Hepp, Oliver. Der Bekannte Fremde: Der Vampir in der Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts.
With his 2016 monograph, Der Bekannte Fremde: Der Vampir in der Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts (The Familiar Other: The Vampire in 19th'Century Literature. All translations from German are mine), Oliver Hepp offers a perspective that is firmly situated in the xenology branch of Intercultural German Studies (see Alois Wierlacher's Kulturthema Kommunikation: Konzepte, Inhalte, Funktionen) to account for the ever-changing yet readily recognizable nature of vampiric cultural chameleons. Hepp's study defines the vampire as possessing the universal quality of functioning as a "hybrid figure of exception" ("hybride Ausnahmefigur" 17); that is, as the embodied dissolution of the binary opposition between the familiar and the other. Only by understanding the vampire as a constantly shimmering, hybrid figure of exception, Hepp claims, can we understand the vampire's adaptation to specific historical and sociocultural norms, conventions, and identity constructions.
To establish the vampire as a hybrid figure of exception, Hepp seeks to combine Giorgio Agamben's well-known concept of the "Homo sacer" with Horni Bhabha's notion of "hybridity" in terms of a "third space" (as introduced in The Location of Culture). Yet Hepp's notions of "hybridity" and the "Homo sacer" are methodologically odd: Bhabha's concepts of "hybridity" and "third space" are divorced from the contexts of both (post) coloniality and race up to the point at which Hepp claims that all identities are "hybrid" (e.g., Hepp 18/19); Agamben's "Homo sacer," in turn, is divorced from its immediate context of law and citizenship and reduced to its metaphorical quality only.
Hepp develops his argument based on three key hypotheses that he subsequently tests vis-a-vis key nineteenth-century texts (ranging from poetry to short prose, the literary fairy tale, and the Gothic novel) of the German and British vampire tradition:
Thesis 1: The vampire originates in proto-scientific medical, philosophical, and theological treatises between the 1720s and 1750s, as one side of a binary opposition pair. The vampire starts out as the Eastern European "other" and is readily juxtaposed with central European rationality, scientific progress, and governmental rule.
Thesis 2: Starting with Johann Wolfgang Goethe's 1798 poem, "The Bride of Corinth" ("Die Braut von Korinth"), early literary adaptations of the vampire motif dissolve the binary opposition of normalcy and otherness and establish in its stead the vampire as a "familiar other" ("ein bekannter Fremder"). In the course of the nineteenth century, European literary texts generally started to employ the vampire as a liminal figure. Giorgio Agamben's "Homo sacer," Hepp argues, provides an interesting lens for understanding this construction of the literary vampire. Reading the vampire as a Homo sacer means reading the motif as a figure resembling a king, an emperor, or a president, that is, as simultaneously standing within the law and outside of the law.
Thesis 3: By understanding the vampire as the instantiation of a familiar other, as a hybrid figure that is always both rule and exception, contemporaneous sociocultural constructions of norms, values, and identities become readable. Discourses on deviant sexuality, gender, race, and/or class constellations are etched into the vampire figure not because the vampire would be an, or even "the" other; rather, the vampire is the familiar other who rises from the grave time and again to confront us with the fragility and constructedness of our own hybrid identity. Hepp claims that all characters in vampire texts (universally, i.e., outside of the boundaries of genre, time, and cultures) are constructed as possessing hybrid identities, but that they contest their hybridity by claiming and functioning in pseudo-binary systems. Trapped in these binary systems of self and other, they forcefully react against the vampire as the presumed epitome of otherness; the reader, however, understands the vampire as the "familiar other," the Homo sacer, whose hybrid double-positioning within and outside of normalcy and familiarity ruptures readerly self-conceptions of identity vis-a-vis their self-positioning against an "other."
Hepp organizes his argument for the universal familiar-yet-other vampire in the nineteenth century (and beyond) chronologically. He starts in the early eighteenth century by throwing light on three typical texts representing the dichotomously structured discourse on vampire superstition in German scientific discourses. Based on Heinrich August Ossenfelder's 1748 poem, "The Vampire" ("Der Vampir") and, more importantly, on Goethe's "The Bride of Corinth," Hepp then turns to the breaking down of binaries and the introduction of the vampire of intrinsic hybridity in literary adaptations. In the following six chapters, Hepp includes John Polidori's The Vampyre (1816), Ernst Bejamin Raupach's Lafit die Todten ruh'n (1823), James Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest's Varney, the Vampire; or, the Feast of the Blood (1847), The Mysterious Stranger (anonymous, 1860), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) in his tour of nineteenth-century liminal vampires. In all the texts included in his corpus, Hepp traces the vampire as a figure representing a state of exception: he is the murderer, the sexual predator, the homosexual man, the sexually active woman, or the tyrant. At the same time, the vampire reinstates the very norm from which he/she deviates (293). Deviance and normalcy are to be understood as the two sides of one vampiristic coin. Thus, far from being "the other," the vampire represents the "familiar other," a hybrid state of liminality that ruptures binaries, stereotypes, and readerly assumptions. Hepp concludes with a brief consideration of the vampire motif in film. Moving from Friedrich Wilhelm Murneau's Nosferatu to the Blade triology, Hepp once more focuses on the presumed universal quality of the vampire as the "familiar other" and effectively transports his argument across media, time, and space to late twentieth-century Hollywood movies.
Hepp's book--it is important to stress this once more--is firmly rooted in the xenology branch of Intercultural German Studies. Indeed, Hepp's study excludes large proportions of Anglophone research perspectives on the vampire; these include, but are not limited to, insights from scholars working in the fields of Postcolonial Studies, Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies, Queer Studies, and scholarship located at the intersection of law/citizenship and literature. Hepp's methodologically odd functionalization of Bhabha's concept of hybritity and Agamben's "Homo sacer," however, are not the only areas in his study that lack clarity and consistency.
Readers with a background in Anglophone vampire scholarship will especially stumble over the lack of clear text selection criteria in The Familiar Other: The Vampire in 19th-Century Literature. While all the texts discussed are classics in their own rights and in their own culture-specific frameworks, Hepp never explicitly introduces his criteria for including or omitting a text and/or a context. At no point is it clear why we should engage with the "familiar other" vampire in German literature as a point of origin only (or predominantly) before turning to a more or less random number of exclusively male-authored English vampire tales and not, for example, to Lady Caroline Lamb's 1816 Glenarvon, or the emergent vampire literary traditions of nineteenth-century France, Italy, and the United States (to name just three traditions of immediate interest).
In sum, Hepp's book postulates a universally hybrid vampire across time and cultures, with the stale after-taste of an abbreviated and simplified methodological basis and an overly arbitrary and exclusive text selection. Very much worthy of praise is Hepp's introduction of the vampire as a key literary motif and scholarly battleground to the field of Intercultural German Studies and German xenology. It is thus in this specific context and field that I expect the book to have the biggest impact.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2019|
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