychic but are also based on the circulation of objects of fear. A psychotopological approach moves psychoanalysis beyond the individual psyche and recognizes desire as circulating within modes of production, economistic or otherwise (Jameson, 1981; Nast, 2000).

In "Rice's vampires" and "Romero's zombies", I apply psychotopology to the works of two of the foremost authors of vampire and zombie fiction in the United States: Anne Rice and George Romero. Rice's Vampire Chronicles have been widely read, and in the case of the first book adapted to film. They are also credited as the seminal vampire tale told from the vampire's perspective, arguably transforming vampire fiction for generations to come. While there are 11 books in the series, for the sake of brevity and focus my analysis will restricted to the first two--Interview with the Vampire (1976) and The Vampire Lestat (1985). Film director George Romero's work has also played a transformative role in the figuration of the zombie in American popular culture. In this article, his first three films in the series, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead(\91%), and Day of the ZW(1985) will be considered. Lastly, while films and books are not the same, I believe the topologies they evince are more fundamental to their form than the particular media used to portray them.

Critically geosophical psychotopology

As Martin and Secor (2014: 421) point out, "topology is not new to the discipline" of geography. And despite the contention with which it has been incorporated to geography, neither is psychoanalysis (for example, Nast, 2000; Pile, 1996; Philo and Parr, 2003). This is why the particular version of topology used matters greatly for analysis; Lacanian psychoanalysis fits quite well with topologies of subjectivity ("on the question of structure, Lacan is a topologist" (Kingsbury, 2007: 237)), but exists in tension with post-ANT or Deleuzian varieties that emphasize historicism and immanence. In setting out my theoretical framework, I take my initial queue from Copjec's (1994: 118) analysis of historical anxieties over breastfeeding as "the precise equivalent of vampire fiction." She sets this against a (particularly Foucaultian) historicism understood as the "reduction of society to its indwelling network of relations of power and knowledge" (Copjec, 1994: 6). Copjec (1994: 6) concedes this historical particularity in the sense that "society never stops realizing itself," but even if its form is specific to cultural conditions, that there is anxiety in the first place is psychically based. As will be elaborated shortly, subjectivities emerge in relation to objects defined by Lacan as extimate: "they are in us that which is not us" (Copjec, 1994: 128). In other words, extimacy refers to the topological form of the external and the intimate, which for Lacan takes the shape of a Mobius strip wherein the inside and outside necessitate each other.2 Far from a duality between the universal and the particular, "extimacy ... allows us to understand how subjectivity, society and space take place through the twists and turns of external intimacy" (Kingsbury, 2007: 246). In Copjec's (1994) analysis, the female breast is the external "not us" that becomes subjectively intimate; vampirism is frightening because it represents the drying up of the breast, or the deprivation of the extimate object.

Before continuing, it is worthwhile to mention how this differs from post-ANT or Deleuzian inspired topologies. Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) development of theories of multiplicities presumes topologies "that can emerge between what might be summarily called 'localised' points that have their own spatio-temporalities. These connections ... do not rely on the projection of localized Euclidean metrics from these points" (Dixon and Jones, 2014: 4). In other words, Deleuzian topologies reject universalities in favor of self-contained particularities that are not indexed to a Cartesian grid. As another example, Lury et al. (2012: 5) argue that culture is "increasingly organized in terms of its capacities for change." That is, culture itself is topological, and the shifting nature of these topologies creates other topologies.

The classic concern with these approaches to topology is that they potentially abstract power away from actual practices (Coleman, 2011) and contexts (Paasi, 2011). Recognizing that this is less an issue of topology itself than how it is used analytically, Dixon and Jones (2014) seek to clarify the ontological status of topology through their focus on tactility in the 2011 film Contagion. In their view, a focus on "tactile topologies" can help ground power in relational theories of space by highlighting what touch does in the context of a topological form. They describe it as "a form of power and much less ... a motor of topology," in that it "attends to the way in which space is 'felt' as a meshing and unmeshing of surfaces" (Dixon and Jones, 2014: 4). I think that Dixon and Jones' invocation of tactile topologies is innovative and useful, but I remain skeptical that it grounds spatial practices. Contagion itself presents human--virus interactions through mundane, apolitical practices of everyday life--see for instance the four screen captures of fomites provided by Dixon and Jones (2014), that of eating utensils, an escalator hold, a bathroom hand dryer, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The capitalist-colonial practice of deforestation that displaced the original bat colony, from which the virus spread to pigs and then humans, appears as incidental. In contrast, this is not a problem in Kneale's (2006) reading of H.P. Lovecraft's horror fiction. By focusing on how thresholds between human/non-human, life/death, thing/abstraction, etc., serve as sites of radical change, Kneale (2006) shows us what thresholds do outside the text--frighten conservatives like Lovecraft by reminding them of the contingency of social order. Fluri (2013) also effectively uses topology to trace the ideological function of filmic representation, rather than the social topologies the film represents.

To take topologies as emergent from other topologies, as Dixon and Jones's (2014) focus on actors and networks tends to do, would be like disconnecting the particular form of anxiety over breastfeeding from the fact of anxiety itself. One might instead follow Kirsch and Mitchell's (2004) suggestion that what Actor Network Theory attempts to explain could be better accessed through Marx's concept of dead labor. In this case, we might look at capitalist exploitation of bat habitat as that which then subjects living labor to a precarious relationship with the fomites lodged in its surrounding built environment (dead labor). This latter point would reflect Kneale's (2006: 107) argument that "the materialized agency of those who came before us becomes a troubling ghostly presence" in the form of monster fiction. His focus on thresholds thus explores a dialectic between the individualized subject and the conditions of its emergence, which limits its agency, as monsters do.

This dialectic is important to a materially grounded topological reading of monster fiction. Marx generally took his dialectical method from Hegel, but not necessarily Hegel's final sublation, at least not in The Grundrisse. For instance, Marx (1971) argues that a Hegelian understanding of production and consumption as contained within each other matters only in the abstract, but not within particular, grounded conditions (in which case one must consider fixed capital, surplus value, etc.). To count on their positive sublation would be to figure "society as a single subject [which] is moreover a false mode of speculative reasoning" (Marx, 1971: 27). And per Gidwani's (2008: 858) reading of The Grundrisse, capital's encounter with labor in its particular and heterogenous form is a "site of recurring anxiety and fear." Karatani (2005) takes it a step further, famously arguing that Marx's dialectical method was superficially Hegelian but more truly Kantian, as Capital exhibits no final, positive sublation of use value and exchange value. Rather, they are marked by violence, exploitation, and the anxiety of which Gidwani writes--and, as I argue later, the fear induced by monster (particularly zombie) fiction. Another way of putting it is that between use and exchange value (or the abstract and the particular) is a parallax gap, or what Zizek (2006: 4) defines as "the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible." At least as he sets it out in The Parallax View, Zizek (2006) makes this case relative to Badiou's (2005) site ontology, in which the event (object) confronts the witness (subject) and leads to eternal truths. Zizek calls this materialist dialectics because the subject and object subiate to form the Hegelian spirit, in the form of truth. In contrast, and borrowing not from Hegel but from Kant, Zizek emphasizes dialectical materialism, in which the parallax incommensurability of subject and object is productive of materiality.

Negative dialectics in this sense are why historically specific multiplicities with their own "rules" are entirely possible even if they are traceable to structure, and why psychoanalytic theory works in conjunction with a materialist approach. Zizek (2006: 17) says that "the reality I see is never 'whole'--not because a large part of it eludes me, but because it contains a stain, a blind spot, which indicates my inclusion in it." Thus, the subject's relationship to the "actual" is always filtered through a void--what Lacan called the Real--rather than a determined foundation. The Real prevents the becoming whole of the subject, and the Symbolic order is thus created to fill in said blind spot, to give the illusion of wholeness. This drive for symbolic completion (part of the Freudian superego) is what Lacan terms jouissance (enjoyment), and which Zizek (1992) foregrounds as a political factor. It is important because it inevitably fails to complete, and is thus experienced as a loss. A third register, known as the Imaginary, then operates to rationalize that loss. For example, in her psychoanalytic analysis of colonial racism, Nast (2000: 216) points out that law, culture (such as incest taboos) and the heteronormative family are part of a Symbolic order created to prevent "an unbridled implosion of the family upon itself' resulting from the primacy of oedipal desire. But in the context of this psychic frustration, black men in the colonial U.S. South were symbolized as sexual threats to the mother, or in other words as the incestuous nature that cannot be tamed through law. Hence race and/or racism appear as the Imaginary that explain why the Symbolic (the family, etc.) was not ultimately satisfactory.

Quite a lot of psychoanalytic analyses of horror also situate it in terms of Kristeva's (1982) notion of the abject (England, 2006; Haggerty, 2006; Levina and Bui, 2013), which refers to that which must be expelled in order to "forget" that the subject was never whole to begin with. This typically refers to bodily fluids and waste associated with the radical splitting of the self from the Real. Kristeva specifies that this is why the image of the corpse is so unnerving, because it signifies "the border of my condition as a living being" (Kristeva, 1982: 3). As such this border becomes the object to one's subject, and "it is no longer I who expel, 'I' is expelled" (4). The abject does not have to be a bodily fluid or a corpse, but anything that "disturbs identity, system, order" or "does not respect borders, positions, rules" including "the in-between, the ambiguous ... the traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior" (4). I would further describe abjection as the erasure of the "stain" or "blind spot" in the object that Zizek sees as indicative of the presence of the subject, in order to systematize reality into the Symbolic. Thus Zizek recognizes that "power always already addresses us as castrated or split subjects and its social reproduction relies on our splitting" (Kingsbury, 2008: 50). (3)

At this point we can relate the psychoanalysis discussed above back to the political unconscious and always-already-read-ness of monster fiction. Karatani's (2005) reasoning for reading Marx through Kant is that Marxist historical materialism (as elaborated by Marx, not Engels) also reflects Kant's refutation of Hume. More specifically, it is Kant's suggestion that all knowledge, even what Hume considered purely analytical knowledge, (4) is filtered through a profound parallax to the extent that it would be an "optical delusion" (Karatani, 2005: 1) to believe we can know the object as a thing-in-itself. To Karatani, this explains the Marxist position that even if use value and exchange value are different, we can no longer know value-in-itself; we can only know it through the category of abstract exchange value (hence they are parallax). Karatani even likens Lacan's categories of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary to Marx's categories of the commodity, the value form, and money, respectively (Karatani and Wainwright, 2012).

This is also why I prefer a psychotopological analysis to a standard topology of points, nodes, and networks. Ahmed (2005: 10), like Kristeva, argues that emotions like fear produce difference and distance between bodies: "emotions create the very effect of an inside and an outside." But she also argues that while emotions result from contact with objects, the nature of emotions depends on a "reading" of that contact that exists in neither subject nor object. Pile (2013) empiricizes this in geography through Freud's treatment of a patient known as the Wolfman, whose self-identification as a wolf was based on not only his early interaction with wolves but his understanding of wolfishness in the abstract. It is furthermore a reading that is predicated on "how the social is arranged through the sharing of deceptions that precede the arrival of subjects" (Ahmed, 2010: 165). For example, racism as part of the colonial Imaginary (Nast, 2000) is part of those shared deceptions, and as such might also be considered part of the Lacanian Real. The psychotopology theorized here, and with which I read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and George Romero's Living Dead series, is about how those shared deceptions are read.

Rice's vampires

If not some version of Other or the brutalities of the capitalist order, analyses of the vampire often figure it as indicative of a dialectical tension between past and present, especially as the vampire takes its role as the central figure of the Gothic literary genre. "Gothic" refers to the rural German Goths of the 4th and 5th centuries, who helped dismantle the Roman Empire. Their history was not written as a revolution, however, but as the tragic fall of the Romans, and throughout the medieval period "Gothic" came to mean "barbarous" (Ellis, 2000). This sense of loss of control over historical narrative became a major theme of Gothic literature, manifested first in the trope of modern scientific disbelief in the myth of the vampire leading to the vampire's cunning success, and second in the fact that learning vampire lore through investigation of its deep historical past (atoning for the sin of having forgotten the Gothic revolution) is often a prerequisite for defeating it (Waller, 1985). In some ways, then, "'the Gothic' is itself a theory of history" (Ellis, 2000: 11).

This theme can and has been drawn out thoroughly in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), the paradigmatic figuration of the vampire. For example, Senf (2002) characterizes Johnathan Harker's initial journey to Transylvania as one from a modern, enlightened England to a pre-modern, Gothic space of contingency and lawlessness. As Senf (2002: 19) put it, Harker was confident that "English law [had] attempted to codify various forms of behavior," but was mortified by the sexual depravity of the three female vampires accompanying Count Dracula. The juxtaposition here is between law and order and anything-goes, between rationality and myth, and between understanding the past (as professor Van Heising does) and actually taming it. I would argue that Renfs reading reflects a positive, materialist dialectic ala Badiou (2005), as "truth" (as witnessed by Harker) is understood as the sublated form of law and unrestrained desire. Waller's (1985) reading of Dracula points to a different tension: the manner of social collectivity capable of defeating Dracula. Waller points out that as Dracula stows on the ship Demeter, he terrorizes the superstitious, working class crew. When he arrives in London he terrorizes the Westenra family and vampirizes Lucy. Thus the basic social unit capable of keeping evil at bay is neither the working class nor the family; rather, it is a community of individuals--known as the Crew of Light and led by Van Heising--whose cohesion is based solely on the extermination of the Other. Waller's reading of Dracula is more in line with Zizek's negative, dialectical materialism, where Count Dracula's aristocratic lineage is inexorably at odds with multiple forms of social organization (family, community, class). Neither of these two readings are "correct" per se, but they do exhibit the difference between a positive and negative dialectic as it applies to topology. Recognizing this allows us to begin a more critical psychotopology of the vampire in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.

The protagonist of the series' first installment, Interview with the Vampire (1976), is Louis, a 24 year old Louisiana indigo plantation and slave owner vampirized in 1791. Louis's "interview" is a confessional and a memoir about his search for meaning. In terms of psychoanalysis, consider Louis's description of his conversion to vampirehood early in the book. He describes the bite of the vampire Lestat on his neck and the completion of the process the next day, as he drinks blood from Lestat's wrist, in terms obviously connoting childbirth:

I drank, sucking the blood out of the holes, experiencing for the first time since infancy the special pleasure of sucking nourishment, the body focused with the mind upon one vital source. Then something happened.... I saw nothing but light then as I drew blood. And then this next thing, this next thing was ... sound. A dull roar at first and then a pounding like the pounding of a drum, growing louder and louder, as if some enormous creature were coming up on one slowly through a dark and alien forest, pounding as he came, a huge drum. And then there came the pounding of another drum, as if another giant were coming yards behind him.... and then Lestat pulled his wrist free suddenly, and I opened my eyes and checked myself in a moment of reaching for his wrist, grabbing it, forcing it back to my mouth at all costs; I checked myself because I realized that the drum was my heart, and the second drum had been his (Rice, 1976: 19).

Louis's conversion to immortality fed the numerous psychoanalyses of vampire fiction that would follow (Haggerty, 2006; Levina and Bui, 2013; Powell, 2009). He emerges from a context of confusing light and sound--the Real--to eventually distinguish two different heartbeats and "check" himself--the Symbolic. As Levina and Bui (2013: 3) describe it,
   In the Real, there is no separation of the self from its
   surroundings--in the womb, blood and guts are inseparable from the
   body. There is no separation, or even knowledge, of the self. As
   the child is born, she acquires the ability to separate herself
   from the others and look upon herself as a separate individual as
   she enters the Symbolic. This transition is psychologically
   traumatic ...

From this perspective vampires are scary because they remind us of that traumatic instantiation of the self. Louis's "re-birth"--his separation from the Real of mortal life--is accompanied even by Kristeva's (1982) abject, as he later must expel all human fluids before he is entirely vampire.

So does Lestat's bite of Louis represent a materialist dialectics leading to eternal truth, ala Badiou (2005), reified in the immortality of the vampire? Again, I would argue not because dialectics of this sort rely on a certain apolitical serendipity of interaction. Rather, what matters is the Symbolic order created to provide the illusion of wholeness. For Louis that Symbolic order is the notion of origin, as he is haunted by the question of whether his power emanates from eternal damnation or whether it has Earthly origins. Unable to answer that, his desire for human blood is a desire to re-connect with the mortal Real from which he separated (mortality is his womb). But after four years of drinking mostly rat and chicken blood, the gap between himself and the mortal Real has grown--his existential crisis worsens as he confronts the void of meaning in his life. The Symbolic order filling this void is that he is either damned and thus must kill, or is not and thus must transcend his natural thirst. In his darkest moment he meets a five year old orphan named Claudia, and convinces himself he is damned to justify drinking her blood. The psychotopology previously theorized has more analytical acuity, in my opinion, because it situates that point of contact (the vampiric bite) in something universal--the fact that the subjective confrontation with the Real is filtered through a Symbolic order (which changes in form, not the fact of its existence). This is why I argue that a topology of the monster is not entirely historically contingent, and why negative dialectical materialism thus allows for a more critical politics.

Louis and Claudia, vampirized by Lestat and stuck in a five year old's body for eternity, travel to Europe to satisfy Louis's need to understand his origins. They travel first to rural areas in central Europe believing it to be a vampire hearth. Instead they find brain dead, speechless vampires entirely unlike themselves, who terrorize local villages. The lack of an "original" vampire seems to confirm Claudia's suspicion that "it goes back and back, nothing proceeded from nothing, until there is nothing!" (Rice, 1976: 120). Ever the deep thinker, Louis continues his quest. Their journey is a geographical and material one reflective of the spatio-temporal dialectic characteristic of Dracula (enlightened England versus Gothic Transylvania). The Marxist vampire is a metaphor for capital, but as Shaviro (2002) points out, the Gothic pre-dates capitalism, making the original vampire not bourgeois but aristocratic. Even if Dracula can be understood as a bloodthirsty capitalist, the genealogy Louis and Claudia seek easily traces back to the feudal aristocracy. The braindead vampires they find appear to be the last vestiges of a feudal order thoroughly uprooted and vampirized by capitalism. Louis and Claudia discover this latter, capitalist vampire when they travel to Paris and are accosted by a theatre troupe of sophisticated, evil vampires called the Theatre des Vampires.

Louis's psychological need for origin reflects his desire to reconcile his detachment from the mortal womb. He is his own abject, the "I" that is expelled in the face of a capacity for evil that horrifies him. His search for subjective wholeness is materialized in his journey to the hinterlands of Europe. His conversation with Armand, the proprietor of Theatre des Vampires, reveals that his power does not extend from Heaven or Hell, as far as Armand knows. Claudia is right--their power is traceable to no source, only the void around which civil society is constructed (at least as of the first novel in the series). But the form of Louis's psychotopology, and indeed historical dialectic characteristic of much Gothic fiction, does reveal something about the nature of that construction. The thriving economy of 19th-century Paris, described as "a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history" (Rice, 1976: 204) is juxtaposed with the moribund hinterlands where the feudal vampire was crushed, to make room for the new urban, capitalist vampire. This new vampire's method of accumulation is described early in the book by Lestat: "that's how vampires increase ... through slavery" (84) of other vampires.

The vampires in Interview with the Vampire exploit living labor, most often in the form of orphans and prostitutes whose disappearance will go unnoticed, in order to feed their immortal, dead labor. Claudia in particular became fascinated by the poor. In this installment we do not see a clash between collective and individual will to power, but we do see a psychotopology of violence rooted in a negative dialectics. This is depicted in a particularly grim scene in the novel, when Louis and Claudia are first invited to the Theatre des Vampires. The paying audience is human, but the entire cast save for one are vampires. The exception is a recently captured young woman who is theatrically murdered on stage, while the audience believes it is all an act. The play otherwise revolves around the inevitability of mortal death. The audience thus observes evil in front of its eyes, but is unable to recognize it as such because of the Imaginary in which it is enshrouded--the stage, the costumes, their position as viewer, the speech about mortality, etc. This is what is meant by power always already addressing us as split subjects (Kingsbury, 2008). The audience as subject does not view the play as object in the same way that Louis, for example, views the womb of mortality from which he originally split, or the mortal victim with whom he attempts to re-unite. They have already split, and their encounter with the Symbolic becomes a new, historically situated Real. They see it as consumers of imagery and their consumption aids in its reproduction. This is the sense in which capitalist exploitation of living labor is the Real of the modern age (Wilson, 2013).

In Rice's second installment, The Vampire Lestat (1985), the notion of the Savage Garden replaces nothingness as the origin of good and evil. The novel begins with Lestat waking in 1984 from a decades-long slumber. He reads Interview with the Vampire, writes his own autobiography, and launches a career as the lead in a rock band called The Vampire Lestat. Rice's novel is his autobiography, which digs yet centuries deeper for origins than Claudia and Louis ever got. His story bears many of the same psychoanalytic hallmarks discussed above. For example, his description of his transition to being a vampire, as he sucked the blood from the wrist of an elder vampire named Magnus, rings of jouissance: "I was incorporeal and the pleasure was incorporeal. I was nothing but pleasure" (Rice, 1988: 88). One might describe his pleasure as "a jouissance attained through sucking" (Copjec, 1994: 128), which, as with all the vampires in Rice's tales, never fully sublates and leads to ultimate disappointment. Like Louis, Lestat gradually feels less and less human and increasingly morbid. He gazes at his boyhood friend, Nicki, through a window and compulsively whispers "alive" (129), as he craves to be re-united with living flesh. Nicki is the extimate not-Lestat through which Lestat abhors himself; Lestat is overjoyed when Nicki recognizes him despite his vampire form, as Lestat often sees himself through the objects of his affection.

The story of his friendship with Nicki moreover allows us to think about this vampiric jouissance in the context of those shared deceptions which Ahmed (2010) tells us precede the arrival of the subject. Lestat is raised in an aristocratic family in rural, 18th-century France; Nicki is of the bourgeois class and is significantly poorer (though neither have much). As young mortals they move to Paris to embark on careers in the arts (Lestat as an actor and Nicki as a violinist). They have a frequent ongoing conversation about the metaphysics of good and evil. When Lestat becomes a vampire and eventually reveals himself to the still-human Nicki, Nicki is enraged only that Lestat had not sooner shared the answers to their questions that he clearly must have as a vampire. Nicki attributes Lestat's lack of sharing of metaphysical knowledge to his aristocratic lineage; Lestat writes this off as jealousy characteristic of the bourgeois class. If we think of metaphysical knowledge in the text as a proxy for value, two issues emerge. First, the conflict between Nicki and Lestat is class-based, as hoarding knowledge equates to Lestat's inherited wealth. Second, Nicki knows what Karatani (2005) knows--that he cannot know metaphysics-in-itself within his corporeal self any more than we can know value-in-itself in a bourgeois society dominated by value in the abstract. This is also going on during the French Revolution. Lestat, as a newly immortal aristocrat, values art for its transcendental beauty, whereas Nicki, once vampirized by Lestat, establishes the Theatre des Vampires, which literally sucks the blood from the living while taking their money for profit. Lestat's aristocratic world is thus upended by Nicki's capitalistic enterprise at the close of the French Revolution.

Lestat continues his quest for answers, and finds them in a 4000 year old vampire named Marius. Marius reveals that the original two vampires were Egyptian rulers named Akasha and Enkil, who were inhabited by an evil spirit. The revelation, then, was that vampirism was an accident of history, not some sort of cosmic war between God and Satan. Marius explains to Lestat that "good and evil, those are concepts man has made. And man is better, really, than the Savage Garden" (Rice, 1985: 131). The expression savage garden in this context refers to a pre-normative brutality of the human condition, but by the end of the book comes to refer to psychic drives. As Marius describes it:
   And if he [the vampire] wields any lovely power upon the minds of
   men, it is only because the human imagination is a secret place of
   primitive memories and unconfessed desires. The mind of each man is
   a Savage Garden ... in which all manner of creatures rise and fall,
   and anthems are sung and things imagined that must finally be
   condemned and disavowed" (Rice, 1985: 465).

This encapsulates the psychotopology theorized earlier. Psychic drives do not exist in a material vacuum. They relate to objects, such as capital (the vampire), and how they read that contact, again as Ahmed (2005) explains, is located in neither subject nor object. It is a historically situated reading further informed by symbols such as anthems and fallen heroes.

Even vampires born of the early Christian era held allegiance to Satan and engaged in Satanic rituals, not because their power came from Satan, but because they believed it to. In other words, if we again momentarily take metaphysical knowledge as a proxy for value, their access to it is "always-already-read" through contact with circulating objects. We could see these objects as symbols like the church or the mortal blood they desire, but regardless they see an "optical delusion" (Karatani, 2005: 1) filtered through a parallax, not value-in-itself. They worshiped a non-existent Satan because they could only see through the prism of Christian metaphysics. The dialogue between Marius and Lestat becomes one of a psychotherapist and patient: Marius explains Lestat's feelings of guilt as simply part of the symbolic order created by western civilization out of self-preservation. He directs Lestat's attention away from God and Satan as part of the Symbolic toward to the irreconcilable gap between himself and the mortal objects of his vampiric desire--the reality that he is a killer without any real cosmic role or value in the world. (5)

Romero's zombies

The zombie has a fascinating history in Afro-Caribbean mythology that cannot be fully reproduced here. In short, however, the Vodou concept of the zonbi referred to the captured soul of the recently deceased by a Vodou master, used to remotely control the corpse for the master's bidding. In the context of colonization, slavery, and the Haitian revolution, the zonbi symbolized the depth of the master-slave relation, as the slave cannot find freedom even in death. The diffusion of the zonbi to the American film industry also reflects imperial practices, as it was made possible by the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The occupation enabled anthropologists, historians, and journalists to study and render as spectacle various aspects of Vodou, in particular exoticizing the zonbi and cannibalism. Sensing a market niche, the film industry created a number of films in the 1930s and 1940s about what was then termed "zombie," typically depicting the sexual sanctity of white American women under threat from black Haitian men controlled by a Voudou master (reminiscent of Nast's (2000) analysis). (6) But the zombie as a corpse re-animated through infection, that spreads its infection to its victims, that must be hit in the brain to die, etc., does not emerge until George Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Romero initially used the term "ghoul," not zombie, and was inspired by the 1954 book I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which was about vampires (hence the post-1968 zombie in American Cinema can trace its lineage at least in part to the Gothic). But fans and film critics came to identify his monster with the previous generation of films depicting Vodou zombies, thus two very different forms of monster both came to be called "zombie" (Bishop, 2008; McAlister, 2012).

May (2010) offers an interesting analysis of the production of urban space in zombie films. Linking it to bodies-cities theory, he argues that the initial depiction in most zombie films of a single survivor, or group of survivors, in confrontation with an amorphous zombie mob can stand in for the private self and a generalized, abstracted "other" of public space, respectively. May argues that this hegemonic construction of space is disrupted in a key point in most zombie films--what starts as an abstract mass is personalized when a familiar human is infected and becomes a zombie. Thus, for the first time it matters who is the zombie, and the self-other dialectic is problematized in a productive way. For May these are key moments in which zombie films show that urban space might be re-constructed at a moment's notice, as the Other is now particular, not an abstraction. This focus on a dialectics of abstraction is interesting, but I would also note that the hegemony of private and public space can only be disrupted when somebody dies a horrible death, which is the very thing intended to be scary. In other words. May's (2010) analysis illustrates the positive, materialist dialectic previously critiqued -zombie eats person, social space is re-codified. In contrast, the fact that this resolution scares us suggests to me the negatives dialectics of the zombie put forth by Lauro and Embry (2008). Rather than object, they see the zombie as "anti-subject" which, following Kristeva (1982), invokes fear because it is an abjective threat to subjective wholeness. For Lauro and Embry (2008: 94) "the zombie is opposition held irrevocably in tension." In psychoanalytic terms the zombie as anti-subject is the Real, the uneasy chaos and confusion that would exist were it not for the Symbolic order constructed to make sense of it (hence the zombie would be more likely to reify public/ private space, not challenge it).

In Night of the Living Dead(1968), a band of survivors of the initial zombie outbreak hole up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse surrounded by zombies. Romero meant to highlight the contrast between the petty squabbles between the survivors inside with the chaos going on outside, as part of his critique of U.S. involvement in Vietnam (NPR, 2014). (7) Regardless of his intentions, and despite its connection to the post-revolutionary Haitian zonbi, I argue that the zombie in a U.S. context works to evoke fears about individual agency and "freedom," versus collectivity. The seven characters inside the farm house are individuals with identities--Tom and Judy are in love until the end, Helen is worried about her bitten daughter Karen, Cooper and Ben argue, and Barbra is catatonic. The zombie horde outside exists only as abstraction--they are people, not

persons. The emergency television broadcast only describes the zombies as "ordinary looking people. Some say they appear to be in a kind of trance ... there is no really authentic way for us to tell you who or what to look for or guard yourself against." Ben argues that they should work together (community), and is less concerned about whether the boarded up windows will hold. Cooper feels his responsibility is to himself and his family (individualism), and, perhaps not coincidentally, is the most unnerved about the condition of the windows. He wants to retreat to the cellar. The farmhouse itself can be read as a symbol of the autonomous subject, while the space outside represents "the masses" (or anti-subject). The windows thus become important thresholds because they remind us of the fragility of that dichotomy--a dichotomy which the zombies work collectively to dismantle.

Windows as points of conflict are important to why I consider the above to represent the negative dialectics as Lauro and Embry (2008) put it. The fact that Barbra is eventually killed by her dead brother Johnny lends some credence to May's (2010) point. But the fact that she is pulled through the window--a common trope of zombie films--by numerous groping zombie hands reflects a spatial dialectic of which there is no resolution beyond violence. The space of the house is a flicker of subjectivity and the space around it anti-subjectivity, or the Real in which subjective wholeness is impossible. The fact that windows are points of terror shows the parallax irreconcilability of subject and anti-subject; the inevitable political contention over individualism and communalism is represented by zombie films in the form of horror and death.

So what to make of the fact that its sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), takes place in a shopping mall and is undeniably a critique of consumerism on Romero's part (Harper, 2002)? After all, the film famously depicts a group of survivors indulging in wanton consumerism in the mall, in contrast to the zombie horde outside clamoring to consume them. In terms of representation, with its attendance to authorial intent, it appears that the zombie as consumerist dupe could operate as a critique of capitalism, and certainly the zombie can be mobilized toward numerous political ends. But psychotopology and representation are not the same thing. Subject and object are still irreconcilable outside of violence, and object in this case is still, contra the vampire, better described as anti-subject. Through much of the film the difference between the consumers inside and those outside is that the living consume in the sudden absence of the rules and structures of civil societies, while the dead are driven only by libidinous desire. As long as this distinction holds the survivors are relatively happy. One of the film's turning points occurs when the character Peter responds to Fran's question "what the hell are they?" with the answer "they're us. That's all. There's no more room in Hell." It is the sudden realization that their consumer behavior was no more sentient and individualist than their anti-subject counterparts that marks the transition from carefree indulgence to fatalistic dread. The survivors' mood turns to hopelessness and it is shortly thereafter that their security is breached, leading to the film's violent climax. They are again their own abject; as their cognitive separation between themselves and their anti-subject collapses they must flee the space of the mall that symbolized their naive belief in subjective wholeness. Even a zombie narrative deployed for the sake of a left-leaning critique invokes fear because it threatens cultural narratives of individualism in ways vampire narratives do not.

Romero's Day of the Dead (1985) opens with a dream of the protagonist, Dr. Sarah Bowman. She finds herself in an empty room, save for a calendar on the far wall marked to indicate what day it is in the zombie apocalypse. The room is white, peaceful and quiet, but as she approaches the calendar to consider the passage of time, numerous zombie hands break through the wall, causing her to wake. The scene's implications are ostensible: in order for time to progress in an orderly, rationalized fashion (the calendar), the threshold between sentient individuality and unrestrained death drive (the wall) needs to be maintained. The spatio-temporal dialectic represented by the calendar and the wall thus also informs the psychotopology of how the zombie apocalypse is imagined in the film.

The film depicts twelve survivors in an underground military bunker in Florida, five of which are part of a scientific team to study the zombies, and the remainder of which are a military team appointed for protection. The two sides are (naturally) at odds with each other as the zombies gather outside the compound. The primary science being conducted on captured zombies is led by Dr. Logan, referred to as Dr. Frankenstein by the other characters, and is designed to re-train zombies to be sentient. His method is to orient the zombies to familiar objects and then reward them for good behavior: "They can be tricked into being good little boys and girls ... the same way we were tricked, with the promise of some reward." He provides a zombie named Bub with objects such as a telephone, a razor, a toothbrush, and even a copy of Stephen King's Salem's Lot. As discussed previously, Salem's Lot is the story of community resilience (or lack thereof) in the face of the blood draining vampire. Not that Bub can read the book, but when he examines it he becomes peaceful; when given an unloaded pistol, he attempts to shoot the tyrannical Army Captain. Bub's happiness, and his moral socialization, "does not reside in objects; it is promised through proximity to certain objects" (Ahmed, 2008: 11; emphasis in original). Certainly this is an ordinary plot device, but even so it highlights the hope for future progress Sarah experiences as she is oriented to the calendar. Calendars and books make neither of them happy per se, but their affective attachment to them is shaped by how they are read (both literally and figuratively) as symbols of sentient progress amidst the anti-subjectivity collapsing around them.

We can recall Wood's (1986) thesis that monsters represent what is psychically repressed, and Nast's (2000) characterization of colonial racism as a psychic fear of unrepressed oedipal desire disrupting the heteronormative family. Bub's socialization can be understood as the formation of the modern, liberal economic subject through risk minimization and reward maximization. Hence Wood (1986: 91) explains the zombie genre as representing a psychic fear of cannibalism that would be the "logical end of human relations under capitalism." Like heteronormative sexuality in the oedipal family, individualism and rational decision-making are part of the Symbolic order designed to prevent social implosion. The zombie horde frightens because it represents that implosion and disintegration of individual sentience. I refer to this as psychotopological because psychic fear is oriented to how power and space are read as objects.


As I have argued, vampires and zombies evince topologies of space and power that invoke fear in different ways--they change, but the incommensurability of the difference between them does not. Politics may, in the final analysis, not be reconcilable because we fear each other (zombies) as often as we fear outsize power (vampires), and these fears allow certain aspects of monster fiction to endure. What invokes fear in monster fiction is the irreconcilable topology it invokes (I cannot remain "I" unless they remain "they"), so the fact that they are scary is quite the point. Thus I used topology to describe these fictions, as it was the most suitable tool to operate in conjunction with psychoanalysis and negative dialectics. That is, the particular form of topology I advocate conjoins psychoanalysis with political economy towards an understanding of how even rapidly changing narrative forms find reference with enduring ontologies of the threshold. The five sources selected--Night of the Living Dead (1968), Interview with the Vampire (1976), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Vampire Lestat (1985) and Day of the Dead (1985)--help show how fear is best understood in terms of topologies of space, power and political economy.


I would like to thank Mary Thomas and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful input and commentary.

Declaration of conflicting interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


(1.) More specifically: "In a perverse dialectical inversion, the very powers of labour that re-animate the dead also deaden the living, reifying them, reducing them to a zombie-state ... like zombies, living labour under capitalism becomes 'subservient to and led by an alien will and an alien intelligence'" (McNally, 2011: 141).

(2.) The Mobius strip, in short, is a Lacanian topological figure often described in terms of a strip of paper given a single twist and re-connected at the ends. See Blum and Secor (2011) or Martin and Secor (2014) for a more detailed explanation.

(3.) For more on Zizek's psychoanalytic theory's relationship to geography see Kingsbury (2008), Secor (2008), Wilson (2013) and Martin and Secor (2014).

(4.) In brief, where Hume distinguished synthetic from analytic knowledge, Kant (1961 [1783]) argued that since a priori knowledge is also synthetically produced, even analytic knowledge is posteriori.

(5.) The next installment, Queen of the Damned (1988), tells the story of Akasha's and Enkil's original vampirization, further driving home the point that accumulated power (e.g. wealth) is an accident of history. They are, then, the original void, the Real that is not filtered through parallax, and their return in the 20th-century sews mass chaos and bloodshed. The later novels in the series are increasingly episodic. There is not room to discuss them in this article.

(6.) The most notable of these are White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943).

(7.) The closing sequence, in which the African-American lead actor (Duane Jones) is mistaken for a zombie and shot dead by a rural, white, ad-hoc militia, led many to interpret a racial message in the film, even while Romero himself denies any such intention (NPR, 2014). As always, the political fabric of films and books are not necessarily of the author's making.


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Kolson Schlosser is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Geography and Urban Studies/Environmental Studies at Temple University. He regularly publishes on topics including political ecology, political economy, environmental history, and literary geographies.

Kolson Schlosser

Temple University, USA

Corresponding author:

Kolson Schlosser, Department of Geography and Urban Studies/Environmental Studies, Temple University, 307 Glafelter Hall, PA 19122, USA.


DOI: 10.1177/0263775816662468
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Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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