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Twilight's Heteronormative Reversal of the Monstrous: Utopia and the Gothic Design.

My nightmare probably wouldn't even frighten someone else. Nothing jumped out and screamed, "Boo!" There were no zombies, no ghosts, no psychopaths. There was nothing, really. Only nothing. Just the endless maze of moss-covered trees, so quiet that the silence was an uncomfortable pressure against my eardrums [...] I hurried through the gloom without a path, always searching, searching, searching [...] Then there would come the point in my dream ... when I couldn't remember what it was I was searching for. When I realized there was nothing to search for, and nothing to find. That there never had been anything more than just this empty, dreary wood, and there never would be anything more for me ... nothing but nothing ... That was usually about when the screaming started.

--Stephenie Meyer, New Moon

In Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (1) series, the monsters of the past are no longer scary, but there is still plenty of reason for the heroine to be afraid. In the passage above, Bella Swan is horrified not by the presence but by the absence of "monsters." Not only do Meyer's vampires and werewolves refrain from harming human beings, but they are often saviors whose beauty, speed, and strength are only limited, like the abilities of superheroes, by the need to keep their existence a secret. Indeed, Bella's vampire love interest is so heavily associated with light that he sparkles in the sun, rather than bursting into flames. Edward Cullen becomes the source of life and light for the heroine, so that her deepest fear is being left alone. In the Gothic of Twilight, the most abject and frightening situation is one in which a woman has no love relationship with which to identify. In what follows, I will argue that Meyer's sanitary, utopian reworking of the vampire trope dissociates the Gothic from its liberal skepticism about gender and consumer politics.

In speaking of the liberal skepticism of the Gothic, I am referring to an anti-institutional trend of questioning progress which began as early as 1764, with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Then as now, the Gothic is about the fear (and sometimes the wonder) of the past returning; Gothic heroes and heroines are constantly reminded that humans have not overcome the ostensibly primitive violence of the past. In the conflict between the present and the past, Gothic works are often based on a deeply embedded skepticism, whether that be skepticism of Catholicism in The Monk, or skepticism of marriage and womanhood in Wuthering Heights. Even Dracula is skeptical of capitalism, to the extent that an old corrupt aristocracy might repeat itself in a new corrupt entrepreneurial class. Towards the end of the twentieth century, writers like Anne Rice turned the skepticism of the liberal Gothic toward consumer culture, as well as renewing critiques of gender norms. I would not presume to argue that anything scary or negative is, by default, liberal. In the core texts of the liberal Gothic, however, negation and fear bring to the surface the darkness behind normative structures. Twilight moves in the reverse direction, such that fear and negation occur as a veneer, to be outshone by the sparkling cornerstones of marriage, heteronormativity, and moral capitalism.

In effect, Twilight neuters the Gothic potential for subversion, taking Gothic conservatism to a new extreme by draining its threats of their queerness. Traditional readings of the Gothic, especially of pop culture manifestations such as horror films, acknowledge the genre's conservative potential, its ability to raise fears (whether embodied in the monster or in some other threat), and then to exorcise them when the monster is finally defeated. (2) Given the florescence of the Gothic in popular culture, however, it is important to move beyond assumptions of capitalist reification as coterminous with a conservative mainstream. Fredric Jameson's identification of a utopian dimension in popular works can be discerned within the Gothic investment in darkness and dissolution. Jameson describes the utopian as "that dimension of even the most degraded type of mass culture which remains implicitly, and no matter how faintly, negative and critical of the social order from which, as a product and a commodity, it springs" (144). In the popular Gothic of the late twentieth century, fascination with vampires as monsters belies an awareness of the monstrosity within consumption itself. By contrast, Twilight redirects utopian liberal awareness into a conservative overcoming of negativity.

In addition to the many studies about Twilight's peculiar mixture of genre conventions, especially the Gothic and the teen romance, my reading aims toward a deeper examination of the functioning and implications of the reversal of Gothicism. So far the series' inversion of the Gothic fascination with the broken and the unresolved has yet to be fully explained. Instead, critics have tended to circle around hyphenated definitions of the Gothic in Twilight, whether it be "Eco-Gothic" (McElroy), "Post-Secular Gothic" (Branch), "Teen Gothic Romance" (Rogobete 111), "Mormon Female Gothic" (Lampert), or "Postfeminist Gothic" (Moruzzi 47). Among these readings, gender and consumer politics are two issues which constantly resurface and which can provide an explanative framework for Twilight's inversion of Gothic. I will argue that the series' disavowal of the abject, dark side of the Gothic in its main characters corresponds with an essentialist gender politics that simultaneously works to mask and to alleviate guilt over the adverse effects of consumerism. Twilight seduces the reader with promises of a supposedly alternative lifestyle, but the focus on self-control reveals the former "monster" as a glamorous mask for anti-feminist, homophobic ideology. Meanwhile, the series reiterates the Gothic tendency to portray the human female as truly monstrous and haunting--and in need of exorcism through the devices of popular romance.

Twilight's Re-direction of the Gothic Design

At first glance, Twilight might seem to be just another love story, with a slight twist in the form of a particularly moral vampire hero. The story itself is fairly straightforward: after relocating to the small town of Forks, Washington, seventeen-year-old Bella Swan finds herself "irrevocably in love" with a vampire, and most of the series relates the dangers of her induction into the Cullen family, a community of vampires who have chosen to prey on animals instead of humans. Romance, teenagers, the supernatural ... the elements of this story are ubiquitous throughout popular television, film, and book series. Twilight is certainly not the first romance to involve vampires, nor even the first young adult series to focus on a love story between a young girl and a vampire. However, Meyer may be the first to have accomplished the task with such stunning conservatism and widespread appeal. The books and movies have been successful enough to generate billions of dollars in sales. (3) If this were simply another love story, then it might be more difficult to explain how it has reached so many people. The works' renegotiation of the Gothic provides some explanation for its appeal: the mixture of Gothic with the more conservative elements of popular romance creates the appearance of novelty desired by consumers of mass culture. (4)

The Gothic characteristics of Twilight are instantly recognizable. The setting, in the woods of coastal Washington, creates an atmosphere of both darkness and age. The books further play up this contrast since Bella moves from Phoenix, Arizona, so that the beginning of the narrative corresponds with a descent into darkness. The existence of supernatural monsters is also a key factor, which links Twilight both to the Gothic and to vampire literature. Above all, the series takes advantage of the Gothic penchant for seduction through darkness and fear. The cover of the first book instantly conveys the allure of Gothic seduction: on a black background, two pale arms emerge, holding an apple. No matter that the danger can be avoided through self-control (and especially control of the female body). The seductive facade remains. Twilight is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of what Victoria Nelson refers to as "the new Gothick" (8). My reading follows Nelson's delineation of how Gothic has morphed in recent years, as well as the work of Mark Edmundson in identifying a Gothic resurgence at the end of the twentieth century. While Edmundson notes that the "Gothic of the 1790s England seems to have risen up again, specterlike, in 1990s America" (4), Nelson describes the twenty-first century shift toward a new "Gothick," which is "brighter, more Romantic, and more culturally heterodox within the framework of postcolonial global popular culture" (xii). In reading Twilight as a part of this tradition, it is possible to account for the way that the series attempts to wear out, or at least to redirect, the Gothic, using the idealization of popular romance to answer the fears embodied in the earlier Gothic resurgence, especially those anxieties relating to gender and consumer politics.

In the context of late twentieth-century Gothic, Meyer's series constitutes perhaps the most insistently sanitary reworking of the close relationship between Gothic horror and a critical view of the mainstream. In Gothic: 400 Years of Excess, Horror, Evil, and Ruin, Richard Davenport-Hines offers an apt description of the fin-de-siecle state of the genre. He refers to Gothic after 1980 as "an aesthetic of defacement. It produces graffiti ... defying or decrying complacently rationalistic social controls which, though ostensibly intended to restore an idealized human harmony, actually enforce a regime of trivialized sameness" (3-4). Among other works which Nelson identifies as part of the "new Gothick," Twilight reconnects the genre with ideal hopes for humanity, restructuring that identity as heterosexual, patriarchal, and consumerist. Whereas, according to Davenport-Hines, "New gothic's resurgence has been provoked by the fundamentalists' sanitary controls ... Gothic consumers prefer art and entertainment to be morale-sapping, not bracing or comforting" (10), twenty-first century Gothic is exactly that: comforting, hopeful, and, in the case of Twilight, sanitary. The cleaning-up of the Gothic distinguishes Twilight from other examples of new Gothick as well as from other vampire romances. (5)

Edmundson argues that the Gothic has so permeated our culture that it has become necessary to find an alternative. Although Twilight might not be the alternative he had in mind, Meyer's imagined world does fit in with the pattern that Edmundson describes as a means of dealing with Gothic fears: "the culture of facile transcendence," characterized as "an anti-Gothic world inspired by the belief that self-transformation is as simple as a fairy-tale wish" (xv). Edmundson identifies this form in "feel-good" movies such as Forrest Gump, in the hopeful, overcoming-all-obstacles messages of Oprah, and in what he refers to as "the angel craze" (xv). As Marijane Osborn explains in "Liminal and Luminous: Why Edward Shines," this vampire is more angel than demon (18). Bella herself repeatedly compares Edward and the Cullens with angels, usually in reference to their stunning physical features. In just one example, Bella considers Edward as anything but "ordinary or human," and as "more angel than man" (Breaking Dawn 23). Moreover, she goes on to explain that Edward's beauty is comprehensive: "He had the most beautiful soul, more beautiful than his brilliant mind or his incomparable face or his glorious body" (24). The association between Edward and angels could mean, by extension, that in becoming a vampire, Bella is also becoming angelic, transcending her human form. In this way, the books harness the power of both the Gothic and the 'angel craze.'

Stephenie Meyer's protested ignorance of horror and vampire literature (5) does not prevent her works from participating in a larger cultural dialogue about both the Gothic and horror, especially once those works have been adapted into film versions by directors who are often very familiar with these genres. Further, the proposed rejection of the influence of horror makes Twilight's relation to the Gothic even more interesting; whether the author recognizes it or not, the series engages with both vampire literature and the Gothic, and it does so in a way that is hostile toward the subversive potential of both genres. In the first book, Edward explains his period of rebellion from the Cullens' animal-restricted diet, confining his hunting to those humans who 'deserve' to die, to murderers, and Bella shivers at the image of him hunting (Twilight 343). The corresponding scene appears much later in the films, an addition in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 that creates a much stronger link to the horror genre. As director Bill Condon explains (Anders), he views Twilight as a modern-day Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which is also the film that plays on the screen within the screen, for the edification of a screaming audience, just before Edward follows a woman from the theater. Condon's reference brings up precisely the audience that Meyer disavows in her protestations of being ignorant of both vampire and horror culture. The juxtaposition highlights Edward's monstrosity, even though his target is the murderer who also follows the woman, and not the woman herself. Even at his most monstrous, Edward restricts himself to an action that can still be morally justified. Bella responds to his confessed history with the practical statement, "'You probably saved more lives than you took.'" The insistently clean morality, in relation to horror, works as one of Edmundson's "antidotes," invoking the Gothic in order to cast out any potential threats to a moral code through the will to transcend immoral impulses.

Situating Twilight in the Gothic illuminates the ways in which the series negates the subversive promise of the genre, redirecting Gothic allure in a manner consistent with normative, reactionary gender politics. Defining Twilight (or any work) in relation to the Gothic can be problematic due to the hazy nature of genre construction, and especially of the Gothic itself. In "FAQ: What Is Gothic?" Maurice Levy outlines various approaches to defining the genre, agreeing with all and none of them at the same time. Levy concludes that Gothic is essentially Female, essentially Queer; it is everywhere, always about fear, always about history, always about political philosophy. Of course, accepting all of these options at once makes the point that Gothic is indefinite, multivalent, and chameleonic. Without hope of supplying what would prove to be an elusive and inadequate definition, I would like to consider the Female and Queer Gothic as potential promises of the genre, not always realized but present in the Gothic design. In Twilight, these promises are redirected (in terms of the Female) and outright rejected (in terms of the Queer). Moreover, as the final section will demonstrate, the loss of queer resistance in Meyer's ideal vampires also serves to naturalize consumerism.

Twilight's Heteronormative Reversal of the Monstrous

Teen vampires represent the dangers of sexual desire, and Twilight implies that these dangers can be transcended. Gender-bending vampires abound in literature and in popular culture, recognizable through their deviance, their monstrosity. In other teen vampire series, the sympathetic vampire is an ambiguous figure, both dark and light, embracing both the generative and the destructive aspects of desire. Other vampire boyfriends, such as Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stefan in The Vampire Diaries, and Bill in True Blood, tend to be depicted as "bad boys" who can be reformed temporarily by the love of the heroine, but who never quite lose the aura of danger that accompanies vampirism: they often "fall off the wagon" by going back to hurting people in one way or another. The Cullens differ from the many vampires who inspire sympathy despite their affinity with evil. In fact, the Cullens hardly require any sympathy at all for their shallow monstrosity; they are less like sympathetic vampires and more like sheep in wolves' clothing.

Sympathetic monsters tend to destabilize processes of categorization by bringing the monstrous and the human closer together. Because Meyer's leading vampires are practically faultless, the binary between the normal and the deviant is transferred elsewhere. Thus, rather than critiquing or subverting the narrative function of monstrosity, the Twilight series enacts a reversal of the monstrous, revitalizing the polarity separating the normal from the deviant. The ideal Cullen vampires allow for the relocation of monstrosity into those bodies which are uncontrolled, like Bella before her transformation, or any vampires who have not chosen to restrain themselves. Monsters in Twilight are not socially constructed; rather, they create themselves by giving in to aberrant desires. By reinforcing the notion that both desire and sexual orientation should be controlled, Twilight rejects the Queer Gothic, in which disturbing desires trouble gender categories.

Drawing on the definitions of monstrosity put forth by Jack Halberstam and Jeffrey Cohen, we can see the how the idealization of so-called "monsters" in Twilight dissociates the Gothic from criticisms of normativity. For Halberstam, monsters are simply "the bodily manifestation of evil" (162). In contrast, the bodies of the Cullens are not only beautiful, but their golden- colored eyes mark them as good, in contrast to the red eyes of vampires who drink human blood. Whereas monsters in the nineteenth century were "the perfect figure for negative identity" (Halberstam 22), "Monsters within postmodernism are already inside," serving to make "the peripheral and the marginal part of the center" (162). What has been lost in the Cullen vampires is almost any relation to the periphery, to the aberrant, to the evil. Through the loss of the evil dimensions of the monstrous, Twilight rejects the promise of the Queer Gothic, which embraces the dysfunctional and non-normative. As George Haggerty notes, "No matter how tidy, no marriage at the close of a gothic novel can entirely dispel the thrilling dys- (or different) functionality at the heart of the gothic" (3). This may be true for those Gothic novels which allow a foothold for the dysfunctional, but it does not necessarily work for Twilight.

Twilight utilizes the discourse of the monstrous as a mask for an ideal, capitalizing on the seductive aspects of the Gothic in order to make the norm more attractive. I refer to the "discourse" of the monstrous in order to distinguish the nominal monsters in the series, like the Cullens and the Quileute werewolves, from the truly deviant. The series rewrites monstrosity as a function of self-control--true monsters are only those who choose to prey on human lives, such as the nomadic vampires who hunt for pleasure and revenge, the new-born vampires too young to control themselves, and the Volturi, an ancient ruling class who often murder other vampires as well as humans. Meanwhile, the textual economy in Twilight slides past the fact that Edward only thinks of himself as a monster. He uses the discourse of the monstrous to express his anxieties about himself in declaring to Bella, "'I don't want to be a monster'" (Twilight 186). Supposedly, what is monstrous in Edward is his barely-controllable desire for Bella's blood. And yet, on the two occasions when Edward actually tastes this amazingly tempting cocktail (both times in order to save Bella's life) he finds himself remarkably able to resist. Similarly, when Bella does become a vampire, she displays what the other Cullens identify as an 'impressive' amount of control. Although she worries that she might "snap" at any moment and "turn into a monster" (405) unable to resist human blood, this does not occur. The stress on self-control, as a line that can separate the normal from the monstrous, amounts to a heteronormative revision of the vampire trope.

The reinforcement of boundaries implies a reversal of one of the main characteristics of the monstrous: according to Halberstam, "The monster always represents the disruption of categories, the destruction of boundaries, and the presence of impurities and so we need monsters and we need to recognize and celebrate our own monstrosities" (27). Similarly, in Monster Theory: Reading Culture, Jeffrey Cohen announces the monster as "a harbinger of category crisis" (8). Rather than a liquid, interpenetrative monstrosity, however, Twilight celebrates a solid, unchanging ideal. A comparison between the scarcely human vampire in Dracula and the superhuman Cullens will serve to illustrate this distinction between liquid monstrosity and solidified identity. Whereas Dracula can change shape, becoming a bat, a wolf, or even mist, the Cullens are overwhelmingly concrete. In one of the most famous scenes, Bella describes seeing Edward in the sunlight for the first time: "A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal" (Twilight 260). Often compared to granite statues, the Cullens stand in stark contrast to the shapeless perversion of Dracula. Instead, the shapeless perversion in Twilight is Bella--until she marries, gives birth, and becomes a vampire.

This association between vampirism and success, both in identity and in relationships, corresponds with the major reversal through which vampirism actually supports rather than critiques heteronormative institutions like marriage. In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam reads failure as valuable in that it "allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior and manage human development with the goal of delivering us from unruly childhoods to orderly and predictable adulthoods" (3). By associating vampirism with heterosexual marriage and reproduction, Twilight also makes it a means of imposing orderliness, reinforcing the fantasy that desire can be preserved in an orderly form, following the transition from child- to adulthood. It is important to remember here that Bella sees vampirism as a state of empowerment and as the only way to cement her relationship with Edward. She has nightmares of growing old (New Moon 6), and vampirism solves this problem, as well as ending her teenage awkwardness. Since marriage comes first for Bella, the series suggests that it is a necessary condition for reaching the functionality associated with vampirism. In this way, the series contributes to what Halberstam identifies as "the ongoing manic project of the renaturalization of heterosexuality and the stabilization of relations between men and women" (35). Yet, at the same time, in spite of its heteronormative overtones, Twilight reveals the anxiety surrounding the naturalness of marriage. If marriage must be reaffirmed by a shift in identity, from human to vampire, then the work suggests that the dual projects of naturalizing and stabilizing these relations might be at odds.

Nonetheless, Twilight transforms the monstrous into a function of behavior, one in need of the controls associated with the devices of romance and motherhood. In offering up vampirism as a solution to the dilemma of the female subject, Twilight raises the specter of monstrosity in order to leave gender disruptions behind. The following section demonstrates the reattachment of the monstrous to the female body that has not been fully interpellated. The uncontrolled desires and threats of maternal authority that had been directly confronted in other Gothic narratives are left behind in the process of becoming a vampire, joining the symbolic order. By reframing vampirism as a solution to the indeterminacy of female identity, the series imposes behavioral limits on the potential of the Gothic to empower women.

Abject Feminism and Ideal Motherhood

Twilight's reversal of the monstrous attempts to "close," as noted critic Robert Miles would say (3), one of the ideological questions opened up by other works in the Gothic: the anxiety surrounding female identity in marriage. The series further accomplishes this closure by combining marriage with the formation of a stable identity through the faux-monstrosity of vampirism. The desire to become a vampire is one of the driving forces of the text, which lasts throughout the first three books and half of the fourth. In fear for Bella's soul, Edward is reluctant to allow her transformation, but they eventually strike a deal: Edward will make Bella a vampire if Bella agrees to marry him first. In Twilight, the gender disruptions associated with monstrosity are cast out, so that marriage and motherhood can become the vehicles for a solid female identity. In other words, the romance of Twilight more thoroughly contains the abject within the Gothic in order to undo the damages caused by feminism.

In many ways, Bella's journey reenacts the dilemma of the female subject as described by Angela McRobbie in "Postfeminism and Popular Culture." McRobbie refers to "the regime of personal responsibility" (261) that makes individuals answerable for their life trajectories. If, as McRobbie claims, "Young women. are now 'dis-embedded' from communities where gender roles were fixed. And, as the old structures of social class fade away ... [they] are increasingly called upon to invent their own structures" (260), then Bella's initiation into the family of the Cullens offers a solution for this dilemma. In fact, the series plays out the story of being dis-embedded, as Bella leaves her mother and stepfather behind in Phoenix, "exiling" herself to Forks (Twilight 4). Having decided that there will be no place for her in her mother's new life, Bella has to reinvent social structures in which she can fit. By making those structures a function of Bella's choice, the series holds out the fantasy of being entirely in control while dealing simultaneously with the loss of structure that could accompany individualism. In this context, it is important to remember that Bella becomes a wife and a mother before becoming a vampire; her subjectivity is valorized, yet also subsumed within structures that define traditional womanhood.

Arguments about whether the series is feminist tend to oscillate. On the one hand, the strong emphasis on Bella's desires and choices, and her empowerment in becoming a vampire, imply a commitment to women's issues and even to women's perspectives. One critic goes so far as to claim a feminism-by- proxy in Twilight's relation to the vampire romance, while implying that antifeminist critiques of the series have been "inherited" from "a longstanding tradition of [vampire] narratives criticized for their portrayals of gender and sexuality" (Ames 50). On the other hand, those who don't assume a positive correlation between a focus on women and a feminist message, such as Reni Eddo-Lodge, have pointed out the regressive definition of gender roles implied in a dynamic that marks Edward as the stronger voice of authority while Bella is weak and human (np). In my view, the nod to women in which Bella is aware and making her own choices does not prevent the series from being primarily anti-feminist. The emphasis on Bella's choice is undermined by the continual insistence that she wants traditional structures without knowing it. Throughout Twilight, all of the heroine's desires center on having Edward and on becoming a vampire. Since these outcomes are contingent on becoming a wife and a mother, the object of desire in the series is deeply embedded in traditional structures of gender roles. Becoming a vampire seems the perfect solution for solving the problems of female identity in a postfeminist world. Moreover, joining a vampire family provides a much easier solution than going to college and forging an independent identity.

In Twilight, becoming a vampire represents the fantasy of an identity completed by a sustained rejection of the abject, a crucial aspect of identity formation which contains potential sites of subversion. According to Julia Kristeva, the abject is that which must be rejected in order for the subject to form (the illusion of) a separate identity (13), and the abject "draws" the subject "toward the place where meaning collapses" (2). In her work on the monstrous-feminine, Barbara Creed explains this relationship by positing the abject as the element which constructs the monstrous and which threatens to cross borders (11). Given the close link between monstrosity and abjection, the Gothic exposure to monstrosity suggests a fluidity of categories that disrupts a stable identity. In the tradition of Dracula and the popular horror film, identity comes to be reaffirmed through the defeat of the abject Gothic monster. Since the Cullens are described as monstrous without being abject, the Twilight series stages a false confrontation with abjection, making vampirism appear as an attractive solution to identity formation.

In using the terms "subject" and "identity formation," I am referring to more than the passage from adolescence into adulthood. Becoming a subject is a process constantly underway, constantly incomplete, in the disjunctions between any particular individual and the symbolic order of ideology. In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Slavoj Zizek defines "[t]he process of interpellation-subjectivation" as a form of self-recognition in the symbolic order through which "the subject evades the dimension of the Thing" (205), or that kernel of identity which is unquantifiable. Like Kristeva's abject, the Thing must be avoided or superseded in order to complete the process of subjectivation. And yet, the Real dimension of the Thing is abject and monstrous, always exceeding the neat categories of the symbolic order. By relocating the symbolic order in "good vampires," the fantasy-world of Twilight poses the problem of subject- formation as both solvable and already-solved for the Cullens. They only appear to be monstrous, while in fact they are the opposite, having disavowed the changeability of the Thing; they reveal that not being monstrous depends on a constant restraint of the disturbing Thingness of desire. For Bella, real monstrosity tends to be associated with herself as an awkward girl, and vampirism offers a solution to this sense of weakness, through which the truly monstrous aspects of the abject Thing can be disavowed. By positing monstrosity as a mere illusion, the series also imagines an end to the process of identity formation, so that the abject can be left behind, rather than confronted.

It is no accident that Bella becomes constituted as a subject in the moment that she becomes a vampire. The monstrosity generally associated with vampirism becomes normalized, allowing the vampire to serve as a means of solidifying the subject rather than calling her into question. What had been considered monstrous becomes a (facile) means of transcending the problem posed by the abject. The scenes in which Bella becomes a mother and then a vampire dramatize this process. In the film Breaking Dawn, Part One, we see Bella wasting away under the influence of her pregnancy. These scenes utilize the abject in the excess of blood which follows, the way that Bella must drink blood from a Styrofoam cup to keep her baby healthy, and the corpse-like, wasted figure which results from the pregnancy. It is notable that the corresponding chapters of the book are narrated twice, once from Jacob's perspective and once from Bella's. The scenes from Jacob's outside point of view further emphasize the monstrosity of the maternal figure. In this sense, Bella's transformation might be a means of returning to the "clean and proper body" (72) that Kristeva associates with the symbolic. The wounds of motherhood literally disappear, and with them, the threat of the abject.

Of course, the abject never fully disappears, even when cast to the edges of narrative. In Twilight, the abject persists not only in uncontrolled bodies, but also in figures who represent the past of feminism. Women who live without men are threatening; their desires foreign. While Twilight insists on heterosexual romance for main characters, there are a few, most notably the Amazon vampires, who do not follow this pattern. Bella describes Senna and Zafrina as "ferine" (612), and she claims, "I'd never met any vampires less civilized" (613). Unlike the others, these women are not attached to men, and Bella compares their intimacy to a heterosexual couple: "Senna was always near Zafrina, never speaking, but it wasn't the same as Amun and Kebi. Kebi's manner seemed obedient; Senna and Zafrina were more like two limbs of one organism-- Zafrina just happened to be the mouthpiece" (613). This strange intimacy suggests a maternal authority that Bella has left behind in her embrace of the symbolic; the Amazons represent the "fusion of mother and nature" (Kristeva 74) which must be disavowed by the law of the father. According to Creed, horror films present the monstrous-feminine as a means of performing that disavowal, defiling the body of the mother (12). For the Amazons, this process of abjection has not occurred: they are fused in a shared authority in which borders are permeable. Meanwhile, the combination of wildness with a strength that excludes male authority marks Senna and Zafrina as feminist figures. The most lingering status of the abject, then, the one not directly confronted or contradicted, belongs to feminists who form their identities without men. Of course, such figures remain marginal in the text, and their supposed lack of civility emphasizes their relative lack of development compared to Bella, who journeys through, and moves beyond, the abjection of the maternal body.

The ideal motherhood that allows Bella as a subject to get beyond the abject can be related to the dreams of transcendence that recur throughout literature. Kristeva describes the positive affect caused by reading literature as "the sublime point at which the abject collapses in a burst of beauty that overwhelms us" (210). Twilight distorts the positive function of literature in two respects: First, the series portrays the completed process of sublimation as enduring rather than momentary. More importantly, whereas more grounded literature "may also involve not an ultimate resistance to but an unveiling of the abject" (208), Twilight suggests that the subject might be free of the abject, having been transformed into a vampire. The effect of this suggestion works more along the lines of suppression than it does sublimation. As Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer note, "The culture industry does not sublimate: it suppresses. By constantly exhibiting the object of desire [...] it merely goads the unsublimated anticipation of pleasure, which through the habit of denial has long since been mutilated as masochism" (111). Although becoming a vampire might differ somewhat from the object of desire here imagined, the portrayal of Bella as a vampire has the same effect. The reader/ viewer, who cannot become a super-model vampire, is left in the abjection of imperfect womanhood.

The "object of desire" of the culture industry also corresponds with Zizek's "sublime object of ideology." In Twilight, we might assume that the object is Edward Cullen. Or, since the romantic relationship might be considered merely the premise for Bella's empowerment, the completion of turning into a vampire would also be the sublime object of ideology. Marriage and motherhood are two other possible candidates. All of these options are valid, given Zizek's definition of the sublime object, which can be any "ordinary, everyday object" or objective: "There is nothing intrinsically sublime in a sublime object," except that it "finds itself occupying the place of [...] the impossible-real object of desire. It is its structural place [...] and not its intrinsic qualities that confers on it its sublimity" (221). In a series of displacements, Bella's sublime object is, in turn, Edward, becoming a vampire, getting married, and then giving birth. But the product of motherhood, in the child Renesmee, is the most sublime of all. Bella considers her conception 'impossible' (Breaking Dawn 124), thinking, "there was no way I could be pregnant. The only person I'd ever had sex with was a vampire, for crying out loud" (125). And yet, Renesmee is the unlooked-for, impossible object which gives coherence to Bella's journey. Through combining the sublime objects of romance, motherhood, and vampirism, the series reattaches feminine sexuality to heterosexual marriage and reproduction, one of the primary functions of the ideological field of Twilight. The final, deeper function is the recuperation of the vampire-consumer as a moral figure.

The Moral Vampire: Giving Consumerism a Good Name

So far, I have focused on adding to readings of Twilight as Gothic by explaining how the inversion of the dark side of the Gothic is particularly antifeminist and heteronormative. My analysis now departs from one common feature of other readings of Twilight as Gothic: the claim that the series is anti- consumerist. This interpretation rests on Bella's lack of interest in commodities and wealth (Driscoll 102; Moruzi 53), as well as Edward's denial of his impulse to drink Bella's blood (Branch 68). Dana Percec Rogobete is one critic who reaffirms the continuation of the close relationship between consumerism and vampirism in relation to Gothic. For Rogobete, the series avoids a version of consumerism embodied by "contemporary teen Gothic paraphernalia," while somehow "fall[ing] into the opposite trap, leading to an excessive romancing of the Gothic" (124). But what does this "excessive romancing" look like? Considerable space remains for further delineating Twilight's use of the romance to remove the dark overtones from the Gothic/vampiric situation of consumerism in contemporary America.

As with gender, Twilight revises the link between vampires and consumerism, in a way that glamorizes the consumer lifestyle. This trend began with the revival of the sympathetic vampire, most notably in Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles and the character of Lestat, whose moral ambivalence expresses the dilemma of participating in a vampiric consumer culture. However, Twilight differs in this respect by removing that ambivalence. According to Rob Latham, Rice's vampires represent the yuppie class, a new set of middleclass consumers who exist solely for self-gratification. The one distinction here is that Latham finds these "yuppie vampires" to be accompanied by "the essential 'dark side' of the vampire icon," which "suggest[s] the subversive persistence of a critical dimension" (81). This critical dimension has disappeared for the Cullens, or rather, it has been disavowed.

In addition to removing the basis for critique, the absence of a "dark side" with respect to these vampires creates the possibility of a moral consumer. For the yuppie vampires, the "dark side" corresponded with an awareness of the essentially ugly nature of existing only to gratify their desires. As Edward notes in Midnight Sun (a partially-completed manuscript which re-tells the story from Edward's perspective), when first confronted with the irresistibility of Bella's scent, he must suppress what he views as the monstrous portion of himself. He splits his personality into two--the "good" son and the "evil" vampire (10). By splitting off evil in this way, the series makes way for the Cullens to be "good" consumers, a particularly important function during the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble. The film adaptation of Twilight was released in November 2008, corresponding with the recession of 2007-8. By suggesting the need for restraint in some areas, Twilight alleviated the growing pessimism about capitalism in response to Wall Street corruption. As moderated consumers with high morals, the Cullens served to revitalize faith in consumerism.

Multiple critics have noted that Marx himself repeatedly used the vampire trope to describe the way that capitalism preys on labor. (7) Yet the affinity between vampirism and economic corruption predates Marx's observations, extending back to the earliest uses of the term 'vampyre.' While most critics point to John Polidori's text (1819) as the first major entry of the trope in literature, Markman Ellis locates its appearance in newsprint in the beginning of the eighteenth century. For Ellis, the vampire emerged in this time as a figure of "modernity in its commercially corrupting form, articulated in both economic and moral dimensions: venal business practices, autocratic government, tyrannical taxation, and sexual perversion" (167). However, rather than embodying the corruption of the economic system, the vampires of Twilight serve as a means to argue that morality is possible within the system of capitalism. While continuing to use the vampire as an expression of possible economic corruption (most notably through the Volturi, the rich and amoral vampire nobility), Twilight focuses on the Cullens' 'alternative' lifestyle to suggest that, while vampires are always consumers, they need not always be corrupt. The emphasis on morality in the Cullen vampires serves to reconcile the moral with the economic practices of consumerism. By creating vampires whose consumption adheres to strict bounds, Twilight plays on and disavows the immorality associated with capitalist practices.

The sanitary Gothic of Twilight naturalizes vampirism as a way of being. Carlisle and his family seem to exist in isolation, embodying a liberal ethic in which it is possible to live in any way, so long as no harm is done to others. Based on the texts he analyzes, Latham also identifies "two seemingly opposed, but in fact obscurely complicit, metaphors of vampirism: the first, a predatory commercial regime that aspires to total social mastery, and for which consumer desire is a mere tool to be cynically manipulated; the second, a resistant youthful agency at once enabled and constrained by the apparatuses of consumption" (67-68). In the case of Twilight, the metaphors have shifted; the "commercial regime" to which the Cullens belong, as consumers, is simply a condition of living, rather than an outside structure. As for "youthful resistance," the Cullens appear to be resisting the majority of vampires, but this resistance only serves to make vampirism itself alluring. Since they are able to control themselves, the emphasis is once again on the enabling qualities of vampirism, and not so much on the need for blood. The Cullens represent resistance to a certain type of consumerism, but not to consumerism itself.

By making vampirism a condition of an idealized existence, these texts also express the postfeminist contingency in which consumerism becomes a prerequisite for female empowerment. In Interrogating Postfeminism, Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra identify postfeminist goals: "to incorporate, assume, or naturalize aspects of feminism" and "crucially ... to commodify feminism via the figure of woman as empowered consumer" (2). In this context, all of the agency Bella displays in the novel might be compared to selecting just the right curtains to go with that sofa. She is empowered to choose what she wants, and Edward is the ultimate product. More importantly, the authors note that, while "postfeminist popular culture celebrates female agency and women's powers of consumption, it also anxiously raises the possible consequences of female independence, crudely: emotional isolation for women ... and loss of power for men" (4). In terms of Twilight, the whole series could be read as a means of inducting women into consumer culture: Bella wants nothing more than to become a vampire--it doesn't matter to her that she will be forced to consume blood for the rest of eternity, so long as she is not alone. The fact that vampirism is a condition for her not being alone suggests that consumerism might provide the means of avoiding the possibility of isolation that might stem from empowerment.

Twilight's dissociation of vampires from the dark side of consumerism also explains what makes the blend of elements in the series--the Gothic, the romance, and the vampire--so powerfully appealing for contemporary audiences. To answer the question at the beginning of this section, what Rogobete calls "the excessive romancing of the Gothic" (124) serves to cloak the submerged functioning of commodity fetishism. As Zizek explains, "commodity fetishism" occurs when "the crucial relations between people take on the form of relations between things, between commodities" (31). Furthermore, capitalist subjects can maintain the illusion of a rational world without affecting the mystical relationship between commodities. Zizek refers to Lacan in order to explain that people don't need to believe in the mystical relations between commodities, because "the things themselves believe for them" (31). In other words, capitalist subjects can be entirely conscious of the empty, mythical fantasy of exchange value--and yet, they act as if that fantasy were true. So people behave as things, and things behave (believe) as people.

In this context, the appeal of Gothic, as a new cloaking device for romantic fantasy, becomes understandable as a resurfacing of superstition, or what Victoria Nelson identifies as "displaced numen" (16) which counteracts the dilemma of the rational subject who nonetheless acts as if the mystical relations between things were real. By substituting the exteriorized condition of belief with an internalized faith in the possibility of both magic and romantic love, the guilt over consumerism can be alleviated, the conditions of capitalism disavowed. In short, we can believe that people do not exploit one another-- exploitation is only a choice that some consumers (the less-restrained vampires) make. In such a romanticized, moral consumerism, people live for each other, rather than for individual gain. Such a fantasy is indeed alluring for adolescents and adults alike, because it involves more than finding a place to belong, or even the surface-level disavowal of aging and death. More than that, the utopian Gothic of Twilight offers the fantasy that, given the right community, the path of consumerism leads to heaven.


While critics have often remarked on the series' heteronormative and antifeminist tendencies, this examination has attempted to delineate the literary means by which Twilight creates such a regressive atmosphere. As I have argued, Twilight both achieves and attempts to gloss over its conservatism through a revision of Gothic solutions to questions of meaning, closing off the threatening possibilities associated with the genre's gender and consumer politics.

As an "answer" to the Gothic, it is unlikely that Twilight will exhaust the genre, any more than the pretense of having nothing to fear will necessarily remove fear itself. The Gothic threat of marginality will remain. Moreover, other authors and film-makers have already begun to engage with and revise the Twilight version of Gothic, from re-vindications of vampiric monstrosity in movies such as the remake of Fright Night (2011) to the more recent Beautiful Creatures (2013), which emphasizes the integration rather than the expulsion of the monstrous. Nonetheless, such integration will never be complete. As long as there are categories in thought, language, and society, we will need the monstrous to disrupt them.


(1.) For the sake of brevity, I will use the single word "Twilight" to refer to the series as a whole, including the four books and the cinematic versions. Unless otherwise specified, the term applies broadly to the imaginative world created by Meyer and extended by filmmakers and fans.

(2.) Such readings often draw from James B. Twitchell's assertion that "horror has little to do with fright; it has more to do with laying down the rules of socialization and extrapolating a hidden code of sexual behavior" (66). In order to maintain the sanctity of these rules, Gothic horror relies on the defeat of the monster, thereby overcoming threats of ungoverned sexuality and permeable gender roles.

(3.) As of 27 November 2013, one year after the release of the last film, the Twilight franchise had generated a total revenue of over 5.7 billion dollars for the publishers and the box office. See for a breakdown of the numbers associated with each book and film.

(4.) In "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," Fredric Jameson provides a useful analysis of the function of repetition, in both high and mass culture. In the former case, he designates "the strategic emphasis on innovation and novelty" (136) as an attempt to break out of the cycle of repetition. The problem with this, according to Jameson, lies in its "purely formal" aspects, which assume that the new is always better. In terms of mass culture, Jameson draws on Theodore Adorno's observation that repetition can be the driving factor, allowing for the generation of endless consumable material which repeats old formulas in new clothes. I would argue, however, that, given the dialectical relation between high and mass culture which Jameson identifies, repetition in mass culture, and particularly in Twilight, shares some of the aspects of innovation associated with high culture. Along with the need to repeat, works like Twilight answer the need for novelty, or at least the appearance thereof. Twilight accomplishes this appearance of novelty through the synthesis of the Gothic horror and popular romance.

(5.) In particular, Twilight differs from other series like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain Cycle (1978-2014), Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles (1976-2014), and Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film version 1992; TV series 1997-2003). Concurrent examples of book series that became television shows include L. J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries, a trilogy which was originally published in 1991, and Charlaine Harris's The Southern Vampire Mysteries series, whose first book, Dead Until Dark, was published in May 2001. The last two pre-date the 2005 publication of the first installment of the Twilight saga, but they became television series more or less at the same time that the Twilight films were produced, beginning with True Blood in September 2008, just before the first Twilight movie was released in November of the same year. The Vampire Diaries aired in the following year.

(6.) Stephenie Meyer has repeatedly declared her ignorance of the vampire and horror genres. And yet, she may be correct in assuming that this ignorance partially accounts for the disparities between her work and others in the genre: "I think it's why [my books are] different. It's not a genre where I know what the walls are. I break through them because I don't know that they are there" (Otto).

(7.) Marx's famous reference to capital as "dead labor" and "vampire-like" has been mentioned by vampire scholars like Nina Auerbach (32) and Milly Williamson (182). Halberstam also points to Marx's description of British industry as vampiric (102), and Latham bases his metaphor of the vampire on Marx's Capital (4).

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Author:Budruweit, Kelly
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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