La Petit Mort: Female Vampirism, the Abject, and Sexuality

By Nadia Saleh

While the origins of the vampire in literature can be found in early Biblical texts on Lilith, the outpouring of literature on the vampire during the 19th century reflects a renewed interest in the vampire’s link with sex, power, and death. Especially prominent in these texts are female vampires, often portrayed using major female archetypes: the female predator; the mother of evil; and the fallen woman. But why do these tropes persist even now, into the 21st century? Where did these depictions come from? And what is it about the female vampire that strikes fear into the hearts especially of men, a fear that seems tied to confrontation with abjection? The link between this fear and the female vampire seems to be female sexuality, and fear of its overt expression. Female vampires are portrayed as lustful, defiling creatures, in a far more sexualized manner than their male counterparts. This portrayal uncovers fear of that shadowy world just outside the boundaries of society where the female body is powerful, women have agency, and they continually violate the boundaries that are crucial to civilized existence.

Monstrosity, and monster theory itself, deals with the idea of boundaries and the us/them dichotomy that they work to uphold. As Barbara Creed writes in her book The Monstrous Feminine, definitions of the monstrous are grounded in “ancient religious and historical notions of abjection” with a specific emphasis on religious “abominations”: sexual immorality and perversion; corporeal alteration, decay, and death; human sacrifice; murder; the corpse; bodily wastes; the feminine body and incest” (Creed 8-9). These various practices often deal with things that humans find repulsive and unsavory, or things that counter religious and societal ideals. The monster serves to “demarcate the bonds that hold together that system of relations we call culture, to call horrid attention to the borders that cannot–must not–be crossed” (Cohen 13). These strict borders are primarily in place to control the traffic in women and to maintain the ties between heterosexual men that keep a patriarchal society together (Cohen 14). As the boundary marker for society, the monster cordons off the “social space through which cultural bodies may move”; for example, the culturally acceptable expressions of female sexuality. Under this logic, monstrosity and sexuality go hand in hand, as many of the rejected societal practices (incest, sexual perversion, homosexuality) reflect the fear of deviant sexuality. The monster “embodies those sexual practices that must not be committed, or that may be committed only through the body of the monster” (Cohen 14). The monster’s deviant sexuality is linked to its “outlaw” status, the out-group shunned by proper society. The fact that these unacceptable practices are embodied by monsters makes them obvious targets and examples of how not to behave.

Julia Kristeva’s work on abjection, The Powers of Horror, defines abjection as having “only one quality of the object: that of being opposed to I” (Kristeva 1). The abject is something that a person does not recognize either as a subject or an object, an in-between condition linked to both thingness and nothingness. The term literally means “the state of being cast off.” What is being cast off is anything that repulses a human: blood, pus, or even simple things like the skin on top of milk (Kristeva 3). The abject signifies that which humans “permanently thrust aside in order to live,” the ultimate form of the abject being the human corpse (Kristeva 3). The human corpse, “the most sickening of wastes,” is a border that has “encroached upon everything” (Kristeva 5). To see a human corpse is to see mortality and accept it for what it is.

The vampire takes the already abjected human corpse to another level. Dead, but not dead, the vampire marks an even further encroachment upon the borders between life and death. Coupled then with the insatiable need for blood, abjection is intensified. Human blood, something carefully kept internal, must be made external for the vampire to survive. The externality of blood causes fear amongst humans because blood is supposed to remain inside the body. Any sign of blood outside the body is typically a warning of grievous injury or menstrual blood; the former is perceived as alarming, the latter as disgusting. Thus, the extraction of blood and externalization of blood by the not-living, not-dead body of the vampire crosses multiple borders, causing the vampire to be the ultimate abjection. At the core of the vampire lies an affinity for “rupture, change, and mutation,” because all vampires share one trait: the power to move between and undo borders otherwise holding identities in place (Butler 1). The female vampire, however, further increases this abjection. She is abject because she disrupts “identity and order”; her blood lust drives her and thus she does not respect “the dictates of the law which set down the rules of proper sexual conduct” (Creed 61).

The original female vampire, Lilith, appears in several ancient traditions, from the Talmud to ancient Babylonian bowls inscribed with magic texts. The version of Lilith that is most important in the context of the female vampire comes from the Talmud. In this tradition, Lilith is Adam’s first wife, created out of dust by God. Their marriage was not happy; when Adam tried to have sex with her, Lilith refused to lie beneath him: “Why should I lie beneath you, when I am your equal, since both of us were created from dust?” (Patai 296). Adam did not respect her wishes and when Lilith saw that he was determined to “overpower her,” she spoke the magical name of God and flew away to the Red Sea, a “place of ill repute, full of lascivious demons” (Patai 296). It is important to note the choice of words in “overpower.” Adam, Lilith’s male counterpart, wanted power over Lilith. When she refused to acknowledge this power, she flew away to a place full of demons, where she engaged in “unbridled promiscuity” and birthed more than one hundred demons a day (Patai 296).

The legend then continues that three angels, sent by God to retrieve her, were unable to get her to come back with them. Met with Lilith’s disobedience, the angels threatened to drown her in the sea. She argued that she was “created in order to weaken the babes,” and ordered the angels to leave her alone (Patai 296-297). In claiming her identity and worth in injuring babies, Lilith rejects the identity given to her by God and Adam as the submissive wife and forms the archetype for the female vampire. She is a female predator, seeking out babies to feed her blood lust. She is the mother of evil, birthing hundreds of demons a day. And she is the fallen woman, having descended into “unbridled promiscuity” by lying with demons. The fear of Lilith, the archaic mother, turns out to be “essentially fear of her generative power” (Kristeva 77). As Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu puts it in Carmilla, “it is the nature of vampires to increase and multiply” (95). Lilith’s power and influence stretch throughout the literary tradition, coloring the way female vampires are portrayed by other authors.

My study seeks to explore the variety and persistence of Lilith’s traits through focus on vampire texts produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  It focuses on literary, filmic, and televisual texts, namely, Charles Baudelaire’s “Sed Non Satatia” and “The Vampire” (1857); Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872); Angela Carter’s short story, “The Lady of the House of Love,” (1979); Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992); and the HBO series Penny Dreadful (2014-2016). All of these works explore the crossing of the boundaries of life and death and of good and evil, and some deal specifically with the boundaries of the body, of virginity, and even of marriage vows. Penny Dreadful gives a name to this shadowy place of blurred boundaries, what Vanessa Ives calls the demimonde, “a half world between what we know and what we fear…a place in the shadows, rarely seen, but deeply felt” (“Night Work”). This place between what is known and what is feared, also called a borderland and a no-man’s-land, is where monsters walk and female agency takes command. In what follows I trace how this expression of female power is portrayed, managed, enjoyed, and punished so that social life can continue to proceed.

Girls Just Wanna Have Blood: The Female Predator

The female predator is a particularly terrifying figure for patriarchal society: the woman who stalks through the night and lures in her prey with her sexual wiles. The vampire, unlike a monster such as a werewolf or a zombie, enfolds the victim in an apparent, or real, erotic embrace. The idea of a woman not only crossing the boundaries of proper sexual conduct but also penetrating the boundaries of blood and the body is terrifying, and yet it continually appears in literature.  So is the idea that she feeds on rather than nourishes other persons. As Bram Dijkstra suggests in Idols of Perversity, “woman, having been consumed in the marriage market, then having become consumptive as a wife through lack of respect, exercise, and freedom, took her revenge by becoming a voracious consumer” (Stephanou 74). Her voracious consumption of blood is a revenge against the voracious consumption of her body and crosses the boundary of proper behavior. Every female predator that exists in the literary canon is a reaction against women’s objectification and commodification in the marriage market. But why is she always so sexualized? And what purpose does it serve to keep telling these stories of female predators over and over again?

Charles Baudelaire touched on the theme of the female predator multiple times in his poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal, first published in 1857. In the first poem, “Sed Non Satatia,” or “but never satisfied,” the speaker is enslaved to a “daughter of darkness, slattern deity” (Baudelaire 32). The object of his affections is a female predator, a prostitute goddess, a daughter of “filthy covens” of witches. The speaker claims that “to wine, to opium even, I prefer the elixir of your lips on which love flaunts itself” (Baudelaire 32). With the reference to lips, the reader is reminded of the comparison between a woman’s mouth and the sexually aroused female genitals. The woman is drawing him in with both an addictive kiss and the sexual wiles that are present even in her facial features. The speaker then makes comparisons about being trapped in the wasteland of her eyes, where hellfire rains from her soul and he is trapped forever (Baudelaire 33). The speaker is “no Styx, to cradle you nine times”; the river Styx is one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld, known as the river of hate. The number nine refers to completion and fulfillment (Bruce-Mitford and Wilkinson 295). The speaker cannot find fulfillment and completion with her, perhaps reflecting a pseudo-sexual relationship where the speaker wants to have sex with the woman, but can never reach completion despite her sucking the life out of him. “Sed Non Satatia” has one final lamentation: “Alas, and cannot with some Fury’s lust/to break your spirit and your heart, become/in your bed’s inferno…Persephone” (Baudelaire 33). Without some supernatural power, the speaker cannot break the woman’s spirit and, in doing so, turn her hellish bed into the bed of Persephone, the goddess of flowers. It is worth noting that in the myth of Persephone and Hades, Persephone was unwillingly kidnapped, as the woman in this poem would be unwillingly made into something other than she is.

The second poem in Les Fleurs Du Mal to speak about female predators is aptly named “The Vampire.” In this poem, the speaker has been enslaved to a woman, who has made in his corrupted mind “your bed and bedlam there/Beast who bind me to you close/As convict to his chains” (Baudelaire 37). The Devil has given the woman the power to hold the speaker to her, where she will “make her bed,” which can be interpreted either as a form of sexual slavery, or as the place where she can rest and drink what she needs to survive. The speaker curses her, “as a gambler to his winning streak/As drunkard to his wine” (Baudelaire 37). He, too, is suffering from an addiction to the vampiric woman; as much as he hates her and curses her, he cannot leave her behind. There appears to be no release for the speaker, as he begs “both poison and steel” to set him free, but both “as with one voice/contemptuously refused/”You are not worthy to be free/Of your enslavement, fool!” (Baudelaire 37). The reasoning is simple: the speaker is so addicted to the woman that even if she was killed, the speaker’s kisses “would resuscitate/Your vampire’s waiting corpse” (Baudelaire 38). The speaker would be so desperate to regain his lost tormentor that he would immediately resurrect her, continuing the cycle of addiction and degradation.

Both poems deal with themes of addiction and dependency on women, and both reflect societal fears of the demimonde, the shadowy world beyond the edge of society. The woman to whom each speaker is addicted is, at least to them, obviously demonic and sucking the very life out of them, and yet they cannot escape from her charms. Even success in killing the vampress, as the poison and sword in “The Vampire” suggest, would be pointless, because the speaker would only resuscitate her, desperate to have her back. There are other poems in Les Fleurs du Mal that deal with similar themes, even if they are not explicitly on female vampires. Baudelaire seems to be making a comment on the addictive properties of women, using the familiar image of the vampire to further illustrate his point. After all, what is more dangerous to a mortal man than a demonically powerful, sexually powerful vampire? If even opium, a highly addictive substance and a drug that was commonly looked down upon in 19th century society, is said to be preferable to the woman, then something must be very wrong with her. In this case, it is not so much the woman who is breeching boundaries, as she is forcing the man to do so. A man should not be subservient to a woman in patriarchal society, and he certainly should not be so addicted to her that he cannot live without her.

Carmilla, written in 1871 by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, is another example of the female predator. Predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 28 years, the novella articulates anxieties surrounding female sexuality, with its female predator, Carmilla, and its virginal protagonist, Laura, by showing not only woman’s capacity to captivate but also her possible erotic disinterest in men. Not only is she a predator, but specifically of women. The lesbian vampire is an especially frightening instance of boundary crossing, not only because of the taboo against homosexuality but also because essentially she is invisible to general society until she strikes. In the nineteenth century, close female relationships were societally acceptable, even necessary if one was to move easily among high society (Weiss 87). Wealthy women had governesses, handmaids, and close friends of similar status. All of these relationships potentially could disguise a homosexual relationship. The lesbian woman is already a crossing of the boundary of societally accepted sexuality; that is, any sex that is non-procreative is deviant and abhorred, in order for Christian-organized society to continue. The lesbian vampire, a creature that cannot procreate in general and seeks to feed on virginal, innocent women, is a doubly frightening figure.

The lesbian vampire merges two kinds of “sexual outlaws,” because she is not simply a negative stereotype, but a figure that is at once “an image of death and an object of desire,” drawing on subconscious fears of the living toward the dead, and of men toward women (Weiss 84). In an era where women were encouraged to “lie back and think of England” during intercourse, any interest in sex that a woman might show was considered dangerous and disruptive. A female vampire interested in female victims essentially operates in the sexual rather than the supernatural realm, because her feeding is hypersexualized. The physical closeness of the vampire and her victim becomes inherently sexual, an embrace of love and passion alongside the felt necessity to suck another’s blood. The specter of this possibility makes a female friendship something to be avoided and further draws the boundary between societally accepted sexuality (i.e. married, procreative heterosexual sexuality) and deviant sexuality (non-procreative, unmarried, homosexual).

Carmilla is set in Styria, a small state in Austria, in a Gothic mansion in the heart of a forest. Laura’s father is English, but Laura has lived all her life in this borderland between the civilized West and the uncivilized East. Despite this obviously sinister location, Laura claims to be “one of those happy children who are studiously kept in ignorance of ghost stories, of fairy tales, and of all such lore as makes us cover up our heads when the door cracks suddenly” (Le Fanu 4). Because she has not been taught to fear darkness and the things that come in it, Laura is not alarmed one evening to see a “solemn, but very pretty face” looking at her from the side of her bed. Nor is she frightened when the pretty stranger lies down in bed with her and caresses her. It is not until Laura is awakened by “a sensation as if two needles ran into [her] breast very deep at the same time” that she is at all scared (Le Fanu 4). The phantom girl disappears and all is dismissed as a nightmare, because there are no marks on Laura’s chest. The initial bite on her breast is significant, because it codes the vampire’s attacks on Laura as homosexual, even from a young age.

This phantom girl is none other than Carmilla, the girl who suddenly arrives at the family mansion in an unexplained carriage crash. One of Laura’s governesses claims that when the “moon shone with a light so intense it was well known that it indicated a special spiritual activity” (10). It is no surprise that the mysterious Carmilla and her mother, who requires Laura’s father to take in Carmilla for three months in order to handle some urgent business, arrive under the light of such a moon. When Carmilla and Laura come face to face that night, Laura recognizes her as the face that had visited her, which she had “for so many years so often ruminated [on] with horror” (Le Fanu 19). This horror swiftly disappears, as Laura finds gone whatever she had “fancied strange” in Carmilla’s face, and her “dimpling cheeks” were now “delightfully pretty and intelligent” (Le Fanu 20). Laura welcomes her with open arms, happy to have a companion close to her own age after the sudden and mysterious death of Bertha Rheinfoldt, a friend who was supposed to have joined Laura at the estate.

Carmilla immediately expresses a sexual interest in Laura. The strange girl claims that it was Laura’s looks that won her, and Laura feels “rather accountably towards the beautiful stranger,” drawn to her, but also feeling “something of repulsion” towards Carmilla (Le Fanu 21). This repulsion suggests that Laura finds something abject in Carmilla and her attraction to her, as such feelings disrupt Laura’s identity as a virtuous, heterosexual maiden. While she is drawn to Carmilla, her repulsion may lay not only in Carmilla’s secrecy but also in her homosexual overtures. Laura is unable to learn anything about her house guest, except that Carmilla’s family was “very ancient and noble, and her home lay in the direction of the west” (Le Fanu 25). The direction of the west, the orientation of the setting sun, is also a typical site for mortuaries and cemeteries, the first clue into Carmilla’s deathly nature (Rickels 161). Laura constantly pesters Carmilla for information on her background and family, because the secrecy between the two of them angers her. Her idea of a close female relationship involves a blurring of boundaries where all things are open between the two. Carmilla’s thwarting of friendship is one of the first occasions where she is both “attracted to the vampire and also . . . quite turned off by her” (Rickels 161). Carmilla’s responses to these repeated interrogations use romantic and morbid language, an unfamiliar language in the context of friends:

If your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die—sweetly die—into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others and learn the rapture that is cruelty, which is yet love; so, for a while, seek to no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit. (Le Fanu 26)

The beginning of this passage, where Carmilla professes her pain at hurting Laura, is the only part of this speech that seems like a normal interaction between two friends. Carmilla is living in Laura’s “warm life,” her living world, but intends to have Laura “sweetly die” into her own, a world of walking death. Carmilla appears to be obsessed with Laura and wants to kill her before Laura can fall in love with someone else.

Immediately following this speech, Laura is pressed closely into Carmilla’s “trembling embrace” and Carmilla kisses her several times on the cheek (Le Fanu 26). Laura dislikes these embraces, and suffers them only because Carmilla seems to be hypnotizing her: “her murmured words sounded like a lullaby in my ear, and soothed my resistance into a trance, from which I only seemed to recover myself when she withdrew her arms” (Le Fanu 26). Laura experiences “a strange tumultuous excitement,” reflecting her “love growing into adoration,” but these feelings are mingled with “a vague sense of fear and disgust,” stemming from her abhorrence of these homosexual embraces (Le Fanu 26). In another episode, Laura is trapped in an embrace and kissed by Carmilla as the other girl whispers “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever” (Le Fanu 27). The desire for companionship of one’s equal is not strange; the desire to kill one’s friend in order to keep them forever and prevent them from ever loving someone else is. It crosses the boundary of acceptable female friendship and moves into obsessive, all-consuming homosexual love. The desire to destroy the boundary between Carmilla and Laura is to destroy both of their identities as separate people, and bring them together as one, single object in the ultimate form of consumption.

At the end of the novella, the reader is informed of certain facts about vampires, collected by an unknown narrator. The first is that the vampire is “prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons” (Le Fanu 94). This  fits with the depiction of Carmilla’s growing obsession over Laura, feeling a kind of love towards her that could only be satiated when she had “drained the very life of her coveted victim” (Le Fanu 94). Strangely enough, when it comes to these victims of the vampire’s passion, the vampire desires “something like sympathy and consent” (Le Fanu 94). Carmilla could not kill Laura without being loved by her, without gaining her consent to drain her blood.  This point is stressed in the text when Carmilla kills without courting other victims, like the swineherd’s wife and various village women, who are killed “often at a single feast,” overpowered by violence (Le Fanu 95). Carmilla, despite her mesmeric powers, perverts the act of human love by hoping for consent, rather than outright controlling her partner. However, as Carmilla tells Laura, she does not require that consent: “You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me and hating me through death and after” (Le Fanu 42). No matter what Laura decides, Carmilla owns her and controls her, and she will be killed whether or not she accepts it.

Debating whether or not Carmilla truly loved Laura is unnecessary, and unknowable, because the point of the novel does not hinge on that particular fact. What does matter is the various levels at which this novel operates. On the most obvious level, Carmilla is about the dangers posed by unnatural creatures to virginal heroines, a typical Gothic plot. But beneath the obvious plot line are other themes, interconnecting like strands in a spider web. Carmilla does not seek out male victims; every recorded death attributed to her is of a young woman. Her conflicting impulses “towards narcissistic love and annihilation compel her to seek out victims of her own age and sex, reflections of herself” (Silver, Ursini 103). In other words, Carmilla is a self-fetishizing predator; by killing reflections of herself, she acts out her own murder, over and over, while feeding her lust for blood. As a distant relation of the Karnsteins, Laura is an obvious victim for Carmilla, given that she resembles her by age, appearance, and blood. They share a bloodline, adding another dimension to Carmilla’s consumption of Laura. While she drinks Laura’s blood and consumes her life force, Carmilla also consumes herself, her own bloodline and ancestry.

The question remains why Carmilla, an obviously powerful and ancient vampire, has to be depicted as a lesbian. She could simply seek out those who are her mirrors without seducing them first; after all, she exhibits a mesmeric power that would pacify any victim, allowing her to feed without much fuss, and she does kill several women this way in the village. But Bertha Rheinfoldt and Laura both are given special treatment, an extended hunt that utilizes the mesmeric power but does not rely solely on it. Le Fanu purposefully characterizes Carmilla as a hunter whose favorite prey is women of her own age and likeness. By depicting her as such, as a “vampire rapist who violates and destroys her victim,” the male readers of the novella are soothed of their fear that “lesbian love could create an alternate model” to heterosexuality (Creed 61). If the female vampire, the female predator, only preys on unwilling victims who actively dislike her attentions, and would resist them if they were physically capable, then readers are assured that the female vampire is a true monster. She preys on virginal, pure victims who are violated by her mere presence. In a society that values virginity and chastity, the story serves as a warning towards women to beware of homosexuality and its deadly consequences, and as a way to alleviate male fears that homosexuality could become an alternative model of love that would detract from heterosexual relationships. This hypothesis is sanctioned by the end of the novella, in a scene that can only be described as revenge pornography:

The body, in accordance with the ancient practice, was raised, and a sharp stake driven through the heart of the vampire, who uttered a piercing shriek at the moment, in all respects such as might escape from a living person in the last agony. Then the head was struck off, and a torrent of blood flowed from the severed neck. The body and head was next placed upon a pile of wood, and reduced to ashes, which were thrown upon the river and borne away. (Le Fanu 92)

Carmilla’s death scene involves gratuitous violence. The descriptions of her death and the state of her body are unnecessarily violent and graphic. In vampire lore, the burning of the body and the scattering of the ashes are not a requirement. If anything, this scene appears to be Laura’s father and General Spielsdorf’s revenge on Carmilla for her attacks on their daughters. By acting out this male fantasy of vengeance, Le Fanu gives a not-so-subtle warning as to what happens to women who cross the boundaries of accepted sexuality: complete and utter destruction by the patriarchal structure.

While the other female vampires of this archetype appear willing and hungry for blood, the female predator of Angela Carter’s short story, “The Lady of the House of Love,” is an unwilling one. Described as “the last bud of the poison tree that sprang from the loins of Vlad the Impaler,” Countess Nosferatu is the last in a long line of vampires occupying her ancestral chateau. The village below is abandoned, as “all shun the village…in which the beautiful somnambulist helplessly perpetuates her ancestral crimes” (Carter 93). Carter portrays the Countess as someone who cannot help but feed, someone who is bound by her ancestry to feed on the blood of humans. The Countess is “a system of repetitions…a closed circuit” (Carter 93). She perpetually lays out the Tarot to predict her future “as if the random fall of the cards…could obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden” (Carter 93). No matter how many times she deals the Tarot, which by all accounts should be a random combination of cards drawn from the stack, she receives the same three, over and over: La Papesse, La Mort, La Tour Abolie (Carter 95). The High Priestess represents either wisdom, or the inability to make good judgement. The card of Death represents transformation and change, or lethargy and an inability to move on. Finally, the Tower, a card typically depicted as a tower being struck by lightning, is a sign of radical change, or a resistance to that change (Bruce-Mitford and Wilkinson 199-198). In a literal rut of continually drawing the same Tarot cards, the Countess’s fate as foretold by those cards reflects her inability to change and move on from her condition.

That she is an unwilling predator is made apparent in an early comment that the Countess loathes the food that she eats: “she would have liked to take the rabbits home with her, feed them on lettuce….but hunger always overcomes her” (Carter 96). Even the small creatures she ate as a young girl disturb her, but she has no other means of feeding herself. And now that she is a woman, she must have men. Any man who ventures to the fountain in the village will be led to the Countess’s chateau by her mute keeper. The men “can scarcely believe their luck” when the Countess leads them to her bedroom, where they will be consumed and then buried in the garden. The Countess is a perpetual virgin, dressed in her mother’s wedding gown. Every night would be her wedding night, where she would like to stroke her victim’s “lean brown cheeks and their ragged hair,” but she must eat. Every wedding night ends only in blood and the continuing of her miserable, repetitive existence, as she “only knows one kind of consummation” (Carter 103). Rather than allow herself to be consumed in the marriage bed, the Countess must constantly consume and reject the possibility of change.

The unnamed hero of the story is described thusly: English, virginal, and rational. He is “a being rooted in change and time,” riding a bicycle on a collision course with “the timeless Gothic eternity of the vampires” (Carter 97). The night he arrives in her village, the Countess pulls a card she has never turned before: Les Amoureux (Carter 97). The Lovers card is symbolic of affairs of the heart, inner harmony, and temptation or separation. Already the cycle has been broken. The Countess has always desired a fate that involved love. Patricia Duncker argues that the Countess longs for the finale of a snuff film, in which she is sexually used and then ritually killed. By doing so, “she can abandon her predatory sexuality, the unnatural force, as her own blood flows, the symbolic breaking of the virgin hymen, the initiation into sexual maturity and then into death” (Duncker 9). Her cyclical, repetitive life hinges on the one thing she cannot rid herself of: her virginity. And when the unnamed hero arrives, he rescues her like a maiden from a tower, a knight in an old fairy tale. The rational young man takes pity on her, thinking she needs psychiatric help, and in doing so, breaks the cycle forever. He refuses to be a victim or a meal, and thus “denies the complicity essential to the maintenance of a vampiric relationship” (Sceats 11). The Countess does not take unwilling prey, it seems. Every man on whom she has fed has walked willingly to his doom. By refusing to submit to her desires and treating her with compassion, the unnamed hero provides her with a cure: he renders her human, adult, but mortal and then dead.

By “completing” the Countess, by showing her compassion and a kind of love, the unnamed hero releases her from her condemnation to “solitude and dark” (Carter 97). He plans to “cure her of all her nightmares,” a heroic notion, if a slightly misogynistic one that assumes she needs him to save her. But his compassion, rationality, and unwillingness to follow the well-trodden path to her bed and to destruction releases her from the cycle of predation and consumption. The hero then takes his bicycle and pedals off, sad to see her gone, but none the more affected. The defining moment of the Countess’s life is nothing more than a blip for a man with “the special glamour of that generation for whom history has already prepared a special, exemplary fate in the trenches of France” (Carter 97).  The unnamed hero has a fate far beyond the Countess and her dilapidated mansion.

“The Lady of the House of Love” is a retelling of “The Sleeping Beauty of the Wood,” and twists the fairytale trope of the power of the prince’s kiss as well as the hedge of roses that surrounds the princess. As the virginal hero approaches the mansion, he is immediately struck by a “blast of rich, faintly corrupt sweetness strong enough, almost, to fell him” (Carter 98). The roses that surround the mansion strike him immediately as something wrong, something repulsive:

Too many roses. Too many roses bloomed on enormous thickets that lined the path, thickets bristling with thorns, and the flowers themselves were almost too luxuriant, their huge congregations of plush petals somehow obscene in their excess, their whorls, tightly budded cores outrageous in their implications (Carter 98).

The roses that seem repulsive, extravagant, and excessive, resemble the engorged, sexually aroused female genitals. With the addition of the “bristling thorns,” the roses become a symbol of the vagina dentata, one of man’s greatest fears. The myth of woman as castrator clearly points to male fears about the female genitals as a trap, or a black hole. Combining the already frightening female genitals with teeth creates the mouth of hell, a terrifying symbol of women as the devil’s gateway (Creed 71).  The Countess’s roses are a manifestation of her sexuality, which is outrageous in its flamboyancy, but also threatening to the man who dares to have sex with her.

The unnamed hero makes a connection between the roses outside, and the Countess’s lips almost immediately. He describes it as an “extraordinarily fleshy mouth, a mouth with wide, full prominent lips of a vibrant purplish-crimson” (Carter 101). Once again, her engorged lips are a metaphor for the female genitals with their red color and swollen appearance. The hero even goes so far as to think of her mouth as a “morbid mouth, even a whore’s mouth” (Carter 101). Her sexuality is so strong that it manifests itself physically in her face and mouth, the very mouth that contains her sharp teeth. The roses have developed their appearance from a different source; when the Countess finishes with her victims, her keeper buries their bodies under the rose hedges. This man-fertilizer gives the roses “their rich color, their swooning odor that breathes lasciviously of forbidden pleasures” (Carter 105). As such, the roses have become a part of the Countess’s closed circuit. The roses entice the men entering the mansion, filling their heads with the scent of forbidden pleasures. Their bodies feed the roses, giving them more power and allowing them to lure more men to feed the Countess.

The final rose of the piece is the rose that the hero takes back with him to his regiment. In the Countess’s narration, she says that she leaves him the “dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs, like a flower laid on a grave” (Carter 107). She has given him the gift of her virginity as a souvenir. Trapped in her virginal state, she could not give that rose to anyone, except the man who set her free and allowed her to die. The rose he takes appears to be an extraordinary one, as it survives the journey from Romania to Bucharest, and then seemingly revives itself when the hero places it in water. The “heavy fragrance” of the rose fills the barracks and he sees it as a “glowing, velvet, monstrous flower whose petals had regained all their former bloom and elasticity, their corrupt, brilliant, baleful splendor” (Carter 108). The Countess’s roses, fed on the lifeblood of young men, are repulsive even in their beauty, and can survive long trips and spread their powerful, lustful scent even when separated from the rest of the bush. The rose also serves as an omen of consequences that the hero has not considered: he consumed the Countess’s blood when he kissed her cut finger. He, like the rose, may bear some attributes of the Countess that he does not know yet.

As a tale of a female predator, “The Lady of the House of Love” invokes sympathy for the Countess, who does not want to be a killer and seducer of men. She wishes only for love and humanity, but cannot fight the primal state she inherited from her ancestors. The rational hero, protected by his “power in potentia” of virginity, is the wild card in the Tarot deck that can set her free (Carter 97). Carter is probably not making a commentary on the power of virgins, but rather on the rationality of the hero. He does not believe in vampires, does not believe that she is anything other than an anorexic, nearly-blind noble lady who needs his help. It is his rationality and desire to help that frees her. By not believing in her power, the hero renders the Countess powerless, mortal, and dead. But her power is greater than even he knows; her dark, fanged rose lives on with him, and her blood is in his veins. He may not believe in the power, but a dark cloud hangs on his horizon, from the trenches and from the bloodline of the Nosferatu.

The female predator is a voracious consumer, a woman who feasts on blood and enslaves her victims, and reflects a deep-seated fear of boundary crossings in society. These female vampires ignore social convention and reject values of female purity and chastity in favor of feeding their own lust for blood. Their unbridled sexual powers draw in unsuspecting victims, male and female alike, and drain them of their blood, or enslave them and keep them as food sources. The lesbian vampire is the mirror that society holds up to its members as a warning of what sexual deviancy leads to: destruction. The female predator cannot survive in a society that needs her dead in order to continue. Carmilla is brutally murdered in a scene of violence; Countess Nosferatu dies to allow for the future to roll forward. Baudelaire’s vampires exist to decimate the male population, enslaving them and addicting them to their feminine wiles. Their victims are painted as weak, deviant addicts whom society must cull from the herd in order for society to grow stronger. In the end, it comes down to a very simple choice: predatory women, or patriarchal society. And in the literary canon, the predatory woman loses every time.

The Blood is the Wife: The Fallen Woman in Dracula

The concept of the “fallen woman” reigns supreme in many works of 19th century literature. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the word “fallen” “ascribes a moral connotation to the verb, fall, meaning that the fallen person has lost their purity or innocence. A fallen woman is one who has surrendered her chastity; whether this occurs through prostitution, rape, or a sexual encounter, the term still applies. While Lilith is the most obvious candidate for the first fallen woman, Eve seems to be the more common choice for embodying the archetype. While admittedly Eve did not surrender her chastity, she lost her purity and innocence by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. She was the one to cause humanity’s fall from grace, an act that still reverberates in the collective psyche of society. The long line of neo-Eves who appear in literature reflect the “neurosis of a culture that feared female sexuality and aggression”; why else recycle the character of the fallen woman over and over? (Auerbach 31) By doing so, society enshrines a “respectably sadistic cautionary tale,” punishing female sexuality as a constant reminder of the constraints of appropriate female sexuality and chastity (Auerbach 31).

The novel Dracula was originally published in 1897 and has been remade into a film an estimated 217 times. Some feature only the character Dracula in otherwise unrelated stories; others, like the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola, reshape the original story for their own purposes. In the case of the Coppola film, Dracula gains an origin story, a quest, and something that could pass for a redemption story. We learn that although Dracula defeats the Turks in a battle, his beloved wife commits suicide after getting false news of his death. Upon learning that she is damned for killing herself, Dracula desecrates his chapel, renounces God, and stabs the cross with his sword. By then drinking the blood leaking from the cross, he becomes a vampire. While giving the Count a three-dimensional character, Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart also expanded upon the five female characters that appear in the film: Lucy Westenra, Mina Murray, and the three brides. For our purposes, it is significant that each of these women fall or has already fallen in the film, and that each woman takes a separate path to her loss of innocence.

Dracula’s brides, referred to as “the sisters” in the novel but as “the devils of the pit” in the film, have already experienced their fall.  When Jonathan Harker first encounters them in the bowels of Dracula’s castle, they appear as specters. Feminine laughter, the tinkling of bells, and then a voice that sounds eerily like Mina’s calls to Jonathan to “lay back into my arms”. Behind him, but visible to the viewer, the bed is moving from underneath the covers. A bride suddenly appears between his legs and the other two appear as if birthed from the bed itself. Because of the way the camera is angled and the positions of the brides, the cavity from which they emerge resembles a vagina, or perhaps even a mouth. If a mouth, it mirrors both the mouth of the vampire, and the mouth of hell. As Aspasia Stephanou states in her book Reading Vampire Gothic Through Blood, “it is not accidental that “mors” (death) is derived from bite (morsus)” (116). Thus, the vampire is not only a fanged death, but an embodiment of the mouth of hell. If the shape is viewed as a vagina, then these fanged women are birthed out of the mouth of hell and a vagina dentata, reflecting the male fear of the castrating female.

Their costumes make it quickly apparent that these are no ordinary women: one bride is wearing an Oriental or Russian style headdress; another has live snakes coiled in her hair. All of them are bare-breasted, their lower halves swathed in loose, sheer cloth. With bells around their ankles, they seem more at home in a harem or belly-dancing in a brothel. Such costuming exoticizes them while it eroticizes them, distancing them from Western civilization. By doing so, the brides become more monstrous and less humanized. The encounter seems like a fever dream, the camera moving too quickly to really get a sense of the action besides its erotic nature, which is intense.  The brides are moaning as they kiss and stroke the prone Jonathan Harker, until they bare their fangs and sink their teeth into him in a cannibalistic frenzy. One bride bites from the pulse point at his wrist, an easy source of blood. Another cuts his nipple, allowing the blood to pour out like milk and making the act of drinking blood into a perversion of breast-feeding. The third bride drinks from between Jonathan’s legs, close to his genitals, making the feeding into a sexual act. It is probable that they would have consumed Jonathan completely had Dracula not entered and given them a baby to eat instead. That an infant is their chosen meal further codes them as monstrous women; because they eat the baby instead of breast-feeding it, they pervert the association of women with nurturance.

Highly seductive and barely clothed, the brides essentially are presented as prostitutes, one of the more common depictions of fallen women in the literary canon. But other features go beyond this characterization, as when they kiss each other’s bloody mouths over Jonathan’s prone body. Here the fallen woman converges with the monstrous woman, who combines features of cannibalism with lesbianism. That the brides express sexual desire for each other intensifies their fallenness. They are meant to be seen as villains, first for making Jonathan unfaithful to Mina (as Van Helsing later puts it) and secondly for nearly killing him. But beyond their obvious role as villain-antagonists, the brides serve another, deeper purpose. They show where the “fall” ends. It does not end simply with being thrown out of Eden, or out of the family home, as other fallen women narratives end. Instead, they become “the whores of Satan,” their bodies available for use by the Devil, feeding on the blood of the living in a perversion of “normal” female behaviors like marital sex or breastfeeding. If the question is whether the brides take after Lilith or Eve, the answer is Lilith.

Lucy Westenra, on the other hand, takes after Eve. From the beginning of the film, Lucy is portrayed as a rather spoiled, rich young woman interested primarily in fashion and flirtation. Her costumes typically are off-the-shoulder, flowing dresses framed by the loose tendrils of her red hair. The dress she wears the night that her three suitors are introduced is referred to as her “snake dress”: indeed, it is tight, green, and decorated with embroidered snakes. The allusion to the serpent, coupled with her red hair, which was often associated with Mary Magdalene and viewed as a sign of her sexual impropriety, clues in the viewer about the role that Lucy is going to play: that of the sexually loose woman (Bruce-Mitford and Wilkinson 108). Mina claims that “Lucy is a pure and virtuous girl,” even though her actions seem to suggest the opposite. Lucy claims to know what men desire and proceeds to make a sexually explicit joke to Quincey Morris about the size of his Bowie knife: “Please, Quincey, let me touch it. It’s so big.” This, coupled with Lucy’s dreams about sex, show that she thinks about sex quite a bit more than would be appropriate for a woman of her age and class, and is willing to openly express it without fear of the consequences. Her aristocratic status probably offers her more leeway and protects her from bourgeois judgments, but she is expected to get married and give up this sexual agency soon.

Nothing in the film implies that Dracula is aware of Lucy’s flirtatious nature when he chooses her for his first victim after he lands in England. But for some reason, Lucy is drawn by Dracula’s call out in her garden and leaves her room during a violent storm caused by the Demeter’s arrival at port. Perhaps her sexualized nature makes her more susceptible to his call, or perhaps Dracula did not want to feed on Mina until he had begun to woo her. In any case, Lucy’s “nightgown” resembles red lingerie more than anything else, and is made up mainly of red gauze and a reddish scarf that mixes with her hair in the wind. The use of red in Lucy’s costumes has sexual implications; red, of course, being the color of love, passion, and blood-lust (Bruce-Mitford and Wilkinson 280). Dracula rapes and feeds from Lucy on top of a stone bench; when he vanishes, she is left on top of it like a used sacrifice. As Mina brings her back inside, Lucy describes the encounter, believing it to be a nightmare, and reveals that Dracula had also fed her his blood.

The arrival of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, “the metaphysician philosopher,” sheds light on Lucy’s predicament. Her regular doctor, Dr. Seward, calls in Van Helsing because Lucy had been complaining of nightmares and other “changes,” like being able to hear the maids whispering from across the house. Ultimately, Van Helsing is able to diagnose Lucy’s attacker as the “vampyre”:

We are dealing with forces beyond all human experience and enormous power. Guard her well, or your beloved Lucy will become a bitch of the Devil. A whore of darkness. Lucy is not a random victim attacked by mere accident. No, she is a willing recruit, a breathless follower, a wanton follower, I dare say a devoted disciple. She is the devil’s concubine.

Van Helsing’s words, although cautioning, also imply that Lucy has drawn Dracula to herself with her perceived promiscuity. In the doctor’s understanding, Lucy is not innocent, but instead is responsible for drawing Dracula to her and desires to be turned into a vampire as well, and thus must be protected from her desires by the men around her. Lucy’s sexual agency is frightening and must be curbed in order to save her soul. It is no wonder that Van Helsing makes the connection between her illness and sexual desire; when the telegraph calling him to London arrives, he is lecturing on sexuality: “The very name venereal diseases, the diseases of Venus, imputes to them divine origin. And they are involved in that sex problem that which the ethics and ideals of Christian civilization [sic] are concerned”. The idea of sexually transmitted diseases being the diseases of Venus gives them not only a divine origin, but also a feminine origin. In this, Van Helsing places the blame for venereal diseases on women, which ties in with his belief that Lucy’s illness is her own fault. The feminine origin of these venereal diseases has caused the “sex problem” that Christian society is focused on: in order to keep society safe, men must curb the sexual desires of women to prevent the spread of these diseases.

The night that Mina leaves the Count to marry Jonathan in Romania, Dracula kills Lucy in a fit of rage. Just before ripping out her throat, he exclaims, “Your impotent men and their foolish spells cannot protect you from my power. I condemn you to living death, to eternal hunger for living blood”. In calling the three suitors and Van Helsing “impotent,” Dracula not only asserts his power over mortal men, but conflates power with sexual prowess. In a way, if mortal men were not impotent, they would be able to protect Lucy from unlawful desire by keeping her sexuality within the bounds of societal norms. Because they cannot, Lucy is buried in her wedding gown. This dress signifies that Lucy was about to perform femininity “properly” by getting married, but was diverted from that path by her vampiric death.

Despite the film’s emphasis on her sexuality, Lucy, it turns out, does not seek out men on which to feed, but instead prefers babies. Whereas in the novel, multiple reports of a “bloofer lady” signal Lucy’s change into a vampire, the film presents the transition differently. The night of her funeral is when Lucy “makes her big comeback” and kidnaps a child to eat; the men refer to her as a “nightmare of Lucy,” although she is still recognizably Lucy, and also a vampire (Rickels 33). Once again, her costuming accentuates her characterization.  Her wedding gown is pure white with a ruff so wide that Lucy resembles a frill-necked lizard. This was a deliberate choice by the film’s costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, who wanted Lucy to look like a predatory reptile. As with the brides, the costume choices link vampirism with predation, in which women use sexual wiles and vampiric mesmerism to catch their prey. This notion of being captivated is illustrated when Lucy’s fiancé, Arthur Holmwood, falls under her spell as she calls for him, and refers to him as her husband. This implies that Lucy has received the holy sacrament of marriage, along with the unholy sacrament of baptism of the blood. By attempting to seduce her “husband” so that she can drink his blood, Lucy perverts “normal” female sexuality. Her desire to indulge in “lawful” sex is not for procreation, but rather to satisfy her own bloodlust. In the event, Van Helsing saves Holmwood from this fate and they kill Lucy’s vampiric self. Lucy’s bloody mouth and “wildly contorted body under Holmwood’s vigorous thrusts form a terrible parody of a wedding night,” and marks an ending of her fall (Butler 116).  She returns to her marital bed and is freed from her fate as a “concubine of the Devil.”

Out of the female characters, Mina appears to participate most willingly in her fall, and yet she is the one who achieves redemption. At the beginning of the film, Mina identifies herself as “only a school-mistress” and seems repulsed by sexuality, even as she peeks at Richard F. Burton’s A Thousand Nights and a Night, considered a work of pornography in the 19th century. Her costumes are typically sage green, green being the color of nature, harmony, and freshness, and having a strong emotional correspondence with safety (Bruce-Mitford and Wilkinson 282). In fact, Ishioka stated that Mina’s costumes were to be “very strict, tight, conservative costume [sic]…really like virginity, or modesty.” This costuming establishes Mina as the paragon of virtue. However, when she becomes the reincarnation of Dracula’s lost wife, Elisabeta, she embodies the prey in Dracula’s hunt in London. In her first meeting with Dracula, Mina is sharp with him, and calls upon the laws that protect virtuous women to get rid of him: “Do I know you sir? Are you acquainted with my husband? Shall I call the police?” By invoking the safety of marriage, Mina discourages Dracula’s advances and stays well within societal bounds. Still, she accompanies Dracula to the cinematograph, where Dracula attempts to bite her but is unable to go through with it. Whether his restraint is out of vestigial love for Elisabeta preventing him from harming her, or a realization that the time isn’t right, Dracula lets Mina go and pursues a more gentle approach in wooing her. Despite his ability to overpower Mina, Dracula seems to want Mina’s consent to change her, as if he wants her to remember him first. Mina’s recognition of Dracula as her husband would also prevent her from “falling”; after all, then she would only be performing her duties as a good wife by being with him.

Mina is drawn to Dracula from the beginning, and manifests her memories of life as Elisabeta more than once. But Dracula is able to carry on his courtship of Mina only so long as Jonathan is trapped in the castle with the brides. Once Jonathan escapes, Mina rejects Dracula and goes to Romania to marry Jonathan. On the ship to Romania, Mina destroys her diary that describes her infidelity with Dracula, and muses upon her own nature: “perhaps though I try to be good, I am bad. A bad, inconstant woman”. With the fallen woman appearing often in Victorian literature and art, Mina would have been familiar with the whore/virgin anxiety surrounding female sexuality. Despite her best efforts, something in her is wrong, the original sin of Eve coming to the forefront.  Now that she is married, and has presumably consummated her marriage to Jonathan, Mina “understands the nature” of her feelings for Dracula, recognizing them as desire and love. Dominant views make female sexuality black and white, proper behavior separated from improper by clear boundaries. Mina would prefer to be firmly in the “white” area, in love and faithful to her husband, but is unable to keep herself from wavering towards wanting an extramarital affair with Dracula.

When offered the choice, Mina does not fall so much as jump. While the men consecrate Carfax Abbey, Mina retreats to the asylum, where Dracula appears first as green mist, and then as his young self. Dracula is dressed in blue, the color of emptiness; Mina, in white, the color of purity (Bruce-Mitford and Wilkinson 282). During this encounter, Dracula admits to his true nature as a vampire, and to killing Lucy. Although Mina is obviously upset by the murder of her friend, she weeps, “I love you! Oh, God, forgive me, I do.” Despite her wedding vows, despite the terrifying nature of the man she loves, Mina makes an active choice to be with Dracula: “I want to be what you are, see what you see, love what you love.” In order to make her a vampire, Dracula drinks from her neck in an erotic embrace, and then perverts the act of breastfeeding by cutting open his chest and feeding her his blood. Even when he tries to back out of the conversion, not wanting to curse Mina to “walk in the shadow of death for all eternity,” Mina begs him to take her away from death. At this moment, Elisabeta seems to have taken control, and Dracula and his bride are reunited, four hundred years after Elisabeta leapt into the river.

However, when the men burst in and frighten Dracula away, Mina’s first words are “unclean,” signaling the struggle within her between her love for Dracula and her need to be a good wife to Jonathan. She mourns for what she has done to Jonathan on the train back to Romania; yet once at the Borgo Pass, she calls up a storm to protect Dracula. Her double nature as Mina and Elisabeta keeps her in a constant tug-of-war. Despite her best efforts, Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat, and Quincey stabs him through the heart with a Bowie knife. Mina then takes the dying Dracula into the chapel he desecrated, bringing the story full circle. As Mina professes her love for Dracula, the candles light and the cross heals itself. Her narration says simply, “There in the presence of God, I realized how my love could release all of us from the powers of darkness. Our love is stronger than death.” In some way, Mina’s love, as a proxy for Elisabeta’s, repairs the damage done to Dracula’s soul and to the chapel itself, and redeems both of them. The burn from the communion wafer on Mina’s forehead vanishes as Dracula dies, signaling her cleansing from the unholy baptism of Dracula’s blood. The ending of the film implies that Dracula and Elisabeta both ascend to Heaven, freed not by God but by Mina’s love.

Mina is the only woman who is seen to choose vampirism on screen, and yet she is the only one to find any redemption. The brides and Lucy are beheaded and freed from vampirism, but the fate of their souls is unknown. It can be assumed that Mina, despite eating the apple, is allowed to return to Eden with Jonathan rather than be cast out like the other fallen women of the film. The question is, why is Mina different? In the film, it seems that because Mina received the sacrament of marriage, the unholy communion she has taken is rendered void with the death of Dracula, and she is capable of giving salvation even as she receives her own. Without Jonathan’s continuing love for her, Mina would have been cast out as one of many fallen women, discarded for their infidelity. Jonathan seems capable of understanding Mina’s duality as both Elisabeta and Mina, and her honesty about her attraction to Dracula contributes to her salvation. Her lack of monstrosity also seems to protect her. Unlike the brides or Lucy, Mina had never ingested blood besides Dracula’s, and lacks the foreign object inside her that would have sealed her fate. She becomes the monster, but never monstrous.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not intentionally about the concept of the fallen woman, or Victorian ideals for feminine chastity. But as a text set in the Victorian era, when the fallen woman was appearing frequently in literature and art, the historical context is important in reading the film. The film presents a spectrum of falls: the brides, their fall unknown; Lucy, the fall of assumed choice; and Mina, the chosen fall. The brides are the end point, the final piece of the triptych that shows the degradation of the woman who chooses sexuality over societal values. Their callous, vengeful beheading by Van Helsing is their punishment. Lucy, who is flirtatious and woos three men at once, is the symbol of overt female sexuality. Her fiancé’s role in her murder reflects man’s position in keeping female sexuality contained: by killing her vampiric self, Holmwood protects society at large from her. Finally, Mina is the “saved” woman. Her loving, benevolent husband takes her back, saving her from the fate of the fallen woman. In this sense, Jonathan is able to decide Mina’s fate, reflecting the patriarchal power of the husband in Victorian society. As much as Mina’s narrative reshapes the fallen woman archetype, reflecting a new understanding between husband and wife, the film itself is still troubling. The brides, Lucy, and Mina are set up as a continuum. Mina’s narrative is advanced, but the other women in the film are still sexualized and murdered horribly. Every fallen woman’s punishment is delivered by a man; their vampirism is what makes their punishment a physical death, rather than a societal death.

Queen of the Damned: Penny Dreadful and the New Lilith

As discussed previously in this work, the Mother of Evil archetype originates with Lilith, Adam’s first disobedient wife. It is important to note why Lilith argues for her freedom, and how she does it. In a different translation of the text, she uses Biblical jurisdiction, calling on Deuteronomy 24:4: “Her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife; after that she is defiled” (Patai and Bar-Itzhak 333). Twice, Lilith called upon God to free her from her subservience to Adam: first, when she used His name to flee Eden, and second when she used His law to protect herself. The next part of this translation is phrased in an interesting manner: “Lilith accepts her punishment, in return for her freedom, and agrees that 100 of her children will die every day” (333). Lilith preferred the death of her children over having to return to and obey Adam; her freedom meant more to her. The folklorist Haya Bar-Itzhak construes this story as a myth that serves a narrative purpose:

It does so in a sophisticated manner and rules out any possible challenge to that order. The first woman’s equal status in creation bodes disaster because it leads her to demand equal status. When this is denied, she rebels against man. Her rebellion leads her to betray man and couple with a demon. But this is not the end of the chain that leads from equality and satisfaction of erotic needs to rebellion and betrayal. The culmination is when she is made into the archetypal anti-mother. (Patai and Bar-Itzhak 333)

The patriarchal narrative requires that rebellious women not be allowed to take part in any normal feminine behaviors, especially not motherhood. To be a mother is to have power over one’s children; a rebellious woman cannot be a mother, because children were meant to be the property of the father. So women cannot be created equal, or they follow Lilith’s path straight to rebellion and damnation. This reading of the myth creates a false equivalence, however. Because Lilith is a woman, and a mother, it is assumed that she has maternal feelings for her children and is suffering as a result of their daily deaths. Nothing in the myth suggests that she feels anything about her demonic children, which are not birthed as much as spawned.

Showtime’s three-season long series, Penny Dreadful, constructs its narrative around the Lilith myth and follows in the tradition of the penny dreadful, a sensationalist comic or magazine much like our contemporary National Enquirer. These pamphlets often contained Gothic thrillers, like Sweeney Todd, or Varney the Vampire. The series itself is not cheap or sensationalist, but combines the supernatural and Gothic elements of the penny dreadful with the myth of Lilith, incarnated in its main protagonist, Vanessa Ives. Penny Dreadful traces the path of a woman who struggles to be good, despite the duality of her nature and the fierce struggle she wages to keep her dark side at bay rather than become the new Mother of Evil. From early life, Vanessa has been haunted by the other side, “things not of this world” (“Night Work”). She has been marked and tormented by demons and supernatural abilities, which constantly war against her own moral code and her devout Catholicism.

It is not until the episode that Vanessa encounters the Night Comers, dark witches who appear naked, bald, and scarred with the Devil’s claws, that she truly understands why she has been marked. The Night Comers speak the Verbis Diablo, the language of the Devil, which is a corruption of angelic speech (“Verbis Diablo”). Vanessa and her hunter companions considered it to be a dead language, or a made up one at least, but Ferdinand Lyle, an Egyptologist at the British Museum, proves otherwise, producing a collection of odds and ends with the Verbis Diablo written across them. He explains how a Carthusian monk named Brother Gregory began to lose his mind and believed he was possessed “by a demon or the Demon” (“Verbis Diablo”). He wrote down everything he heard on anything that he had on hand: shards of pottery, a chest, even a dead bird. After careful arrangement of the different puzzle pieces, the group is able to decipher the Verbis Diablo, and the story it tells:

At the Great War for the heavenly throne we were vanquished. So God looked down on his defeated Angels and found us to be evil angels so he cast us out. He took us by our winged backs and raised us over his head. Thence did he fling us from his heavenly throne and cast us down to Earth and to hell. So we were cleaved apart, two brothers cast out two realms. One brother to earth and the other brother to hell. And thus were we set in eternal enmity, my brother on Earth to feed on the blood of the living by night, and myself in Hell to feed on the souls of the dead. Both in an eternal quest for the Mother of Evil who will release us from our bondage and allow one of us to reconquer Heaven and topple God from his bloody throne. And so will Darkness reign on Earth, in Heaven, everlasting, and so comes the Apocalypse. (“Memento Mori”)

The Verbis Diablo tells of Lucifer and Dracula, two brothers cast to different realms, one to the realm of spirit (Hell) and the other to the realm of flesh (Earth) and held captive there, waiting for the Mother of Evil to release them. The Mother of Evil, of course, directly correlates to the myth of Lilith and her demonic spawn. Earlier in the series, Vanessa was identified as Amunet, an Egyptian goddess known as “The Hidden One” who could never be shown with her consort because their union would cause the Apocalypse (“Séance”). Comparing the two stories reveals several similarities: Vanessa, as a powerful female, must not copulate with a powerful male figure, or they will cause the destruction of the world. Not only does this associate her femininity with inherent danger, but also it stipulates that she must be carefully policed or else risk her starting the Apocalypse through having sexual intercourse.

It is no accident that Vanessa is the only woman in her group of hunters: the other members are her adoptive father, Sir Malcolm Murray; her love interest, Ethan Chandler; Ferdinand Lyle, the Egyptologist; and Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Although the constant presence of the men would assumedly give her opportunities galore to have sex, Vanessa and Ethan never do, because it could prompt a possession, as it did when she slept with Dorian Gray (“Possession”). When asked why Vanessa is the particular target of the fallen angels, Lyle comments on the various “chosen ministers of evil”: “Amunet from Egyptian religion, Lilith from the Talmud, Nordic Hella, the Celtic Macha, Mara from the Hindus, all variations of deities or demigods who are destined to unleash annihilation on the world” (“Memento Mori”). All of these deities are female, because there was “something thought unholy [sic] in the erotic power they held over men” (“Memento Mori”). Female sexuality, unconstrained by societal norms and proper behavior, could be so powerful that it could cause the Apocalypse, simply because of the sexual power they held over men. After all, it was Lilith’s demand for sexual equality that robbed Adam of his wife, and caused a proliferation of demons on earth.

The viewer learns that Vanessa has met both Lucifer and Dracula, in “the white room, just you and he and that other” (“Good and Evil Braided Be”). The white room refers to the institution that Vanessa spent months in, the Banning Clinic, where she was taken after an “inexplicable illness” (“Closer than Sisters”). After committing a sexual transgression by having sex with her best friend’s fiancé, Vanessa falls into a nearly-comatose spell broken up by seizures. At a loss for any natural explanation, she is taken to a women’s clinic where she is treated with hydrotherapy and an experimental brain surgery for “hysteria of a psychosexual nature” (“Closer than Sisters”). Vanessa’s demonic possession (she speaks in tongues and attempts to tear out her treating physician’s throat with her teeth) is mistaken for female hysteria, a word the root of which comes from the Greek word for uterus, hystera. This dismal dismissal of her condition as a “woman’s disease” prevents Vanessa from seeking appropriate treatment and part of her memory is erased as a result of the trephining. With the help of her alienist, Dr. Seward, Vanessa undergoes hypnotism and retrieves her memories of the Banning Clinic.

During this time Vanessa manifests the pull she feels toward the two brothers that she experiences as the Mother of Evil. She cannot resist either Dracula or Lucifer, but responds to each in kind as they try to seduce her. Lucifer appears first, taking the form of her guard in a hallucination. He calls to Vanessa, saying “let us be as we were. Before there was time, there was thee and me” (“A Blade of Grass”). Lucifer wants Vanessa’s soul, and wants it to be freely given, so that she can be what she is and always was: the Mother of Evil, and his bride. Once Lucifer has taken possession of her, he states that they will “turn their eyes heavenward” and “smite the Heavenly Father from his Heavenly Throne” (“A Blade of Grass”). During this speech, Vanessa and Lucifer slide across the floor of her padded cell on their bellies like snakes, eyes fixed on each other. Despite the animalistic actions, Lucifer is calling for Vanessa to give up her earthly form, the flesh that she has inhabited.

But for the appearance of Dracula, Vanessa may have given in at that exact moment. The other brother appears first as a shadow, and then manifests physically, also taking the form of Vanessa’s guard. The physical doubling of the brothers makes them seem almost identical, which makes sense given that the outcome for the world (Apocalypse) is the same whether Vanessa chooses Dracula or Lucifer. Their methods of seduction draw the contrast between their personalities that their illusory appearances do not give. Dracula does not want Vanessa’s soul, but her blood, because she is not “a thing of the spirit,” like Lucifer, but “a thing of the flesh,” like Dracula himself (“A Blade of Grass”). Dracula calls upon Vanessa’s power, telling her to feel it “coiling” within her, giving it a serpentine quality. While Lucifer focuses on destroying God and Heaven, Dracula is more concerned with the earth: “be my bride and then all light will end and the world will live in darkness…the very air will be pestilence to mankind” (“Blade of Grass”). In this context, pestilence has something of a generative quality, as if Vanessa herself will spawn the disease that rids the world of humanity. It follows the Lilith myth of the ever-generative mother; as Lilith sets her demonic children on the world, Vanessa will spread an epidemic to kill mankind.

Dracula concludes his speech by reminding Vanessa of where she is, and how she got there: “in this mortal world you’ll always be shunned for your uniqueness, but not with me. They will lock you away in rooms like this. They’ll brand you a freak and a sorceress but I won’t” (“Blade of Grass”). Dracula references the constraints of society, the very boundaries that forced Vanessa into the clinic where she is tormented daily, to draw on Vanessa’s hatred of “normal” society. It seems as if Vanessa has chosen the brother she wants, until she rejects them both, saying that she sees them clearly, for who they are, “the spirit and the animal” (“A Blade of Grass”). Both assert their claim on her, but Vanessa has already promised herself to another: “He who vanquished you, He who is my protector and even now stands with me” (“A Blade of Grass”). God, not Dracula or Lucifer, is her choice, as she casts aside her identity as the Mother of Evil, exercising her free will.

Vanessa finds herself balancing carefully between the divine and the animal; a tip in either direction could deliver her into the hands of one of the brothers. If humanity is conceived as flesh, then flesh dictates earthly needs, lusts, and desires, more animal-like than human. The question of the flesh also draws upon the Lilith myth: Lilith was made from the same earth as Adam, but after her flight from Eden, claims arose that she had been made of tainted earth. Adam’s second wife was made of his body as an attempt to avoid that same mistake. Eve’s role as the originator of sin raises the question whether it was the earth that was tainted or Adam was simply a bad husband, but also whether flesh can ever truly be “clean.” If humanity is spirit, then the human soul is the most powerful object in the world, a splintered piece of God and the divine, and can be used as a weapon. Lucifer, the brother who feeds upon human souls to gain his power, wants to use Vanessa’s soul as his sword to remove God from Heaven. Both brothers threaten to unleash unholy terror upon Vanessa when she rejects them, but in the end, it is Dracula who wins.

Dracula initially appears as Dr. Alexander Sweet, the head of the Natural History Museum. He is a tall, tanned man of unknown age and unknown nationality, with no discernable accent to indicate where he came from or when (“The Day Tennyson Died”). He arrives when Vanessa is at her weakest, when Malcolm Murray and Ethan Chandler both have seemingly abandoned her, and her faith in God is the most tenuous. As Dr. Sweet, Dracula seduces her, but Vanessa soon learns of his true identity, and goes to the House of the Night Creatures, his lair, to kill him (“Ebb Tide”). He convinces her otherwise with simple words: “I don’t want to make you good, I don’t want to make you normal. I don’t need you to be anything but who you truly are” (“Ebb Tide”). Dracula, the Beast, king of the animals, does not require a perfect wife bound by the confines of society. He does not need her to be anything but who she is, Amunet, flesh and blood and animal. This same choice was one that Lilith faced: to choose God, and return to Eden, in this case the Murray mansion; or to turn toward flesh, toward the dark, and choose freedom. Dracula then asks if she accepts him; as he takes her into his arms, she says, “I accept myself” (“Ebb Tide”). After spending so much time fighting evil and trying to deny her dual nature, Vanessa has decided to accept herself the way she was made, and accept the pull she feels toward Dracula. And thus, she becomes the Mother of Evil, the Lilith who walks in the 19th century.

Even in her new role as the Mother of Evil, Vanessa does not eschew the boundary between good and evil. A devout Catholic for most of her life and a strong, independent spirit, she quickly grows to hate the plague that she unleashed upon London. Whereas Lilith made an agreement to allow 100 of her children to die each day, Vanessa made no such agreement for her freedom, and the plague that is claiming thousands of Londoners a day troubles the spirit that clings to the flesh. When Ethan Chandler finally makes his way to her, Vanessa pleads with him to kill her. “They will hunt me till the end of days. My battle must end, or there will never be peace on earth. Let it end” (“The Blessed Dark”). Ethan, revealed to be a werewolf earlier in the series, is Dracula and Lucifer’s only natural foe: Lupus Dei, the Wolf of God. His role in the divine play depicted in the Verbis Diablo was unclear, given that “Lupus Dei” appeared only as a refrain with no other context. As he and Vanessa recite the Lord’s Prayer together, his role becomes clear: to kill the Mother of Evil. With a kiss, he shoots Vanessa in the abdomen and kills her. The plague disappears almost as soon as Vanessa dies, and Dracula vanishes upon seeing her body. Lupus Dei, God’s chosen warrior, was victorious, reflecting the need for a male, religious figure to save the world.

Placing a moral judgment on Vanessa’s decision is not the point of the series. Vanessa is not evil; Vanessa was formed in a certain way that dictated her decision even before she was Vanessa Ives. Nowhere in the Verbis Diablo does it say that the Mother of Evil is anything other than that, or that she has any other option besides Lucifer and Dracula. Vanessa made the choice to die rather than allow the plague on earth to continue, a fairly noble choice for someone who had only been searching for peace and freedom. In a way, this is her Lilith punishment. For choosing evil, Vanessa has to die, in the same way that Lilith had to give up 100 of her children a day for her freedom. While Lilith appears not to suffer as a result of this choice, Vanessa must suffer, a return to typical endings of stories that deal with female agency and vampires. On the surface level, this series deals with supernatural entities and a battle between good and evil. On a deeper level, Penny Dreadful is about the search for freedom in a society that does not celebrate female sexuality or choice, and the double-bind that women find themselves in. They yearn for freedom, for choice, but in seeking it out, they become evil and hunted. Rather than kill Dracula, the series writers chose to kill Vanessa, a move that reinforces conventional heteronormativity. As much as the series allowed for Vanessa to be strong and independent and an equally fierce warrior as her male counterparts, in the end she is the sacrificial lamb. Feminine evil must be killed off, or the world will end.

The Re-Vamp: Why Vampires?

With so many vampires in the literary canon, and so many continuing to rise from the grave and join their undead brethren, the question remains: why vampires? Why are we so fascinated by their narratives? First, as my study shows, they embody horror, making them frightening to the reader, which is often a source of pleasure, but this horror retains a seductive quality. The abject is at play in the consumption of vampire narratives, with the push-pull of desire and repulsion keeping the reader interested. Second, an author can kill off a vampire woman in various graphic and gratuitous ways without that murder being overly-upsetting, because the vampire woman is not a human, or a good woman in most contexts. Finally, the vampire allows the author to explore various forms of boundary crossing without the work being flagged as controversial or subversive. Because the monstrous body by definition embodies boundary crossing, authors can examine homosexuality or voracious female sexuality from a safe distance, a safety usually maintained by killing off that character.

Authors and readers enjoy vampire characters because the surreal aspects of the vampire allow them to say things about human women that make for good entertainment, but must be policed in reality. This policing keeps the consumer and the creator safe from the abject. At the core of the abject is humanity’s need to reject lust, or bloodlust. Facing those aspects head-on requires us to accept ourselves as creatures that bleed and die. As a society, we must open the coffin and see how deviance and unreality go together, and how we ingest different archetypes about women without thinking about them too deeply. For instance, the vampire bite, typically portrayed as two small, neat holes, defies all reality. Long canine teeth would rend flesh and leave a gaping wound, not the tiny pinpricks popular in film and television. Instead, the feared teeth of the vampire resemble a snakebite, injecting poison into the victim’s neck. Adam’s second wife, Eve, the woman who was supposed to replace Lilith and be obedient, was tricked out of Eden by a serpent. Perhaps the depiction of the neat, snake-like bites is a commentary on the fall from Eden, and the fall that women take when they become vampires, intentionally crossing the boundaries that society depends on to survive.

The line of neo-Liliths in the literary canon is more extensive than this work has covered, but their sheer number and formulaic stories are what prompts further study of female vampirism, and why their stories are so compelling to us. And that is what lies at the heart of monster theory:

These monsters ask us how we perceive the world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place. They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance towards its expression. They ask us why we have created them. (Cohen 20)

The vampire holds up a mirror and shows us everything we want to deny and thrust aside. We become abject when we deny ourselves the full range of emotion that we are capable of, and we abject women when we deny them the full scope of motivation that they are capable of.

Some important steps forward are evident in current media representations of female vampires.  For example, there is no longer such a strict division between human and monster, and the vampire has begun to inhabit regular society rather than stay in the borderlands. This is most obvious in True Blood, the HBO series based on Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries. The series takes place two years after vampires “came out of the coffin” and revealed their presence to the world at large. While the vampires become less monstrous as they begin to “mainstream,” Pamela Swynford De Beaufort, one of the main characters, is still portrayed as a lusty, voracious bisexual. As a former brothel owner, her vampiric change stems from her desire to not die as a pariah and a whore, even though being a vampire would make her a different kind of pariah. Her sexuality comes into play in the series more than once, with different characters offering her sexual favors in return for her help. Sophie-Anne, the vampire queen of Louisiana, is also a bisexual vampire, but she is portrayed as a spoiled child with little to no power, and is forced into an arranged marriage and used as a pawn by a stronger, male vampire. Lorena Krasiki epitomizes the female predator, pretending to be a lonely widow to lure men into her bed so she can feed on them. Even in a contemporary setting, and in a world where vampires are commonly accepted, the same tropes still appear; the women are weaker than their male counterparts, they are hyper-sexualized, and they tend to end up dead.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer did not deal with vampires being a part of open society, but because of the content of the show, vampire characters were a constant fixture. The two most prominent female vampires were Drusilla and Darla.  Drusilla was insane and almost completely dependent on her lover Spike, but her sexuality has an uncomfortable quality for the viewer. The discomfort stems from her childishness, as she spends most of her time playing with her dolls. Her insanity may contribute to her ruthlessness, but it may have had more to do with her lack of a soul. She is also offered up as a mere token of Spike’s love for Buffy when he offers to kill Drusilla to prove himself, marking Drusilla as disposable. Drusilla then disappears from the series, no longer useful in her role as Spike’s lover. As for Darla, she was another former prostitute-turned-vampire that used her sexual wiles to lure her prey, even going so far as to dress in a schoolgirl’s uniform to project innocence. Both characters are villains and follow in the footsteps of their Victorian counterparts. They are sexual, they are dangerous, and they do not live to the end of the narrative. Their narratives are a contrast to Spike’s, who begins as a villain and later, through his love for Buffy, redeems himself and gains a soul by going through the demon trials. There is no analogous redemption arc for any other Buffy character, and such redemption arcs rarely exist for women.

Twilight seems to be the outlier of the vampire narratives in the 21st century. Most of the vampires central to the series are “vegetarian,” meaning that they only feed on animal blood. This may be because the author, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon, and some of her religious beliefs made their way into the novels. In an interview with The Times, Meyer says that she does not consciously intend her novels to be Mormon-influenced, or to promote the virtues of sexual abstinence and spiritual purity, but admits that her writing is shaped by her values (Mills). This seems to have saved the female vampires in the novel from being overly sexual and killed off at the end. At the same time, this apparent restraint creates an atmosphere in which Bella’s sexuality is controlled by Edward’s refusal to have sex with her until they are married, and then not again until she is made into a vampire. Meyer is not the only author to project her religious beliefs into her works, but while others have used their religious beliefs to portray the vampire negatively, Meyer uses her beliefs to “keep it light” (Mills). The damsel in distress is always rescued by her prince, and every danger is quickly vanquished.

Penny Dreadful, one of the works discussed in this thesis, is a contemporary series, but does not have the same ”progressive” features of vampire assimilation and trendiness as these others. This is because while the show was written in 2014, it is set in the Victorian era. The series stays true to other Victorian depictions of vampires, which treat the vampire as monstrous and abject. In today’s culture, we seem to have made friends with the monsters in the shadows, even as we hobble them with the same archetypes that have always existed. While some steps were made to re-vamp the female vampire narrative in the earlier texts that this thesis examines, for example, Mina’s rescue at the end of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Vanessa’s agency in Penny Dreadful, the problems remain. Too often, the female vampire is depicted as sexy, bloodthirsty, and disposable. My point is not that writers should stop portraying female vampires as villainous characters altogether, since erasing acknowledgment of women’s capacity for evil is more regressive than progressive. But portraying all female vampires as evil is reductive and destroys the complexity of desire and motivation that exists in any viable characterization. My exploration perhaps should not be read as a call for gender equality on behalf of female vampires but for better endings. Rather than relying on cheap devices and turning women into bloodthirsty harem girls into whom the male hero can thrust his stake without remorse or a second thought, it would be refreshing to see more tales of redemption or even tales where the vampire wins. Better storytelling and better endings might lead to better acceptance of female sexuality and less phobic treatment of the things that society wants to sanitize. The formulaic retellings of Lilith’s “sins” have haunted the literary canon as much as Eve’s: the predatory woman, the archaic mother, the fallen woman. We arm them with teeth and then defang them by cutting off their heads in the end. Give them a fighting chance to show their so-called deviance, their homosexuality, their lustfulness, to let the reader examine them for what they really are: women exhibiting behaviors that society must thrust aside to maintain order.


This thesis could not have happened without so many important people in my life. I’d like to take the time to thank some of them for their love, support, and advice, and dedicate this work to them.

To Professor Julie Carlson, my beloved thesis advisor. Without your advice, direction, and enthusiasm, I could never have finished this. Thank you for giving me a love of the Romantics and for embarking on this journey with me.

To Alanna Bartolini, for taking the time to tear apart my thesis with me, word by word, until I was able to give it blood and life. Thank you for all of your encouragement and support, and for pushing me to be better.

To my parents, for not batting a lash when I told them I wanted to write a thesis on vampires, and for supporting me throughout the writing process.

To James McFeely and Danielle Greer, for your unending love and support.

To Amy Chase and Matthew Santos; thanks for coming on this crazy journey with me. We’re officially thesis writers, and I wouldn’t have picked anyone else to do this with me.

To Professor Christopher Newfield and Baron Haber, for brow-beating me into the thesis program and helping me make one of the best decisions of my college career.

To Brian Ernst, John Arnhold, Scott Kneece, and the rest of the English department, for their support of the Honors Program and the Arnhold Research Fellowship.

To Libba Bray, for being the novelist you are and inspiring young women to write, and to Laurence Rickels, for showing that humor and high academia can mix.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. “The Rise of the Fallen Woman.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 35, no. 1, 1980, pp. 29–52.

Baudelaire, Charles. Les Fleurs Du Mal: The Complete Text of The Flowers of Evil. Trans. Richard Howard. D.R. Godine, 1983.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins. Columbia Pictures, 1992.

Bruce-Mitford, Miranda, and Chuck Wilkinson. Signs & Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2008. 

Carter, Angela. “The Lady of the House of Love.” The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories. Penguin, 1993.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota, 1997, pp. 3-25.

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. Routledge, 1993.

Duncker, Patricia. “Re-imagining the Fairy Tales: Angela Carter’s Bloody Chambers.” Literature and History 10.1 (1984): 3. ProQuest, Accessed 1 Nov. 2016

“Fallen, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016, Accessed 28 Jan. 2017.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia University Press, 1982.

LeFanu, J. Sheridan. Carmilla. Lexington, KY: n.p., 2015.

Logan, John, creator. Penny Dreadful. Showtime, 2014.

Mills, Tony Allen. “News Review Interview: Stephenie Meyer”. The Times. London, August 10, 2008.

Patai, Raphael. “Lilith”. The Journal of American Folklore 77.306 (1964): 295–314.

Patai, Raphael, and Haya Bar-Itzhak. Encyclopedia Of Jewish Folklore And Traditions. Armonk: Routledge, 2013. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

Rickels, Laurence A. The Vampire Lectures. University of Minnesota, 1999. 

Sceats, Sarah. “Oral Sex: Vampiric Transgression and the Writing of Angela Carter.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 20, no. 1, 2001, pp. 107–121.

Silver, Alain, and James Ursini. “The Female Vampire: II: Carmilla Karnstein.” The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. New York: Limelight Editions, 1993.

Stephanou, Aspasia. Reading Vampire Gothic Through Blood. N.p.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Weiss, Andrea. “The Vampire Lovers.” Vampires & Violets: Lesbians in Film. Penguin, 1993.

To Feel Friedrich’s Death in Front of His Canvas

An uncertain depth, as if something were lurking behind what we see…
Like a picture, or a personal vision.
The young woman peering curiously out the window-­‐
The window is closed, there is no way through.
There the artist in the fallen contemporary world.
Grief, pensiveness, solitude,
Embittered, self-­‐pitying and distrustful.
A believer who struggled with doubt.
A celebrator of beauty haunted by darkness.
The symmetries so essential in an icon-­‐
Jagged, helter-­‐skelter, fragments of horizontals and verticals juxtaposed.
Dramatic geometry and tantalizing fragments of what lies beyond:

The top of a ship’s mast, half a house, sections of shoreline

Silhouetted mountain top of firs and rocks

Barren trees and ruins rising against wintry skies

Rotting wood enclosing an overgrown and hollow mound

Cemetery gate posts tower unnaturally…

A thin and empty world of absences.

Of branches overlapped on branches overlapped on void.

Symbolic forms imbued with mysterious prescience,

And, once spotted they can again be lost-­‐

So that they retain always their potential status as mirages.

A landscape beheld by a halted traveler.

A traveler in this Eigentumlichkeit.

What is solid there has now become a fissure in space,

The image of saturation and overflow.

The visionary through painted light.

The turning away of God’s eye toward the hidden sun

Where religion would be merely a remembered promise-­‐

Only the universal blank of pigments evenly applied,

Emptied of all human reference, all continuities of scale and space.

The infinite through the bathetic collapse of evocation.

To plunge suddenly…

A series of strokes

Elizabeth in 1782 and Maria in 1791 and Johann Christoffer in 1787

May 7, 1840

‘pulmonary failure’

This wall rears up like a barrier, blocking off the space that lies behind it, Which is discernible only as a sense of light offering a kind of promise…

Maybe this is one more personal reflection on death and the world to come…

An allegory on the transience of life and the promise of redemption beyond…


The anchor, sometimes just an anchor, rises before a wholly natural scene.

Is the deep notch carved in the white cliffs a rising accent or a falling one?

It is both.

An expiation:

This poem is built of stolen words. It is made of blocks of beautiful, intelligent fragments robbed, stripped, and manufactured into a new thing. A thing that is uncomfortably my own creation, and yet, not a single word can be called mine. A thing that is at once an artifact, an artistic piece in and of itself, and the embodiment of it’s own process of creation. It is perhaps best to explain it as such;

The process, an exploration:

This poem is a found word piece assembled from phrases copied out of Art History books and articles about the18th century painter Caspar David Friedrich and his paintings. The creative act consisted of me frantically reading these books, occasionally jumping randomly between sections, and transcribing down the fragments that struck me in the form of bullet points devoid of context. I then cut and pasted my favorite bits to fit the thematics, flow, and meaning of the poem I found myself wanting to create. Although, to be honest, the poem I found myself wanting to make changed with every phrase I copied. I edited as little as possible from each phrase, opting rather to let them stand on their own merits. But, why shamelessly abduct and adulter the words of esteemed Art Historians?

The most basic answer is that I love the language of Art History and Art Theory. It has a beautifully poetic, yet scholarly accent, a vocabulary and movement that, to me, begged to be resurrected in the guise of a poem. The charm of the language of Art History is especially apparent in the prose used to discuss the work of Caspar David Friedrich, who many view as a particularly poetic painter. His choice of color, his use of light, his subject matter are near impossible to put into language without sounding dactylic. In the end, I think it was both the subject, Caspar David Friedrich, and the scholarly lens of Art History that led me to this poem, and to this process.

From Friedrich’s own ideals I got the desire to investigate the notion of the creator and creativity through using a found poem technique. To find, for myself, where the impetus for a piece came from. He wrote, “a picture must not be invented, it must be felt.” and I wanted to explore that process. I wanted to create a work, about his paintings, from both an invented and felt source. It was for that reason that I gathered the phrases first, before any idea of the kind of poem or subject, besides a general notion that it should be connected to Caspar David Friedrich, and allowed the poem to develop from an already predetermined source. I wanted it at once to be an act of mimicry and creativity. A creative thing, a poem, built of the critique and an analysis of an entirely different creative thing, paintings and a life.

The poem itself, an object:

This poem, as its title perhaps too blatantly suggests, is about viewing the work of Caspar David Friedrich and thinking about his descent into obscurity and death, while simultaneously, it is about dealing with ones own mortality, and the way that fact influences the perception of his paintings. Friedrich as a painter was obsessed with personal perspective. His paintings were reflections of his own experiences of nature composed in a way that invoked both universal human perception and drew out the real experiences of individual viewers. He wanted to provoke the enormous feeling, the sublime feeling, that one experienced while sensing God’s presence through the natural world. Yet, by the end of his life he questioned his relationship with God and the project of his art itself. The poem plays with the notion of personal perspective as well, particularly in regard to the influence of education on the individual lens. It is about dealing with the depth of the

feelings that Friedrich’s work forces one to confront while, because of an education in Art History, experiencing his work through a biographical and critical lens. It is a poem about the conflict between experiencing an artists work emotionally and viewing it through a critical analytic lens, to finally answer the question, which is the correct way to view art? “it is both.”

Works Cited:

Vaughan, William, and Caspar David Friedrich. Friedrich. London: Phaidon, 2004. Print.

Koerner, Joseph Leo. Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990. Print.

Hofmann, Werner, and Caspar David Friedrich. Caspar David Friedrich. New York:Thames & Hudson, 2000. Print.

Grave, Johannes. Caspar David Friedrich. Munich: Prestel, 2012. Print.

Prager, Brad. “Sublimity and Beauty: Caspar David Friedrich and Joseph Anton Koch.” Aesthetic

Vision and German Romanticism: Writing Images. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2007. N. pag.


Vaughan, William, and Caspar David Friedrich. “Ch. 6:Engagements with Naturalism & Ch. 7:

Observations on Art and Artists.” Friedrich. London: Phaidon,2004. N. pag. Print.

Empathy, Voyeurism, & the ‘Alien Adversary’: Portrayals of Tragedies in News Media & The Devil of Nanking

The actuality of a mass tragedy creates ethical obligations in light of its representation, and the argument stands that these incidents require a portrayal that is exhaustive, detailed, and in the case of the press, immediate. Depictions that do not adhere to these qualities hold ramifications of an undoubtedly public nature, as their audience comes away from the piece misinformed and thus unable to understand the plight of those who actually suffered. The majority of authors who publish works in response to tragedy


are doing so with decent intentions, especially if, as with Mo Hayder’s 2005 novel The Devil of Nanking, the incident in question has long been obscured


from the public’s eye. Nevertheless, the author’s original purpose does not compensate for a problematic implementation of content, which includes aspects such as writing style, visual imagery, subject and theme, and even genre. These components of literature, if dealt with incorrectly, can override the benefits of depicting a tragedy. Although the quote “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity” (Pumarlo) comes from the Society of Professional Journalists and is thus intended for members of the press reporting on trauma, the sentiment extends to all media renditions of this nature. This foundational concept has an intriguing relationship to Hayder’s text, as the ethical duties associated with portraying the 1937 Nanking Massacre initially seem to contradict the novel’s genre as a thriller. However, Hayder appears to be aware of this potential misstep, and a comparison between her work and much of the coverage regarding recent acts of violence indicates that news media is instead the entity typifying the crime novel’s sensationalism and enablement of voyeuristic human instincts. The style of many of these news articles plays to the shock value of violent death, which encourages the


reader’s fascination with both the perpetrator and the pain of others. In contrast, Hayder’s treatment of the subject in The Devil of Nanking advocates

against this lurid approach by adapting the detective novel convention of








type characters for the purposes of representing tragedy. This work thus acknowledges the gravity of its subject through the severe opposition of its central figures: while the perverse character of Jason embodies the morbid fetishism that can be perpetrated by the press, the heroine, Grey responds to the text’s tragic content in a way that addresses the position of the victim and the importance of vicarious grief in the audience’s response.


Pumarlo’s journalistic claim, “[tragedies] are the type of stories that should be reported as a living history of communities” resurfaces in the piece “Vicarious Grieving and the Media.” This article, which focuses on the emotional response to loss, shows the media’s potential to affect healing. Its guiding concept is that one’s expression of grief “provides a psychological release that enables the mourner to vent his or her pain” (Sullender, 192). When the voicing of this emotion is put in a social context, Sullender argues that humans will instinctively respond with empathy that creates a shared sense of anguish (192-­‐193). Accordingly, this claim of cause and effect is the basis for vicarious grief, or “‘the experience of loss and consequent grief or mourning that occurs following the deaths of others not personally known by the mourner’” (193). The textual representation of loss provides a similar function in that it allows for bonding among victims, witnesses, and their larger audience, and the opportunity for this empathetic response is in fact heightened by the global expansion of news networks in the modern day. “[T]he media has increased our emotional attachment to places, people, and events in the larger world,” Sullender says, “thus setting the stage for a greater incidence of, and occasion for, vicarious grieving” (196). Nonetheless, more traditional functions of journalism are just as vital, and in conveying this argument he states that the move toward closure involves “a process of making meaning out of the tragedy” (196). The presence of the news media in relaying tragedy is crucial precisely because it can act as a “meaning maker,” an entity whose foundation in storytelling can be used to create respectful narratives of grief.


The end of Sullender’s article shifts its focus from the advantages of media coverage to the potential shortcomings in creating an “over-­‐exposure” to tragic material. The author mentions that, due to scientific advances that have extended the average human life, many of us are personally exposed to less natural death. Meanwhile, the media’s focus on unnatural tragedies means that this institution is the one “teaching all of us, particularly our younger generations, how to grieve and mourn” (199). Although this modified societal relationship to mortality is not automatically harmful, the








angle of emphasizing the more newsworthy and shocking fact of violent death and limiting reportage of grief to “a short, intense phenomenon” may contribute to “a whole generation being raised on a dynamic of desensitization” (199). Consequently, the lack of healthy outlets through which to express sorrow can give rise to emotions that are less rooted in responding to a tragedy and instead stem from curiosity about death. This approach to representation can be interpreted as verging on the Society of Professional Journalists’ warning against “sensationalism” (Pumarlo). Taking advantage of morbid drives diverts attention away from those suffering physically and emotionally, in effect compromising tendencies toward empathy that are paramount in communally understanding the repercussions of human atrocity.


A striking example of this type of media distortion appears as a result of the 1999 Columbine High School killings, which left 23 students dead and more injured after the two perpetrators attacked with guns and bombs, finishing by taking their own lives. Due to its horrifying scope, coverage of the incident was both detailed and timely, qualities that could theoretically aid the victims by helping the nation to vicariously grieve. Various studies, however, show the distorted nature of the news stories surrounding the incident. While information on the killers’ actions and their lives prior to the murder was arguably necessary in relaying the facts (Pumarlo), “most [of the coverage on individuals] referred to [shooters] Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold” (Schildkraut & Muschert, 35) rather than their victims. These skewed depictions give way to audience speculation and the notion of the incident as a terrifying scandal whose causes remain unfathomable, thus showing the link between the emphasis on “‘offender-­‐centered reporting’”


  • and the claim of a “discourse and politics of fear” (1356) that David Altheide makes in his piece on the tragedy. In the essay, he describes how depictions of the violence at Columbine expanded into discussions of societal issues, such as “youth problems,” “discipline concerns at school” (1356), and the national concern of terrorism (1357). While their broader relevance should not go unnoticed, the value of discussing these issues is limited by the dramatized mode of their portrayal. According to Altheide, the narrative format of news partially draws on “information technology, commercialism, and entertainment values” (1355) in addition to fact-­‐based reporting. The end result of this approach to representation is an atmosphere of public terror, casting the media as a “machine that trades on fostering a common definition of fear, danger, and dread” (1356).








The idea that tragedies can be distorted to exacerbate an audience’s panic is not dissimilar to the notion of their ‘entertainment’ potential. In this scenario, the author’s framing of events utilizes the reader’s understandable


emotions of fear and uncertainty, exploiting them for shock. In one report on Columbine, the Los Angeles Times constructs a lede that reads as if it were a

page from a hardboiled crime novel:


“Laughing as they killed, two youths clad in dark ski masks and long black coats fired handguns at will and blithely tossed pipe bombs into a crowd of their terrified classmates Tuesday inside a suburban high school southwest of Denver, littering halls with as many as 23 bodies and wounding at least 25 others. The gunmen, embittered youths reportedly fascinated with paramilitary culture, kept police sharpshooters at a distance for more than four hours before they apparently used their guns on themselves” (Cart, Slater & Braun).


In contrast to the factual, somber tone that one would expect, this opening plays to the audience’s imagination, utilizing images of heartless, crazed villains found within texts of this suspenseful genre. This article is in fact one of many to adopt that style of writing: TIME magazine, a respected publication known for thoughtful material, came forth with a cover story featuring the title “The Monsters Next Door: What Made Them Do It?” This cover returns to Schildkraut & Muschert’s concept of offender-­‐centered reporting, as the largest and most vivid color images on the page are those of Klebold and Harris; in contrast, the magazine affords lesser importance to images of the victims, which are considerably smaller and shown in black and white. While the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics endorse the duty to create a narrative for reprehensible actions, these representations attach unwarranted melodrama to the events that implies a disconnect from reality.


The mechanics of the crime novel work to create a sensation of excitement in the reader, which reveals further parallels between this genre of literature and the flashy, entertaining style found in coverage of tragedies. The constant in novels of this type is “the ‘whodunit’ question” (Pyrhönen, 24) that controls the arc of the plot; when applied to news media, this convention surfaces as the query of what motivated the offender. As the reader learns the cause of the issue at hand, he or she is provided with the feeling of relief from uncertainty. However, when this legitimate approach to coverage of tragedies is conflated with sensationalistic writing, the goal of providing an








audience with greater peace of mind and an opportunity to vicariously grieve becomes secondary to satisfying curiosity. In detective fiction this premise is often paired with the promotion of “national culture values” that ultimately triumph over the “‘alien’ adversary” (25), a stock character whose evil is horrific yet captivating. Columbine coverage such as TIME’s use of the word “monster” to describe the shooters arguably puts them in a similar role, painting the two as less than real. While crime novel plotlines with glamorized danger are in part designed to create that emotional rush of excitement, this framing is antithetical to reports on tragedies, which should be depicted so that the public can see the reality of the incident and empathize with those affected.


The claim that tragedy and vicarious thrill seeking belong to separate realms immediately calls into question the premise for The Devil of Nanking. Mo


Hayder’s recent novel is one of her many ventures in crime fiction, in theory problematizing her choice to address the Nanking Massacre. Furthermore, Hayder is tasked with being among the first novelists to portray this atrocity, which has largely been kept quiet due to a combination of global unawareness and purposeful denial on the part of the Japanese government. The novel’s opening includes words of thanks to Iris Chang, whose extensive


work on the massacre emerged as the first major undertaking of its kind. In The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, Chang details


how Japan’s initial 1935 occupation of China led to the takeover of the titular city and a final death toll numbering between 250,000 and 350,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians (Whitten). The review of Chang’s book highlights her point that these killings were not only widespread but especially senseless and malicious in nature: “For the women, rape usually preceded their murder. Indeed, from Japanese Army reports and letters sent home by participants, the killing of captured Chinese soldiers became something of a sport with awards going to the Japanese captors who killed the most men in the shortest time” (Whitten). Given the severity of this incident, it seems that the style of Hayder’s text would create a glorification of evil almost identical in nature to some of the Columbine coverage. However, Hayder’s cautioning against voyeuristic urges seems to be a stronger undercurrent, which is achieved in the characterization of the protagonist, a British woman who refers to herself as Grey, and her foil, an American named Jason.


The latter character holds an unusual presence in that he is primarily defined not by his own interests, but by his manner of relating to others. Finding herself with neither means nor shelter upon arrival in Tokyo, Grey spends








the night sleeping in one of the city’s parks and wakes to a young man who has been watching her (Hayder, 29). This action signals Jason’s interest in the narrator, yet his declaration “‘you really are weird’” suggests that Grey is intriguing solely because of the unorthodox setting in which she appears and her odd clothing (30). Subsequently, his abrupt offer to rent her a room seems predicated on his belief that “‘You’d be funny in our house’” (31), as the implied allure of the “‘weirdo’” (31) is a motif that develops in increasingly disturbing ways throughout the text. After Grey has accepted his


offer, she learns that other tenants refer to him as “a strange one” who watches graphic videos with titles in the vein of Faces of Death and claims of Genuine autopsy footage! (78) Later, when Grey enters his room, she is met


with photos of “young Filipino men nailed to crucifixes [and] vultures gathering for human flesh on the incredible Towers of Silence at a Parsi funeral” (79). The structure of one’s personal space is often an indirect way to articulate elements of identity, and these images build on the idea that Jason’s passions lie in observing others thrust into extraordinary or tragic situations.


While the tactic of associating Jason mainly with voyeurism can be seen as a novelistic flaw, constructing him with an absence of true subjectivity instead allows Hayder to analyze a single aspect of human nature with regards to her text’s larger themes. The character’s emphasis on processing outside information shows broad similarities to the media spectator; furthermore, his personal compulsion toward images of others’ pain specifically parallels the lurid curiosity that types of news coverage can provoke in readers. This aspect of Hayder’s approach to characterization becomes evident in Jason’s interactions with Ogawa, the female bodyguard to the yakuza leader who frequents the nightclub where he works alongside Grey. Although Grey is puzzled by Ogawa’s “wide, masculine shoulders, long arms, sinewy legs crammed into large, highly polished black stilettos” (70), Jason takes a marked interest in this ‘difference,’ and even after he begins a relationship with Grey he lingers on this other character’s physicality. “‘She? Is it a she? I can’t help wondering,” he says. “I’d like to find out. I’d like to know what she looks like naked. Yeah, I think that’s mostly it’” (208). Although there is the implication of sex, Ogawa holds this appeal for Jason precisely because he assumes her body to be ‘malformed,’ with the looming question of whether she is even female.


Viewing Jason as a stock representation of the intermingling between interest and horror, one can see how this character addresses some of the








thriller conventions listed in Pyrhönen’s work. Jason’s desire to find “something mangled” (Hayder, 215) takes on added significance when the text reveals Ogawa’s connection to Nanking both as a murderer with methods of equivalent brutality (141) and as an employee of the elderly mob leader Fuyuki, who took part in the killings as a young soldier (348). The mystery and intrigue of the plot involving Ogawa and Fuyuki is more typical of detective fiction, making it in theory an ethically inadequate means of representing the Nanking Massacre. However, Jason’s presence in this scene instead helps assert that Hayder is both aware of her choices and active in shaping a certain reader mentality. Jason holds a detached view of Ogawa as the “’alien’ adversary” (Pyrhönen, 25) -­‐ an unnatural menace whose actions are cause for fetishism rather than vicarious grief -­‐ and his viewpoint is arguably comparable to the mindset of readers who fell prey to glamorized depictions of Klebold and Harris. Nevertheless, Hayder is able to prevent the reader from also perceiving Ogawa and Fuyuki in this manner by drawing on Jason’s value as a stock character. While his innate response to unsettling material represents one possibility within the range of human emotions, his analogous lack of empathy acts as a mechanism to warn the audience, ensuring that they recognize their own full agency. This technique of portraying Jason as a base, unfeeling villain is admittedly didactic but also necessary in this case, as it allows the reader to consider the effects of Ogawa and Fuyuki’s crimes rather than viewing them as mere ‘aliens’ or ‘monsters’.


The novel furthers its stance on the representation and consequent audience reception of tragedy by examining the motives of Grey. Throughout this plotline Hayder constructs a metanarrative that becomes apparent only when considering questions of genre and ethics in literature. Hayder establishes her protagonist’s self-­‐described obsession with the Nanking Massacre (19), and the tenuous circumstances of Grey’s fascination mimic the broader notion of whether a crime novel can represent such a topic without stirring sensationalistic appeal. As Grey seeks out Shi Chongming, a Chinese professor who specializes in the incident and is purported to have the historical account she has been searching for, she shows him examples of her work on the massacre. While her research is impressive in its precision, it is in fact this extreme attention to detail that Shi sees as eerie and even disturbing, given the gruesome subject matter. After Grey shows him an intricate sketch of “‘exactly three thousand corpses’” modeled after “‘the city at the end of the invasion,’” he warns her that the topic has been deeply repressed in Japan and then admonishes, “‘[t]his is my past you’re talking about’” (15). These last words show that he regards her preoccupation with








Nanking as uncaring, and the possibility that Grey’s interest is nothing more than voyeurism recurs in Jason’s claims that the two of them are alike in their fascination with morbidity (182). This question also marks a return to the metanarrative, and considering the novel’s events as a whole, Grey’s early interaction with Shi brings to light one example of the flaws that could stem from depicting the tragedy in thriller format. However, the text later comes to distinguish between Jason and Grey, using the downfall of their relationship as evidence of their difference in character.


As Jason and Grey grow closer, his impatience with her indicates that he merely wants to discover what she is hiding about her past (187). Although Grey is at first drawn to Jason’s charm and later becomes intimate with him, she is initially unable to show him the disfiguring scars on her stomach. However, when she decides to trust him with this personal trauma that has motivated her research on Nanking – her decision to stab herself while thirteen years old and pregnant, in order to ‘give birth’ alone – she does so as an act of confidence, with the hope that he will understand. Instead, he is captivated by the sight: “He got up and took a step towards me, his hands lifting up, reaching curiously to my stomach, as if the scars were emanating a glow” (211). He proceeds to examine Grey’s stomach, asking shockingly specific questions such as “‘Did [the knife] go deep here? …That’s what it feels like’” (214). Grey realizes, “there was something horrible in his voice…as if he was taking immense pleasure in this” (214), and she thinks, “I imagined his face, smirking, confident, finding sex in this, sex in the scars I’d been hiding for so long” (215). Jason’s cold response confirms his fascination with the trope of the “freak,” a quality that opposes the sensitivity required in portraying tragedy. The significance of this interaction is further clarified when theoretically transposed to the context of a news story. The sensitive, traumatic nature of Grey’s past places her in the position of the victim, who would be aided by this opportunity for narrative that would ideally lead to a community of support. In contrast, Jason is again perceived as the reader who appropriates this content, regarding graphic scenes with stunned awe rather than listening to the victim’s account, and thus failing to grieve vicariously. This scene also utilizes the flat portrayal of Jason to enhance the metafictional aspects of the text. There is no sense of empathy or remorse in his reaction, both of which would lend nuance to this character, and his villainy prevents the reader from forming a similar interest in the grim story behind Grey’s scars. Instead, the text works with the assumption that the audience will identify positively with its heroine, Grey, thus placing the reader into the role of the empathetic reader.









The sympathetic portrayal of Grey’s backstory is tied into the larger context of Nanking, and the novel concludes by using this protagonist to embody another facet of responding to tragedy. Both the reason behind Grey’s self-­‐ mutilating act and her subsequent interest in the massacre are initially ambiguous, and although she claims that her child’s death was not intentional (216), the audience is likely to not be convinced on either account. However, this withholding of information also works to a different end. An atmosphere of mystery is a central component of the crime novel, specifically with regards to the main character’s past and present motives;


consequently, one can see that Hayder’s emphasis on ethicality thus far does not prevent The Devil of Nanking from engaging with elements that make it


an authentic thriller. As the ending returns to the ethics of representation, though, the symbolic role of Grey’s character shifts from that of victim to that of the media consumer. At the end of the novel Shi plays the film footage that Grey has been searching for, as she believes it to show evidence of a particularly horrific practice that she once read about. She sees the image of a Japanese soldier ‘extracting’ a pregnant woman’s child through her stomach (352); however, we are surprised to learn that “[the infant’s] hands were moving. Her mouth opened a few times…she was alive” (353). This brutal procedure is done in the same manner as Grey’s attempt to ‘give birth’ as a teenager, suggesting that the death of her daughter was truly accidental, and that against all logic, she used this incident as confirmation that her own child would also survive. Additionally, Grey’s act can be interpreted as a response of mimicry that implies her emotional identification with the women of Nanking. It is possible that she chose to deal with giving birth in such an unusual and disturbing fashion because it would allow her to understand the massacre victims’ pain in a severe, literal way. Although Grey now recognizes the error in her decision, it is still crucial to interpret its meaning in strictly figurative terms that are reflective of the character’s unstable, desperate circumstances (215), not as a promotion of self-­‐harm when dealing with strong emotions. Nonetheless, Grey’s wish to put herself in the position of the victim shows that she is attuned to the realities of Nanking, marking a clear instance of vicarious grieving. The thematic implication of this type of response recalls the proper role of the media consumer, suggesting that the empathy of Grey’s act –not the act itself – serves as a template for processing tragic material.


Although the ‘alien adversary’ is drawn from texts of Hayder’s genre, its correspondence to real life has created settings in which many of these








offenders are seen as “freaks” whose violent actions border on harmless fantasy. This detachment from reality in textual representations prevents the reader from forming the type of empathetic response that has proven most


effective in helping victims cope. The ‘alien’ figure of evil in fact appears in The Devil of Nanking, yet Hayder is careful to ensure that it does so in altered


circumstances. While the first example, Ogawa, could be interpreted as attributing to sensationalism, Hayder uses Jason’s obsession with her to connote his shameful role as a perverse voyeur. As a result, readers are urged


to disassociate themselves from this character by not indulging their own morbid curiosities in response to the text. The Devil of Nanking hints that this


trope of voyeurism extends to Grey, as much of the novel’s mystery stems from the question of whether her concealed past and her present obsession with Nanking are indicative of evil. However, the end of Hayder’s text shows this character’s shocking yet symbolically valid roots in empathy, indicating that vicarious grief is one of the only appropriate goals in portraying a historical atrocity of this magnitude.



Works Cited


Altheide, David L. “The Columbine Shootings And The Discourse Of Fear.”American Behavioral Scientist 52.10 (2009): 1354-­‐1370. Academic Search Complete. Web.


Cart, Julie, Eric Slater, andStephen Braun. “Armed Youths Kill Up to 23 in 4-­‐Hour Siege at High School.” Los Angeles Times 21 Apr. 1999: n. pag.Los Angeles Times.


Web. <­‐29502> Hayder, Mo. The Devil of Nanking. New York: Grove, 2005. Print.


Pumarlo, Jim. “SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers: Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims.” Society of Professional Journalists. N.p., n.d. Web.


Pyrhönen, Heta. “Five-­‐Finger Exercises: Mika Waltari’s Detective Stories.” Orbis


Litterarum 59.1 (2004): 23-­‐38. Academic Search Complete. Web.


Schildkraut, Jaclyn, and Glenn Muschert. “Media Salience and the Framing of Mass Murder in Schools.” Homicide Studies 18.1 (2014): 23-­‐43.SAGE Publications. Web. Sullender, R. “Vicarious Grieving And The Media.”Pastoral Psychology 59.2 (2010): 191-­‐200. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Whitten, Robert C. “The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II


(Book).” Journal Of Political & Military Sociology 29.1 (2001): 192. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Time & Hyperreality in Twelve Monkeys

Terry Gilliam’s film, Twelve Monkeys (1995), experiments with temporality in ways that align with Jean Baudrillard’s theories on simulation simulacra. In this film, time travel serves an apparatus through which the characters are able to investigate the past in attempt to remake their understanding of the present. Protagonist James Cole explores the relationship between the past, present and future by traveling back in time whilst attempting to unravel the riddle of the recurring dream that has haunted him since childhood. Cole finds himself leading a de-­‐realized existence, wherein his inability to tell the difference between reality and fiction echoes Baudrillard’s assertion that postmodern reality is no longer real, but a simulation of a reality that has been lost. Cole’s return to the past is a return to Modernity; however, this Modernity has no place in the present, as it has been deconstructed past the point of relevancy. By rehallucinating the past and delving into a fictitious existence as experienced through time travel, Cole proves that Modernity’s ordered distinction between reality and fiction cannot be recovered: in fact, it never existed.


According to Baudrillard’s theories in “Simulacra and Science Fiction,” the “SF imagination is dead.” There is no longer enough distance between the real and the imagined for science fiction to exist. We exist in a state of hyperreality: “the implosive era of models.” Models previously existed as “an imaginary domain with reference to the real.” However, these models have now grown indistinguishable from the real. Because the real has been lost, the model now stands in for the real. The principle of reality has been replaced by the principle of simulation. The real “has become the pretext of the model in a world governed by the principle of simulation.” There is no longer the real: only simulation of the real. In this condition, fiction transitions from “a mirror held to the future” that reflects reality to “a desperate rehallucinating of the past.” We have reached the point of saturation wherein the





real and the simulated become synonymous. The “original essence” of reality is lost. Reality continues to function on traditional ideologies, yet these ideologies have become “defunct” and “empty of meaning.” In order to reestablish meaning and come to an understanding of reality in relation to the “events, persons…ideologies” that compose the real, it is necessary to turn to the past in search of some kind of “retrospective truth” (Baudrillard, 310).


Twelve Monkey takes place in an era where reality has reached the point of hyperreality and launched itself into an implosive state of reversal. Humankind has retreated underground and reverted to pseudo-­‐Industrial era technology. In the film’s opening, James Cole is presented as a character that exists “in a total simulation without origin, past, or future.” The opening scene of Cole awaking in his cage—one among rows and rows of identical cages filled with other humans—portrays him as a “volunteer” destined to fulfill a purpose preordained by a force greater than himself. After being selected to volunteer, Cole is placed before a panel of scientists who examine and interrogate him. The overly synchronized motions of the guards that lead Cole into this setting imply that they are more mechanical than human; the scientists also appear integrated with machinery, as they sit surrounded by various instruments, almost completely obscured by technology. The scientists, guards and the optic structure that hovers above Cole, seeming to record and observe his movements, all operate “like a huge simulated and synchronous machine.” In Cole’s world, humanity has become mechanized in order to achieve a specific end goal in the most efficient way possible. Cole’s existence is one of utility, not individuality. Individualism has perished at the expense of utility; human society has reached the “saturation point” of utilitarianism (310). This saturation point has prompted a reversal: the system must “evolve implosively” by returning to the past (311).


By investigating the past, the scientists endeavor to find information that will allow them to create a better future. They hope to achieve this by retracing the course of history in order to develop a better understanding of the present in terms of the origin and course of the disease that forced humanity underground. Though Modernity presents time as a linear, continuous sequence, “our experience of time is much more diverse, created by the intersection of multiple temporalities.” Time is nonlinear, and therefore cannot be reversed or retraced in a simplistic manner, as the scientists attempt. Linear time is “modernity’s own invention,” an attempt to rationalize existence through the application of order (Joanna Page, “Retrofuturism and Reflexivity in Argentine Fiction Film: The Construction of


Cinematic Time,” 8). However, Modernity only functions so far; it is doomed to reach a “saturation point,” from which the only direction to go is down. Time in Twelve Monkeys is


nonlinear and self-­‐reflexive; an individual’s understanding of time consists of “multiple, retrogressive and criss-­‐crossing temporalities” that cohesively form the present (8). Cole demonstrates the lack of definitive borders between the past, present and future. What Cole accomplishes in the past has a direct effect on the present, just as what he sees in the past ends up dictating his future. Cole is continuous unable to distinguish the real (the present) from simulated reality (the past). His understanding of the world crumbles as his timeline becomes increasingly mixed up due to multiple trips between the past and present. The “poly-­‐chronic” nature of time subverts the implementation of linear order; past, present and dream are tangled up in one another. When Cole attempts to impose order and division on these entities by reconciling them with one another and forcing them




to the point of simultaneous convergence, he ends up propelling himself towards his own death.


Cole’s recurring dream, a post-­‐traumatic flashback of a past experience, is the guiding doctrine for Cole’s actions during his pursuit of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. The dream sequence as a recurring motif serves to continuously dismantle reality by disrupting the “illusion of continuity” of the plot’s progression (Page, 8). The temporal space of Cole’s dream is neither past nor present; by inserting it between instances of Cole’s present and past, Gilliam demonstrates that time operates on a multifaceted level which is much more complex than the past/present division. Cole’s dream originates in the past, as a voyeuristic experience of his own later death. The dream then transcends Modern temporality by resurfacing in Cole’s present. Cole cannot experience the present, because he constantly defines his present by what has occurred in the past. Throughout the film, Cole interprets his dream as a premonition of the future, and is driven towards the realization of the dream’s events. In other words, a series of fragmented images from the past becomes the driving force behind all of Cole’s present actions. He desperately seeks to make his dream—a hallucination of the past—become reality. Like the scientists, Cole uses the past as a reference point. By reconciling the past with the present, Cole believes he can form a better understanding of his existence by creating a linear narrative. However, his attempt to do so is futile; the nonlinear nature of time undermines linear meaning. Cole’s attempted return to Modern conceptions of time and significance result in death: they are no longer attainable ideals.


By attempting to return to the past, the scientists set back into motion the very evolutionary process that led up to their present state of reversion. Just as Cole’s attempt to consolidate reality through realizing his dream leads to his death, the scientists’ attempt to assign new meaning to reality by investigating the past leads to their future demise. Moreover, the scientists and Cole seem to have a hand in generating the events of the past through their interference in the past. Cole’s presence in the past could have in some way prompted the destruction of the world through his influence on Dr. Railly, and indirectly on the man who released the virus around the world. The resurgence of the past in terms of its influence on the present, as well as the present’s pre-­‐occupation with the past demonstrate that time is unrestricted, reflexive and ambiguous in meaning or end goal. Time seems to function in the film as a clock ticking down to the hour of Cole’s death; yet, even this is contradicted, as the film continues after his death before finally returning once more to the dream sequence flashback of Cole witnessing his own death. The dream sequence/hallucination as founded in reality yet simultaneously estranged from it is the only defining factor of Cole’s existence. It is his reality, the model of his reality, and his simulation. By giving Cole’s dream the power to transcend the temporal boundaries of past and present, Gilliam achieves “an effacement of the temporalities that seemed to govern an older period of modernity” (8). Temporal existence cannot be ordered; all order imposed on human existence is a construct. The ideologies of Modernity fall flat in postmodern times because they were formed around chaos to give the illusion of order and control. Gilliam’s film serves to deconstruct this illusion by portraying ordered time as a series hallucinations leading up to nothing, resulting at best in the finality of death—but never meaning.





Cole’s existence in the past is a fictitious one because it functions on the principle of “the double.” Baudrillard defines “the double” as “artificial replication or imaginary duplication” of the real. Cole’s existence in the past is not real; his real existence occurs in the present. His presence in the past is a double of his presence in the present. Like an actor on screen, Cole (initially) plays the part laid out for him by the scientists. He is a simulation of the real, removed from reality; however, in hyperreality the real and the imagined are indistinguishable. “There is no more double,” as there is no original to be doubled (Baudrillard, 312). In hyperreality, everything is a copy of a copy. Cole looses his grasp on reality during his many trips between time periods, because he has no original to refer to when evaluating the difference between his real and fictitious existences. His life seems to take on more substance in its fictitious state than its real; far from being a piece of machinery trapped in a cage, fictitious Cole leads a life with meaning and direction. This however is paradoxical: the meaning and direction are pre-­‐determined by the scientists of the real Cole’s present. Lost in hyperreality, Cole demonstrates the confusion of an era where simulated reality is as good as actual reality. Cole’s traversing of temporal boundaries and his confusion over which time period to define as real demonstrates that “there is little to appreciate about ‘actuality’ that was ever ‘actual’ in the sense of being ‘of the moment’” (Page, 8). In hyperreality, actual reality and actual time are irrelevant. In the end, Cole chooses fiction over reality, announcing in his telephone call to the scientists that he is “not coming back.” In doing so, Cole demonstrates that in a world of simulacra, subjective perception determines what is real.


Since the original real has been lost, the distinction between reality and fiction is no longer definite or relevant. Whereas fiction has served as a reflection of reality, there is no more reality to be reflected. In the postmodern era, “there is neither fiction nor reality—a kind of hyperreality has abolished both.” Fiction once stood as mirror to reality; reality has come to reflect fiction by actualizing the imagined projections of utopia. We cannot “move ‘through the mirror’ to the other side” and find the original, in which meaning is rooted


(Baudrillard, 312). The original doesn’t exist; fiction has become reality and vice versa. Cole and Railly’s response and imitation of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) demonstrate the extent to

which fiction and reality have become synonymous, yet devoid of meaning. Right before


heading to the airport, Cole and stop at a movie theater to disguise themselves. While watching Vertigo, Cole reflects, “It’s just like what’s happening with us” (Gilliam, Twelve Monkeys). Vertigo is an example of a work of fiction meant to reflect reality in an


imaginative way. However, Cole finds the movie so uncannily similar to his state of reality that the parallelism between the two renders them near indistinguishable.


Vertigo is realized by Cole and Railly: fiction becomes reality. Cole and Railly simulate Vertigo, which is itself a simulation of reality. The point at which reality simulates fiction


represents the point of hyperreality. There is no model, no origin, no past or future; only events, people and ideologies which seem to dictate reality without assigning it any real meaning. Cole and Railly’s reenactment embodies the endeavor to “reinvent the real as


fiction, precisely because the real has disappeared” (Baudrillard, 311). This reinvention is emphasized by the placement of the music from Vertigo. The transition from the diegetic


sound of the music in the movie theater to the non-­‐diegetic sound of the same piece of




music playing in lobby affirms Cole’s statement that his and Railly’s lives are “just like”


what occurs in the movie. This happens again as Dr. Peters enters the airport security checkpoint. The music playing as Judy announces her death in the showing of Vertigo is


played again non-­‐dietetically as Dr. Peters’ briefcase in inspected, just before Cole dies as a result of pursuing Dr. Peters. The ability of Vertigo’s musical score to jump off screen and


become the background music for Cole and Railly’s interaction further blends the distinction between real and replication, fiction and reality.


This blending of fiction and reality is further developed when Cole leaves the movie theater, worried he has lost Railly, only to find her hanging up a payphone while donning a


platinum blonde wig, cat eye sunglasses and a light gray trench coat. Her outfit bears similarity to that worn by Kim Novak in her role as Judy, the female lead of Vertigo. Later,


Railly goes so far as to use the name “Judy Simmons” as a pseudonym to reserve flight tickets. Railly’s transformation into Judy represents “a hallucination of the real… reconstituted” into the real, “but totally lacking in substance” (311). Railly imitates the fictional character of Hitchcock’s film, which itself is an imitation of reality. Fiction, the model of reality, becomes reality itself. The model substitutes the real, because the real no longer exists. Railly becoming Judy demonstrates the reflexive nature of fiction and reality in an era where the original has been lost and the double no longer exists. Railly’s assumption of Judy’s identity is merely a disguise. Though this identity alludes to the ideologies of classic Hollywood romance, she fails to reassign meaning to these ideologies. Her transformation into Judy is a rehallucination of the past, devoid of substance or significance. Though she has undergone a process of reversal by reexamining the past in relation to the present, she, like Cole and the scientists, fails to assign meaning to reality. Her attempt to order the present by reconstructing the past does not enable her to prevent Cole’s death. Again, Railly proves that meaning cannot be constructed through a linear reexamination of the past, because time does not occur linearly.


Temporal circularity as dependent on the lack of distinction between real and unreal shown through the past’s continuous resurgence into the present demonstrates the dissolution of the model and the ideologies that framed the model. The scientists, Cole and Railly all approach their demise through a fallacious attempt to reinstate Modernity. The past is not a blueprint for the future; information from the past does not hold the ability to order the future. Death is the only certainty. Meaning is gone, and never existed to begin with. Modernity is dead; any attempt to resurrect it, as demonstrated by Cole, is suicide.




Works Cited


Baudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Science Fiction (Simulacres Et Science-­‐fiction).” Science Fiction Studies 18.3, Science Fiction and Postmodernism (1991): 309-­‐13. JSTOR. Web. 19 May 2014.


Page, Joanna. “Retrofuturism and Reflexivity in Argentine Science Fiction Film: TheConstruction of Cinematic Time.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 16.1 (2012): 227-­‐44. Project Muse. Web. 19 May 2014.




Twelve Monkeys. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Perf. Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe. Universal Studios, 1995.



Social Disease

The recent outbreak of ebola is a recent example of how quickly a terrible disease can spread. A new disease can move quickly and far, leaving behind countless victims. Discovering the pathology and a cure for new diseases is incredibly difficult, and controlling its spread can seem impossible. Keeping track of the expansion of a new disease is almost impossible. Cases do not always get reported, those who are infected can be in denial or may fear quarantine, and the systems in place to treat diseases often cannot cope with a large epidemic. Such a strong, microscopic force contaminates entire populations with fear. This fear has found its way into fiction, taking the form of vampires, zombies, or even in staying its original form. Fiction surrounding infection emphasizes the importance of fear, and how it shapes the public reaction to those who are infected and the official course of action when dealing with an epidemic. Disease breeds fear, and that causes those who are infected to become separated from those who are healthy in an often futile attempt to contain the disease.




Because diseases are so hard to trace, everyone is seen as a threat until proven otherwise. Finding this proof can be rather difficult, so when an outbreak begins there is no way to fully deem anyone safe. This essentially prevents anyone who is showing symptoms but is not actually infected from being saved. In World War Z by Max Brooks, people become so afraid of the zombie outbreak that they start showing psychosomatic symptoms of being infected. These people are known as “quislings.” The character Joe Muhammad describes them as “a type of person who just can’t deal with a fight-­‐or-­‐die situation. They’re always




drawn to what they’re afraid of. Instead of resisting it, they want to please it, join it, try to be like it” (Brooks 156). Because the outbreak is so new and so large, those dealing with a threat cannot separate those showing symptoms from those who are actually infected. In this case, that means they are killed, but in real scenarios, uninfected people can be quarantined or hospitalized—exposing them to the actual illness—and using up resources that actual patients need. Alternatively, people often carry diseases without even knowing it, which can cause an outbreak to spread quicker. When news of an epidemic begins to emerge, how is one supposed to know that a simple cough or cold is not something more dangerous? This question is explicitly brought up in John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There. A group of scientists in Antarctica discover an alien (referred to as “The Thing”) that, upon awakening, can assume the shape and can possess the thoughts and memories of any living thing. The Thing imitates a body so perfectly that none of the men at the camp know who has been infected; they only know that The Thing can spread. Van Wall says, “I wonder how many of us are monsters? All the dogs were. We thought we were safe… It may have gotten every one of you” (Campbell 65). No one can trust anybody other than his own self. These two texts make it clear that separating those who are infected is a crucial first step to controlling an outbreak of a disease. This does not only entail a physical separation, but it also includes ostracizing the infected group.



Part of removing a group of people from a social group is to other them. As the infected


individuals are beginning to be picked out, their loss of identity is gradual and increases as the danger of the epidemic increases. A prime example of this is in Dracula by Bram Stoker.


Lucy Westenra is the first to be infected by Dracula, but her symptoms do not initially identify her. Seward is called upon to examine Lucy at the start of her illness, but writes that he “did not have full opportunity of examination as I should wish; our very friendship makes a little difficulty which not even medical science or custom can bridge over” (Stoker 123). Seward is unable to do a thorough examination of Lucy because she is not very ill yet and he therefore cannot cut of all of his emotional ties to her and behave as a professional. As the vampirism progresses and becomes more of a threat, these factors begin to fade and he and Van Helsing are able to give her more thorough treatment because they think of her in terms of her infection. This is epitomized when Lucy is stabbed through the heart by the men who love her once she emerges as a vampire. When Arthur stabs Lucy’s body, Seward describes seeing that “The Thing in the coffin writhed, and a hideous, blood-­‐curdling scream came from the opened red lips” (Stoker 231). Though Lucy’s body is still animate, she is no longer considered to be “Lucy.” She has transformed into a “Thing,” nothing more than the symptoms of her infection. Preventative measures were only taken when Lucy still considered a human, but once she becomes consumed by the infection, she loses her identity and is killed in order to stop the vampirism from spreading.




The termination of the disease proves to be more pertinent than the preservation of Lucy’s life. Becoming sick has made Lucy a threat, and she cannot be saved or reincorporated back into society without getting rid of the disease. The same holds true when Mina begins to be infected, and she makes the men promise to kill her if the infection goes too far (Stoker 328). Vampirism spreads like a disease, starting with nonspecific symptoms and eventually




taking over the entire body. As it progresses in both Lucy and Mina, they become more of a threat because they can pass it on to others. By using vampirism as a metaphor for disease (specifically, tuberculosis), “the consumptive ceases to be a passive recipient of the disease


  • and becomes a willing embracer of it, and one who will infect others in turn in order to survive” (Byrne 8). The idea that those who become sick are chosen makes it easier to remove those who are infected from society. Their disease is a distinguisher, like the mark of Cain. So despite the fact that Mina is a fairly passive woman who will do anything for her husband and proves to be quite necessary in tracking down Dracula, the sicker she gets the more she is viewed as an active threat. In this way, infected individuals during an outbreak are vilified and ostracized unless they are cured.




While infected people are still intermingled in society without being cured or killed, the disease will continue to spread. As more and more people become infected, a paranoid fear of catching the illness grows among the public. The fear is geared toward the disease, an


invisible foe. People act in almost an obsessive-­‐compulsive manner, questioning every step they have made since the outbreak began. For example, in Contagion, Dr. Mears tries to


trace the disease, which entails finding out who Beth Emhoff came in contact with. Her coworkers become overly concerned, and one of them even fears the possibility of


contracting the disease because Beth may have touched his coffee cup a week before she went to Hong Kong, where she was exposed to the disease (Contagion). When an outbreak


first becomes an epidemic, the sickness seems to be an invisible presence lurking everywhere. Beth Emhoff’s coworkers know that they have been around a person who has interacted with the virus, but they cannot see where it began and where it went. Fear of contamination becomes irrational because it takes a while to discover the pathology of a disease, and in the meantime false information can be spread. Whenever the disease does manifest itself in some visible way, fear increases and people stampede to get away from it.



In World War Z, a man from the West Indies describes the beginning of the zombie outbreak in his town. Though his neighborhood is not a good one, when the zombies start reanimating things become much worse: “This was lasting much too long to be an ordinary gang row. Now there were screams, shouts. I began to smell smoke… Dozens of people, most of them in their nightclothes, all shouting ‘Run! Get out of here! They’re coming!’” (Brooks 29). The people in this neighborhood run from the infected corpses to protect themselves, ignoring the fact that they are putting themselves in immediate danger by stampeding. When a disease is not visible, it is only scary in theory. When it manifests itself in a physical way it becomes a monster, and it becomes much more terrifying. This causes people to act instinctually and chaotically. When the initial terror wears off, it becomes important to find some reasoning within all the madness. Author Susan Sontag suggests that when tuberculosis was still mysterious and something to be largely afraid of, it was considered “a ‘disease of individuals’, an infection which singles out its victims,” (Byrne 2). Realistically, viruses just do what is necessary to survive. However, because disease is the enemy, this does not seem to be a graspable concept. For example, scientist Paul Ehrlich wanted to design a “magic bullet” to kill viruses, as if they were the enemies in war. Paul De Kruif describes these enemies as “Terrible beasts… sly, [and] tough” (Kruif 337). To the




public, these are not simple organisms, but vicious beasts. People personify viruses through metaphors like vampires and zombies to vilify them and make it appear as if they infect people with an offensive, malicious intent as opposed to the virus just being passive and trying to survive.




Turning a virus or disease into something evil that is consuming its host makes it easier to ostracize those who are infected. It is as if those who are sick are possessed by some sort of demon. During an outbreak, healthy people do not want to associate with anyone who may have been in contact with the disease because infection is undetectable initially. They are


working with an invisible threat, so they act with extra precaution. One example of this is appears in Contagion when Mitch Emhoff is in a grocery store with his daughter and


explicitly keeps his distance from a coughing woman begging for help, and immediately leaves the store once he sees her. He is so sure to keep a large distance between her and them; it is as if even breathing the same air ensures their death. She is not a human being in his eyes—instead she is treated like a ticking time bomb. This fear manifests itself in larger ways. Even the government treats those with even a chance of being sick as outsiders. In


the next scene, both Mitch and his daughter are denied entrance into Wisconsin because any outsiders could have been exposed to the disease (Contagion). People are immediately


perceived as dangerous without any sort of distinguisher. Every stranger is seen as a potential threat, and that fear causes people to faction themselves off. Anyone who has ever come in contact with the illness is shunned. This is a counterproductive strategy; by ostracizing everyone without proof of illness, healthy people are put at risk by being unable to leave infected areas. The reaction to the fear of becoming infected causes people and entities to act irrationally. World War Z demonstrates a rational and reasonable attempt at protecting healthy people. In the book, Israel takes healthy people in and quarantines them. They screen immigrants for infection, and practice no social or political prejudices. Healthy Palestinians are allowed into the country without any problems but an infected Jewish Canadian or American cannot. Those who are not allowed into the country are taken away in mysterious black vans to an undisclosed location (Brooks 41). Israel’s response in the book shows that fear of disease, especially when faced rationally, outweighs any other fear. The act of quarantining physically separates the ill and creates a stigma around them. Because of all the fear, not much attention is paid to how the sick people are taken care of as long as they are no longer a threat.




This disregard for the treatment of the sick creates a psychological boundary between those who are healthy and those who are not. In Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters, the


scientist Paul Ehrlich is described as “a gay man” who “smoked twenty-­‐five cigars a day; he was fond of drinking a seidel of beer…” and he was “a modern man,” (Kruif 326). Ehrlich is constantly described in terms of his religion, nationality, and sexuality, which is a stark contrast to the description of the people with the disease he was trying to cure. Ehrlich’s “magic bullet” was saving them “from the ostracism worse than death that came to those sufferers whose bodies the pale spirochete gnawed until they were things for loathing” (Kruif 348). The people being described become nothing more than their symptoms. This is a stark contrast to the healthy doctor, who is described by his sociopolitical identifiers. He




is relatable and more human instead of a symbol or a figure. The sick patients, however, are personified illness. They cannot integrate into society unless they are healthy. In Contagion,

victims of the illness are dehumanized even after death. Mitch Emhoff is unable to bury his


wife and stepson, who are instead buried in a mass grave alongside other victims of the epidemic (Contagion). Families cannot pay their respects to loved ones. While a disease is


still mostly untreatable, people need to make peace with losing their loved ones before they actually pass. It is as if by contracting the disease, a person loses all humanity and dies with a diagnosis. The disease takes them over like getting turned into a vampire or sustaining a bite from a zombie.




While the fear of infection ostracizes everyone who is sick, the main villain is known as “patient zero.” This patient is the one who brought this disease upon the whole community—a face for the disease. The idea of an original carrier of the disease or an index case provides a scapegoat for those affected by the epidemic. By finding an index patient, there is a new basis on which to acquire fear. Knowing where a disease started gives a clearer idea of who may have been in contact with the disease and who is more at risk. But


it is also about placing blame. There is a mindset that bad things cannot happen for no reason, so somebody has to be the reason. In Contagion, when people are restless for


answers, Dr. Cheever calms the public by saying that they are looking for patient zero. They eventually decide that Beth Emhoff is the index patient, but in a global epidemic that is impossible to determine. While looking at footage of Beth’s interaction with other people who ended up being infected, it was unclear who was spreading the disease to whom. Also,


the closing sequence makes it clear that Beth was infected by a chef who was infected by a pig who was infected by a bat (Contagion). It is impossible to know who else the pig or bat


or even the chef came in contact with, so there could be countless index cases. Despite the obvious impossibility of finding a real patient zero, this is common practice. During a large outbreak of SARS in Singapore in March 2003, an index patient was found. However, the case study says that “a physician from southern China who stayed on the same floor of the hotel during this period is believed to have been the source of infection for this index patient and the index patients of outbreaks in Vietnam and Canada” (Li-­‐Yang). This proves that while an index patient can be found for specific, localized outbreaks, an overall patient zero is impossible to determine. However, scientists continue to search for the closest thing possible. If a real patient zero were to be found during an outbreak, this would give the public a visible enemy. There would be a name and a face to attribute all of the suffering to. Instead of being a victim of the disease, any index patients found become be the perpetrator.




While it is mostly those who are infected who are lose their identities, the general public in risk of contracting the disease lose their individuality. In World War Z, people being brought into quarantine in Israel were penned up in a camp described by Saladin as “the tents, the overcrowding, the guards, the barbed wire, and the seething, baking Negev Desert sun.” And although the people in the camps were eventually given papers and subsidized housing, they had no choice in where they went (Brooks 42). People in need of treatment are treated like cattle. Happiness or quality of life isn’t as important as simply




staying alive and healthy. Even if a vaccine is created, there is no strategic way of dispersing them. At some point, the risk cannot be contained. Fear becomes as widespread


as it can be, and everyone becomes the “other.” There is no more community, because everyone is afraid of everyone else. In Contagion, quarantining is not as easy. Sick patients


are still quarantined, but healthy people have no way of escaping the looming threat of contraction. The disease is more widespread, so the focus is on creating a vaccine. Once a vaccine is made, the vaccinations are given based on a lottery system. It is not a strategic way of giving out vaccines to stop the infection more quickly, nor is it based on need or even a first-­‐come-­‐first-­‐serve basis. In both ways of helping the public as demonstrated by the novel and the film, there is the fear that luck will not be in one’s favor. The public has to remain on edge in the hopes that their number will be called.




An outbreak of an untreatable disease is also an outbreak of fear, and mass panic always has negative repercussions. However, this fear is necessary. If the public empathizes with sick people, they will try to help which will involve contact. If people who are sick are turned into monsters, the public will try to keep a safe distance. Nevertheless, too much fear is a bad thing and can lead to mobs and riots. This is why the idea of a “patient zero” or an index patient is necessary. By knowing where a disease came from and where it most likely spread, people who were not in those areas or in contact with those people have less to fear. The public needs to be afraid enough to look to the government for help, but not so afraid as to not trust how the government handles the situation. This seems manipulative. After all, the people should control the government and not the other way around. But this controlled fear is necessary. The government has a limited supply of resources and it must be rationed out as best as possible. While bias is inevitable, revolting and looting is not. Citizens must feel like they need their government to protect them. By keeping the power dynamic of the government in tact, there is some sort of semblance of order amidst all of the chaos. After all, the necessary supplies cannot be rationed out if rioters steal or destroy them.



Works Cited


Byrne, Katherine. Tuberculosis and the Victorian Literary Imagination. Cambridge, NY:

Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.


Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York, NY: Three Rivers, 2006. Print.


Campbell, John W. Who Goes There? N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.


Contagion. Dir. Steven Soderbergh. Perf. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law.


WarnerBros., 2011.


De Kruif, Paul. “Chapter 12.” Microbe Hunters. N.p.: Harcourt, n.d. 326-­‐50. Print.


Hsu L-­‐Y, Lee C-­‐C, Green JA, Ang B, Paton NI, Lee L, et al. Severe acute respiratory syndrome




(SARS) in Singapore: clinical features of index patient and initial contacts. Emerg Infect Dis


[serial online] 2003 Jun [2012 December]. Available from: URL:­‐0264.htm


Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2004. Print.

The Ethics of Representation: Rape, Torture, Genocide

Difficult topics in literature–rape, torture, and genocide–are often surrounded by ethical criticisms. The ethics of representing traumas in literature is a field replete with opposing views, and many authors have reservations about writing acts of trauma because of the effect it can have


on those who have been traumatized. As literary critic Cathy Caruth writes about this ethical dilemma: “the unremitting problem of how not to betray


the past” (Caruth’s italics, 27). In this essay I will discuss the various methods of representing trauma so as not to fall into the cliché–as Coetzee puts it–of “spy fiction” (Coetzee, “Chamber” 362). Iwillalsoaddressthe crucialroleofthereader,astheauthor’stargetaudience should dictate the depth of the trauma being described. Lastly I will prove that no matter the


trauma, literature must represent these times when humanity is at its lowest. Although novels like Disgrace may be difficult to read for victims of


rape, it is imperative to acknowledge its message is meant specifically for the person who does not understand it. This tactic to which critics refer as “Crossing the line” is necessary and integral to the ethics of representation, as the author’s goal should be to use the sensitive subject in a way that discomforts the reader. Giventhisstandard, I will study various authors’ methods of how they cross the line in a way that nevertheless ethically represents their trauma to the target audience. There are four parts to this thesis, which will outline and define ethical representation






through close readings of J.M. Coetzee’s novels Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, ErnestHemingway’sshortstory “Hills Like White Elephants,”


Art Spiegelman’s graphic novelMaus, and theImmortalTechnique song “Dance with the Devil.




Ethical Considerations: Placing the Reader in the Position of Being “Traumatized”


Texts concerning the ethics of representing traumas like rape, genocide, or torture are often in danger of falling into a suicide gorge, positioned above a symbolic tightrope between immense cliffs. On one side lies the readers of the texts: those who will critique it, laugh and cry while reading it, and deem the literary worth and popularity of the text. On the other side lies the victims– past, present, and future–who have experienced the trauma portrayed in the text. Walking on the tightrope is the author, balancing his or her own representation of the trauma and trying to represent something that has often been labeled as “unspeakable.”


It is important for both the author and the readers to realize that the text should not be meant for the victims of the trauma. Maus was not written for Holocaust survivors, just as Waiting for the Barbarians


was not written for tortured individuals. Texts like this are meant to illustrate–and to a certain extend traumatize–the intended audience with little experience of the incident itself. Although some may argue that it is unethical to place the innocent reader into the shoes of the traumatized victim, I argue this is the essence of the genre. Trauma literature should impact the reader, give them a representation– however minuscule in comparison –of what it was like to be raped, to live through the Holocaust, or to merely witness a fellow life being tortured.


There are some critics who find the representation of genocide and other traumas deplorable. The often-­‐cited critic of Holocaust representation, Theodore Adorno states, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (34). Adorno’s premise is summed up well in a later book, in which he writes, “When even genocide becomes cultural property in committed literature, it becomes easier complying with the culture that gave rise to the murder” (35). Granted, by depicting topics as difficult as the Holocaust the author also allows the representation of Nazi totalitarianism to continue. However,






even if it were possible to show one without the other it would be an inaccurate version of the past, as the aim of representation is accuracy and depicting Nazis is thus a necessary evil in representing history. Adorno warns against reification within such a complex topic like the Holocaust, yet this does not signify it is hopeless to attempt. On the contrary, it is imperative to represent these topics, particularly in literature and media. The human experience is unique in that we commit atrocities against each other unlike any other animal species on Earth. Speaking of the Holocaust does mean speaking of Nazism, and humanity must remember this stain on human history to prevent similar atrocities from happening in the future. This is something that has been happening since civilization began and covering it up, misrepresenting it, only further perpetuates the arrogance that humanity is above committing these traumas. The purpose of texts is to illuminate readers about the human experience, and as trauma is no different, its representation must also catalogue all perspectives, not just the victim’s.


An obstacle many authors face when writing about trauma is offending victims. This could be due to how the victims remember their own trauma, or simply because it is a memory they do not wish to go through again. Even those who know victims of trauma may feel representations are insensitive to those who have been through them. Spiegelman struggles visibly with this, when Vladek tells Art, “No one wants to hear such stories” (Maus I 12). Vladek knows that his story is not one people read for comfort or pleasure, and it is apparent that Vladek literally runs out of energy remembering

his past. After


describing a





of around 100,000 Jews (including himself and his wife Anja) to Auschwitz, he looks sad and dejected:


(Maus I, 151).








Here we see Vladek, head in hand, visibly exhausted from retelling his past. His physical exercise on the stationary bike parallels the emotional toll of the victim reliving his own trauma through the act of retelling. Similarly, Vladek becomes upset and distant from his son upon reading his comic “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” because it forces him to recall his wife’s suicide. Thisisworsenedbyhavingto read it through the lens of his son and relive his trauma through another’s eyes. The act of re-­‐experiencing trauma is difficult, and consequentially requires meticulous examination within the ethics of representation. Inthecreationofthisbook, Vladek and Artie consequently make a sacrifice together to relive their trauma and represent it to the world.


There are several methods of ethical representation considering traumatic experiences. First person narratives such as Maus are ideal because they do not attempt to give a full description of an over-­‐arching traumatic event like the Holocaust. This narrowfocus allows the intended audience to put themselves into the mind of a single character, so they do not simply learn about the trauma, but experience it. However, ultimately it is difficult for the victim’s desire to relieve himself of traumatic memories to coexist with accurately educating the reader of the trauma. Maus addresses this issue as well, when Artie asks his father if he saved any of the letters of correspondence between himself and holocaust victims:



















(Maus II 98).


Here we see the Holocaust survivor attempting to distance himself from trauma through destroying evidence that it even occurred. The dichotomy






between the Holocaust survivor seeking to destroy evidence of his trauma and the need to represent the trauma is shown throughout Maus. When Vladek tells Artie he burned Anja’s diaries of the war, Artie calls him a “murderer” (Maus I 159), representing Vladek as an ironic survivor who himself is guilty of murder. This is what makes representation so difficult: those affected by trauma are often the ones who choose not to speak about it. In this way it is imperative to know that trauma representation is not aimed at those who’ve been affected by the trauma, but everyone else. It is up to one brave victim to sacrifice his own sensibility and relive the traumatic moment in order to speak to the rest of the world.


J.M. Coetzee touches on this same paradigm of representation in Waiting for the Barbarians. In this genre characters often question the ethics of placing

innocent people in traumatic experiences, which parallels the text’s own objective of traumatizing the reader. Although all trauma literature seeks to traumatize or educate the reader about trauma, it should also bring to light the ethical dilemma of doing so. The Magistrate is made to write up a report on the torture and death of a prisoner, and Colonel Joll tells him, “‘…the prisoner became enraged and attacked the investigating officer. A scuffle ensued during which the prisoner fell heavily against the wall. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful’” (6). When the Magistrate questions the guard with Joll to corroborate his report, he admits he was told what to say to the Magistrate and also confuses the facts on the incident (7). Still, the Magistrate’s own attempt at writing down Joll’s crimes in the form of a letter to the capital prove unsuccessful, which shows the difficulty of trauma representation (66). The inability of the Magistrate to write about torture alludes to the trouble many authors face when attempting to represent traumas like torture. Representing torture is rarely done accurately by objective texts like police reports and history books, so it falls to literature and creative texts to tell this story. Often those reading trauma literature are searching for answers about humanity and how we can commit these terrible acts against each other. The Magistrate’s healing of the tortured barbarian girl is his method of both distancing himself from Joll as well as attempting to understand torture: in a sense he “reads” the girl, trying to imagine himself in her position. However, his experience brings only confusion, guilt, and anger to the Magistrate. He does not find that his healing helps his own guilt, as he admits he “must assert [his] distance from Colonel Joll” (50). The Magistrate’s ultimate decision to take the girl to her people was an act of kindness, but it also stemmed from his need to take a stand against Joll the Empire, and possibly a subconscious






desire to be tortured himself and thus understand torture.


It is only once the Magistrate is tortured that he truly understands the experience. He says of his “fellow-­‐creatures”: they have “no recourse but to turn their backs to the wind and endure” (177). This alludes to the role empathy plays in ethical representation of trauma. While there is no way to wholly represent trauma, even placing someone in the role of the victim is important, and it creates a link between the reader and the victim through empathetic response and understanding, instead of guilt and anger. As the reader only sees the story through the lens of the Magistrate, his trauma is ours, and through that we understand a little of what he went through. Trauma representation seeks to place the intended audience into a position to empathize and understand difficult topics, and the Magistrate’s own struggle to understand trauma echoes humanity’s trouble solving the same problem.


Disgrace,alsobyCoetzee, reveals the ethics of traumatizing the reader through David Lurie’s attempt at understanding Lucy’s rape. Lucy Lurie owns a small patch of farmland east of Cape Town in South Africa, and shortly after the end of Apartheid, her father David comes to live with her. When Coetzee describes how three men rob their house and rape Lucy, he never fully places the reader into the position of the victim. Similarly, only once does Lucy attempt to describe the rape to David: “ ‘It was so personal…the rest was…expected.’ (157).


Lurie’s position as the bystander to the rape can be related to the reader, since neither one can help the trauma victim through any other method besides empathy and understanding. Coetzee emphasizes the impotence of the bystander when he has David unsuccessfully and repeatedly ask Lucy to move away from her native South Africa, as well as asking Lucy to get an abortion (197). David begins to understand the process of empathizing with trauma when he asks himself if he “has it in him to be the woman” (160). He admits that to empathize he must try to imagine what it was like for Lucy, which outlines the problem that crossing gender lines poses as men try to understand trauma. Putting the reader in David’s shoes leads to this conclusion for us as well, even though David is unable to actually place himself in this position. His desire to stay near Lucy and help her through this time, on her terms, does show that he is willing to empathize with her situation and her desire to stay on the farm, even though he does not fully understand it. The notion that we may not comprehend trauma, like David’s






inability to understand Lucy’s, does not mean that as authors and readers we should ignore the problem of its representation. Instead it is best to try to empathize, even if anger and vengeance are easier to represent and feel.


Although Disgrace tackles questions of ethical representation, Coetzee complicates simple readings of trauma by setting the novel in post-­‐ Apartheid South Africa. The easiest thing for Lucy to do would be to leave, to give up the farm and live in a new place, away from the men who raped her, like her father suggests throughout the novel. David notes to himself, “Lucy’s future, his future, the future of the land as a whole–it is all a matter of indifference,” but as much as South Africa is the home of the rapists, it is


also her home, and the new South Africa combines both the native African and the European descendantsofsettlers (Coetzee, Disgrace 107). David,


however is a member of the old South Africa, and he reflects, “In the old days one could have had it out with Petrus,” lamenting the power he has lost in his country (116). Lucy’s decision to stay at home reflects her desire to


become a part of the new South Africa, no matter the cost. She even asks, “what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on?” (158). Although her


question is in part due to Stockholm syndrome, she is also conflating her trauma with her role in creating a new South Africa. Lucy is not purely a martyr for her country, however, as her decision to stay stems from the pragmatic need for her to keep on living at her home. Lucy certainly does try to define the act as “justified rape,” only that the issue of post-­‐Apartheid South Africa is one with multitudinous positions, and ultimately the question of forgiveness and empathy is crucial to the success of the nation. In this regard Lucy acts as a hero, sacrificing her own happiness for her country, just like Vladek must sacrifice his own happiness to retell his story in Maus. However, this is complicated by her pragmatism, as she must accommodate her neighbors simply to survive. The duality of Lucy as both a martyr and a pragmatic survivor is an important notion in accurately describing her position as a white woman in post-­‐Apartheid South Africa.


The act of traumatizing the intended audience has become more common among underground hip-­‐hop artists who target urban criminals or potentially criminal youths. It is worth noting that although the realm of hip-­‐ hop is not characteristically thought of as a genre fit for literary criticism, I argue that in today’s media-­‐saturated culture and the internet’s help in self-­‐ publishing, the concept of what is literary is changing. Often it is the non-­‐ canonical texts that reach the most people and have the capacity to change the way the populace thinks. This is particularly true with music, because






often it reaches different audiences than novels do. The representation of trauma can often be a “preach to the choir” genre, where those who already feel that the trauma needs to be stopped are those praising the text for its


work. Few conservative misogynists will pick up Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble just as few criminals will read The Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle.


However, a text like “Dance with the Devil,” must reach its audience forcefully and violently; to do anything else would risk falling on deaf ears. Its intense, vulgar imagery, though difficult to listen to, is done so to show rapists the horror of their own crimes. Coronel raps, “Billy was made to go first but they all took a turn / Ripping her up, and choking her…” (Coronel). Coronel’s gruesome descriptions are not just meant to disgust the listener for “shock value:” he raps “rape” graphically and revoltingly specifically because it is revolting. At his height of vulgarity Coronel raps, “he was looking into the eyes of his own mother…she cried more violently than when they were raping her” (Coronel). Ultimately the song reflects his audience, asking them the most difficult question: “What if she were your own mother?” Coronel’s message and underground rap genre cater to a mostly Black and Latino urban youth in the United States, some of whom live in the culture Coronel warns against and are more likely to be brought up by a single mother than other Americans. From 2000-­‐2012 a staggering 67% of African-­‐American children and 42% of Latino children were raised by single parents, compared with 25% of white Americans (Population Reference Bureau). Even the most hardened criminal has a mother, and most would wish her safety. Coronel’s representation of rape may be horrendous, but it remains a necessary evil, as the song targets the perpetrators of this crime and pleads with them to take a different path. The depth of abhorrence in trauma representation is dependent on the audience of the author. Coronel also places his listener into a role in which empathy is created, but his audience is the niche market of the criminal or rapist. That is why his lyrics are horrendous: he is speaking to a subculture of criminal that supports notions of drug dealing and gang violence.


The aim of trauma literature is to depict a traumatic event objectively while also traumatizing the reader so as to instill feelings of empathy and compassion for the victim. This requires a sacrifice be made for the victim, who often attempts to reconcile the damaging experience by forgetting it. Vladek burns letters and diaries to try to live after the Holocaust, lamenting, “All such things of the war, I tried to put out from my mind once for all…until you rebuild me all this from your questions” (Ellipses by Spiegelman, Maus II 98). It is a common coping mechanism of victims of






Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (which Holocaust survivors undoubtedly have) to put their trauma out of their minds (“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”). In The Magistrate’s case, he is unable to understand torture until he experiences it himself. True empathy comes from feeling the pain of others, which he learns throughout his experience with Colonel Joll. Ultimately it is not only ethical to traumatize the reader in ethical representation, but it is necessary to understand trauma. Representation cannot ever fully represent trauma, but creating empathy and compassion through literature and music is necessary for remembering the past beyond death tolls and history books. In the next section I will discuss several authors’ methods of representation of trauma from different angles, including the act of trauma itself, the importance of the witness, on the impossibility of telling, and the role of the torturer.


The Aftermath: the Psyche of the Witness


When trauma enters literary discourse, often the victim is interpreted, analyzed, and decoded ad nauseam. However, there exists another party that is similarly affected by trauma: the witness. Often the witness of a trauma feels guilt or shame in witnessing, or perhaps that they did not do enough to help the victim. Trauma literature almost always contains witnesses who are traumatized themselves by an experience with the victim or the perpetrator of a trauma, and authors who deal with ethical representation must accurately represent those who witness, because often simply the act of witnessing a trauma is traumatic itself.


In J.M. Coetzee’s essay “Into the Dark Chamber,” he refers to his novel Waiting for the Barbarians as “the impact of the torture chamber on the life


of a man of conscience” (362). The novel begins with the arrival of Colonel Joll, a military emissary from the Capitol, and his torture slowly converts the Magistrate against the very empire he swore to protect and serve. Initially the Magistrate goes hunting with the Colonel and maintains a peaceful relationship with him, but throughout the novel the Magistrate begins to distance himself from both the Empire and Joll. When tending to a tortured child’s wounds, he says, “It has not escaped me that an interrogator can


wear two masks, speak with two voices, one hard, one seductive” (Coetzee, Barbarians 8). Even though he does nothing to aide in the torture of the


individuals, he is painfully aware he also does nothing to stop it. This makes him feel guilt and shame for complying with torture, if not executing it, and this emotionally traumatizes him. The Magistrate is troubled by his






connection to Joll, as they are both working for the Empire, and he struggles throughout the novel to personally identify in contrast to the Colonel. Simply witnessing torture causes the Magistrate to feel responsible for Joll’s crimes, and this creates guilt and shame, which provides a motive for his actions later in the novel.


The Magistrate’s transformation as a witness of torture is confined and swollen by his guilt. One of their first dialogues brings the Magistrate to think, “Who am I to assert my distance from him…the Empire does not require that its servants love each other” (6). The Magistrate goes on to oppose Joll in the privacy of his soldiers, saying, “[Joll] is ridiculous!” speaking in reference to the clearly innocent prisoners he has taken (19). However, he still does as Joll commands. As the novel progresses, the Magistrate’s action surrounding Joll changes. He takes in the barbarian girl whom Joll has tortured, seeking to rid his guilt by attempting to heal her. However, this is not enough to disquiet his conscience, as he states: “I undress her, I bathe her…but I might equally well tie her to a chair and beat her, it would be no less intimate” (49). Again he blames himself for aiding Joll as the “innocent bystander.” He still finds himself relating to Joll, thinking “I must assert my distance from Colonel Joll! I will not suffer for his crimes!” (WFB 50). He acts against Joll’s wishes in bringing the barbarian girl to her people, and while imprisoned admits, “I wanted to make reparation” (94). The guilt of witnessing torture is articulated clearly by the Magistrate when he says, “It is the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it” (160). In addition to the Magistrate this occurs to Mandel, Joll’s assistant in torturing operations. He is unable to face the Magistrate when he asks how he can live with the guilt he must feel from being a torturer, and retreats away from him while hitting the Magistrate (146). Many of those who witness torture have the guilt forced upon them– or the shame of seeing torture’s reduction of humanity.


The psyche’s transformation due to a trauma can also be seen in Holocaust memoirs. My grandfather fought in World War II and liberated a Nazi concentration camp with his garrison. Upon seeing the debilitated starving bodies of those who were on the brink of death he and his soldiers vomited at the sight of the very people he came to free. My father would later tell me this, recalling the shame my grandfather felt at seeing those bodies, and the disgust he felt when looking at them. Trauma not only affects the victim, but brings shame and guilt to the witness as well. This is a central theme to Maus, as Artie acts as a witness–a second-­‐generation survivor–to the






Holocaust because his parents lived through it. The initial comic depicts a ten or eleven-­‐year-­‐ old Artie skating with his friends, who skate away without him. He cries to his father that his friends abandoned him. Vladek replies, “Friends? Your Friends? / If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week… / …Then you could see what it is, friends!… (ellipses by Spiegelman, Maus I 6). This is a cynical response from a parent, someone who usually protects children from such vivid imagery, and shows how Vladek raised him with full knowledge of the Holocaust and his experience, even at an early age. Art also witnesses his own trauma directly when his mother commits suicide. Ironically he is expected to console his father instead of grieving with him, as seen in the inserted comic “Prisoner on Hell Planet” (101). Although the reader is left unaware of the trauma this caused Artie, he undoubtedly has deep seeded anger issues with his father over his


upbringing, and struggles to sort through those while simultaneously writing Maus (Maus II 44).


The trauma of the witness is also articulated in Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, through David Lurie. His sexual assault of an adult student, Melanie Isaacs leaves him feeling his own sense of shame and guilt. Although Lurie commits the crime himself, the scene should be treated differently than a traumatic scene with Lurie playing the “evil” villain. The altercation is “undesired to the core,” yet Lurie describes it as “not rape, not quite that” and this notion is strengthened by her helping him undress her (25). This encouragement does not excuse his actions, but simply means there are degrees of rape, and as such Lurie acts as both witness and villain to the trauma. Immediately after Lurie feels remorse for what he has done, calling it “a mistake, a huge mistake” (25). He even mentions a bath may be necessary to cleanse himself of the situation, an action traditionally done by women who are raped, not the perpetrator. Lurie attempts to shed his guilt by marking the Melanie a 70 on her midterm exam even though she was absent. Lurie is a man of conscience, and he tries to reason it was “Aphrodite,” god of love, that spurred him to act (25).


Lurie undoubtedly committed a crime in his assault of Melanie, but his remorse and the severity of the rape make him less a rapist and more a victim of what Freud would call the Id. Lurie is very careful during his preliminary hearing to not apologize for his action, but nevertheless takes his punishment. It would have been easy for David to lie and most likely keep his job, perhaps only suffer a suspension (54). Throughout the novel, he controls his desire even when he feels it, like when he meets the






Melanie’s more attractive sister Desiree: “[David] has an urge to reach


out…at the same instant the memory of [Melanie] comes over him in a hot wave. God save me, he thinks – what am I doing here?” (164). Additionally,


“desire” and “Desiree” can be read equivalently here, and Coetzee did not name Melanie’s sister this by accident. However, he asserts he is guilty of “whatever Ms. Isaacs alleges,” believing there is “no reason she should lie” (49). Lurie makes a calculated distinction here between crime and guilt: he believes he has committed a crime–namely deciding to succumb to his lustful fantasy–but he will not apologize for this original urge. He argues that the fantasy itself is beyond his control, and Lurie states that he often consciously decides not to engage in it. In his assault of Melanie he acquiesces to his darker nature by choice. Having said that, he still adheres to his punishment of disgrace, so much so that he refuses to submit a letter of repentance without sincerity, though a judge at his hearing asks him to (58).


Coetzee’s critique here lies in patriarchal society where those who commit crimes against women are often just told to apologize and they are forgiven. Lurie will not apologize for his own feelings of lust or animalism but nevertheless takes responsibility for his choice of acting on those feelings, and he takes more care throughout the novel to keep them in check, as evidenced by his experience with Desiree.


The trauma of the witness is also portrayed in “Dance with the Devil,” by Coronel. Although the song outlines the corruptive path of the “ghetto-­‐bred” youth named William Jacobs who turns to drug dealing, the perspective of the narrator is of a fellow gangster, one whom the main character aims to impress with the gang rape at the end of the song. Ultimately the narrator is similar to Lurie in his shame and regret doing what he did. He sings:


I was there with Billy Jacobs and I raped his mom too


And now the devil follows me wherever I go


In fact, I’m sure he’s standing among one of you at my shows And every street cipher listening to little thugs flow


He could be standing right next to you, and you wouldn’t know


The devil grows inside the hearts of the selfish and wicked White, brown, yellow and black color is not restricted


You have a self-­‐destructive destiny when you’re inflicted (Coronel).








Although in no way does his regret excuse his act, the narrator himself now fell victim to the life he is warning others against. Given the intended audience of Corone, it helps that the narrator participates in the crime to add to the ethos of the denunciation of the “live by the gun” mantra. The last lines of the quotation also serve to show that traveling down the path will inevitably cause you to “self-­‐destruct,” or “die by the gun.” This is a particularly crucial notion in the ethics of representation because as readers we are all witnesses of the trauma. If we are unaffected by reading the story of a rape, or a torture, clearly the author has not described it well enough. Coronel’s song also holds redemptive power, as the narrator was one of the hardened criminals whom Coronel pleads his audience to avoid. Often witnessing a trauma, as Coronel did can change people for the better, and if even one person is affected enough by “Dance with the Devil” to change their ways, then the song has completed its object.



The Act Itself, And the Impossibility of Telling


J.M. Coetzee writes on the subject of prisons: “[In South Africa] They may not be sketched or photographed, under threat of severe penalty…such laws have a particular symbolic appropriateness, as though it were decreed that the camera lens must shatter at the moment it is trained on certain sites” (“Chamber” 361). This simile can extend to all trauma, and is specifically similar to the common notion that the Holocaust is “unspeakable.” Often it seems that many traumatic events lack a certain “representability,” especially through the medium of language. How can one write about Auschwitz having never been there; describe burning bodies on a blank piece of paper, or a gang rape, or a scene of torture, with only a pen and paper? The clear obstacle in trauma representation is the notion that the act of trauma–meaning the literal murder, rape, or torture–cannot be fully represented simply in words, only a representation can give the reader a notion of the act itself. This is only exemplified by topics surrounding trauma, precisely because the equivocal nature of their portrayal.


Barbarians gives us the Magistrate–referred to Coetzee as “a man of conscience” in his essay “Into the Dark Chamber”–who is confronted directly with torture on three specific instances (364). First, Colonel Joll imprisons him for consorting with the enemy barbarians and left in solitude for three months, repeatedly being denied food and water. Coetzee writes on the depiction of torture in literature: “‘Torture without the






torturer’ is the key phrase…[torture is] beyond the scope of morality. For morality is human, whereas the two figures [tortured] belong to a damned, dehumanized world” (366). His forced solitary confinement acts like this notion of torture in its own way: “I realize how tiny I have allowed them to make my world…I [am] more like a beast or a simple machine…My requests


for clean clothes are ignored…What freedom has been left to me?” (Coetzee, Barbarians 101). The notion of the torture occurring without the torturer is


important because it is what the torturer desires; it is part of the method of torture itself. If the tortured victim fails to see who is torturing him, he will forget his enemy and forget himself. The Magistrate thinks, “they will never bring a man to trial while he is healthy and strong…they will shut me away in the dark till I am a muttering idiot, a ghost of myself,” and this is exactly the aim of torture; not exactly to acquire the truth, just to create something that will say what the torturer needs him to say. The Magistrate’s transformation is similar to methods of torture and degradation used in the Holocaust. The epigraph to Maus I states, “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human,” which is a quote from Adolf Hitler (Spiegelman 4). Throughout Maus Jews, imprisoned Poles, and other non-­‐ Aryan Germans were all treated like animals for the aim of the Nazi cause. Torture makes humans un-­‐human, inhumane, and barbaric. Coetzee highlights this dehumanization with the animalistic representation of the Magistrate, and shows that often the tortured loses sight of the torturer.


The Magistrate’s most direct confrontation with torture occurs when he is humiliated in front of the whole town. It then becomes apparent to the Magistrate that Mandel is going to kill him. His walk toward the center of the town is marked by short, halting sentences: “I climb, [Mandel] climbs behind me, guiding me. I count ten rungs. Leaves brush against me. I stop.

He grips my arm tighter” (Coetzee, Barbarians 136). This halting, observational prose starkly contrasts Coetzee’s style earlier in the novel. This stylistic change occurs during the events of torture outside of the Magistrate’s consciousness, and shows that often in order to represent difficult traumas like torture, simple, objective sentences often serve to be more accurate than detailed illustration. By placing these short sentences dispersed throughout, the audience naturally steps inside of the Magistrate’s shoes as he is being tortured and preparing for death. When reading the short sentences readers are compelled to imagine the leaves brushing against themselves rather than viewing the Magistrate’s experience omnisciently. Coetzee ends the torture scene where the Magistrate is hung from his dislocated shoulders with one simple sentence:






“There is laughter” (139). This allows for the reader to feel what it’s like to hang there, if not in pain, at least in experience. While J.M. Coetzee cannot accurately describe what it feels like to be tortured, he can place the reader into a position of empathy, into the shoes of the Magistrate, to imagine what it may be like in his mind, because there is no language which can accurately describe pain to the individual.


This short, iceberg-­‐style writing carefully inserts the reader into David Lurie’s position when he is locked in the bathroom during the rape/robbery in his daughter’s house. When describing the actual trauma often Coetzee writes as objectively as possible:


He tries to stand up and is forced down again. For a moment his vision clears and he sees, inches from his face, blue overalls and a


shoe. The toe of the shoe curls upward; there are blades of grass sticking out from the tread (Disgrace 96).


Coetzee inserts the seemingly inconsequential facts, like the blades of grass, to show the effects of trauma on the mind. The brain uses disassociation tactics, or thinking about something completely benign during horrific events to steer itself away from the horror and into action. Another common cerebral response is to enter a “state of hyper-­‐


vigilance” (Howard and Crandall, 14). During this time Lurie is on fire, his focus is on blades of grass in a shoe instead of his scalding head. This allows him to quickly assess the location of his enemy while simultaneously allowing the burning to abate while he figures out his next move.


In addition to allowing the reader to insert himself into the text through objective writing, this style complements ethical representation because language often does not do trauma justice. Ernest Hemingway discusses the tabooed topic of abortion in “Hills Like White Elephants,” a short story about an American couple who argue whether or not to abort their child in


a Spanish train station. Hemingway points literally to the inadequacy of the word abortion as representing “abortion” by omitting the word from the


text entirely. The technique serves to heighten the intensity of the text, and leaves the reader guessing at the heart of the narration, while also illustrating the limitations of language. Abortion carries with it many negative connotations relevant to Hemingway’s contemporary reader: defying the religious dogma, the termination of a possible life, as well as breaking the law of the times. Therefore, by omitting the word, the






American man is able to assert abortion is “perfectly simple,” or “perfectly natural” (Hemingway, “White Elephants” 214). The woman clearly feels differently about it, but still does not dare to say abortion, because that would mean absorbing all of its connotations. Instead she simply says she will do it, “because I don’t care about me” (213). This can connect both to the health of the fetus, which the woman feels is a part of her, as well as her own health having an abortion, which can lead to both trauma to the


unborn child as well as the mother. The complexity of language is similarly portrayed in Disgrace, when David Lurie remembers thinking of all the


connotations of the word “rape” as a young man: “[I] wonder what the letter p, usually so gentle, was doing in the middle of a word held in such horror” (160). Through Lurie’s youthful innocence we acquire the important notion that words and language are often disconnected from what they may mean or imply. Particularly in the realm of trauma, words often betray the meaning of those who speak them.


Primo Levi, author of a memoir called Survival in Auschwitz about his experience in the Holocaust, writes, “We became aware that our language lacks words to express this offense, this demolition of man” (26). Often authors insert this notion into their texts to show how difficult it is to truly represent trauma. Inherently, there must be a difference between a representation and the act or thing it is representing, and this dichotomy flirts with the boundary of the ethical. The loss from the act itself to its representation may cause offense, which is why many critics warn against representing difficult traumas like the Holocaust. One way to show the ethical barriers of representing trauma is showing the limitations of language. Spiegelman does this very clearly in Maus II, in which he draws an autobiographical representation of his struggle to represent Auschwitz:





























(Maus II 45).



Spiegelman bluntly points out the polarity of describing the indescribable. The third panel shows both Spiegelman and his psychiatrist (an Auschwitz survivor himself) without any speech bubbles after the Beckett quote praising silence. It’s almost as if he is “trying out silence” as a method of Holocaust representation. However, this method clearly is not an effective method of representation; it is the only panel in Maus with no speech bubbles in it, aside from this depiction of Vladek and Artie looking at photos of those who died in the Holocaust:



























(Maus II 115).


Here, Spiegelman seems to follow Beckett’s advice, as well as many other Holocaust thinkers who believe that silence is the best method of representation, since the dead cannot speak. This panel acts as a sort commemoration–a “minute of silence”–for those who cannot tell their stories like Vladek can. Spiegelman floods the page with graphics photographs of those who have passed, and they are untied to the normal borders of the novel. They fill in around the page and pile up, so the reader cannot see how many there are. The homage to those who cannot speak is important in ethical representation: while trauma literature often identifies its own limitations in a completely accurate depiction, this does not mean representation is futile. Texts concerning trauma are often self-­‐referential


ormetafictionalin nature due to their controversial topics. The self-­‐ referentiality of trauma literature is also portrayed in Waiting for the Barbarians. Throughout the novel the Magistrate is unable to discern


exactly what happened to the barbarian girl, other than Colonel Joll’s men tortured her. When asked, the girl responds, “ ‘I am…’–she holds up her forefinger, grips it, twists it. I have no idea what the gesture means” (31). Clearly the girl is gesturing she is broken, but the Magistrate is unable to understand this simple movement, echoing the impossibility of truly representing torture. The Magistrate also attempts to compose a letter, presumably to chastise and oppose Joll’s torture. However, he finds himself unable to write it. He asks himself, “A testament? A memoir? A confession? A history of thirty years on the frontier? All that day I sit at my desk staring at






the empty white paper, waiting for words to come” (66). The Magistrate here acts as a symbol of all authors who attempt to depict torture–or more broadly–trauma. Showing the difficulties depicting trauma is integral to its ethical portrayal. Trauma authors often identify the difficulty–and


sometimes impossibility–of representation of their own topic within their texts. J.M. Coetzee highlights the impossibility of telling in his novel Disgrace

as well.


David Lurie is a literature professor by trade–words are his weapon of choice; accordingly, he wants to use language and speech to publicize the trauma and catch the men who committed the crime. However, Lucy will not let him tell the police of her own trauma, namely rape, but only of his torture (he was burned with alcoholic spirits). She says, “ ‘David, when


people ask, would you mind keeping to your own story, to what happened to you? …I will tell what happened to me’ ” (Coetzee, Disgrace 99). Lucy


repeats herself throughout the novel, even lying to police to avoid accusing the men of rape, and ironically she is not truthful about what happened to her, though she tells David she will be (109). Lucy’s silence parallels Melanie’s silence: neither of their stories are elucidated firsthand. The “unspeakability of rape” is a common trope among canonic literature, and illustrates an important criticism within our culture. Women are not supposed to speak about rape. It is, in Lucy’s words, “a private matter” (102). Lurie even thinks it is “not [his] business,” showing that Coetzee is wrestling whether to represent rape at all (104). If, then, it is not Lurie’s business, and Lucy thinks it a private matter, who has the power of representation? Lurie comments that since Lucy will not speak, the rape has become “not her story to spread but [the rapists’]: they are its owners” (115). Similarly, he believes Melanie views the rape as his secret she must bear (34). The notion of rape becoming a prize for the rapists is something that David opposes, and this opposition is important in the ethics of representation. Just as history is written by the victors, often rape stories are owned by the perpetrators, which Coetzee warns against.


Lurie admits that although he can imagine himself as the men who raped


his daughter, but doubts his ability to imagine himself to be the woman (Coetzee, Disgrace 160). Coetzee does well to bring up this notion throughout Disgrace, and though he illustrates the after effects of rape, he


elides over the act itself. Coetzee highlights a major problem in society by acknowledging that many men cannot imagine what it feels like for women to constantly be in fear of rape, but Lurie knows he must try to imagine






“being the woman” (160). Men must try to be the woman, to empathize with the victim, and the notion that societal norms dictate rape is private complicates this notion. David attempts to reconcile the issues surrounding his own rape and its unspeakability. Coetzee brilliantly outlines the disconnect between men and women on this impassioned issue to show that although rape is a crime, often it goes unreported and unrepresented in both criminal proceedings as well as literature itself.


The topic of rape is incredibly contentious in South Africa, particularly during the publication of Disgrace. President Thabo Mbeka even denounced

the book as racist, and many critics agree that the novel plays to a classic


“black-­‐peril” narrative in which the white woman is brutally raped by the “savage” black man (Graham 434). Disgrace also contrasts this by showing


white man’s coercive abuse over minorities through David’s assault of “the dark one,” Melanie (Disgrace 18). It is imperative to understand this text


within the context of the new South Africa and the problems it faced–and still faces. Throughout the novel David Lurie is undoubtedly a protagonist and at his core a good man; he rightfully resigns from his post at the university, he does all he can to protect his daughter, and helps his daughter through her own trauma. However, though we know little of his own political views, Lurie is a liberal who undoubtedly morally opposed Apartheid, yet steered clear from any activism. Petrus, however, is a newly


liberated African, given freedom in a country previously dominated by small upper class whites. Disgrace does not offer a respite or solution to the


opposing forces, but merely shows their contrasting ideology, and Lucy attempts to bridge the two together in her own way: through compassion. David pleads with her to move away when he sees one of the rapists at the


party, but Lucy responds, “This is my life. I am the one who has to live here,” showing that the new South Africa is hers to create (Coetzee, Disgrace 133).


When David catches the younger, mentally troubled rapist named Pollux spying on Lucy, he beats him, feeling “elemental rage” (206). Lucy, however, protects the youth, stopping the violent encounter. Lucy wants above all else to create a harmonious new South Africa, because the country is hers as well. Lucy’s decision to keep the rape a secret also stems from her desire to return to the life she had before the trauma took place, to make peace. However, one critical aspect of the representation of trauma is that the victim is inherently and irreversibly changed due to the act, and they are no longer the person they were before it, no matter how much they may yearn to be.


All the trauma literature I have discussed details the categorical change of






the victim after the trauma. As hard as one may want to return to the way things were, the first step in moving past a trauma is admitting there has been definitive change in who the traumatized person “is.” This is an important notion in trauma representation, especially when many witnesses of trauma fail to see the victims as changed beings and instead treat them as if the trauma had not occurred. David sums up the effect of trauma on the individual clearly in this quotation: “In a while the organism will repair itself, and I, the ghost within it, will be my old self again. But the


truth, he knows, is otherwise. His pleasure in living has been snuffed out” (Coetzee, Disgrace 107). After Lucy’s rape she moves out of her room, the


scene of the crime, refusing to sleep there (111). A less physical change occurs when Lucy does nothing upon hearing Ettinger’s racist remarks about black people, which she would normally “fly into a rage” (109). David Lurie falls prey to pretending Lucy is still her same self during his attempts to persuade Lucy to leave her home, and she replies, “I am not the person


you know” (161). The notion of one dying after a trauma is depicted in Barbarians as well, when the Magistrate speaks to Mandel: “I have already died one death, on that tree” (Coetzee, Barbarians 145). Often instances of


trauma redefine those surrounding the trauma, whether if they realize it or not. In “Hills Like White Elephants” the woman knows that things will be different if she gets an abortion, but the man asserts that their life will be the same. She sarcastically remarks that she knows people that have had abortions and “afterwards they were all so happy” (Hemingway 213). Similarly, the narrator in “Dance With The Devil” remarks that the devil walks around with him, wherever he goes, as a constant reminder of the trauma he endured.


Vladek is also categorically changed from his experience in the camps, and Artie believes this is where Vladek got his miserliness. For example, he tries to return opened cereal boxes, collects copper wire found in the street, and grabs paper towels from restrooms so he doesn’t have to buy them. His wife Mala despairs about this, saying, “All our friends went through the camps. Nobody is like him!” (Spiegelman, Maus II 131). The characterization of Vladek as being miserly his whole life is complicated because the only impression we get of his past is from Vladek’s own perspective. Though he may have always been overly careful or neat, his experience undoubtedly changed him as a person, and intensified his peculiarities. Vladek is a good person overall though, as he selflessly helped Mandelbaum in Auschwitz. Throughout his life Vladek has felt responsible for the people he loves and protected Anja throughout his life, and the notion that he could not save his son Richieu from death has changed him to the neurotic father figure for






Artie. For Vladek, control in his life has always been necessary, and his experience in the camps turned him from a neat individual into a neurotic miserly man.


The Torturer


The most difficult aspect of trauma representation is the question of how to represent the “inducer of trauma”. It is worth noting that although Coetzee only deals with torture in his essay, rapists and perpetrators of genocide can also be thought of as torturers, as all of them use humiliation, pain, and cruelty to dehumanize, kill, or cause its suffering.


Coetzee writes that the problem with representing the torturer to the novelist concerns “how to justify a concern with morally dubious people involved in a contemptible activity…how to treat something that, in truth, because it is offered like the Gorgon’s head to terrorize the populace and paralyze resistance, deserves to be ignored” (Coetzee, “Chamber” 5). This harks back to Adorno’s quotation mentioned earlier in the essay on the characterization of poetry after Auschwitz being “barbaric.” The contrast here, however, is that although Coetzee admits the torturer deserves to be ignored, he does not say he should be, and in his own novels concerning trauma literature does not omit the torturers. Ultimately Coetzee argues that torture lies beneath a moral compass, “for morality is human, whereas [the tortured and the torturer] belong to a damned, dehumanized world,” where the torturer is presumably allowed to do whatever he wants regardless of morals, since he is no longer on the scale of good and evil (Coetzee, “Chamber” 6).


Aside from drawing Germans as cats and Jews as mice, showing the “predator–prey” trope of the Holocaust, Spiegelman’s Maus stands apart from other trauma texts because of its biographical nature. Spiegelman wrote Maus as a memoir of Vladek Spiegelman’s time in Poland and Germany during the war, and he does not focus too much on the representation of the Nazi, instead on the life of a single Jew during the Holocaust. The author makes every Nazi the epitome of evil, both in and out of Auschwitz, which makes sense considering both Vladek’s place and the atrocity committed against so many millions of people. Undoubtedly there were moral Nazis who worked against orders, but since Maus is a memoir, it does not have to tackle the question of representing the torturer, as the torturer is the unambiguous evil Nazi.






Coetzee’s description of torture as being beyond the “scope of morality,” and


thus categorically non-­‐human can be read through the lens of the two torturers in Barbarians, Colonel Joll and Warrant Officer Mandel (“Chamber”


6). Canonically eyes are considered “windows to the soul”–Coetzee uses this phrase as well– and humans can read emotions and feeling into people’s eyes, and they are one of the most complex organs in the human body


(Barbarians 145). However, since the first page of the novel we are unable to see Colonel Joll’s eyes because of the “dark disks” he wears, we are unable to view his humanity (1). Joll acts as something inhuman, without feeling, and without a soul. However, when at the end of the novel Joll is driven out of the town and the Magistrate returns as civil servant, they see each other one last time. Joll is in his carriage ready to depart and the Magistrate has an urge to violently punish him. He says:


As though touched by this murderous current he reluctantly turns his face towards me…His face is naked, washed clean…Memories of his mother’s soft breast…as well as of those intimate cruelties fro which I abhor him, shelter in that beehive…The dark lenses are gone (170).


The Magistrate finally sees Joll without his glasses and can see his humanity, even though he is escaping the village. It is almost as if the torturer must keep a façade to mask own humanity so he can torture. The Magistrate is offered a similar view of Mandel. When the Magistrate sees his face he describes his eyes as “clear…as an actor looks from behind a mask” (90). He asks Mandel if he must go through some “purging of [the] soul” after torture, as he cannot imagine being both a human and a torturer. Mandel cannot answer the question, turning violent and shouting vulgarities at the Magistrate (146). Often the torturer is strictly viewed as dehumanized or mechanized, and their struggle to be both human and subhuman is thus an important motif of trauma literature.


Coetzee reminds us in “Into the Dark Chamber” of the isolation and dehumanization of the “tortured” and the disconnect between the torture and the actual man committing the atrocity. The Magistrate escapes his own cell, and watches a scene in which Colonel Joll tortures prisoners he has caught. This seems to contradict Coetzee’s earlier remark about distancing the tortured and the torturer, as Joll is clearly the man responsible for the dehumanization of the Magistrate. Joll, however, insists on the “torture without the torturer” paradigm. He brings out a little girl to whip the prisoners, and certainly a small little girl is an archetype of innocence, and






thus difficult to describe as a “torturer.” From this single instance the crowd


surrounding the scene grapple for the canes, with many taking a turn whipping the prisoners (Barbarians 122). It follows that for the torturer, the


paradigm is advantageous because the victim cannot put a face to the crime, and thus cannot be angry at anything tangible. The Magistrate realizes this because it was happening to him during his isolation, and is why when he sees Joll he becomes incensed. In fact, the Magistrate seems very intent on watching Joll. He says, “Though I am only one in a crowd of thousands, though his eyes are shaded as ever, I stare at him so hard with a face so luminous with query that I know at once he sees me” (121). The Magistrate does not want to reduce torture simply to the act, or his tortured solitude, and Coetzee seems to warn against this characterization, asserting that the men responsible should be tried. However, the Magistrate mentions he cannot do it himself: “Would I have dared to face the crows to demand justice for these ridiculous barbarian prisoners…Easier to shout No! Easier to be beaten and made a martyr” (124). It is difficult to turn the anguish of torture into a call for justice, just as it is difficult for Vladek to relive his Holocaust, and just as Lucy does not accuse the men who raped her, it is easiest to try and forget. However, representation means remembering, and recalling as much as possible, a point Coetzee elucidates through the Magistrate’s confrontation with Joll.


The representation of the rapists in Disgrace is interesting because of the distinctions between David Lurie and the three men who raped Lucy. The relationship between Melanie and David is a complex one, and critics have interpreted David’s forced sexual encounter with Melanie as both a rape as well as simply an “affair [that] blossoms but soon sours” (Graham 440).


David cultivates a relationship with Melanie through their first encounters, and he undoubtedly holds power over her: Melanie is David’s student, he is much older than her, and in a certain sense holds a power from their difference in race within the context of South Africa as Melanie is not white.


David uses his power to seduce Melanie, and on one specific occasion their copulation was “undesired to the core” (Coetzee, Disgrace 25). There are


most definitely degrees of rape, and the violent brutal rape against Lucy is represented much differently than David’s. Two of the three men are never heard from again; it seems they almost don’t deserve to be represented.


The third turns out to be a young mentally challenged boy named Pollux who is related to Lucy’s neighbor Petrus. Pollux ultimately can be sympathized with, because of his mental deficiency, whereas the other men are violent criminals, and are described little, because of their atrocious crimes are left out of representation. Coetzee represents the rape, but not






specifically the rapists, which shows that although rape must be represented, leaving out the perpetrators is important in defining rape ethically. This problem lies beyond the scope of literature, breaking into current event coverage.


This is a current problem in most news stations’ coverage of school shootings: they tend to focus on the perpetrator and not the victims. Elliot Rodger has become a household name, but those he murdered during the 2014 Isla Vista Massacre are less publicized–and unknown outside the sphere of Isla Vista. Dr Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, warns against creating “anti-­‐ heroes” out of school shootings, which can lead to further shootings through the high level of coverage about these shootings (“Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe 25/3/09”). However, the media ignored his advice, and since the Isla Vista Massacre, five people died in a Las Vegas shooting, with others occurring in Myrtle Beach and Moncton, Canada. Even upon editing this thesis, another shooting has occurred at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon on June 10th, 2014 (Springer). In our increasingly global society, it is important to acknowledge the ethics of representation and go about representing difficult topics with care to both depict trauma accurately as well as ensure the trauma does not repeat, which means taking care when “over-­‐representing,” glamorizing, or glorifying the torturer, or perpetrator or trauma.




Throughout history authors have struggled with the concept of ethical representation. From Ernest Hemingway to J.M. Coetzee there has been criticism and praise for those who attempt to tackle portraying traumas like


rape, torture, and genocide. J.M. Coetzee received the Booker Prize for Disgrace and his representation of the clash of cultures in South Africa and


two rapes. Answering Cathy Caruth’s question of “how not to betray the past” is difficult, especially when considering representing ethically ambiguous topics, the ultimate difficult topic being the Holocaust. Although it may be difficult, placing the reader into a position to be traumatized is a necessary step in representation. It is the job of literature to sometimes make the reader uncomfortable, and understand what it may be like to live


through a trauma. The reader makes an acknowledgement of this when picking up a novel like Waiting for the Barbarians, and even though it may


not be enjoyable to read about torture, it is necessary to create empathy and compassion for the traumatized. This is the aim of trauma literature, because it is impossible to put someone directly into the shoes of the






traumatized, but to give a representation can enlighten a formerly apathetic individual. It is important to represent honestly, objectively, and accurately. Often apt representation of trauma necessitates objective, cryptic, halting description, which serves to place the reader into the position of the trauma in place of viewing it from afar.


Just as in life everyone will react to a trauma differently, placing the reader into the position of trauma allows the reading to be different based on the reader. The self-­‐referentiality of trauma literature is also crucial in accurate objective representation. All of the texts I’ve discussed question their own ethics, precisely because rape, genocide, and torture are such difficult topics to grapple The self-­‐referential nature of the texts allow for a more accurate representation because depicting these topics is not easy. Finally, the representation of the torturer is difficult because the act of torture in subhuman, and utterly unnatural. Because of this the torturer is represented as un-­‐human. Though true ethical representation is difficult, there should be no trauma that can go textually unrepresented. Though the Nazi or the rapist certainly deserves to be forgotten amidst history’s books, this does not mean he should be. As societal critics and historicists it is the obligation of the author to accurately represent things that may not deserve to be represented. However, this does not allow them to escape judgment and remembrance. Nazism, rape, torture–all were created and perpetrated by humans in the most literal sense, and because of this they cannot be forgotten. Closure from trauma is from compassion, acceptance, and empathy.


A Brief Coda


During these past ten weeks I have spent countless hours reading, writing, editing and re-­‐ editing my thesis on how to represent the “un-­‐ representable.” On May 23, 2014, a devastating mass shooting took place in my college community of Isla Vista, killing seven people and injuring thirteen more. I was not in Isla Vista when this occurred–I was on the road to Las Vegas, a trip meant to celebrate our near-­‐completion of college. After phoning everyone I knew to ascertain whether they were safe, I realized that my friends and I were all physically unharmed from the killing. Despite this I still felt deeply saddened by what happened, and asked myself a question so many probably did, why? Every time a car drives slowly by me, my heart jumps into my throat.


Over the next few weeks I watched, unsure of how to continue writing, as






everyone else picked up their pens and keyboards. People who never post to Facebook were posting “solidarity” statuses, Twitter was ablaze with #Yesallwomen and later #Notonemore, and major news networks filled their airtime with their trauma porn. The immediate politicization of the incident was a little shocking, and of course the perpetrator’s manifesto and his Youtube videos added to the fiasco. Richard Martinez, father of one of the victims, vehemently spoke for gun control in the wake of the murders, and a Dr. Robi Ludwig suggested it could have been his “homosexual tendencies” that provoked the man to murder (“Fox News”).


More than ever I am convinced the ethics of representation does not simply take place in the classroom, or the library. It takes place in our lives everyday. I did not know how to write after the massacre, and spent much of the next week playing basketball to slow my own brain down, un-­‐think, to forget. The reality of the trauma hits everyone in different ways, for me trauma has always been dealt with through sports, my own escape from thought–where the debilitating “Why” question fades away on the court. However, representation of difficult topics must occur, and there exists a tactful method for this. Just as history books do not tell the whole story, neither did CNN nor Fox News. They did not comment on the protesters outside their vans, who pleaded with them to go, to please leave us alone. They ignored Dr. Dietz’s warning about creating an anti-­‐hero, and four more shootings have taken place around the United States and Canada in the span of three weeks. All of my work on theory and the literary texts which I looked to could not prepare me for driving back to Isla Vista’s haunted streets on Tuesday, the “Day of Mourning” decreed by the University of California. All this defense of representation and here I am, unable to write about the massacre myself! Life often acts thus, it is the most brutal of ironies. Although it may be simpler for the outsider to depict my own trauma, it is up to one of us (or more), to sacrifice our own method of coping, to write, sing, act, or paint our own truth of the Isla Vista Massacre– many people have already been doing this. All around Isla Vista I see survivors. Soon, when a car drives slowly by, I know my heart will leap from my chest no longer.




Works Cited


Adorno, Theodor W. “Cultural Criticism and Society.” Prisms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981. Print.






Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore:


Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Print.

Coetzee, J.M. Disgrace. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.


-­‐-­‐-­‐. Waiting for the Barbarians. New York: Penguin, 1982. Print.

Coetzee, J. M., and David Attwell. “Into The Dark Chamber.”


Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992. 361-­‐ 68. Print.


“Fox News ‘expert’ suggests ‘homosexual impulses played a role in Calif. massacre.”, 25 May 2014. Web. Accessed 12 June 2014.

Fry, Paul. Theory of Literature. New York: Yale University Press, 2012. Print. Graham, Lucy Valerie. “Reading the Unspeakable: Rape in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2003): 433-­‐444. Jstor. PDF. Accessed 26 May 2014.


Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner’s, 1987. 211-­‐14. Print.


Howard, Sethanne and Mark W. Crandall, MD. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: What Happens in the Brain?” Washington Academy of Sciences, Fall 2007. Web. Accessed 27 May 2014.


Immortal Technique. “Dance With The Devil.” Revolutionary Vol. 1. Comp. Felipe Coronel. Viper Records, 2001. MP3.


Katoi. “Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe 25/03/09.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 25 March 2009. Web. Accessed 1 June 2014.


Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Touchstone, 1996. Print.


Population Reference Bureau. “Children in Single-­‐Parent Families By Race.” National Kids Count. Feb 2014, Tab. 1a. Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2014. Web.

Accessed: 20 March 2014.


“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 2014. Web. Accessed 10 June 2014.


Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York:


Pantheon, 1986. Print.

-­‐-­‐-­‐. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1991. Print.


Springer, Dan. “Gunman in fatal Oregon high school shooting likely killed self, police say.” Fox News. Fox News and Associated Press, 10 June 2014. Web. Accessed 10 June 2014.

Bleak December: Religious Fervor in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells”



Despite considerable attention being paid to this curious posthumous entry into the published works of Poe, there remains as yet no adequate confrontation of the poem’s complex imagery. A number of the poem’s images indicate a focus on religion, making the words of Paul O. Williams from the late 1960s as relevant as ever: “Although the poem seems to discourage exegesis because it conveys its meaning as much by the resources of music as by those of language, more things can, nevertheless, be said about its literal meaning than have been” (Williams 24). What follows is a reading of “The Bells” which will justify a claim that the poem is a conspicuous treatment of spiritual themes, then present what a reading of the poem consistent with its orientation toward religiosity would look like, and finally support these assertions by appeal to evidence of Poe’s ideological development. This is in no way a discarding of the existing interpretations of the piece. Indeed, there is contained within the following analysis implicit agreement, to varying degrees, with each of the extant interpretations of the work, from a simple onomatopoeic exercise tracing four variant bell-sounds (Graham 1) to a dithyramb on the triumph of “discord and death” (Williams


  • to the much-favored birth-to-death narrative map following Schiller (Cameron 37), as well as the sourcing work tracing the poem to Dickens (Pollin 221), Schiller and Romburg (Cameron 2, Dameron 368), a number of contemporary articles (Dedmond 520, Dudley 298, Pollin 469), and many subtler influences. As opposed to a defiance of the existing scholarship, this intends to be a statement regarding a large dimension of the poem on which said scholarship has remained oddly silent, and on which this paper will take the following stance: the bells within “The Bells” figure a religious outpouring, likely Christian in nature, into which the speaker sinks in accordance with an inability to reconcile doubts about religion’s promises and cognizance of mortality.









  1. The Rapture that Impels


The text of the poem is littered with allusions to religion. Temporarily ignoring occasional diction of “Heavens,” “wedding,” and “rapture,” (lines 7, 15, 30) one notes four images which may not seem suspicious taken alone, but which sum to something so conspicuous that their being ignored in other studies of the poem is truly curious. These images are the “turtle-dove” in the second stanza—and the recurrence of its “moon” (lines 23-24, 50), the “deaf and frantic fire” in the third stanza (lines 44-45), the steeple-dwelling “ghouls” in the fourth stanza (lines 79-88), and the merry pæan-rolling “king” in the fourth stanza (lines 89-112). Now, there are more existing theories than those referenced above, three of which stand out as more thorough because they find themselves somewhere along the path toward addressing some of these lines; those theories are the reading of the work as a descent into madness (Fusco 121); the reading of the work as a tale depicting the death of a beautiful woman from the perspective of her lover; and the reading of the work as a jazz-like expression of inner turmoil exacerbated by droning rhythms (Du Bois 242). All, it can be remarked, may be fair guesses as to the content of any of Poe’s work, not least of all his later poetry.


In Richard Fusco’s madness reading, the images of the fourth stanza come into play as the expression of a speaker no longer of his right mind. Indeed, there is clearly something preventing the speaker from having total lucidity or total control of his expressions in the fourth stanza, which one could perhaps trace to a trauma in the third stanza. Fusco, like Williams, opens by identifying—as does this paper—the inadequate readings of the poem which had become critically prominent. Yet there is a certain implicit weakness to his interpretation as well, as it seems like a catch-all interpretation to which any difficulty may be subjugated. That is, one may, as in the pure bell-sound reading of the poem, discount any lines which offer interpretative issues; one may imagine a similarly ‘convincing’ reading of Finnegans Wake as an expression of madness, seeing as it is far less easy to try to parse every image the work offers. And, even ignoring this complaint, this interpretation fails to confront the images of the second stanza in a meaningful way, despite its insistence that the speaker is still sane during their presentation, except as a frame of mind to which the third stanza refers back.







The death-of-a-beautiful-woman interpretation, apparently more of a hint in the scholarly community than an officially expounded or individually championed notion—and as likely derived directly from Poe’s comments in “The Philosophy of Composition”—subsumes within it the descent-into-madness interpretation as the result of the woman’s death and does a better job of addressing the third stanza’s fires (as the instrument of the woman’s demise). Yet this interpretation fails to adequately cover the images of the second stanza aside from the explicit references to marriage; fails to cover the images of the fourth stanza; and even seems to ignore the beginning of the third stanza, wherein it is clarified that it is not the speaker (who at the outset asks the reader to listen to the bell-sound) who makes “a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire.” Rather, it is the bells themselves which make this appeal, despite this interpretation’s stance that the bells are not an instrument, i.e. not a form of expression for the speaker, but are, as in most interpretations, objects of the speaker’s observation.


Finally, Arthur Du Bois’ jazz reading of the poem is compelling. But, again, like the pure bell-sound reading of the poem and Fusco’s madness reading, much of its power stems from being able to stop wondering at the meaning of difficult lines by deferring such concerns to questions of sound. In an odd maneuver, Du Bois’ article, trying to preface his reading of “The Bells,” attempts to reconcile every interest, inclination, and theme of Poe inside of a handful of pages, with each sweeping claim lacking any citation or sufficient internal justification. Despite these weaknesses, this is one of the most complete interpretations of the poem; while it may not do justice to the images of the first and second stanzas, it does provide a thorough tonal reading and its efforts are eminently respectable. Needless to say, however, not one of these three admirable efforts offers a full reading of “The Bells.” Before such a reading may be attempted, it will be fruitful to clarify the aforementioned inclination of the poem toward religiosity.


With attention to manuscript evidence, it becomes clearer that Poe is treating a religious subject. Initially, one may be tempted to interpret such details as the references to “moon”, “monody,” and “pæan” (lines 24, 72, 91) as evidence that the poem is treating its subject in pagan terms, and so classify the four images enumerated above as extensions of Poe’s affinity for classical allusions. Yet, in addition to those already-much-bandied four images, one may provide a line present in the February 1849 manuscript version of the full poem’s fourth stanza, though not in the published version of the poem: “They are neither brute nor human, / But are pestilential carcases disparted







from their souls / Called Ghouls:—” This division of the steeple-dwellers from their souls brings into consideration directly (perhaps its excision implies ‘too directly’) the conversation going on at this time over both what may possibly happen to a Christian soul after death and whether any such thing actually exists. Further, one may consider why this clarification of the steeple-dwelling ghouls as distinct from their souls was removed. Perhaps it was done so as to reintroduce ambiguity as to whether these “people” can be categorized as either “people” or “ghouls,” even as their ‘ghouldom’ is being affirmed over their humanity. Perhaps, on the other hand, it was removed so as to fall into line with the notion that souls either do not exist independent of their bodies, or that the two things’ connection cannot be severed. Either of these latter notions would be consistent with the last of the four models for Poe’s consideration of death according to J. Gerald Kennedy’s essay, “Phantasms of Death,” writing at this point on “The Colloquy of Monos and Una:” “Poe appears to suggest that the total annihilation of body and soul must take place before the rebirth or transformation alluded to at the beginning of the work [to Poe’s “vision of infinity”]” (129). At any rate, it is clear that Poe is concerned not only with a class of being conspicuously inhabiting a steeple, but a class of being not necessarily “disparted from their souls.”


Attention to sourcing evidence reinforces this perspective and points more specifically toward Christianity as a source of the poem’s religious fervor. Wesley Britton has pointed out the ignored legacy of John Milton in Poe’s poem: “But to date, the similarities between the first stanza of ‘The Bells’ and stanza 13 of Milton’s ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’ have not been noted or explored” (Britton 1). Britton goes on to enumerate the many interconnections and parallels between the two poems, and to highlight borrowed diction in the named stanzas of each. Britton opens his article on this with a nod toward the cradle-to-grave pattern as the most compelling reading of the poem. Even conceding the poem’s clear tracing of Schiller, Britton nevertheless here fails to adequately appreciate the value of his own discovery. Contextualizing the opening stanza of “The Bells” not only in terms of a winter birth, but in terms of the quintessential Christian birth allows the reader to more easily understand how this stanza differs in content from the wedding scenario of the second stanza, and provides a path into the speaker’s initial happiness as a traditional celebration of the Christian miracle schema.







III. A Sort of Runic Rhyme


The poem can be read as a progression from birth to death, from sanity to insanity, and from romance to mourning, provided each is in accordance with the speaker’s religious fervor as signified by the bells. All that follows is in keeping with Roger Asselineau’s claim, in his brief biography of Poe, that in Poe “a poem becomes an end in itself. [. . .] [Poe] would undoubtedly have subscribed to Archibald MacLeish’s prescription that ‘A poem should not mean / But be'” (Asselineau 38). “The Bells” is not a description of the speaker’s interaction with bells, but an embodiment of that interaction. This reading of the poem revolves around the theory, original here, that the bell-sound itself is symbolic of the audible expression of celebration of religion, in hymn or organized prayer, and that the speaker’s relationship with religion may be traced by studying the uses of the bells in the poem and the poem’s flux of images.


The first stanza subtly anticipates the difficulties the speaker is to have with the bells later in the work while depicting the speaker’s early perception of religion (possibly the speaker’s first experiences of religious fervor). The poem opens with the speaker’s call to listen to the bells. This auditory proselytizing draws the listener into the audience of the bells. The allusion pointed out above by Britton places the winter birth of the stanza, already common in Schiller-dependent readings of the poem, in a Christian context. One need not pause unnecessarily on this opening, except to conjecture that this stanza signifies the happy celebratory tradition of Christmastime by which one may, in their youth, be drawn into religion. The one truly significant line in this stanza is that concerning “Runic rhyme,” whereby the audible celebration of the Nativity by nature is said to be “Keeping time, time, time, / In a sort of Runic rhyme, / To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / From the bells” (lines 9-12). So, the rhythms of nature are keeping time with the bell-sounds. Yet the language of that celebratory outpouring is “a sort of Runic rhyme.” This unresolved note, that the bell-sound and nature’s religious celebration are related only through an unsolved code, introduces a mysterious tension into the apparent pleasantness of the youthful hearing of the bells. All is not well, or even entirely understandable, in paradise.


The second stanza showcases the living of a pious adult life, as signified by the bells’ reaction to the sacrament of marriage. Rather than simple exclamatory happiness, the bells here bring assurances of a happy life-to-







come. The “turtle-dove” in this stanza evokes idealized monogamy, and is associated with the Bible via both the Old Testament (in the Song of Songs) and the New Testament (at the Nativity). Like the first stanza’s nature, we have an image of the aspiration of religious language toward immaterial significance, here figured not by the logically unattainable “Runic rhyme” of the bells, but by the physically unattainable position of “the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats / On the moon!” (lines 23-24). The promises of religion are becoming more obviously untenable. One feels the taunt of the turtle-dove, from its portentous religious position able to “gloat,” for it already occupies the heavenly space of the “moon,” a space toward which the bells will madly clamber in the desperation of the third stanza. Where the first stanza had nature, through an unintelligible intermediary, keeping time with the bells, the bells of this stanza instead urge the future: “How it dwells


  • On the Future! how it tells / Of the rapture that impels / To the swinging and the ringing / Of the bells” (lines 28-32). To this language of prognostication, Paul O. Williams would add the foretelling by the bells in both of the first two stanzas (Williams 24). Williams goes on to point out that this foretelling of “a world of merriment and a world of happiness” comes in contrast to the immediacy and reality of the destruction and death in the third and fourth stanzas with their emphatic mention of the present (Williams 24-25). The happiness of the future is not actual or known, but is foretold and promised. The recognition is vaguely present in the speaker’s experience of the bell-sound that none of the glorious, beautiful promises brought by the bell-sound are coming into existence. Along this vein, note that the mystifying “jingling and the tinkling” of the first stanza have been replaced by the man-made, measured “rhyming and the chiming” at the end of the second stanza.


The third stanza is the religious crisis of the speaker, as the bells react to the fearful flip-side of the coin of the Christian afterlife and so fight themselves. Again, the speaker asks that we listen to the bells, which now “shriek, shriek,


  • Out of tune, / In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire, / In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire” (lines 42-45). Unlike Schiller’s fire, which possesses both positive and negative aspects, the fire in Poe’s poem is unfeeling and does not yield to the appeals of the bells. The assurance of hellfire instills terror into not only the speaker, but into the bells whose interactions with the fire the speaker details. The bells—or possibly the bells’ envisioned fire (the syntax is ambiguous)—now make one last attempt to claim the beautiful promises of the second stanza: “With a desperate desire, / And a resolute endeavor / Now—now to sit or never, / By







the side of the pale-faced moon” (lines 47-50). This desperation belies the confidence of the gloating turtle-dove in the prior stanza, a notion underscored by the fading of the moon’s brilliance. Immediately following this, the speaker finally provides in this stanza his own comment on the bells, saying (almost sympathetically), “Oh, the bells, bells, bells! What a tale their terror tells / Of Despair!” (lines 51-53). In these lines, the speaker as good as says outright that the bells’ “desperate desire” and “resolute endeavor” is a failure. For the remaining half of the stanza, the waxing and waning of “horror,” “danger,” and “anger” (lines 55-65) present the efforts of the bell-sound to maintain its optimism in the face of the fear which it itself expounds. Ultimately, there is nothing to be said but a redundant reliance on the same doctrinal formulation “Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, / Bells, bells, bells—” (lines 67-68).


The fourth stanza, at last, portrays the state of religious adherents, their leadership, and of the speaker whose experience has paralleled them. The bells of this stanza are no longer warning bells of immediate danger, but final, definite funeral bells. While the object of mourning in this stanza is certainly up for debate, the context of the bells’ “despair” in the third stanza points to the foretold happiness as a contender as valid as a lover of the speaker. As shown by “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe is assuredly no stranger to allegorical implementation of death. The two key images in this stanza are the “Ghouls” and “their king” (lines 88, 89). The ghouls are specified to be “the people—ah, the people, / They that dwell up in the steeple, / All alone, / And who tolling, tolling, tolling, / In that muffled monotone, / Feel a glory in so rolling / On the human heart a stone—” (lines 79-85). These vindictive steeple-dwellers seem reminiscent of the gloating turtle-dove, and one would be hard-pressed not to read a parody of prayer or hymning into “that muffled monotone.” Crucially, the language of these steeple-dwellers, as they are to be found “tolling, tolling, tolling,” is precisely the bell-sound; here, at last, is the crux of this reading’s theory that the bell-sound figures religious outpouring. This image explicitly conflates the language of the steeple-dwellers with the sound of the bells. Conflated also are the bells themselves and the religious adherents, as each image associated with the latter as easily maps to the former—and one should be cautious to point to these lines as unambiguously regarding the bells alone, as does Fusco. As to their identity as “Ghouls,” Kennedy points out that, in Poe, “the preternatural [. . .] commonly dramatizes the interpenetration of life and death, the mingling of metaphysical opposites” (Kennedy 111). They are figures evocative of living mortality, even as they are evocative of a







congregation. Their king, meanwhile, must then be religious authority, “And he rolls, rolls, rolls, / Rolls / A pæan from the bells; / And his merry bosom swells / With the pæan of the bells, / And he dances, and he yells:” (lines 90-95). For all that Fusco said about the speaker’s madness, surely there is no figure in the poem more mad than this jolly overlord of the ghouls. The revelation of this figure’s introduction is the revelation of the originator of the bell-sound, whose own expression is “Keeping time, time, time, / In a sort of Runic rhyme,” (lines 96-97) and for whom the promises of the bells never lose their potency. The “Runic rhyme” of the first stanza returns, now clarified as having acted as intermediary between a celebrant nature and the bells only by willful invention; the speaker recognizes the same “sort of Runic rhyme” and so utilizes the exact same phrase. Notable, also, is the word “pæan,” potentially implemented so as to defamiliarize religious outpouring by associating it not with Christianity but with paganism. This notion is supported by the use of the word in Poe’s earlier poem, “Lenore,” wherein a celebration of one who has ostensibly gone to heaven is called “a pæan of old days” (line 21). In the end, from the realization of the “Runic rhyme” onward, the sound of the bells and the celebration of the mad king become an inextricable mess. The happiness of the king becomes “a happy Runic rhyme” (line 107) while the sound of the bells attempts to overpower all doubt simply by fervency, here symbolized by quantity of “bells.” At last, the mortal reckoning of the funeral bells ends the poem with the uncharacterized loudness of the third stanza’s “clamor and the clangor” being replaced by the unambiguously negative “moaning and the groaning.”


That each stanza ends in a repetitive string of “bells” is no mistake, nor is it an error that the number of lines and quantity of concatenated “bells” increases in each successive stanza. The further the speaker sinks into considerations of religious fervor while recognizing the interaction between that fervor and mortality, the more wholly the speech of the speaker becomes replaced by “a gush of euphony” (line 26). One is asked, at the outset of each stanza, to listen to the bell-sound, and in doing so, to undergo the ideological, physiological, psychological journey of the speaker with respect to the those same bell-sounds. So, yes, Poe does follow the eight-stanza cradle-to-grave pattern from the middle of Schiller’s “Das Lied von der Glocke,” but he does so in a way which exemplifies his own unique, macabre conception of spirituality.







  1. A World of Solemn Thought


There is, of course, evidence in Poe’s other later works—and in their contrast with earlier works—that Poe was moving into a place of more ideological certainty with regard to spirituality. In the introduction to Poe’s Cambridge Companion, the resource’s editor alleges that critical interest in Poe’s verse waned in favor of interest in his prose due to the verse’s failure to sufficiently interact with Poe’s social milieu (Hayes 4). One may note, however, that “The Raven” and “A Dream Within a Dream” (and “The Bells”) have no less interaction with nineteenth century mourning culture and prevailing discourses on death than do “MS. Found in a Bottle” or “The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar.” Indeed, Poe contends throughout his literature with consciousness and death, and especially with the issues of how or if one may experience the divine and what follows death. To say, however, that Poe was not spiritual or that he denied the existence of the soul would be to miss the tenor of most of his writing. Rather, Poe moved during his life from a fascination with the emptiness of promised paradises to the heroism of existential despair to a conjecture at the soul’s divine potential (Carlson 7-20). In his last group of writings, Poe had absolute conviction about his at-times-contradictory vision of the universe. As Asselineau puts it, “For his part [Poe] was ready to accept the existence of a mystery at the center of the universe, but his intelligence, as Eureka shows, strove to pierce it and eventually reached, instead of Emerson’s vague pantheism, what Allen Tate has called a form of panlogism. Poe’s rationalism [. . .] resisted the fascination of the abyss and refused to be engulfed by a hazy spiritualism” (Asselineau 33). As elucidated explicitly in Eureka, “Mesmeric Revelation,” and “The Poetic Principle,” the later Poe (despite his distaste for the Transcendentalist movement) outwardly subscribes to the transcendental idea that all matter is part of the divine consciousness of a God entity, and to the semi-transcendental idea that death allows the soul to be re-subsumed by that omni-perspective.


Yet, for Poe, when one wonders whether there is a continued individual experience after death, one asks a question to which one already knows the undesired answer, as does the lore-student in “The Raven.” Poe sees such a hope as a juvenile affair, associated with his own early literary scheme of the lost paradise, and leading to the paralyzing resignation of the lore-student in the closing stanza. The argument of this paper is not that Poe denies the notion of an afterlife, but that Poe does deny the Christian afterlife with its pleasant persistence of embodied consciousness, and that he may thereby







betray an abiding anxiety about mortality. Poe, near the end of his life, puts forth a more-or-less consistent cosmogony, yet one suspiciously similar in practical human experience to an existential worldview with a weakness for art. Indeed, despite his avowed version of spirituality, Poe seems constantly to link whatever may be termed ‘soul’ with body. As Kennedy perceptively writes:


What seems significant about the cycle of spiritualized dialogues is Poe’s inclination to see body and soul as inextricably bonded. Despite the conception of an unearthly, astral form, an odd materialism informs Poe’s notion of the spirit world; [. . .] It is as if, for all of his mystical inclinations, Poe cannot escape an empirical vision of a bounded world. [. . .] Poe’s visionary texts [. . .] project a false transcendence, a phantasmic existence after death, conceptually embedded in a cosmos of matter and energy, a system that culminates in irreversible dissolution: entropy. (Kennedy 130)


For Kennedy, “Poe’s visionary texts” include any wherein the model of death is what he terms “separation” or “transformation” (roughly, popular or transcendental models), as separate from any wherein the model of death is what he terms “annihilation” or “compulsion” (roughly, destructive or obsessive models). The latter two, it is clear, were the primary focuses and central thematic concerns of nearly all of Poe’s literature. What is remarkable, which Kennedy exhaustively illustrates among Poe’s prose works, are the ways in which the former two are informed by the diction and thematic underpinnings of the latter two. What Carlson identifies as Poe’s “existentialism,” Kennedy shows spreading into the visionary texts which Carlson finds indicative of Poe’s “transcendentalism.” Even as Poe formulates a spirituality of his own, it is a spirituality as full of reason as the body of works he associates with “ratiocination,” i.e. the studied reason of his detective stories and interest in cryptography. So, even as the later Poe maintains an absolute certainty of his own transcendent paradigms, he showcases a certainty about the finality of death and loss of one’s self and one’s acquaintances.


The development of the poem “Lenore” provides a glimpse at this move toward inward ideological certainty in Poe’s works. Bradford Booth and Claude Jones’ Concordance of the Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe points to the word ‘pæan,’ as mentioned earlier, as being present in both “The Bells” and “Lenore.” There is, however, another, earlier use, unlisted in this concordance. The reason for its absence is that the earlier use is actually an







early form of “Lenore,” titled “A Pæan.” In keeping with being differently titled, “APæan ” and “Lenore” are drastically different poems. The earlier version, published in 1831, is a work in a variation on hymnal common measure wherein the speaker proclaims that no one needs to mourn his young lost love, for she is happily in heaven (Hecker 67-70). The later version, surfacing around 1842, is a work in one of Poe’s characteristically complex invented meters wherein the speaker addresses a character named Guy De Vere, imploring him to mourn his lost love; De Vere responds that he does not need to do so, for she is happily in heaven. Now, this figure of De Vere is one with a number of possible sources, but which clearly exemplifies wealth, pride, and inflexibility (Pollin 4). In the eleven years between the release of these two versions, Poe eventually decided that the earlier version required emending. The obvious differences between the two are the changes to the structure and form of the poem; the subtler difference, but more important difference for this study, is the movement of the speaker from identity as the heaven-proponent to allegiance with the mourning-proponents against the wealthy, proud, unmoving, heaven-advocating character, Guy. This ‘Guy,’ onto whom Poe forces the perspective of the earlier optimism, has none of the subtlety which the Poe of the 1840s is wont to imbue in his morose speakers. The revision is a clear abandonment of the earlier ideal, a denial of the religious hopefulness espoused by both the earlier speaker and the earlier meter. It is not to be discounted, after all, that Pollin points out that the name De Vere is associated with wealth, an association whose lack beleaguered the aristocratically minded, yet ever-impoverished Poe throughout his life; the figure then holds more than one of Poe’s bitter feelings.


Also telling, the fate of the ideology of Lenore’s young lover is not left to chance. A lost Lenore is the reason for the lore-student’s melancholy in 1845’s “The Raven.” While there is no positive identification of the speaker of “The Raven” as Guy De Vere, the re-use in poetry of the name ‘Lenore’ for the lost love is too conspicuous not to explore. If the speaker of “The Raven” is Guy De Vere, one sees a thoroughly interesting development. Lenore’s lover, distanced in both outlook and identification from the De Vere of “Lenore,” is now convinced, much to his own dismay, that there is not “balm in Gilead,” that Lenore does not occupy a space wherein the two can be posthumously reunited—even if the speaker is in denial about the inward source of this revelation. This kernel of meaning is obvious without extending the figure back into the earlier poem. But, if one does presume the re-use of ‘Lenore’ to be more than coincidental, the fact that the lore-student (and De Vere-figure)







is once again the speaker presents an acceptance of the character back into Poe’s usual formula of writing in the first-person singular. To support this, one may map back onto Poe’s “lyric outbursts” the claim by Asselineau that “for all their rational construction and narrative contents, [Poe’s] tales are lyric outbursts in disguise, in which the ‘I’ of the speaker corresponds less to fictitious characters than to Poe himself if he had let himself go” (Asselineau 34). The re-acceptance of the Lenore-loving speaker’s point-of-view coincides with the speaker’s acceptance of a materialist conception of death. It is as though Poe would neither leave the figure of De Vere to his spiritual optimism nor associate the speaker of “The Raven” with the optimistic character of De Vere. The move from “A Pæan ” to “Lenore” to “The Raven” is one instance of a progression in Poe’s literature from heaven-based religious idealism to a rebellion against that idealism to, finally, a resigned pessimism about religious idealism. Though it cannot be said that Poe explicitly holds any of these positions during his life, the progression is nonetheless instructive, and it is that final state-of-mind that informs the analysis of Kennedy and Asselineau, and is implied by the analysis of Carlson.


There already exist refutations of the above theories on Poe. One bold 2010 dissertation by Adam Bradford, for instance, uses Reader-response Criticism to argue that the ultimate effect of Poe’s literature was a subtle affirmation of prevailing nineteenth attitudes toward death and mourning (the latter much more tenable than the former). The problem with drawing such conclusions about Poe is that, while consistent with the culture surrounding Poe and a thread to be found among Poe’s works, they are at odds with both complex studies of Poe and Poe’s works—such as those by Mabbott, Asselineau, Carlson, and Kennedy (which confront the many contradictions among Poe’s philosophies)—and basic knowledge of their thematic content, in ways that are neither intuitive nor illuminating. Based upon some remarks from Poe’s metapoetic essays stretched into his script and several poems, the dissertation alleges that only those readers who immediately rejected any kernel of meaning or iconoclastic sentiment in Poe’s writings truly understood him. Clearly there is a problem here. Any author against whose ideas there is or was significant backlash, in this mode, could be seen to have been writing precisely to please the lowest common denominator. In other words, it is impossible to write anything which challenges one’s own culture, as a reader-only reading of such work will always reveal that the effect of that work is to maintain the status quo, thus discarding any notion of the value of art to present new ideas. That said, all secondary criticism is, to some extent, obviously a reader’s response, and this particularly unfortunate example







misses the point even of the schools of New Historicism and Reader-response Criticism to which it attempts to adhere; the issue only arises when one’s interpretation of a work is based near-solely upon the contemporary public’s readings, with no serious attention paid to the work, the author, scholarly readings, or the public’s readings in subsequent cultural moments. Such an interpretation can be said to be a worthwhile study of those painstakingly gathered pieces of writing which are the responses, though not of the work on which they comment.


  1. Conclusion


Whether “The Bells” is the rich product of Poe’s mature mind, written around the same time as the poignant “Annabel Lee,” or is the sonorous contrivance of a poet in desperate straits—Poe was indeed destitute at the time of its publication (Lanier 17, Schultz 172)—will no doubt continue to be a subject of debate. That the poem treats religiosity, however, is clear. And that the poem may be read as the rich product of a mature Poe is also clear. It seems of dubious value, then, to hold fast to a less content-encompassing interpretation of the poem which is less consistent with Poe’s ideological situation near the end of his life. It is, however, understandable that a reading of “The Bells” in this mode has not supplanted the aesthetic and archetypal readings of the poem. Returning again to the superior insight of J. Gerald Kennedy, he concludes his essay on “Phantasms of Death in Poe’s Fiction” with the following: “While Poe could entertain visions of transcendence, he was finally too much the victim of our own crisis of death to exorcise its dread. [. . .] Little wonder that for many, Poe cannot be taken seriously: to do so is to confront the fearful yet vitalizing truth that our century has done its best to deny” (Kennedy 133). While it cannot be denied that Poe occasionally sinks too deep into the mire of repetition and obscurity in his poems (“Ulalume” seems an obvious case-in-point), he nowhere writes nonsense, and in his most effective poems practices an exceptionally seductive combination of complex ideas with musical intricacy. The ending of “The Bells,” at last, seems every bit as haunting as the shadow at the close of “The Raven,” for it, like that shadow, reveals nothing more than the speaker coming to terms with a knowledge of mortality which had been hidden by beautiful, rhetorical, heavenly idealism.







Works Cited


Asselineau, Roger. Edgar Allan Poe. Minneapolis: UP of Minnesota, 1970. Print.


Booth, Bradford A., and Claude E. Jones, comps. A Concordance of the Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1941. Print.


Bradford, Adam C. “Communities of Death: Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Nineteenth- century American Culture of Mourning and Memorializing.” Diss. U of Iowa, 2010. Iowa Research Online. July 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.


Britton, Wesley. “Edgar Allan Poe and John Milton: ‘The Nativity Ode’ as Source for

‘The Bells'” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews 11.2

(1998): 29-31. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.


Cameron, Kenneth W. “Poe’s ‘Bells’ and Schiller’s ‘Das Lied Von Der Glocke'” The Emerson Society Quarterly 19.2 (1960): 37. Print.


Cameron, Kenneth W. “Poe’s ‘The Bells’—A Reply to Schiller and Romberg?” The Emerson Society Quarterly 38.1 (1965): 2. Print.


Carlson, Eric W. “Poe’s Vision of Man.” Papers on Poe. Ed. Richard P. Veler.

Springfield, Ohio: Chantry Music, at Wittenberg U, 1972. 7-20. Print.


Dameron, J. L. “Schiller’s ‘Das Lied Von Der Glocke’ as a Source of Poe’s ‘The Bells'” Notes and Queries Oxford, England 14.1 (1967): 368-69. Notes and Queries. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.


Dedmond, Francis B. “The Word ‘Tintinnabulation’ and a Source for Poe’s ‘The Bells'” Notes and Queries CXCVI (1951): 520-21. Notes and Queries. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.


Du Bois, Arthur E. “The Jazz Bells of Poe.” College English 2.3 (1940): 230-44. JSTOR.

Web. 12 Apr. 2014.


Dudley, Fred A. “‘Tintinnabulation’: And a Source of Poe’s ‘The Bells'” American


Literature 4.1 (1932): 296-300. JSTOR. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.


Fusco, Richard. “An Alternative Reading of Poe’s ‘The Bells'” University of Mississippi Studies in English ns 1 (1980): 121-24. Print.


Graham, Kevin. “Poe’s ‘The Bells'” Explicator 62.1 (2003): 9-11. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.







Hayes, Kevin J. “Editorial Matter.” The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. xv-xix; 1-6; 241-46. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.


Hecker, William F., ed. Private Perry and Mister Poe. Louisiana State UP, 2005. Print.


Kennedy, J. G. “Phantasms of Death in Poe’s Fiction.” Modern Critical Interpretations: The Tales of Poe. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York, New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1987. 111-33. Print.


Lanier, Doris. “Poe, Sartain, and ‘The Bells'” The Poe Messenger 23.1 (1993): 16-17.



Mabbott, T. O. “Writing of Poe’s ‘The Bells'” American Notes and Queries 11 (1942):


  1. Print.


Poe, Edgar A. “Lenore.” The Literature Network. Web.


Poe, Edgar A. “The Bells.” Great Books Online. Web.


Pollin, Burton R. “Another Source of ‘The Bells’ by Poe: A Broadway Journal Essay.”


Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 27.1 (1974): 467-73. Print.


Pollin, Burton R. “Dickens’ Chimes and Its Pathway into Poe’s ‘Bells'” The Mississippi Quarterly 51.2 (1998): 217-31. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.


Pollin, Burton R. “Poe’s Use of the Name De Vere in ‘Lenore'” Names: Journal of the


American Name Society 23.1 (1975): 1-5. Print.


Schultz, Heidi. “Edgar Allan Poe Submits ‘The Bells’ to Sartain’s Magazine.”

Resources for American Literary Study 22.2 (1996): 166-81. Print.


Williams, Paul O. “A Reading of Poe’s ‘The Bells'” Ed. G. R. Thompson. Poe Newsletter 1.2 (1968): 24-25. Print.

Probient Festive Misrule of Del Playa Drive, or, Halloween in Isla Vista: An Abbreviated Version

Del Playa Drive is a difficult walk and an impossible drive on Halloween weekend nights in Isla Vista. If one is walking and there is a crowd big enough, one can be squeezed, lifted and whirled around in and out of a sea of bodies. Anonymous scantily or elaborately dressed princesses, firefighters, mummies and sexy black cats flirt, shout from balconies, laugh, and tread on gravel, red cups, costume feathers and horse excrement. The damages that are the result of the liberal spirit of those nights have led apprehensive local law enforcement officials into developing costly crowd control and safety preparations; and have led UCSB to implement strict residence hall policies. Both of these official responses in turn create disgruntled Santa Barbara taxpayers and student resentment. In the dialogue that ensues in the aftermath of Halloween in Isla Vista, taxpayers blame the “party school” UCSB for misusing a significant portion of the county’s resources and students blame out-of-towners for “trashing” their home. It is tradition for news outlets to speedily report the damages of the yearly, unsanctioned event. These conflicts are very real; this essay however, will focus on how the topsy-turvy nature of Halloween in Isla Vista reflects national culture functioning at a local level in this college-town. Modernity, consumerism, local politics, and American youth ideology are cultural factors that are reflected and also heavily explored in the event through humor, speech and the body creating a potential for social change. A close analysis of participant performances based on Carnivalesque and English medieval drama studies provides such insight.


With civilization comes the curtailing of freedom because some degree of subjugation is the price people pay for law and order. Inevitably, cultural factors such as ethnicity, class, and gender generate communal conditions that often render the state of subjects chafing and foment a collective yearning for individual sovereignty; and this in turn creates a demand for the disruption of established ruling systems, whether it be from the dominant cultural norms of a society or the government, the church or the state. Evidence of this cultural phenomenon can be traced to the Roman Empire’s most popular holiday out of the calendar year, the Saturnalia. During this holiday, deities representing harvest, heaven and earth were celebrated with a festival that lasted up to a week and during which “license was the rule. Criminals went unpunished, social rank dissolved” (Shalleck 13) and thus, slaves appropriated the pompous deportment of the rich while the rich rid themselves of quotidian customs and conventions of propriety. Other ruling institutions and forms of suppression have fueled the existence of this communal craving for revelry globally. Within Catholicism for example, feasts were created




for “a moment’s indulgence before the penance of Lent” (Shalleck 12) and in England and America, secular events such as masquerades enabled the “bravado and promiscuous flirtation” (Shalleck 13) that was often shunned by Church morality and patriarchal tradition. Briefly liberating events and rituals like these expose the sources of the repressions of the people they temporarily free and have the potential to bring forth social renewal. Moments of such nature are described as carnivalesque; a term coined in the 20th century by Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin.


Bakhtin recognizes all carnivalesque moments, in both literature and cultural customs (i.e. Lent) as spaces of transgression with the potential to liberate individuals from social norms. In Rabelais and his World he specifically studies popular humor and folk culture from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and he posits three main components of the carnivalesque that can achieve this, namely, festive laughter, speech in the marketplace, and grotesque realism. In Bakhtin’s words “carnival is the people’s second life, organized on the basis of laughter,” (Bakhtin 8) a laughter that is “universal” because it is not directed at any one person, is all-inclusive and is all belonging (Bakhtin 11). As a consequence of its inclusivity, it is also non-derisive, unlike the targeted parody comedians and critics often use in modern life. This universal laughter does not chastise or impose ethics the way parody does. Bakhtin explains that carnival rituals of the Middle Ages were often linked to agrarian, biological, or social moments of change or death that people viewed as “moments of crisis” but also as conduits to “renewal” that in the end inspired a “festive perception of the world” (Bakhtin 9). He adds that even customs such as official feasts during that time that asserted all that was continual, authoritative, and hierarchical, could not displace festive laughter. Festive laughter was an important aspect of folk culture that was “turned over to the popular sphere of the marketplace” where unrestricted, more liberal forms of “speech and gesture” developed among those who were “usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession and age” (Bakhtin 10). In other words, festive laughter was used to temporarily resist authority and social norms and to view the world through a different angle in the face of adversity or death.


The speech of the marketplace works simultaneously with festive laughter to foster other carnivalesque inversions in texts or social events. The way it works is by leveling people of all ranks and lineages to one equal status. People speak to one another without restraint in the speech of the marketplace through “inappropriate” language, that is to say, language that is “appropriate” for the carnival space as well as mockery that can either debase those of high ranks or exalt those from the lower ones; Bakhtin illustrates the leveling effects for us:


When two people establish friendly relations, the form of their verbal intercourse also changes abruptly; they address each other informally, abusive words are used affectionately, and mutual mockery is permitted. The two friends may pat each other on the shoulder and even on the belly. Verbal etiquette and




discipline are relaxed and indecent words and expressions may be used (Bakhtin 16).


This type of uninhibited interaction and the suspension of “verbal etiquette” have the power to uncrown the most powerful, authoritarian figures of regular, daily life as well as to crown the weakest and poorest fool.


Finally, the bodily themes of “aging, copulation, pregnancy, birth, growth, disintegration and dismemberment” (Bakhtin 25) operate within Bakhtin’s definition of grotesque realism together with contradiction, overemphasis, hyperbolism and immoderateness to create powerful images of “the living sense that each man belongs to the immortal people who create history” (Dentith 253). An exaggerated image of those themes that show humanity’s immortality through the regenerative essence of the body is for example an old hag1 giving birth, symbolizing death and birth. Another is that of mouths wide open, alluding to swallowing, a symbol of death and destruction yet also reminiscent of indulgence in food a form of sustenance. Finally, a third example is that of birth and death as the “gaping jaws of the earth”, which means Mother Earth both acts as a womb that gives us life and nourishment and then as a mouth that swallows us in death through burial. Based on this line of thinking, to humiliate or degrade the body or an object cannot simply be negative, destructive or damaging but also restoring because humans are not complete, closed entities but unfinished and open to the processes of “death-renewal-fertility” (Dentith 235) through the “convexities and orifices of the body” (Dentith 226) where acts such as “eating, drinking, defecation and other elimination” processes of the body take place (Dentith 227). All of these orifices and images interweave the “beginning and end of life” (Dentith 227) to create Bakhtin’s grotesque realism, the part of the carnivalesque that exaggerates bodily life to assert “fertility, growth and abundance” (Bakhtin 19).


Renewal is still the key term. All the concepts involved in Bakhtin’s carnival are linked by the concept of renewal. Fundamental to Bakhtin’s method of inquiry in Rabaleis and His World was the conviction that there was significant meaning behind the exaggerated, grotesque and caricaturist writing of Rabelais. The same should be thought of the carnivalesque in contemporary culture. However, critics of carnivalesque theory argue about its power to generate any lasting or traceable change. That can be seen argued about Halloween as well. The collective revelry of the night reflects in great part, very conformist behaviors and as a result revelers and observers alike remain disconnected from the progressive potential of the event. In The Politics of Carnival, Humphrey communicates the idea that “the most ‘successful’ kind of direct action is that which deliberately explodes for a brief moment and then allows its perpetrators to slip away” (Humphrey 57). This can be easily understood to be the result of “perpetrators’” or revelers’ ability to act more freely, with less fear of repercussions within the temporarily relaxed space of carnivalesque events. Such a spirit is not usually embraced



  • An evil spirit, demon, or infernal being, in female form (OED online).




however, because the carnivalesque quality of writings and events creates a festive façade that is either solely attractive to willing participants or strongly repulsive to spectators depending on each person’s role and identity in the community. As a result of those ways of viewing carnivalesque spaces, participants and spectators of Isla Vistas’ Halloween focus on contentions over the responsibility for financial, environmental and personal damages of Halloween in Isla Vista. This lessens the meaning of the annual tradition as a carnivalesque moment by limiting the interpretation of it to that of an exorbitant party space for youth and especially, UCSB college students. It is not to say that the efficacy of Halloween in Isla Vista as a carnivalesque moment requires that participants and onlookers be aware of the social role the event has because many of the carnivalesque performances during the event are individual, unconscious processes. It is necessary to interpret those performances and the effects of the event in a specific way—in a way that conservative underlying themes of youth sexuality, nostalgia, consumerist attitudes and national ideologies can be recognized amidst that deception of purely anti-authoritarian chaos. In this essay, the potential change-generating essence of the carnivalesque within Halloween will be demonstrated, but first, I shall establish the definitions of terms that make the best us of the carnivalesque components and allow for an empirically based analysis of Halloween in Isla Vista.


Chris Humphrey’s book The Politics of Carnival: Festive Misrule in Medieval England discusses the arguments about the social function of the carnivalesque as previously explained, but Humphrey replaces the term carnivalesque with the term “festive misrule” in his analysis of events in medieval England in order to examine them with accuracy. The association of the word carnival to the season before Lent overpowers the meaning of the word carnivalesque and the different components of the carnivalesque (e.g. festive laughter, the speech of the marketplace and grotesque realism). Also, that same association has led to a wide and ambiguous use of the term so that it is often used to refer to “any season or course of feasting, riotous revelry, or indulgence” (emphasis mine; definition from OED online), a usage that is too inclusive and turns the term carnivalesque into a heading that “lumps together” (Humphrey 43) unruly cultural activities. This makes it difficult to distinguish festive misrule from other cultural activities such as charivari, which were “ritualized forms of punishment” (Humphrey 43) during which people were punished for breaking social norms or laws. There are stark differences between these types of misrule activities, one of them being that the punished were not willing participants, another being that the laughter involved in charivari was extremely chastising and derisive. Humphrey offers an example of the “imaginative humiliation” (Humphrey 43) suffered by a couple in the city of York during the year 1536. They were punished because they admitted to distributing defamatory papers around their town and their punishment was to be placed “on horseback and parad[ed] about the local area facing toward the tail-end of [a] beast” (Humphrey 43). This activity would fall under the broadly encompassing heading “carnivalesque”, but not under the term festive misrule. The term festive misrule has not been applied to analysis of events to the extent




that the term carnivalesque has, and in order to retain the meaning of the word, only activities such as Halloween in Isla Vista in which willing participants’ rowdy behaviors are analyzed through empirical evidence with the end of discovering where transgressions “derive from, [what their] nature and scale is and the reasons and interests motivating them” (Humphrey 42). Furthermore, those transgressions should be analyzed without any preconceived expectations, but because the carnivalesque has been analyzed in terms of the safety valve and social protest theories, words such as “subversion” or “disorder…load interpretations in advance” (Humphrey 42) with conclusions about political changes under creation within the space of the carnivalesque. In festive misrule, the word “transgression” has a neutral definition however; it “captures[s] what both misrule and charivari share [topsy-turvy elements], while avoiding any implication that they were closely related kinds of activity” (Humphrey 43). Let us conclude with the definition of festive misrule as a “genre performance which makes strong use of the theme of transgression [which] captures what all instances have in common, while leaving us room to consider the use to which it is put in particular cases” (Humphrey 42).


Therefore, the term carnivalesque will not be used interchangeably with other terms in this continuing analysis of Halloween in Isla Vista; the term that will be used along with other words such as “celebration”, “festival”, “ritual” and “performance” will be probient festive misrule. This hybrid term has stemmed from Adrienne Marie MacIain’s dissertation and Chris Humphrey’s The Politics of Carnival; and it represents the Isla Vista Halloween community most accurately. Halloween in Isla Vista is a carnivalesque space unrelated to the season of Lent and therefore the ambiguity of the “catch-all term” (Humphrey 3) carnival shall be avoided. Festive misrule encompasses both carnival ritual (i.e. Halloween in Isla Vista) and “carnivalized writing” (i.e. The York Play of the Crucifixion) (Dentith 67) or, in other words, it spans the division in this research project between text and event. I use festive misrule to analyze ethnographic evidence about a specific contemporary community, as well as literary analyses of writing and research that “describe art or activities” that involve “copiousness, abundance or transgression, from ancient times through to the present day” (Humphrey 3) and especially within youth culture. The term “festive misrule” allows for those carnivalesque characteristics of “copiousness” and “abundance” to be analyzed independently of all other carnivalesque moments and allows for the focus to be placed solely on the probient community in Isla Vista.


Probient, a term coined by Adrienne Marie MacIain “referring to those individuals experiencing… the life-phase between adolescence and adulthood” will be used to form the term “probient festive misrule”. Probient “with the root “prob” from the Latin probare meaning to test or prove worthy” (MacIain 15) communicates that the participants of this event are highly engaged in identity formation and exploration. It is the term that best represents the majority of the Halloween in Isla Vista participants because it is not biased in a way that implies that the individual is getting closer to adulthood and farther away from




adolescence, but rather, it focuses on the in-between state that renown psychology research Professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett acknowledges within the definition of what he calls “emerging adulthood” or the “period from roughly ages 18 to 25 in industrialized countries during which young people become more independent from parents and explore various life possibilities before making enduring commitments” (Arnett 8). According to Arnett, both adolescents and emerging adults are a part of a youth culture that is “based on the subterranean values such as hedonism, excitement and adventure” (Arnett 234) or in other words, the pleasure seeking and explorative personality characteristics that are heightened during misrule events and that MacIain wishes to emphasize through her term “probience”. Furthermore, Arnett communicates that within youth culture it has been proposed, “there are three essential components to the style of youth culture,” (Arnett, 235) which are: image, demeanor and argot. Image is defined in Arnett’s text as “dress, hairstyle, jewelry and other aspects of appearance” and (un-surprisingly) the example given is that of “rings worn in the nose, navel or eyebrow” all that are orifices or places near the orifices of which the hyperbolized images of grotesque realism subsist. In addition, demeanor and argot as the other two components of the style of youth culture, show how probients are predisposed to engage in behaviors that can forge meaningful reflections about specific communities. Demeanor refers to “distinctive forms of gesture, gait and posture, for example certain ways of shaking hands” and argot is defined as “a certain vocabulary and a certain way of speaking [such as] the word “cool” to refer to something desirable and “chill out” to mean to relax or calm down” (Arnett 236); these two components of the style of youth suggest that youth make use of behaviors within quotidian spaces that are in line with those that form the speech of the marketplace that belong to the spaces of misrule and that challenge societal norms or parental expectations. In summary, the in -between state found within youth culture is more accurately represented through the term “probience”, which does not allude to any progression toward adulthood, but a strong sense of exploration that consists of behaviors that are further enabled in misrule spaces. Sociologists argue that “youth culture is a way of constructing a coherent and meaningful worldview” when society “fails to provide one” due to diversity and increasing individualism in modern communities; having drawn the parallels between youth culture style and festive misrule images and behaviors, I argue in turn that probient festive misrule is a way of constructing a convoluted, mirror image of the dominant values present within local communities despite the diversity (to any extent) and individualism that exists among the probients involved, and in this case, in the United States college-town of Isla Vista. Politics of race, gender and sexual preference are three of the themes represented in that convoluted image. The following first person, research and footage-based narratives will show how such an image can result from the “individual, [and] socio-cultural experimentation and exploration” (MacIain 18) probients experience during Halloween in Isla Vista.


Here is the probient image presented in UCSB PhD candidate Adrienne Marie MacIain’s dissertation example. It is an improvised scene that occurred on




“October 31st at approximately 11 pm” during Halloween in Isla Vista. She calls it “Finding Nemo on Del Playa Drive” (MacIain 1). This scene encompasses misrule’s elements and reinforces the instability, in-between state and explorative image of the probient:


“NEMO!” a male voice calls out, “It’s Nemo!” The crowd shifts as a sailor holding a video camera wades over toward where a young man dressed as “Nemo” is facing the opposite direction. The sailor…declares “I have to find Nemo,” partly as an explanation to those he must push out of the way, some of whom turn to follow him, joining the quest. Having arrived he calls out once more, “Nemo!” at which point the orange-and-black fish head turns to face the searching sailor and his camera, revealing an expression of genuine surprise. The newfound Nemo, sporting a lose fitting orange tank top and black jeans, holds up an open container of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey… declaring dramatically, “Oh my god, you fuckin’ found me Dude!” The two strangers hug to the tune of a communal “awwwww”: a conscious collective parody of so many sentimentalized Hollywood-ending reunions. Having played out their scene, the two unceremoniously part, carried off in opposite directions by the chaotic currents of the chuckling crowd. (MacIain 2).


At the moment the theatrical performance dissolves, the “chuckling” of the “chaotic currents” is not directed at anyone in particular. This is festive laughter working to unify the crowd of probients. It worked in three ways; the first was by confirming that there was shared knowledge or a collective understanding of who was the 2003 Disney, Pixar animation fish character called Nemo. Secondly, the embrace that culminated the performance also created a narrative reminiscent of the sentimental movie endings that abound in everyday American entertainment, making the crowds’ mocking laughter directed at themselves, for being so acquainted with the Hollywood culture and according to MacIain, directed at Hollywood’s happy ending culture; a ridiculing of that common fantasy narrative. Once again, festive laughter transcends the boundaries of performers and spectators, misrule space and everyday life to critique social customs through humor.


The speech of the marketplace also plays its part in this scene. The pushing and shoving, the cursing, the communal “awwwww” and the unceremonious parting of the two main actors in this improvisation are all part of the feigned familiarity that enables the participants to partake in the humor of the imitation being performed. As evident, within the carnivalesque festive laughter and the speech of the marketplace often co-exist. Let us not forget the third factor in the study of this misrule however, the grotesque body, which is also simultaneously at work. To reiterate, grotesque realism is the exaggeration of “apertures or convexities [such as] the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly [and] the nose” (Bakhtin 26). In her description of the mini-rendition of “Finding Nemo” put on by the Isla Vista Halloween revelers, Adrienne MacIain notes




Nemo’s presumably agape “orange-and-black fish head” adjacent to “an open container of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey” (MacIain 2). Under close scrutiny grotesque images presented in Isla Vista’s Halloween prove to embody the “unfinished metamorphosis” of young individuals caught between the stages of adolescence and adulthood. At the same time, these grotesque images can reflect behaviors that conform to national ideologies about the stage of life they are living, and Nemo’s scene is one such example.


Nemo’s drinking is an image of death and renewal. The act of swallowing is an action that symbolizes death and destruction (as previously discussed) and the swallowing of alcohol portrays the culturally derived idea of happiness within the probient life stage. There are many costumes worn during Halloween that reinforce the expectation that probients partake widely in substance abuse such as a human-sized walking breathalyzer, human sized beer cans and t-shirts with messages like “Life is a Bitch, Flirt with Death”. MacIain states that Halloween in Isla Vista is “an emblematic expression of what are commonly regarded to be “the best years” of a Westerner’s life, performed by those who are assumed to be in a prime position to enjoy those years to the fullest” (MacIain 4). That enjoyment turns out to have a conformist end even though it is misrule and even though it may seem, on the one hand, to be purely rebellious. The performances of the night conform to ideologies or expectations of how the young community is told to “live” through celebration: in this case, that of over-indulging in alcohol, even breaking the law and drinking on a public street because “the attainment of individual happiness via consumption is the sacred goal upon which postmodern capitalist culture is based; [and] it therefore stands to reason that our (culturally-determined) desires have become the ultimate authority” (MacIain 44), an authority above law enforcement. Probient festive misrule at Halloween in Isla Vista is ultimately safety valve behavior, but it does not fail to offer the opportunity for renewal however. The orange fish head ultimately hyperbolizes life at its prime in a destructive moment to magnify the beliefs that exist in the college town community and perhaps even in the nation. Nemo (from MacIain’s passage) is participating in the destructive and conformist action of drinking but at the same time, through that action, he is giving life to a powerful image. Drinking in public during Halloween in Isla Vista is behavior that is in line with the conformist views about growing up in college in United States, and those beliefs are magnified through his costume choice of the Bildungsroman, Disney character Nemo. The mixed images of a Disney cartoon and the consumption of alcohol reflect the ongoing process of metamorphosis into adulthood—the in-between state that came with the newfound independence of college life and a past of dependence. The grotesque image of Nemo drinking alcohol, the substance that “disappears with what it burns [and] is the communion of life and of fire” and that “incorporates itself within that which is striving to express itself”(Dictionary of Symbols 15) in this case magnifies the state of the probient, that is, performing two polar opposite behaviors, acting both as kid and as an adult, donning a children’s animation costume and drinking whiskey.




The elements of probient festive misrule (festive laughter, speech of the marketplace and grotesque realism) are undoubtedly at work in Halloween in Isla Vista as shown through the Nemo scene. Besides depicting the continual in-between state of the probient community in the college town of Isla Vista, ideologies about youth happiness in the United States and offering a critique about Hollywood entertainment, other performances I witnessed in person or found through online footage research, accord with other themes established in MacIain’s analysis, particularly her insight that “racial and/or class privilege [is defended] through the practice of ethnic stereotyping and mimicry” (MacIain 288) during Halloween in Isla Vista, and that it is sexually charged and “aggressively heterosexual” (MacIain 274). The following passage shares examples of probient performances that show dominant cultural norms related to race and class. She mentions how it is common that Caucasian probients dress in stereotypical costumes of international ethnicities, and minorities within the United States to assert class and race privilege as well as to appropriate certain parts of others’ cultures that white probients deem lacking in their lives:


Caucasian men seem particularly predisposed to don, for example, an exaggerated sombrero and poncho, Japanese “Ninja” gear, a Hawaiian shirt with fake grass skirt and plastic lei… In 2004, the streets of Isla Vista were awash with Caucasian boys dressed as jive-talking “Homeys,” Chicano gangsters, and blaxploitation-style, Afrosporting pimps. Another fairly ubiquitous costume piece, for both men and women, was a Bob Marley style hat, complete with attached dreadlocks… One apparent point of fixation is potency: many of the ethnic stereotypes presented by the Halloween revelers hinge upon sexual, physical, or financial prowess. The Latin lover, the Indian warrior, the black athlete or rap star, the Saudi oil millionaire: all of these express what is most attractive, and most threatening, about the imagined Other. Another common theme is serenity: the peace-loving, ganja smoking Rasta, the laid-back tropical beach dweller, the wise Yogi, and so forth. These identities have come to represent those things that Euro-Americans view as lacking in their lives: balance, harmony, and calm. The portrait of the Other painted by these revelers is an ambivalent one: representations of strength are often accompanied by the insinuation of unscrupulous or sinister behavior, and peaceful portrayals tend to include an implied laziness and/or lack of intelligence. In this way, stereotype allows maskers to simultaneously transcend, and implicitly reaffirm the superiority of, their racial subject-position (MacIain 288-290).


She also adds that white female probients tend to wear costumes that are “of exoticized portrayals of non-white sexual stereotypes: Middle-Eastern Belly dancers, Japanese Geishas, Indian Princesses [and] Chinese Concubines” while non-white female probients often wear United States “icons of femininity” such as “Madonna, Marilyn Monroe


Probient Festive Misrule



and the Disney Princesses” (291). Ultimately, MacIain believes “the act of masquerading as the Other contains simultaneously a fear of, and a desire for, that Other” (289). In MacIain’s opinion this shows that stereotypes can be used to facilitate colonial relations. These relations do not challenge the established social norms however because “mimicry and mockery [of] the Euro-American male remains more or less untouchable territory” (MacIain 292) and this is seen in how probients react to “white” masking or costumes. She gives one example:


…one black reveler who was dressed in a suit and tie was repeatedly asked by a group of white males “Are you supposed to be a Mormon or something?” When he declined to reply, the group taunted him loudly, and made rude gestures behind his back. Yet the same group greeted a white man in fake dreadlocks with an enthusiastic high-five, saying, “What up, my brotha?”…From all this I conclude that the white male is still considered the invisible, unspoken “norm” in Isla Vista. Therefore, to dress as a “white guy” is not to be dressed up at all. (MacIain 292-293).

YouTube sensation and California On’s host, Kassem G experiences that untouchableness of the white Other when he introduces Halloween in Isla Vista during 2013 as a land of dangerous experimentation. Kassem and his film crew begin their video with the arrival of adventurers on a helicopter onto the Jurassic Park island, except the helicopter lands in Isla Vista, as a sign that dangles amid the mystic greenery of the island suggests while the theme song of the American science fiction film plays in the background. Sporting a black leather jacket and a curly, dark haired wig, Kassem professes at first to be Dr. Ian Malcolm. Later however he explains to the camera his need to change his character to Lionel Richie due to other costumed revelers’ failure to identify him as the former. What made the difference between Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park and the singer Lionel Richie? Skin color. Both characters shared the same essential characteristics, which were the dark curly hair and the black leather jacket, but Kassem could not pass off as Dr. Ian Malcom because the actor Jeff Goldblum was White and therefore Kassem’s choice of costume was not recognized. Although Kassem pointing out that he must change his costume is a conformist behavior, one that conforms to the expectation of dressing up as a non-white Other, his action also serves as an opportunity for social critique as it exposes the White male to be an “off limits” costume.


The rest of his Jurassic Park themed filming crew consisted of the perhaps less recognizable fictional pioneers John Hammond (Jurassic Park’s owner in the film) in a beige jacket and hat and Dr. Alan Grant (a paleontologist) in a blue, button-down long-sleeve, white hat and a red bandana around the neck as well as two dinosaurs, one in a white t-shirt with “T-Rex” written in black permanent marker and the other in a


Probient Festive Misrule



bright green and orange, neon dinosaur costume. The five of them walked down Isla Vista’s Del Playa Drive to show their online audience what the beachside attraction was like. Dr. Ian Malcolm in one last attempt to claim his initial identity asks a male probient in a dark, low V-neck and kitty ears whether he is into “ uh, chaos theory? Non-linear equations? Strange attractions? ” To which the male feline probient replies, “That’s what I major in”. Kassem’s insistence here provides an example of the possibility that one may be able to dress as a White fictional character from the land of science fiction, but it also reinforces the idea that MacIain projects through her narrative and analysis about the generic white businessman who remains untouchable. The YouTube clip later moves on to other small performances and interactions between Kassem G and other costumed participants of the night.


One of those later interactions is between him and “North West”. Kassem asks the Latino probient, “every other day of the year what are you?” to which he replies “Any other day I am just a regular beaner walking down campus”. To this Kassem comments “but not today” and North West replies, smiling at the camera and saying “not today, today I am North West”. His costume is the sign of a compass on a pink shirt. He is wearing white-framed sunglasses, an adult sized diaper and a pink bow in his hair; he is North West the daughter of reality show star Kim Kardashian and the musician Kanye West. Through this costume the Latino probient expresses his desire to be the celebrity baby born into fame and wealth and at the same time with a very simple part of his costume, the paper compass pointing to the north and the west, he mocks the odd name of the celebrity baby. The social inversion of class that is permitted within probient festive misrule is highlighted when the male probient refers to himself as a “regular beaner” or in other words, a Latino of humble (or non-wealthy) background who gets to be a rich baby for one night. Ironically, festive laughter is at work because his costume invites spectators to laugh at the absurdity of being born into fame and wealth at the cost of satisfying a consumerist, media-absorbing nation with an ongoing, filmed representation of the what the ultimate pleasures of their American dreams could be like.


Other interactions and footage by Kassem’s film crew demonstrate the sexually charged and “aggressively heterosexual” (MacIain 274) nature of the misrule in Isla Vistas’ Halloween. They ask girls to kiss or twerk (dance sexually) and suggest that all the girls dressed as Miley Cyrus “assemble and create a giant whore voltron”. The definition of the word voltron cannot be found in the Oxford English Dictionary, but the following is an entry from Urban Dictionary Online, a dictionary for unstandardized words that are trending in popular culture:


“Also known as a “Whore-nado,” A Drunk Bitch Voltron is the result of 3-5 inebriated females at a social event linking




together. This usually begins as a group hug of sorts, and then is used in order to keep balance. A Drunk Bitch Voltron can last from anywhere from five to forty minutes, but can occasionally result in skin grafting, which is referred to as a Drunk Bitch Voltron King. Drunk Bitch Voltrons are notorious for knocking over drinks, crying, and collectively screaming.


Causes of a Drunk Bitch Voltron include but are not limited to; “their song” coming on, a group talk about boys, general drunk affection, and the completion of a social shot.

Sometimes one member of a Drunk Bitch Voltron will lose stability, resulting erratic swaying or even a complete structural collapse (odds are increased when heels are involved).


DBV’s cannot be reasoned with, because when forming Drunk Bitch Voltron each member sacrifices their individual hearing to become one being. It’s like…. science or something”

(Urban Dictionary Online).

Most of the interaction and dialogue that occurs between Kassem (and his film crew) and women is objectifying and derisive of women. The definition of the word Kassem uses, as well as the sexual nature of his requests highlight a patriarchal and strongly heterosexual ideology. As the YouTube video moves on, he continues using lines like “here’s some drunk ones for ya” and at a house party he asks a male to choose a female without the two girls being spoken of even being asked first if they are interested in any sort of flirtation with the opposite sex. The profanity and familiar interaction with strangers that occurs through the facilitated, feigned familiar interaction of the speech of the marketplace does not invert patriarchal and aggressively heterosexual social norms but rather to reinforces them and enables the males involved in these scenarios to automatically perceive women to be available and approachable. These values are so strong within the Isla Vista Halloween participants that even when probient female performances seek to challenge them, they are immediately rebuked with disgust and condescension. MacIain provided an example from her own experience during the last Halloween night of the year 2004 when she decided to “dress as a storybook prince” (MacIain 279):


“The most strongly negative reaction I received came near the end of the night…[A] young man, who was dressed as a“redneck” in roughed-up overalls and boots, approached me with a couple of friends, asking, “Hey Princess, what Kingdom do you come from?” “Prince,” I corrected, and showed them my royal “package” to illustrate. The three men began hemming and hawing loudly, one side-kick repeating over and over, “that is fucked up,” the other lamenting, “what a waste.” Most alarming, however, was the reaction of the” “redneck” ringleader. With what appeared to be genuine hurt and anger, he shook his head for a moment before asking me point-blank, “Why’d you have to




go and ruin the mood like that, huh?” The three then turned their backs to me and proceeded to commiserate with the other men at the party about my offensive costume choice. The redneck’s statement, along with his and his friends’ behavior in general, told me a number of things about the expectations placed upon female revelers at Halloween in Isla Vista. As a woman, I was apparently expected to create and maintain a romantic/sexual mood for the benefit of this male audience” (MacIain 279-280).


The grotesque image that MacIain presents by donning a “royal package rivals the normative expectation of the male Prince Charming and the objectified woman. MacIain takes an assertive position against the expectation that she has to please the male audiences by instead “pushing masculinity to a grotesque extreme” (MacIain 281), an image in which the phallus is completely exposed. There are also male probients who cross-dress like MacIain did when she dressed up as a prince, and although not all male probient cross dressers may share one same experience, there is a noticeable trend in how males choose to cross-dress. So what happens when a male decides to cross dress? I shall present a scenario from my own Halloween experience. It was Friday, October 2013. I remember probients walked with their eyes bouncing from the live action on the street to the houses that lined it, looking for a party with alcohol, the occasional costume rating or for the gangs of spectators a-top fences and balconies to interact with. We caught a glimpse of Clifford the Big Red Dog2 with some pals on top of a wooden fence, inciting brief sporadic gatherings around girls who leaned upside-down against the fence, placing their hands down on the ground and using their toes for support while they twerked3. Out of nowhere, a tall guy came jogging towards us with an awkwardly arched back (presumably accentuating his chest and buttocks), sneakers and a tight-fitted pink floral dress. He didn’t bother to adjust the back of it all the way up; he had a (highly noticeable) bulky athletic build. Pulling one of his loose shoulder straps up with one hand and pushing his blond long hair back with the other, he whined at the top of his lungs “Why won’t anybody kiss me?” I laughed at his whiny desperateness and yelled back at him “Wait, who do you want a kiss from? A girl or a boy?” He briefly scanned through his audience to find me and reply “You.” As he approached me, I hurriedly moved my head back and laughed and hopped nervously with fists in front of me, when much to my relief, my friend Kevin offered a kiss. They tantalized each other with a few very close to being real mouth-to-mouth kisses, tilting and moving their head back and forth, but finally, simultaneously said “Naaaaah!” Kevin laughed saying “Yeah, I don’t roll that way” and they gave each other a pat on the back and parted. We saw seaweed men (or rather stinky



  • American canine cartoon character from children’s storybooks and animations by author Norman Bridwell, published since 1963 (About Norman Bridwell in works cited).


  • Twerking: the act of moving/ shaking ones ass/buns/bottom/buttocks/bum-bum in a circular, up-and-down, and side-to-side motion. Basically a slutty dance derived from strip clubs (Urban Dictionary online).




seaweed men with actual seaweed from the beach over them), Drunks 1 and 2, an astronaut, the regular sexy black cats and angels, and even a shower! “That shower is going to get a lot of action,” Kevin said.


The speech of the marketplace, that feigned familiarity between strangers was embraced by the loud, whining, male, cross-dresser, but why? The truth is that it is not possible to establish with certainty the male probients’ motives for choosing to dress as a woman, but there are a couple very viable possibilities. The male probient’s attire was only enough to let him “pass” as a female but in a way that was safely male enough. He did not wear makeup and he wore his dress and blonde wig messily enough so that his “bulky” and unfeminine-like clumsiness remained to assert his masculinity. In this way, the male probient could whine at the top of his lungs about his romantic desires from the safe space that the female costume provided him. In other words, dressing up as the female he wishes to have a kiss from and putting his desires in her mouth created a safe distance between the performed identity and his real male identity to protect him from being ridiculed. Another possibility, would be repressed homosexual desires that would place the male probient at the same risk of being ridiculed within the aggressively heterosexual space of Halloween in Isla Vista. Based on the following testimony which was given after the speaker was called a “hag” and threatened by another male probient who was offended by the speaker “grabbing him”, it can be deduced that male probients who do dare embrace femininity in gender traversing costumes are strongly antagonized by other males:


“A boy can walk around with his dick hanging out of a mini skirt, no problem. But if you actually have the balls to shave your legs and really […] look the part, you’re asking to have your ass handed to you, apparently” (276).

MacIan argues that had the speaker’s female costume been less convincing, the other male probient may have not reacted so aggressively because he would not have felt his own masculinity threatened and therefore might have even played along. These are of course conjectures, but thus far, these conformist, heterosexually aggressive, and patriarchal values have been identified within the space of probient festive misrule and its elements of festive laughter, speech of the marketplace and grotesque realism have mainly worked in a way that reinforces those values or that has been met with displeasure (e.g. MacIain’s “package”).


From this analysis, I have arrived at the conclusion that social change happens a different way in the community if it happens because of Halloween in Isla Vista. It starts with onlooker curiosity and anger. Poor infrastructure, university communication, and relationships with law enforcement are annually repeated discussions amongst community members in the aftermath of Halloween in Isla Vista. The probient community itself begins to question misrule. “Why are we fighting for the right to party, we shouldn’t be doing that, people used to have riots for political causes” said a graduate student during a Deltopia aftermath forum this year; an event that is growing to be very much like Halloween. We




wear what we see on TV and magazines and social media etc. and we play out the role of the party student or party-goers, which just reinforces the opinions that we are the product of mechanized education and Western youth ideologies: that we are stressed out college students that “need to blow off steam” and that we are young and therefore party and drink on weekends. “Indeed…the extreme, excessive, decadent, self-indulgent behavior witnessed at carnival time is precisely not a reversal of capitalist culture, but rather its ultimate outcome” (MacIain 44). So there is an illusion of wild freedom during Halloween on Del Playa Drive, but in reality, most behaviors of that night fall within the safety valve theory. There are some cultural boundaries and ideologies being challenged by probient performers, but mostly in a limited, temporal way. The rich can pretend to be poor, the poor to be rich, males to be females and vice versa, but the patriarchal, heterosexual and sexually charged values of everyday life never leave and status quo returns after Halloween is over.


I am not arguing that Halloween in itself is a socially transformative event, the case studies presented have shown quite the opposite, that Halloween functions as a safety valve at best. I am however emphasizing how the malleable, explorative nature of the participants of Halloween in Isla Vista creates probient festive misrule; an unfiltered image of a part of the culture of our nation, the college town probient festive misrule of Halloween in Isla Vista which both participants and outsiders should understand for what it is—an event that appears to be, in a way purely rebellious but which is in fact very conformist and that fails to challenge the status quo in a lasting way. It reinforces patriarchy, skewed beauty aesthetics, consumerism, class and race privilege, female objectification and a dominantly heterosexual culture. Because of this, the way we see these things has to change.


As eager consumers of the national culture and participants of the intense festive misrule space of Halloween, probients explore, challenge (in a limited way) and magnify local cultural values in a way that other age groups are not allowed to because of the committed lifestyles they live and that other probients in other locations cannot (for this specific, local, college-town community). If national and foreign ideologies about the prime moment in young people’s lives in the west coast is about partying and sexual liberation because of the larger cultural forces that have helped to construct this image, then that is what Kassem and his film crew will capture. If patriarchal tradition is still dominant in our nation, the guy in the dress will whine and portray a romantically starved woman, instead of his own romantically starved male image, and his female costume will be as masculine as possible to ensure that the lines are blurred in a way that does not threaten his male identity. Cultural themes present themselves in Halloween in Isla Vista through probient misrule. The image reflected thus far is a grim one. This does not mean that Halloween can only function for the community by reminding us of the problems we need to face, it also holds the potential to be a space of real social transgression and social change. At the moment I have failed to find any positive change-bringing performances from the annual tradition. However,




probient festive misrule on Del Playa Drive is the closest we can get to a mirror reflection of our local, college-town culture.


I have been writing this paper to the sound of sirens, amidst the Isla Vista Deltopia riots in February and a recent massacre in late May. The reasons for which those things happen in our community are difficult and complex, perhaps even impossible to attain, but I know one thing, that probient misrule in Isla Vista makes the problems in our culture visible so that we can name and address them and also so that we can understand what contributed to those tragic incidents. I invite all of us to get a better understanding of the probient community. We are much like kids yet we are very powerful. What we come to value or want will make the difference in what happens in our community. So Halloween is at the moment a safety valve, with the potential to show us who we are. It can turn into social protest, and although I have not seen any traceable positive changes I still think it can happen. It begins with those questions, why the right to party? Why the riots? And then noticing, oh we are patriarchal, we are consumerists and this leads us to harmful ways of thinking. Whether Halloween will merely reflect forever or whether an improvement starts within it, I do not know but I believe both things are possible. I would argue even that this paper is already a brake away from it just being safety valve, now at least Halloween in Isla Vista has been studied twice, but there is much more work to be done.





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Reverse Colonization as a Function of Criminal Atavism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The Victorian period brought new fears to Britain. With imperialism at its peak, the British began to fear what their colonies would bring to them. The “foreign other” was portrayed as diseased, criminal, and primitive. As the foreign began to be conIlated with the criminal, anthropometry, “the classiIication of individuals and population groups through physical measurements” (Towheed 11), was used to describe criminals in addition to ethnic groups. “Criminal Anthropology” emerged as a science, relying heavily on the concepts of atavism and degeneration. Atavism, a tendency to revert to ancestral type, and degeneration, a progressive deterioration of physical characteristics or reversion to a simpler form, were both inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Proponents of the theories believed that if humans could evolve, they could also do the opposite by becoming degenerate or atavistic. Criminal anthropologists purported that criminals were a class of atavistic human. Critic Stephen Arata points out that “the study of degeneration was. . .an effective means of “othering” large groups of people by marking them as deviant, criminal, psychotic, defective, simple, hysterical, diseased, primitive, regressive, or just dangerous” (Arata 16). It was used, for example, to classify epileptics as inherently criminal, and to claim that certain ethnic groups were “less evolved” than others and therefore more inclined to crime. But while the science of Criminal Anthropology did not “possess anything resembling a coherent terminology or rational methodology” (Arata 15), it strongly inIluenced the literature of the time. The mark of theorists such as Max Nordau, Havelock Ellis, and


Cesare Lombroso can be seen in the work of authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both


the novel and the Count himself, is clearly inspired by contemporary theories of atavism and Criminal Anthropology. Count Dracula represents one of the greatest fears of Victorian Britain—the atavistic criminal who is also the foreign other, and substantiates the threat of reverse colonization.





The science of Criminal Anthropology, though now thoroughly disproven, had a marked inIluence on the Victorian period and beyond. Its foundational concept of degeneration was “considered a form of ‘common sense’” (Arata 16). Victorians took for granted that such concepts were true, and thus the concepts, and the so-­‐called sciences that they led to, inIluenced every aspect of Victorian life, particularly literature.




One of the primary means by which the criminal was identiIied was physical description. Physiognomy, the art of determining personal characteristics


from the features of the body, particularly the face, was the basis of criminal classiIication. Cesare Lombroso published his book, L’uomo delinquente, or The Criminal Man, in 1878, which “would have been available to Stoker in the


French translation” (Byron 468). Lombroso originated the idea of Criminal Anthropology, which created through extensive measurements and examinations of the skulls, faces, and bodies of criminals. He decided on a set of physical characteristics that were common to criminals and indicative of a criminal type. These anomalies include “voluminous jaws”, “extraordinary development of the canines”, and “high cheek-­‐bones” (Lombroso 23, 114, 118). Lombroso also notes that perpetrators of different types of crime may have different identifying features. He gives this description of an archetypal murderer: “The eyes of murderers are cold, glassy, immovable, and bloodshot, the nose aquiline, and always voluminous, the hair curly, abundant, and black. Strong jaws, long ears, broad cheek-­‐bones, scanty beard, strongly developed canines, thin lips. . .which bare the canines in a kind of menacing grin” (Lombroso 119). When compared to Jonathan Harker’s Iirst impression of Dracula, there seems to be a direct inspiration:


His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline—with high bridge of the thin nose. . .The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was Iixed and rather cruel-­‐ looking, with the peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips. . . For the rest, his ears were pale and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks Iirm though thin. The general effect was


one of extraordinary pallor”         (Stoker 48)


Dracula and the archetypal murderer share aquiline noses, long or distinctive ears, and sharp teeth. Dracula’s “broad and strong” chin correlates to the “voluminous jaw” that Lombroso described. Dracula’s close resemblance to the “murderer” type is appropriate since, while the victims he kills come back to some form of life, it is not as themselves, and it is in such a way that they are, barring outside interference, forbidden from reaching the next life. To a




Victorian, this would have been even worse than a normal murder because most British people in that time period would have believed in a redemptive afterlife of which the Count robbed his victims. Two of the other vampires that Jonathan encounters in the castle are described similarly to Dracula, having “high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes”. They also have an additional feature of murderers as identiIied by Lombroso. “The lips of. . . murderers are Ileshy, swollen and protruding” (Lombroso 24). The two dark vampire women are said to have “voluptuous lips” (Stoker 69). The word voluptuous says that they are large and full, but also implies a sense of sexuality that is present in these vampires that is distinct from human women. The other female vampire is fair and it seems that, like Lucy, she is a victim of the Count’s inIluence rather than an instinctive criminal type like the Count himself. Lombroso wrote that the hair of the criminal was generally dark, “especially in murderers” (Lombroso 25). When Jonathan meets Dracula, the Count’s hair is white. As the novel progresses and the Count gains strength, his hair turns black. Lombroso writes that murderers have dark hair, and Dracula’s hair becomes darker as his murders increased. As he embodies the murderer character more in action, he embodies it more in appearance as well. Dracula’s eyebrows are also described, as “very massive, almost meeting over the nose” (Stoker 48). This almost exactly matches Lombroso’s description of a criminal’s eyebrows as “bushy and tend[ing] to meet across the nose” (Lombroso 25). Physically, Dracula clearly matches Lombroso’s criminal archetype.




Another aspect of the criminal’s physicality described by Lombroso was his vitality. Lombroso believed that criminals generally had a “greater insensibility to pain” and were “generally agile and preserve this quality even at an advanced age” (Lombroso 29). Dracula is of a supernaturally advanced age—he is likely centuries old—and yet he is faster than any of the men in the novel and, according to Van Helsing, possesses the strength of “twenty men” (Stoker 276). Vampires are shown as stronger than and more aggressive than humans. Arata notes the “robust health” of the vampires in the novel and contrasts it to the British since “the undead are, paradoxically, healthier and more fertile than the living” (Arata 117). This fertility is of a different sort than that of the living, since vampires reproduce by turning existing humans into vampires, but it is much more present in the novel than any living reproduction. The birth of Mina and Jonathan’s son at the end is contrasted to all of the death that constituted vampire fertility. Dracula’s health and strength at his impossibly advanced age, as determined by his accounts of centuries of wars in which he was directly involved, not only




marks him as a criminal but highlights the fear of the foreign other overtaking the British. Jonathan is weak compared to Dracula and almost falls prey to him in his castle. He is only able to defeat him later on while working in a group.


Facial expressions were thought to reveal similarities to non-­‐human animals


and thus, through the theory of criminal atavism, might indicate criminality. In Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, he devotes a chapter to hatred and anger. Darwin writes that “the


Iirst symptom of an approaching passion was the rushing of the blood into his bare scalp” and conversely that “the action of the heart is sometimes so much impeded by great rage that the countenance becomes pallid or livid” (Darwin). Both of these effects are consistent with Dracula’s appearance when he expresses his “hate and. . .hellish rage” to the men who are tracking him down (Stoker 347). Seward describes “the red scar on the forehead. . .on the pallid skin like a palpitating wound” (Stoker 347). Though generally pale, Dracula looks particularly pallid in his rage, and the the scar on his forehead is more noticeably red and inIlamed, consistent with the blood rushing to the scalp that Darwin described. Darwin also writes about


the importance of the teeth in expressing rage. Teeth are mentioned often in Dracula. The Count’s teeth are one of his most distinctive and dangerous


features. Darwin writes “the appearance is as if the teeth were uncovered, ready for seizing or tearing an enemy” (Darwin). Darwin goes on to note that the majority of people rarely use their teeth as weapons. Dracula, however, is an exception—his teeth are his primary weapon. Darwin writes of a doctor, who works with “the insane whose passions are unbridled” and has conIirmed that biting is more common among these mentally ill criminals (Darwin). Dracula would likely be classiIied as such, and he acts out his crimes through biting. This would have been considered a primitive trait, since according to Darwin, “our male semi-­‐human progenitors possessed great canine teeth” (Darwin). Since large canine teeth and biting would have been more common in early human ancestors, they are atavistic traits.




Lombroso and his contemporaries described the criminal mindset in almost as much detail as the physical description. The main problem in a criminal’s mind, as described by Lombroso, is that “the ability to discriminate between right and wrong, which is the highest attribute of civilized humanity, is notably lacking” (Lombroso 30). It is through the narrating characters’ sense of right and wrong that the reader views Dracula, and with this sense in mind, it is clear that the count is, as Van Helsing describes, “devil in




callous” (Stoker 276). This is also consistent with Lombroso’s descriptions of criminal “cruelty” and “indifferen[ce] to the sufferings of others” (Lombroso 35). Dracula chooses his victims based on a general sense of revenge rather than any personal reason. The choice of Lucy, for example, seems random at Iirst to her friends since she had never met Dracula, nor personally wronged him or his people. She seems to be a complete innocent, and therefore Dracula’s targeting of her is a mark of cruelty. Another quality found in the criminal mind is, as Van Helsing describes, that “the criminal always work at one crime” (Stoker 382). The criminal is determined, but single-­‐minded. After calling the Count “a criminal and of criminal type”, according to “Nordau and Lombroso”, Mina says of Dracula: “he conIines himself to one purpose. The purpose is remorseless” (Stoker 383). Dracula does not give up on his goals. Van Helsing notes how tireless he is with “he be beaten back, but did he stay? No! He come again, and again, and again. Look at his persistence and endurance” (Stoker 361). It is obvious to Van Helsing that the Count has been Iighting this particular battle for hundreds of years even if he hasn’t been speciIically Iighting it against them the whole time. He doesn’t care that they are not his original enemy. They are representative of his original enemy and that is enough, which speaks to his indifference to individual suffering and his persistence.




The criminal was considered similar to both “primitive” races and to “lower” animals. Lombroso framed this as a kind of revelation. When he was examining the skull of a criminal, he “seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a Ilaming sky, the problem of the nature of the criminal-­‐-­‐an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals” (Lombroso 15). This is based on atavism, which was seen as the opposite of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory “was unsettling to Victorians because it dissolved the boundary between human and the animal” (Danahay 19). This view betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. The Victorians thought that existing lower animals had evolved directly into humans, and that the process could be reversed. This misunderstanding could be partially attributed to the inIluence of the great chain of being, a medieval concept that ranked all beings. It began with god and other supernatural Iigures, then humans, ranked by class and race, then the other animals, ranked approximately according to their similarity to humans. This chain was confused with evolution, giving many people the idea that evolution was a straight line connecting all animals and “leading to the conclusion that if something—individual or nation—could evolve, it could also devolve or





degenerate” (Byron 20). Lombroso was among those who believed this. He compares criminals to “apes. . .birds of prey. . .snakes” and writes that “all these characteristics pointed to one conclusion, the atavistic origin of the criminal who reproduces. . .qualities of remote ancestors” (Lombroso 21). The more a criminal resembles an animal, and the lower that animal in the great chain of being, the further he is from civilized humanity. This distance is one of the main things that Lombroso emphasizes throughout his writings, asserting that the criminal is uncivilized because of his atavistic tendencies. Dracula himself is compared to “the rat, and the owl, and the bat. . . the fox, and the wolf” (Stoker 276). These are animals associated with particular traits. The fox, the wolf, and the owl are all thought of as intelligent, though the fox in particular generally has emphasized its cunning, which is has negative implications. The rat and the bat are both common disease carriers. This is signiIicant since Dracula “infects” his victims with vampirism. Dracula’s physical description also points to a similarity to lower animals. His nose is described as aquiline—like an eagle’s beak. Birds of prey are one of Lombroso’s examples of animals that criminals might resemble. The count is also unusually hirsute. He has his thick hair, bushy eyebrows, and, as Jonathan notices “hairs in the center of the palm” (Stoker 48). This resemblance to lower animals is another indication of criminality.




Lombroso and those who built on his research classiIied criminals according to different types. The type that he called “most important” were “born criminals. . .because the crimes committed by them are of a peculiarly monstrous character” (Lombroso 21). Count Dracula is a vampire, quite literally a monster. While this is probably not what Lombroso had in mind with the word “monstrous”, his crimes of murder and mutilation would certainly have fallen under this category. RenIield, Dr. Seward’s insane patient, represents another classiIication of criminal. Lombroso writes of “the idiot”, who “is prompted to paroxysms of rage to commit murderous acts on his fellow-­‐creatures” and “the imbecile, or weak-­‐minded individual” who “yields to his Iirst impulse, or, dominated by the inIluence of others, becomes an accomplice in the hope of some trivial reward” (Lombroso 49). What Dr. Seward terms RenIield’s “zoophagy” is the extent of his murderous acts that are described in the novel, but the latter classiIication points toward his devotion to Dracula and hope that the Count will come to him with instructions or assistance. Havelock Ellis, who expanded on Lombroso’s theories, writes of “the insane criminal” (Ellis 3). Dr. Seward seems to classify RenIield as this himself, referring to him as “my own pet lunatic” (Stoker 272). RenIield is clearly a psychological curiosity, and his




criminal tendencies are linked to his mental illness or, as it would have been called, insanity. The Iinal representation of criminals in Dracula comes with Lucy and the other female vampires.




Lucy’s condition is similar to the then-­‐popular diagnosis of hysteria, which Lombroso attributed to criminality in women. Women were often diagnosed as hysterical when experiencing psychological difIiculties or even just because they did not adhere to the strict ideals of femininity expected of them by their family and society. Lombroso writes that hysterical women have a particular “Susceptibility to suggestion. Of still greater importance for the criminologist is the facility with which hysterical women are dominated by hypnotic suggestion. Their wills become entirely subordinated to that of the hypnotizer” (Lombroso 57). Dracula seems to target women for this reason. He is able to hypnotize them into carrying out his will, and thus they are particularly useful to him. The symptoms of hysteria we “hallucinations, sudden change of character. . . .loss of strengt trembling” (Lombroso 57). Lucy’s loss of strength is one of the Iirst symptoms of her attack by Dracula. After her death and subsequent transformation, the change of character becomes apparent. When the men see her as a vampire, they see “Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (Stoker 249). That word “cruelty”, as used so often when applied to criminals, is now applied to Lucy. The “voluptuous wantonness” in the latter half of the sentence is also important, since Lombroso states that hysteria can cause “erotomania” (Lombroso 58). Lucy is more sexual after her transformation. The other female vampires are also sexually aggressive, which undermines conventionally passive femininity and shows “the breakdown of traditional gender roles, the confusion of the masculine and feminine. . .one indication of cultural decay” (Byron 20). The aggression and sexuality that the female vampires show would have been more often attributed to males, so the female vampires confused this border between masculine and feminine. Border-­‐crossing was one of the greatest driving forces behind what the Victorians believed was cultural decay.




At the height of imperialism, Victorians feared what Arata called “the late-­‐ Victorian nightmare of reverse colonization” (Arata 115). As the British expanded their empire, they also experienced an inIlux of immigrants from the new colonies. Some worried about the effects this immigration might have. Lombroso thought that “the agglomeration of population produced by




immigration is a strong incentive to crime” (Lombroso 80). Many Victorians agreed, and feared the natives of colonies coming to Britain would inIluence British culture, in what they felt would be a negative and regressive manner. This phenomenon is relevant to the works of Lombroso and hi contemporaries because “reverse colonization narratives are obsessed with the spectacle of the primitive and the atavistic” (Arata 109). Lombroso’s criminal as a Iigure of primitiveness and atavism is the perfect Iigure to enact the revenge that the Victorians feared, and Dracula Iits that archetype.




Dracula shows a warlike nature and a history of militaristic aggression. Narratives of reverse colonization show an exaggerated invasion, and the leader of such an invasion is appropriately a general. Dracula’s home of


Transylvania has become synonymous with vampires, but it was with Stoker and this book that the association began. Before Dracula, “Transylvania was


known primarily as part of the vexed ‘Eastern Question’ that so obsessed British foreign policy in the 1880s and 90s. The region was Iirst and foremost the site, not of superstition and Gothic romance, but of political turbulence and racial strife” (Arata 113). The instability of this region meant that it was the site of many political disputes. It would have been immediately associated with war, and Dracula with “the numerous warrior races-­‐-­‐Berserker, Hun, Turk, Saxon, Slovak, Magyar, Szekely-­‐-­‐inhabiting the area” (Arata 114). Dracula, as vampire, is the strongest of these warrior races. The count shows pride in his conquests and even in his defeats.


Was it not this Dracula, indeed who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkeyland; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody Iield where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph? (Stoker 61)


This shows his persistence, as it seems he has fought the same battle many times. When he tells Jonathan of his family history, his greatest glory is in the “bloody sword” (Stoker 60) and he laments that “the warlike days are over” (Stoker 61). The juxtaposition of words like “bloody” and “slaughter” with “inspired” and “triumph” suggest that the count takes as much pride in the bloody scenes themselves as in the victories they signify. This afIinity toward blood is because of his nature both as vampire and warrior. Arata writes that “by continually blurring the lines between the Count’s vampiric and warrior activities, Stoker forges seemingly “natural’ links among three of his principle concerns: racial strife, the collapse of empire, an vampirism” (Arata 111). Dracula’s fondness for violence also emphasizes his





criminality. Lombroso writes of criminals having “the irresistible craving for evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the corpse, tear its Ilesh, and drink its blood” (Lombroso 15). The count is a Iigure of evil, who leaves his mark on the people he attacks, tearing the Ilesh. Blood is is his main source of sustenance and the source of his inIluence. His lust for blood shows him as vampire, criminal, and warrior at once. Dracula easily crosses borders and inhabits all spheres of transgression that contributed to the fear of reverse colonization.


A transgression of class barriers was one of the main fears contributing to the idea of reverse colonization. Dracula confuses class barriers from the beginning of the novel. Jonathan is surprised to not “[see] a servant anywhere” in his castle (Stoker 50). The meals are prepared and placed entirely out of Jonathan’s sight, but it seems that the only person who could possibly be doing it is the Count. This is strange for him, as a noble, to act as a servant in his own home, especially to a foreigner who is not of noble birth.


He soon reveals his feelings about traveling to England to Jonathan: “Here I am noble; I am boyar. . .but a stranger in a strange land, he is no one. . .I am


content if I am like the rest. . .I have been so long master that I would be master still—or at least that none other should be master of me” (Stoker 51). The Count is concerned about standing out as a foreigner in England, because it would mark him as lower than the native English, while he is used to being recognized as higher than those around him. He wants to blend in with the English to make it easier for him to inIiltrate them from the inside.




Dracula also transgressed racial and cultural barriers. Lombroso writes that “There exist whole tribes and races more or less given to crime” (Lombroso 77). Among other ethnic groups he asserted were more likely to be criminals were some Eastern European groups with which the English might have associated Dracula. That may have been part of the reason he felt the need to study so hard to blend in with the English. He wanted to avoid appearing “criminal” so he could commit his crimes unnoticed. “To impersonate an Englishman, and do it convincingly, is the goal of Dracula’s painstaking research into ‘English life and customs and manners,’ a goal the Count himself freely, if rather disingenuously, acknowledges” (Arata 124). While he claims that the goal is simply to blend in, he plans to use that ability to infect people with vampirism without them realizing that he is a foreign other. This aligns with the fear that Victorians had of foreign cultures and diseases infecting Britain. Dracula’s type of reverse colonization is a particularly apt metaphor because “if ‘blood’ is a sign of racial identity, then Dracula effectively




deracinates his victims. In turn, they receive a new racial identity, one that marks them as literally ‘Other'” (Arata 116). Dracula’s use of blood makes blood as racial identity literal. Dracula is taking Lucy, who has “English blood” and giving her instead “Vampire blood”, which she can then spread to others. The spread of vampirism shows the fear that the British “race” would decline in favor of that of immigrants. However, with Van Helsing’s guidance, the men are able to “’re-­‐racinate’ [Lucy] by reinfusing her with the “proper” blood” (Arata 118). They give her blood transfusions each in turn. The order of the donors is “Holmwood, Seward, Van Helsing, Morris” (Arata 118). This order reIlects a strict hierarchy. Holmwood, British and of noble birth, is Iirst. Morris, American and of common birth, is put behind even the other foreigner Van Helsing. Though they are unable to save Lucy with this technique, it shows how racial, cultural, and class order were strictly established. Dracula’s attack on the body “endangers Britain’s integrity as a nation at the same time that he imperils the personal integrity of individual citizens” (Arata 115). He simultaneously invades individuals and the nation.




The Count’s campaign is a form of revenge against imperialism. Considering his location and his history of war, he often fought against conquering imperialists. These people were, like the British did with their colonies, attempting to assimilate Dracula and his people. Dracula takes great pride in his cultural heritage, as vampire and as a member of his country Lombroso writes that “pride, or rather vanity” is a feature in many criminals (Lombroso 33). It is because of this pride that Dracula fought so Iiercely against those who sought to assimilate him and his people, and that he held on to his hatred for them for so long. Through his many experiences in war, he developed a hatred not only for those people, but for any who conquer. Lombroso claims that criminals have “an extraordinary thirst fo revenge” (Lombroso 34). Dracula is consistent with this description. He says that he “spread [his revenge] over centuries”(Stoker 347). He is so dedicated to it that it does not matter that those who initially spurred the revenge are gone. He has moved on to another enemy. The British are not the ones who repeatedly attempted to take away his power and identity. However, as the strongest empire, England is representative of empire in general, and according to Van Helsing “the place. . .most of promise for him” (Stoker 356). Because of this, Dracula takes his power there, to strip the British of their identities in revenge and make them work for him. Dracula says to Mina, “They should have kept their energies for use closer to home” (Stoker 328). This seems not only to refer to those men who are currently Iighting him, but to serve as an indictment of imperialists in general. He hates imperialism and





wants to Iight against it, but he does this by being imperialist himself. Through the spread of vampirism, the Count is forging his own empire. When he infects people, he acts as the ruler of an empire. He forces the ones that he feeds on to become like him, as an empire attempts to make natives of its colonies assimilate. They become his “jackals” (Stoker 347). This is not only a position of servant who helps when he wants to feed, but also like a soldier, helping him spread his regime by making more people into vampires. He expresses a desire to have Mina as his “companion and. . .helper” (Stoker 328). He likely envisions her to have a similar role, as companion and a type of second-­‐in-­‐command, turning as many people as possible into vampires. He wants to create a race, an army, of people who look and act like him, generating even more of the Victorians’ fear of that which is atavistic. Were Dracula allowed to continue on this path unhindered, he would eventually be able to take over by creating an army of vampires and killing or infecting everyone in the country. Arata writes, “Dracula not only mimics the practices of British imperialists, he rapidly becomes superior to his teachers. The racial threat embodied by the Count is thus intensiIied.” (Arata 125). He is able to assimilate people more effectively than the British imperialists because he can change their race and their alliance with his bite. The British feared the people that the Count created, or the people that they worried that real foreigners might create, but even more, they feared becoming one of them.




Stephen Arata writes that “degeneration was a term no late-­‐Victorian thinker could do without” (Arata 2). The Victorians, including Bram Stoker, thought frequently about degeneration and how it might affect their country. The work of Cesare Lombroso and others who explored the Iield of Criminal Anthropology, describing how criminals were a degenerate and atavistic race of humans, inIluenced Victorian thinkers and writers. Bram Stoker’s Dracula


shows how the atavistic criminal and another major Victorian Iigure of fear, the foreign other, could be the same person. Dracula is a gothic horror, a


travel narrative, and an epistolary novel. Each of these literary forms individually concerns itself with boundaries. The gothic crosses borders of natural and supernatural, the travel narrative geographic and cultural, and the epistolary crosses narrative borders to allow the reader directly inside the mind of several characters in one book. These genres combine to make the perfect format for a narrative of reverse colonization, which is based on transgression of traditional boundaries. Count Dracula is a transgressive character in several ways. His status as vampire puts him on the border between dead and alive, human non-­‐human, natural and supernatural. His role as atavistic criminal puts him on the border between human and animal.





He attempts to cross other boundaries—of race, culture, and class—and forces others to cross them. The fact that he crossed these borders knowingly, intentionally to undermine British imperialism, makes him the embodiment of the Victorian fear of reverse colonization.





Works Cited


Arata, Steven. Fictions of Loss in the Victorian Fin de Siècle: Identity and Empire.

Cambridge:         Cambridge University Press, 2009.


Darwin, Charles. The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Project Gutenberg:


  1. E-­‐book.


Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Sign of Four. Ed. Shafquat Towheed. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2010.


Ellis, Havelock. The Criminal. London: Walter Scott, 1892.


Lombroso, Cesare and Lombroso-­‐Ferrero, Gina. Criminal Man According to the ClassiGication of Cesare Lombroso. New York: Putnam. 1911.


Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ed. Martin A.


Danahay. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2005.


Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Ontario: Broadview Press. 1998.






Arata, Steven. Fictions of Loss in the Victorian Fin de Siècle: Identity and Empire.

Cambridge:         Cambridge University Press, 2009.


Darwin, Charles. The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Project Gutenberg:



  1. E-­‐





Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Sign of Four. Ed. Shafquat Towheed. Ontario: Broadview

Press, 2010.

Ellis, Havelock. The Criminal. London: Walter Scott, 1892.


Lombroso, Cesare and Lombroso-­‐Ferrero, Gina. Criminal Man According to the ClassiGication of Cesare Lombroso. New York: Putnam. 1911.


Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ed. Martin A.

Danahay.         Ontario: Broadview Press, 2005.


Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Ontario: Broadview Press. 1998.

Facing the Sublime: The Zombie Figure, Climate Change, & the Crisis of Categorization

To wonder about the monstrous idea of an incessantly hungry horde of the Undead is to face the Sublime, or that which causes mind-numbing terror, yet the zombie monster continues to romance the American public. Beholding the sublime in full view renders minds unable to do anything from terror and despair, and so readers of the 21st century have turned to literature. With novella I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, we explore how the zombie creature psychologically affects readers through main character Robert Neville. We include viewpoints by Edmund Burke with his ideas of terror and


the sublime as well as Marjorie Garber on the crisis of categorization. We chose the 1954 work I Am Legend, as it is widely accepted as the starting


point of the current zombie monster’s incarnation, which we will use to illustrate the zombie figure as an essential, and obviously popular, introspection-­‐causing literary monster through its crisis of categorization.


The voluntary engagement with the zombie literature genre points to our society’s hunger for induced introspection. Both engendered from our cultural anxiety and is reflective of our cultural anxiety, the zombie literature genre provides this introspection when we no longer know up from down, or indeed, life from death. The figure of the zombie provides a welcome relief in its crisis-­‐causing appearance, forcing readers to stop absolutely everything else in order to reflect upon questions they might rather leave alone during day-­‐to-­‐day life. Through the veil of fictional literature, however, readers voluntarily face the sublime, and thus are given the chance to conquer it.



The Sublime and the Third


“Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear isthe most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom.”

–  Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God



The zombie monster, as it is rendered in late 20th and early 21st century American literature, causes in the reader’s mind a unique psychological








experience of not just facing the sublime in nature in all its horrifying and awesome powers, but also of witnessing the binary codes of the First World culture being razed to the ground with a crisis of categorization.



We begin with Edmund Burke’s explorations of terror and the sublime in order to lay the foundation for our argument that the zombie figure, as a fictional symbol of terror, efficiently represents overwhelming anxieties


(such as climate changes) and induces introspection. In his 1757 treatise, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,


Burke declares that terror, or any thing that may “excite the ideas of pain and danger…is a source of the sublime” (Burke). In this sentence Burke describes


the relationship between terror, pain, and the sublime. Pain, as a herald of death, an “emissary of this king of terrors”, increases in strength in the mind because of its status as signifier to the most terrifying state of being – that of not existing at all (Burke). Burke goes on to explain how, as “an apprehension of pain or death,” the state of being afraid “effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning” (Burke). In fact, fear causes our bodies to react as if we were in “actual pain” (Burke). As it is “impossible to look on anything as trifling… that may be dangerous”, it matters not what dimension or size the thing causing the fear is (Burke). If the viewer “consider[s them] as objects of terror”, these objects are then “capable of raising ideas of the sublime” (Burke). This sheds light upon the fact that living creatures smaller than us, such as spiders or snakes, can cause immense fear, because of the danger they pose to our beings.


In the context of zombie literature then, the mere suggestion of a creature that once was human, is the size and shape of a human, and once could feel, think, and reason like a human, but is neither alive nor dead, proves nearly impossible to kill, and only preys upon living human beings for energy to


continue their existence, proves more than adequate to create substantial terror. Though entirely imaginary, this idea of the zombie, of an (almost)


unconquerable threat posed to our beings is just as “capable of raising ideas of the sublime” as, say, the immeasurable ocean (a terror to mankind for many centuries until recent domestication through scientific and technological advances). The idea of the zombie monster astonishes readers, and, as Burke says, “astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror” (Burke). The astonishment that arises from engaging with zombie literature comes not from the concrete details of the zombie monster itself, but rather from the fact that this creature absolutely defies categorization. It is this loss of ability








to place, name, categorize, and through the act of scientific sectioning, understand an object, that causes fear and horror – more precisely, the


horror of losing one’s understanding of reality. It is this defiance of categorization we explore next.



In her book Vested Interests, Marjorie Garber eloquently argues that cross-­‐ dressing is a “third” category that interrupts the societal construction of the gender binary; we intend to borrow the argument for the “third” category and apply it to the zombie figure. Garber clearly states in her introduction


“the ‘third’ is that which questions binary thinking and introduces crisis” (Garber 11). It is not itself another category, but a possibility of something


other than the two choices presented as inevitable fact. Therefore, introducing a third choice to a stable binary has the effect of “reconfigur[ing] the relationships between the original pair, and put[ting] into question identities previously conceived as stable, unchallengeable, grounded, and ‘known’” (Garber 13). She argues that the spectacle of a cross-­‐dresser or transvestite confuses and provokes a society that has been taught to neatly and unhesitatingly categorize every human as either strictly female or male. With the insertion of the cross-­‐dresser, a crisis of categorization occurs, “disrupting and calling attention to cultural, social, or aesthetic dissonances” (Garber 16). Individuals new to the experience of entertaining the idea of the transvestite, or the “third”, are given the opportunity to monitor and question their reactions. The “third” category incites introspection regarding


the hitherto solid, comfortable, familiar binary. The idea of a cross-­‐dresser or transvestite implicitly asks: Why shouldn’t a third category of gender exist?


The same crisis of categorization occurs with the introduction of the idea of the zombie monster – but to a greater degree, we contend, for what binary seems more “stable, unchallengeable, grounded, and ‘known’” than that of being alive or dead?



As interrupting the binary is the effect or purpose of the “third” category, it should now be self-­‐evident as to why the idea of the zombie monster provides such terror to contemporary readers – it is neither alive nor dead, yet has qualities of both. Its body rots, yet needs energy to survive. It moves, but does not breathe. It is capable of action, but does not have (or does not appear to have) volition of thought. Zombies have no sex or gender once they have left the realm of humankind and become zombies – they are an uncategorizable, unnameable, unknowable “it”. The idea of the zombie implicitly asks readers: What defines alive and what defines dead now?








Garber explains the crisis of categorization further as “…a failure of definitional distinction, a borderline that becomes permeable, that permits of


border crossings from one (apparently distinct) category to another” (Garber 16, emphasis mine). The main horror of zombie literature comes from forcing readers to imagine their familiar world with one exceptional difference: the once clearly defined and upheld binary of life and death is now, astonishingly, “permeable”. The reader is thrown into psychological chaos, having come face to face with the sublime, an occurrence so great their minds are filled with only one object: the living dead.



A discussion of the general characteristics of the zombie monster shows that the living dead ironically evolve with each new piece of writing. Consider, first, how obscurity deepens mystery and fear. Edmund Burke states “When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes” (Burke). An object that is terrible must have elements of mystery that prevents one from gaining full understanding; the lack of knowledge heightens the fear of the object. The contradictory and evolving nature of the zombie then understandably keeps contemporary readers (and characters) fully engaged – until the monsters are fully understood, they can never be fully conquered.



All zombies have the same beginning: while the length of time spent officially deceased does not appear to matter, they must be dead first, and then come back to “life.” This stems from the Haitian legend of the voodoo masters who commanded the dead to rise again and labor in the fields (Kee). Since the zombie monster has since passed into American consciousness and literature, however, the conversion from human to zombie has changed from a voodoo master’s call to virus left unexplained, and the creatures’ only purpose seem to be devouring those still alive. They have the power to convert live humans into undead zombies, but they do not seem aware of it. With this basic foundation, each North American rendition of the zombie


monster changed slightly. They started off slow, as discussed in detail in the anthology Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-­Human

(Christie). They shambled, they walked, they crept, they lurched, they


crawled – but they never stopped. The slow but steady persistence gave a feeling of the inevitable – you can run, you can hide, but we will eat you. The


first zombies also were assumed not to have physical sensations – limbs might have been hacked off, blown off, and still unfazed, the undead continued to hunt the living down (Christie). They seemed immortal, except








that the brain was still the weak point. Though they did not seem to be able to think, reason, communicate, talk, or remember their human lives, that particular organ was still essential to their survival: the brain had to be


fatally wounded to finally stop a zombie. This tradition continues today, as seen in texts like Max Brooks’ World War Z and Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies.



However, along the way, many of these characteristics inexplicably changed.


Speed no longer remained an issue. Zombies can move quickly now, as in works such as I Am Legend, World War Z, and Warm Bodies, and as discussed in Better Off Dead. The inability to talk has also been overcome, the gift of gab


granted, showing there is capability of thought and reasoning, as in I Am Legend and Warm Bodies. In Warm Bodies particularly, most expectations


and stereotypes of the zombie are broken. Written from the perspective of a zombie, who is ultimately responsible for starting a revolution – and evolution – readers finish Warm Bodies expecting from now on thinking, talking, and endearing zombies. The highly unpredictable, evolving nature of the zombie – that of an unstoppable, essentially immortal cannibal who nonetheless spends its downtime slouching, drooling and staring at walls, and who in recent texts have been given the power to think and communicate – forces characters and by extension readers to consider nothing else but this sublime monster. Coming face-­‐to-­‐face with this fantastic creature, readers undergo a crisis of categorization and ask themselves many questions: Is it alive? Is it dead? Am I alive, or am I the one who is dead? The killer question of course, is: what defines “human” anymore?



The boundary-­‐breaking zombie creature, the sublime, and the “third” cause necessary confusion, and ultimately, introspection. By presenting the zombie as the indiscriminate enemy against all of mankind, authors of zombie literature force readers to ask themselves what, exactly, is this creature doing that is so evil and inherently wrong? The answers are disquieting. One: the zombie endlessly consumes the dominant species to sustain its destructive way of life. Two: its existence throws the entire planet out of balance. Three: it never thinks about what it is doing, and never dies. Four: it converts everyone else into a zombie. In other words, the zombie existence parallels the First World culture and treatment of the planet. One: in the First World, outsourcing work overseas to Second and “Third” Worlds (only called “third” because of their non-­‐status as either first or second) is a common practice, saving corporations money by buying cheap labor akin to slavery. Two: the human race has unarguably caused havoc with the environment in the








shortest amount of time. Weather patterns have changed; entire species of animals and vegetation have gone extinct. Three: with each generation, our culture’s exploitation of the Earth and its inhabitants only grows more and more sophisticated with all our rapid advancement of technology. Four: The Second and Third worlds want to be modern, but as “modernity” is actually a code-­‐name for “Westernity”, we can safely say that they want to be like us. Thus we as readers are forced to acknowledge that the zombie is our reflection, distorted, grotesque, but true.



The sublime encounter between the human and the zombie creates a third space for readers to consider the environmental consequences of First World culture. This horribly familiar creature so terrifies us because it is a monstrous figure not born of humankind, not purposely created by humankind, but is humankind – and constantly evolving, just as we are. Unable to express itself, the zombie, hungry for life, feeds off of the living. Unable to face head-­‐on the overwhelming truth that our beloved culture encourages killing the planet, our society, hungry for introspection, turns to zombie books so that readers may glance at the truth from an angle, out of the corner of their eyes, quickly looking away and back again, slowly processing though literature what seems unbearable in direct words. The zombie monster, in all of its obscure contradictions, deftly represents what the First World culture fears most and is guiltily aware of: not that the secrets to immortal life will continue to elude us, but that the quest for immortality through godlike knowledge and technological power over the entire planet ultimately strips us of our humanity.


The Other Reflection


“There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.”


– Raymond Williams, Culture and Society



This paper chooses to analyze an example of zombie literature instead of the more established zombie film genre, as studies show that the act of reading has a more profound effect psychologically than of watching a film – engaging with a text, which technically consists of mere black marks on a page, triggers reactions in the brain invaluable to our ideally constantly developing psyches. The act of reading is akin to entering the mind of another, an experience that can be both traumatic and uplifting. With words, a system of symbolism, inherently obscure in form, readers’ minds are presented with an idea of a world within to enclose themselves during the








duration of reading. The idea must be compelling and concrete enough that readers feel as if they were there, but vague enough that the readers’ minds are allowed to stretch it to infinity with their imaginings. As Burke says, “…the most lively and spirited verbal description I can give raises a very


obscure and imperfect idea of such objects; but then it is in my power to raise a stronger emotion by the description than I could do by the best painting”


(Burke). (Indeed we might say the act of reading is in itself a “third” space, allowing readers to traverse the great length between absolute knowledge and absolute ignorance.) More importantly, reading literature encourages development of empathy for others different from ourselves. If we consider the “Other” as someone else on whose differences we focus on, rather than the similarities, the zombie figure best represents the ultimate Other of this generation and time period.



The perspective offered in I Am Legend yields insights on how, depending equally on our will to live and our willingness to understand, our behavior towards the sublime Other in the form of the zombie changes drastically. In I Am Legend, Richard Matheson chooses an omniscient narrator to present the main character’s thoughts and movements. Though Matheson calls his living dead ‘vampires’, “we know a zombie when we see one,” says Peter Drenell (Christie). Robert Neville, the last man alive in Los Angeles because of his immunity to the plague causing vampirism, spends his days fortifying his house and killing the undead as they sleep, and spends his nights safely inside his home, drinking his mind into oblivion as an attempt to ignore the calls from the undead that he come outside (Matheson 6). Through flashbacks and scientific explorations on Robert’s part, it is revealed that the cause of the living dead plague is indeed a bacteria, which spread across the globe via sudden, strange, and violent dust storms, decimating the entire population save, apparently, one. The occurrence of these mysterious dust storms coincides with the rise of the mysterious infection, pointing towards a connection between the fates of the dying and undead human race and the unnatural environmental happenings. However, the reader is left to wonder at the scarcity of acknowledgments towards the environment during this apocalypse.


The few mentions of the environment in I Am Legend effectively reflect Robert’s state of being. The novel opens on a “cloudy day” (Matheson 1). Even with the threat of the undead coming awake at sunset, he clings to the “lifetime habit of judging nightfall by the sky [which] on cloudy days… didn’t








work” (Matheson 1). He periodically endangers his own life because of this “habit” that he is unwilling to change. Consider, too, the mural on Robert’s living room wall, which is the only constant mention of the environment in the novel. It is a stark piece with a “cliff edge, sheering off to green-­‐blue ocean that surged and broke over black rocks… over on the right a gnarled tree hung over the precipice, its dark branches etched against the sky” (Matheson, 5). Other than this artificial representation of nature inside his home, his environment, Robert rarely comments on the state of the world outside, and when he does, it is with bitterness and an urge to control. When he visits his wife’s crypt, he hears birds chirping and dismisses it as “senseless singing. Once I thought they sang because everything was right with the world, Robert Neville thought. I know now I was wrong. They sing because they’re feeble-­‐minded” (Matheson 24-­‐5). This dismissal of birds seems to act as proof of his dominant intelligence and status. Safe in his home with a “giant freezer” which, with “jaded eyes”, he surveys “the stacks of meats down to the frozen vegetables, down to the breads and pastries, the fruits and ice cream,” he does not ask questions about the connection between the environmental destruction and the simultaneous destruction of the human race as he knows it (Matheson 5). His mind is occupied with not just staying alive, but specifically maintaining a First World lifestyle, complete with four-­‐course meals and luxurious liquor every evening after a hard day’s work of hunting the infected ones. After going to the burning fire pit to “shove” bodies into the “great smoldering pile of ashes”, “he stopped at a market to get some bottled water” (Matheson 14). It shows of a great disconnect between Robert’s internal state and the reality of the external world. Like the mural, he remains static for the majority of the novel, obsessing with keeping his house, his castle, his world, in order, ultimately losing his humanity in the process.


As readers we follow Robert’s point of view, naturally falling in line with the thinking that he is right to protect his house, that he is right to kill as many of the living dead as he can – in short, that he is right to uphold the status quo of humanity as it was before. This is a mistake. Through Robert’s obsession with routine and order, Matheson asks whether struggling to perfectly contain every problem in neat little boxes is the solution to processing traumatic events. Robert is understandably severely traumatized from having his deceased baby daughter Kathy snatched from his arms and thrown unfeelingly like “a bundle of rags” into a huge fire pit where, as the law commands, all infected persons must be taken in order to keep the unknown plague from spreading (Matheson 58). After this, his wife Virginia








soon dies from the infection as well, but Robert refuses to suffer the same anguish and horror of watching his beloved burn with faceless others. From this decision arises the consequence of having to bury her twice. The first time is after she dies from the plague; the second, after she awakes from death and comes home for him (ostensibly to convert him to join her in the ranks of the undead), necessitating that he kill her to exact his survival as a human being (Matheson 66). Desperately alone and burdened with guilt at killing his beloved in her undead form, Robert Neville reacts to the sublime Other by labeling all those infected as the enemy to be destroyed at all costs, and decides that as the last man alive, it falls to him to do the job.


He obsesses with schedules, neatness, and keeping order. When he approaches the crypt where his wife is, he thinks in sorrow, “Why couldn’t he have Kathy there too? …If only she could be there, lying across from her mother” (Matheson 25). Finding the door to the crypt unexpectedly open, he sees a “man lying in one corner… body curled up on the cold floor” as if he were cold and had just searched for a slightly warmer place to sleep (Matheson 25). Robert reacts in immediate rage: “grabbing the man’s coat in taut fingers, he dragged him across the floor and flung him violently out onto the grass” (Matheson, 26). A minute later, he “threw out the flowers… and cleared away the few leaves that had been blown in because the door had been opened” (Matheson, 26). This scene in the crypt is telling in a couple ways. First, Matheson calls the intruder a “man” -­‐ not a “vampire”, or the “living dead”, but quite simply a “man” that Robert throws out without a second thought, like the flowers and leaves that were dirtying the place where he had lain his wife to rest. Second, he is firmly holding onto the idea that every thing has its place – the dead (his wife, his daughter) belong in a cemetery, and anything else (flowers, leaves, the man) will be kicked out. He must have things a certain way: the sacred space he has set apart for his wife’s dead body must be kept clear, clean, and neat, without nature stumbling in or invading. He likewise “destroy[s]” the living dead with a calm, calculated eye (Matheson). By focusing obsessively on his idea of how the world should be, essentially closing himself off to any other viewpoint, Robert Neville becomes the monster.


Robert’s transformation from man to monster becomes especially apparent


in the third section, when he meets Ruth, a live woman. At first, the phenomenon of “A woman. Alive. In the daylight” is “such an incredible


sight… that his mind could not assimilate it (Matheson 109). After three years without human contact, this is akin to seeing the sublime, so amazing that his








“brain refused to function” (Matheson 109). But after three years without human contact, he reacts to her running away by chasing her down in the field, thinking, “He had to catch her” (Matheson 111). He, the living, thinks it natural that he should hunt down and capture this other being in order to gain knowledge. When he does catch her, the woman is so terrified she starts “battling” him as “his hand lurched out and he caught her by the right shoulder” (Matheson 112); finally at the limit of his frustration, “With a snarl of rage he drove his right palm across her face. She staggered back, then looked at him dizzily. Abruptly she started crying helplessly…Neville stood there gasping, looking down at her cringing form. He blinked, then took a deep breath. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to hurt you’”, seconds after he had struck her, hard (Matheson 113). What would have been considered an act of unforgivable violence just three years prior now does not register on his moral scale. After three years alone in his world, Robert has “learned to stultify himself to introspection… I am predominately vegetable, he often thought to himself. That was the way he wanted it” (Matheson 109). Beyond morality and internality, another detail shows plainly that he has lost the will to live, but on a biological scale: Robert – who in the beginning of the novel was always angrily forcing down the “wordless, mindless craving of his flesh” (Matheson 8) – now, when a woman has appeared before him, has “no physical desire for her” (Matheson 124). Soon he admits to himself that the idea of establishing a relationship again between a husband and wife and having children and responsibilities to others, well, “that was more


terrifying” than if Ruth were not infected (Matheson 128). As Darwin said in On the Origin of Species, life wants to live – the never-­‐ending battle for life


drives entire species for generations, and yet Robert feels nothing at all. He might as well be dead.


The redemption comes from the discovery that Ruth not only has the vampiris bacteria and lives with it, but that there is an entire society of these beings. He has been killing them in his daily hunts, unable to discriminate between the infected but adapted vampires and the insane vampires who have been unable to adapt to the bacteria. With the explanation given in Ruth’s letter (recall Burke’s argument about the importance of words affecting a stronger emotion), Robert Neville is able to finally open up his mind, seek to understand the Other, and thus regains a bit of his humanity by acknowledging his guilt and monstrosity: “He had killed their people and they had to capture him and save themselves. He would not fight.” Encountering the Other allows him to reflect on his destructive way of life, helping him realize that he has become the monstrous Other. Captured and








fatally injured by the new society’s military, he looks out the window at the new society and sees how terrified they are of him, for he is the abnormal one now. “Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many, and not the standard of just one man” (Matheson 159). In his final moments he understands that he has been living a dead life; that his standards for humanity are outdated and wrong; and that, for this new society to succeed, he, the threat, “a scourge even worse than the disease they had come to live with”, must be eradicated, and he does not blame them for it (Matheson, 159). With this understanding of the Other, he dies, and passes into legend for the next evolution of the human race.


Matheson shows in I Am Legend that an obsessive fixation on the status quo of the past culture and a refusal to look at the Other as an opportunity for introspection leads to the main character’s demise after a late realization of his capacity for inhumanity. However, late, as the saying goes, is better than never. At the end of his life, Robert Neville exchanges violence against and fear of the Other for knowledge and understanding of the Other. In other words, he exchanges inhumanity for humanity. He inspects his kinglike


mentality of bestowing upon himself the power to kill everything that was ruining his idea of the world should be, and exchanges that mentality for


acceptance of how the world is, coming to understand how his role as living legend of terror in this new world must end. His choice to make this positive exchange, of ignorance for knowledge, and fear for understanding, is symbolic of his having had to live with the unbearable sublime, traumatized, and process it. From interacting with the crisis-­‐causing monster, truth about the past emerges, and also instigates a process towards new truth; that is, readers gain the ability to see truthfully how the world works now – how we are acting now – which in turn helps us to begin to change the future, so that it is precisely not like the present. If trauma is having to glimpse the unbearable sublime, then zombies are the perfect monster to symbolize our overwhelming problems, because we are forced to look at the zombie head-­‐ on, even though we would rather face our overwhelming problems askance. Through zombie literature, we encounter the fictional Sublime Other, and in this safe space of literature, are given the chance to process real trauma.


Full Circle: Conclusion


The zombie literature genre induces the necessary introspection for which our society is hungry. While we in the First World may be subconsciously aware that we are destroying the planet with our lifestyle, it feels too overwhelming to face this truth head-­‐on. It is much easier to conjure up a








monster in the realm of public fantasy and point fingers: There is the problem! That is the enemy! Of course, in reality, the enemy is ourselves.


Most scholars studying the zombie figure argue that it is a critique of the consumerist lifestyle, which we agree with, but have added onto. The zombie figure allows readers to face our collective societal guilt regarding climate change through literature, and offers reassurance in our creativity and ability to adapt to overcome this problem. The consumerist lifestyle and climate change are most certainly related. The dominant species (humans) has


crafted the planet (which includes the environment and all other species of animals and plants) to fit its ideas of how the world (for humans) should be.


Naturally this imbalance is not sustainable, and is in fact killing the planet. Zombie literature signifies this one and the same truth with the fictional device of a monster. In this particular subset of the horror genre, the


dominant species are zombies, and in order to sustain its destructive existence, they nearly end up wiping out the rest of the planet. There would


cease to be any more life at all, none, if they were allowed to have their way. However, zombie literature is always apocalyptic, not post-­‐apocalyptic – the duration of the apocalypse is explored, dealt with, and overcome.


What are the results of the traumatic encounter between the human being, the previously believed dominant species, and the zombie, the threatening-­‐ to-­‐be-­‐new dominant species? The human race unites under the common cause of survival and realizes two important things: One, the human races (African, Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, etc.) are not all that different from each other, once one is able to (or is placed in a situation that forces one to) look past the societal constructs of politics, religion, etc. and two, the zombie race and the human race are not all that different from each other either.


Armed with that knowledge, characters and readers can then make decisions. As in I Am Legend, one can make a rigid schedule to continue the serious


business of living as life was in the past – but once one stops trying to understand the Other, one loses one’s humanity and becomes the monster.


There are reasons that the idea of a zombie apocalypse continues to romance the public consciousness, and they do not all have to do with the (for some) delicious feeling of inducing a state of terror while safe in the knowledge of being safe in reality. It is not just the ability to imagine the chaos of our human world coming dangerously undone, and then walking away after closing the book. It is not just the gore, the violence as both entertainment and solution; it is not just imagining the relief of finally giving in to our pent-­‐ up feelings of savageness and frustration without actually doing so during the day-­‐to-­‐day grind. It is because the zombie speaks to us in a way that








encourages us to listen. Yes, it is because inside every human is a zombie, and inside every zombie is a human. The figure of the zombie speaks to us because it tells us that yes, we have made mistakes, but also, that we are all capable of change. Yes, the zombie says: there is hope.


Works Cited


Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful. Web. 11 March 2014.


Christie, Deborah, and Sarah Juliet Lauro, eds. Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-­Human. Fordham University Press, 2011. 9-­‐23. Print.


Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-­dressing & Cultural Anxiety. New York:

Routledge, 1997. Print.


Kee, Chera. “’They are not men…they are dead bodies!’: From Cannibal to Zombie


and Back Again.” Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-­Human. Eds.


Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro. Fordham University Press, 2011. Print.


Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tor, 2007. Print.

Casual Encounters: Representations of Queer Counterpublics in Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance and Edmund White’s Chaos

Starting in the 1970s, queer spaces in New York City epitomized not just an avenue for sexual exploration but spaces of community. In this post-­‐Stonewall era, venues such as the Christopher Street adult bookstore in Greenwich Village and the cruising zones of the docks by the Hudson River exemplify these queer social spaces around which communities were built. These venues produced at first a heightened sense of queer visibility and then a sense of specific community around them—hubs of activism, commerce and sociality. As Michael Warner explores in The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, rezoning laws in the 1980s and early 1990s sought to close or move


these traditional areas of queer sociality.1 Warner argues that this rezoning has had, and will continue to have dire consequences for queer community building. For example, moving queer adult bookstores, which on the inside constituted a venue for the exploration of queer sex, and on the outside, helped give economic viability to the surrounding neighborhood, to mixed-­‐use spaces would have a detrimental effect on queer safety, sexuality and community-­‐building. Queer sex zones would be adjacent to heterosexual ones in distant places, dislodging queer communities such as Christopher Street. At the same moment as these embodied sites of community were being zoned out of existence, social media, in its infancy at the late 20th century, began to open up new forms of communication between individuals through chat rooms and message boards. In the early days of internet sociality, the web was anticipated to become a platform where physical space was no longer a necessity to connect with fellow queers, a forum for a new type of communication, where the sender and the receiver were no longer tethered to physical space.2


This new form of interactivity was briefly examined in Warner’s work, “Publics and


Counterpublics.” In this essay, first published in 2002, Warner begins by reviewing

how the word “public” functions in contemporary usage. Warner then differentiates


1Michael Warner. The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. New York: Free Press, 1999. Print.


  • David F. Shaw wrote in 1997 how and in what ways this online sociality might be manifested within queer culture. Please see Virtual Culture, edited by Steve Jones. Sage Publications, London, 1997, pp. 133-




between “the” public and “a” public as it relates to the creation of an audience and the circulatory nature of discourse—the interactivity between the sender and receiver. After establishing his definitions of what constitutes “a” public, he introduces his concept of “counterpublics.” Warner argues that counterpublics not only have subordinate status to a public, but also instantiate their own specific forms of circulation and modes of discourse—address specific in its speech, topic and theme that would be met with hostility outside of the setting of a counterpublic. Warner describes queer social groups as counterpublics, arguing for the need of specific spaces as a means of socialization and “a poetic function of public discourse,” or as Warner argues, a “world making.”3


Given his descriptions of publics and counterpublics, and the age in which Warner writes—that of the dawn of internet sociality—Warner speculates on how queer reflexive discourses might be manifested online. Warner shrewdly seeks no conclusion; questioning his reader how this specifically temporal and circulatory discourse will be manifested on the internet.4 Warner investigates how community building, which at first depended heavily on physical spaces, self-­‐organization and temporality, manifests itself on the internet. How can public address, according to Warner’s definition heavily depends upon print media and its temporal episodes and flows of weekly and daily publications, manifest itself in the constantly “erase history” aspect of the internet? It goes without saying that internet culture has considerably changed from the time of Warner’s initial questions. It is no longer a question of “going on” the internet insomuch as merely diverting our attention from the physical to electronic, often at the same time. This negotiation, between a physical public and an electronic public, has slowly been depicted within literature. Classically, gay literature has centered around traditional “brick and mortar”


establishments: the hedonistic bathhouses in Kramer’s Faggots and the clubs in Holleran’s Dancer From The Dance, both published in 1978, served to exemplify the


embodied sociality crucially prized by Warner in his essay co-­‐authored with Lauren Berlant, “Sex In Public”5 and The Trouble With Normal. However, one of the authors


who represented the embodied sociality of 1970s gay literature, Edmund White, produced a novella, entitled Chaos: A Novella and Stories (2007), that explores this


new world of online sociality. In part a roman a clef, White’s novella features a “sort-­‐ of famous” gay author named Jack as he navigates life in his sixties in the 21st century: a life framed by past relationships and current sexual liaisons.6 His main sexual and romantic contacts in the novella are Seth, whom he meets via Craig’s List, and Giuseppe, whom he meets by more traditional means—the adult bookstore. This trio personifies the rapidly changing world of sociality within the realm of gay literature.


  • Michael Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” Public Culture, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 2002, p. 82.


  • Other scholars have addressed Warner’s publics in relation to the internet. See Samuel A. Chambers, “Democracy and (the) Public(s): Spatializing Politics in the Internet Age,” Political Theory, 33, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp. 125-136.
  • Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner. “Sex In Public,” Critical Inquiry, 24, No. 2, Intimacy (Winter, 1998), pp. 547-566.
  • Edmund White. Chaos: A Novella and Stories. New York: Carrol & Graf, 2007, p. 36.





These swiftly changing themes of Internet sociality manifest in White’s Chaos, and it is a critical charge of contemporary queer theory to readdress the concepts of counterpublics in social media suggestively raised, but not thoroughly explored by Warner in 2002. Drawing upon Warner’s concept of a counterpublic, in the following essay I will utilize his frameworks to Edmund White’s Chaos in order to address whether social media can constitute a counterpublic in social media.


This discourse pertaining to poetic world making is not exclusive to Warner’s work.


Although Warner never uses the specific terminology, it might be argued that he is addressing a certain concept of utopia. José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, published in 2009, states, “Cruising Utopia’s first


move is to describe a modality of queer utopianism that I locate within a historically specific nexus of cultural production before, around, and slightly after the Stonewall rebellion of 1969.”7 Munoz continues to suggest, through close readings of works by Frank O’Hara and Andy Warhol, amongst other queer cultural producers, a poetic world making of a future queerness, one in which society has not yet approached, but he argues should be strived for. Munoz, like Holleran before him, seems to be addressing venues and sites of embodied queer sociality—the club (as site for queer performativity—as basis for transformative world making.


Such sites of embodied queer sociality have, however, increasingly been under threat. As discussed in “Sex In Public” and The Trouble With Normal, formerly queer


spaces have disappeared in major metropolitan areas such as New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. Warner states that re-­‐zoning laws have either moved or completely shut down traditional spaces for queer sex, such as adult arcades, bookstores, sex clubs, the riverfront and bathhouses, arguing that these closures have a variety of effects upon the queer counterpublic. Warner writes, “There is very little sense in this country that a public culture of sex might be something to value, something whose accessibility is to be protected.”8 Warner contends here that queer life can not only find expression through sex in the sense of hormonal release, but also build a distinctive culture; indeed, a world. “They recognize themselves as cultures, with their own knowledges, places, practices, languages, and learned modes of feeling.”9 Warner is arguing for the importance of the physical space within a queer counterpublic, and that the closure of these specific venues would have a detrimental effect on the counterpublic. Without free access to a physical site for a queer counterpublic, specific attributes—practices, languages, feelings and cultures—would be lost.


The circulation of discourse has changed dramatically in the 21st century, as the internet has arguably become the preferred means of communication in American



  • José Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), p. 3.


  • Michael Warner. The Trouble With Normal (New York: The Free Press, 1999), p. 171.


  • Warner, The Trouble With Normal, p. 177.




society. Not only do desktops enable this communication, but also cell phones, tablets, and laptops, with new devices brought out in regular cycles. Various sociologists have studied this new era of internet sociality in terms of queer sexuality.10 Of particular interest however is how this new form of discourse is explored in literature using Warner’s theories. By applying his notions of the unique characteristics of a queer counterpublic, how might these offer new sites for counterpublic building? Specifically, might it be possible to see queer hook-­‐up sites as queer counterpublics?


Edmund White’s Chaos: A Novella and Stories is an excellent example of queer sociality at this crossroads. The narrative focuses on Jack, a 64-­‐year old “semi-­‐ famous” writer living in New York City as he negotiates his life and sexual liaisons.


Given the character’s age and location he is a good example of both the embodied queer sociality of the 1970s we explored in Dancer and the rise of internet sociality


as it relates to queer sexuality. Warner’s discussion of embodied queer sociality is best demonstrated in a scene in which Jack, in an adult bookstore to buy a pornographic DVD, encounters the Italian immigrant Giuseppe cruising in the back arcade. Jack, given the time of internet sociality he lives in, is at first taken back by this act. “He was staring intently at Jack out of his dark, long-­‐lashed eyes—a look Jack seldom encountered these days.”11 This sentence is particularly telling itself


due to its reference to “the look,” the particular gaze of such importance to embodied queer sociality in Dancer from the Dance. Jack acknowledges that this gaze


is a rarity in present-­‐day queer New York; intrigued, he enters a video booth next to Giuseppe. “The wall between any two booths was of frosted glass that left an opening of about six inches high at waste high. There was some complicated way of pushing a button and lighting the room so that the divider went from translucent to transparent, from milk to water, but Jack had never figured it out.”12 This wall, with its opening of six inches, and its translucent/transparent properties might be seen as a traditional circulation of discourse within embodied queer sociality. Two queer spaces, as exemplified in the respective booths, are able to circulate given its translucency and the six-­‐inch opening at waist high. Clearly the maker of these booths, and the arcade in general, are aware of what queer men would be doing within these booths: engaging in queer sex. This opening helps facilitate this sexuality, along with the ability to turn the glass wall from translucent to transparent. It is within the queer individual’s discretion whether or not to engage in this behavior, but the bottom line is that this queer sexuality is allowed, even encouraged within this building.


However, this queer social embodiment is not without its conflicts, as represented when Giuseppe enters Jack’s viewing booth. “[…] and the Sikh was suddenly


  • See P.N. Halkitis and J.T. Parsons. “Intentional unsafe sex (barebacking) among HIV-positive gay men who seek sexual partners on the internet.” AIDS Care, 15(3), 2003, 367-378 and also Campbell, John Getting it on online: cyberspace, gay male sexuality, and embodied identity, New York: Harrington Park Press, 2004.


11White, Chaos, p. 70.

  • White, Chaos, 72.




pounding on the door and saying loudly, ‘No two people, no two people!’ and Jack said to the boy in his very approximate Italian, ‘Don’t preoccupy yourself, I live just fifty meters from here.”13 This intrusion by the security guard, the Sikh, could be seen as hostility within a queer counterpublic. Even though the specific language and ideas of a queer arcade dictate that sexuality would be present within this zone, this zone is still regulated by an outside public, hence the inclusion of the security


guard. Perhaps this is the future reality that Warner mentioned in the criminalization of queer sex zones in “Sex in Public” and The Trouble With Normal.


Either way, the guard’s exclamation of “No two people!” could be viewed as hostility towards queer sexuality, since, at the very least, this type of sexuality requires two people. Tellingly though, this importance of the physical encounter is further exampled in the fact that Jack lives just “fifty meters away.” This specific line brings to mind Warner’s ideas of the trickle down effect of the closing of bookstores as spaces for social embodiment. Had the bookstore not been there, how would Jack have met Giuseppe? How could Giuseppe, speaking only Italian, navigate an online sociality, which for the most part takes place in the English language? I suggest that this scene in the bookstore illustrates Warner’s notions of embodied sociality within queer counterpublics.


In the context of online sociality, this discourse is best seen is Jack’s relationship with Seth. At the beginning of the novella, Jack meets Seth online, cruising via Craig’s List. Under the heading “Men-­‐for-­‐Men,” Jack finds Seth’s profile, responding to his “twenty-­‐seven-­‐year old six foot three top” posting, offering his money in order to engage in oral sex.14 This type of interaction is both an extension of and departure from the cruising of the queer counterpublics from the 1970s in Holleran’s novel. In


both texts, sites of queer sociality are both embedded within and different from heterosexual sites of sociality. The club in Dancer is a club for gay men, yet the


building and the street would seem to be a part of a heterosexual culture. The club becomes gay based upon the circulation of discourse within it. Likewise, the internet sociality represented in Chaos is both a part of a heteronormative culture and separate from it. Craig’s List, which in and of itself could be seen as a traditional heterosexual platform, then becomes a site for queer sociality by arriving at the men-­‐seeking-­‐men category. This specific category—its language, its ideas, its pictures— clearly exhibits certain features of a queer counterpublic, for its language would be specific to men interested in having sex with men: as we can see in Seth’s posting “twenty-­‐seven year-­‐old six foot three top.” The term top—although it is known to some heterosexuals—is only fully intelligible within a queer context.


This negotiation between the public “Craig’s List’ and the queer counterpublic is also exemplified in the act of cruising itself. Jack searches this website for his next encounter, negotiating the public space of the general website to arrive at his queer


space of sociality. This could be seen as a parallel to the street cruising of the 1970s. As in Dancer From The Dance, the public streets of Manhattan must be accessed via



  • White, Chaos, p. 72.


  • White, Chaos, p. 30.




alleyways and side streets to the typical gay cruising area. Both Dancer and Chaos involve a negotiation between the general public and that of a counterpublic. However, in Chaos, no physical space is being accessed in the initial moment of socialization. From the physical act in the novel of viewing the website, typing and moving of the mouse, communication is done within the space of one’s home. Cruising can now be done in private.


This new form of socialization raises many questions in regards to Warner’s concept of a counterpublic. In “Publics and Counterpublics” Warner states “Anything that addresses a public is meant to undergo a circulation […] But […]—correspondences, memos, valentines, bills—are not expected to circulate (indeed, circulating them would not only seem strange but highly unethical), and that is why they cannot be said to organize to a public.”15 I would argue that Seth’s Craig’s List posting could be viewed as a hybrid “valentine” to Jack. I understand that Warner is referencing a valentine that is sent from a specific person and intended for a specific person and is not meant to be fully circulated, however, in both forms of discourse—a valentine and a personal ad—are sent from one individual to another meant to elicit a response from an individual. I would argue that this sort of discourse is apparent within hook-­‐up sites, specifically within the Craig’s List of Chaos. Seth’s profile, although circulated to many, could be argued to elicit a reaction or invitation to a specific person, as represented by Jack’s cruising for a sexual partner on Craig’s List. This “hybrid valentine” is not meant to assert a direct identity to Warner’s notion of a valentine’s circulation. I only suggest that a certain form of discourse, such as the valentine, could be applied to Chaos given the many similarities to that token of affection and the premise of a personal ad, specifically ads placed online. Warner


questions in this section of “Publics and Counterpublics” how specific one-­‐on-­‐one communication can form a public, but online sociality, as can be seen in Chaos,


complicates this narrative and perhaps requires further investigation in future scholarship.


This online sociality questions conventional representations of queer counterpublics. As the narrator states in Chaos, “actual spontaneous encounters in the flesh have been eliminated […] the photographic portrait had become the only physical reality […] something to be endured.”16 Here White is referencing the “profile picture” used in various hook-­‐up sites. Jack, at age 64—and from an earlier generation—chooses not to have a picture for any of his profiles. Perhaps this is an exemplification of traditional social embodiment— the choice of an “actual spontaneous encounter” which the text states a specific attribute of online sociality. However, in the world of White’s novel, this type of cruising, spontaneous encounters, has mostly vanished, replaced by a computer, mouse and modem.


Warner’s speculations on online sociality are mainly concerned with the differing temporalities of print and internet media. “The absence of punctual rhythms may



  • Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” p. 63.


  • White, Chaos, p. 71.




make it very difficult to connect localized acts of reading to the modes of agency that prevail within the social imagery of modernity.”17 These “localized acts of reading” could be seen in Jack’s refusal to post a picture of himself online. “Jack never bothered to reply (when asked about a picture online) since his disastrous statistics reveled an outsized waistline, a meaty, sagging chest and a body that outweighed by at least a hundred pounds anyone he would consider bedding. Sometimes he’d write, ‘My statistics are hopeless but the point is I would know how to worship YOUR body.”18 Here, Jack’s statistics could be seen as an example of Warner’s localization. Jack refuses to add a physical description or photograph to his profile, choosing to keep himself as untethered to the majority of discourse of circulation within the website. Jack has no desire to create any sort of sociality online beyond initial contact—his only objective is to create a physical encounter. Any language used by Jack, language central to a public and counterpublic, is primarily for embodied sociality, not online sociality. Furthermore, the specific language in the Craig’s List ad, such as Seth’s “twenty-­‐seven year old six-­‐foot-­‐three top,” the sexual community building Warner finds so intrinsic to queer sexuality—the learned aspects of sexuality that only come from the exploration of sex in embodied sociality—isn’t specifically present in initial communication of online sociality. Although only Craig’s List is mentioned within Chaos, it would be thought-­‐provoking to see how Jack and Seth’s profiles could be read within the context of other types of hook-­‐up sites—and how Warner’s notions of text-­‐based communications could be represented within profiles where one has to describe likes, and dislikes, sexual positions and turn-­‐ons in pre-­‐determined boxes.


However, as Warner states in “Publics and Counterpublics,” a public is still primarily text based. “The idea of a public, unlike a concrete audience or the public of any polity, is text based—even though publics are increasingly organized around visual or audio texts.”19 I would argue that for a queer counterpublic, and especially for an online queer sociality, “spontaneous” is relative. If a public is created by mere attention, then so are many forms of online sociality: a profile on a hook-­‐up site comes into existence when one reads it. It may have been created minutes or hours


before, but it becomes real to the person upon viewing it. This sense is presented within Chaos. No time is ever stated in regards to Seth’s Craig’s List posting. We, as

the readers, acknowledge its existence when Jack does—which we are left to


assume is spontaneously. Also it is important to pay attention to the “text” within Seth’s posting. Although it is text, written words, it should be noted that it is viewed


on a screen: a computer screen. In a sense a computer screen is just an extension of a television, or a photograph: millions of pixels in collaboration to form the picture of a word. Secondly, Seth’s specific text here forms a picture within Jack’s mind. His profile, “twenty-­‐seven year-­‐old six-­‐foot-­‐three top” is intended to form a picture of someone—imagery has long been a specific component of queer counterpublics. The traditional body language of the street hustler: one hand in the pocket, gazing




  • Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” p. 66.


  • White, Chaos, p. 71.


  • Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” p. 51.




for the night’s conquest has been replaced by the typed words in an online profile. This specific language taken apart may just seem like pixels, yet in the context of their usage—sender, platform, intention, recipient—creates a picture, a mosaic of a possible queer counterpublic.


This dynamic of online sociality and embodied sociality can be seen in Jack’s manuscript on the life of Nijinsky. Jack is writing a biography of the Russian ballet dancer Nijinsky and his collaborator/sexual partner Diaghilev. Speculating on their sexual activities, Jack ponders, “Did Nijinsky submit to Diaghilev’s [his lover] eager mouth as Seth to Jack’s?”20 Not only does the narrator imply that their relationships are similar, but Jack also attributes various stories about Nijinsky to his own life. White writes that one of Jack’s favorite details about the life of Nijinsky is the dance belt story. White writes:


One detail that fascinated him was Nijinsky’s dance belt […] Nijinsky returned to St. Petersburg to dance […] insisted on wearing what Igor Stravinsky described as “the tightest tights anyone had ever seen (in fact, an athletic support padded with handkerchiefs). In any event Nijinsky scandalized the Imperial Royal Family who were in attendance. Reportedly a Grand Duchess herself asked that Nijinsky be fired for this impertinence.21

This specific story may appear as an amusing anecdote, but I would argue that this could be seen as an example of a discourse of circulation. I suggest this dance belt incident could be seen as exhibiting a certain feature of the queer counterpublic—an example of a certain ideology and a circulation of discourse met with hostility outside of the counterpublic. It is important here to differentiate between a traditional queer performance space: that of a drag show or a particular queer theater troupe with that of a theatrical space that features queer elements. Even more so, it is worth noting that ballet is a traditional form of heteronormative public entertainment. Yet, Nijinsky has created a physical discourse between himself and the audience. For example, we could imagine some of the audience of the theater as homosexual, for what is a more classic example of embodied queer sociality then that of the ballet? This audience would serve as the recipient needed to circulate the discourse that started with Nijinsky and his re-­‐appropriation of the dance belt. However, this language, this specific sexuality of the dance belt was seen as “inappropriate” outside of its possible queer counterpublic, in this case, the Imperial Royal Family of Russia. In fact, one could link this display of queer sexuality on the ballet stage with the possible queer counterpublic of online sociality.


Indeed, in White’s description of Nijinsky dance belt incident, Jack states “And it was all, it seemed, a mountain made out of a molehill, since Nijinsky’s dick was disappointingly small… He should have lived in the Internet era, Jack thought, when one could declare “Tiny Meat” in a profile headline and summon up thirty enthusiastic responses immediately from Chattanooga and Bangkok, Rotterdam and





  • White, Chaos, 27.


  • White, Chaos, 15.




Dubai.”22 White is not so much preoccupied with penis size but rather with how this description of male anatomy serves as a symbol for queer sexuality, negotiating the differing forms of queer sociality offered by the ballet stage and the internet age. For example, Nijinsky, by padding his dance belt, is seeking to modify how he is perceived by the public, in this case the theatrical public. It is undetermined if he is specifically playing to other queer dancers or audience members, but he most certainly isn’t playing to a heterosexual public, as represented by the Grand Duchess. Equally, as White points out, this behavior could be compared to the era of internet sociality: specifically a queer counterpublic. This comparison is particularly telling in regards to physicality and online sociality. Both these scenarios engage with attributes of a queer counterpublic: both engage with a public, and in both cases demand an intended circulation between a sender and a receiver.


Also pertinent to our discussion is White’s line “from Chattanooga and Bangkok, Rotterdam and Dubai.” His inclusion of these specific cities addresses publics and counterpublics that are very distant from each other and are not necessarily known as queer spaces. This distance illustrates Warner’s stress on how the third sense of a public is formed not just by a physical space but also by mere attention and a relation among strangers. In this case, the relation among strangers is a shared queer sexuality, mere attention being engaged by the intimate profile headline “Tiny Meat.” However, here we also see this is one of the main differences between the embodied sociality of queer counterpublics and that of internet sociality: physical location. Of course, images and descriptions of physical attributes can be found as part of diverse networks of circulation which predate the internet. But with the rise of internet sociality these pictures, alongside video, audio and text, have been able to circulate at greater speeds and to greater distances. One could imagine a similarity between possible pictures referenced within “Tiny Meat’s” profile and Nijinsky’s dance belt: arguably both are a specific language used within a possible queer counterpublic. However, the difference is that with “Tiny Meat’s” profile, this discourse is not longer tethered to an audience member’s sightline within a theater.


Warner argues of publics and counterpublics that, “The circularity is essential to the phenomenon. A public might be real and efficacious, but its reality lies in just this reflexivity by which an addressable object is conjured into being in order to enable the very discourse that gives it existence.”23 Thus circulatory discourse comes into being when the receiver gives it agency to do so. For example, a letter would not be the same form of discourse had the recipient not read it: it would just musings


written on paper—mailed off, destination and content unknown. Tellingly, both Dancer From The Dance and Chaos are bookended by letters, both serving as a response to “the novel” itself. In Dancer, two gay men, one living a quiet life in a

southern area of the United States communicates via letter with another man living


within New York City. The Southern man has written a novel (suggestively, the novel Dancer itself) and seeks his friend’s thoughts. In Chaos, the novella ends with



  • White, Chaos, 15.


  • Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” p. 51.




Seth writing an email back to Jack, responding to the “book” Jack has written entitled Chaos (presumably White’s novella itself). In both of these novels their respective authors have utilized specific attributes that align with Warner’s theories regarding the circulatory nature of discourse and its ability to come into being by constituting its own audience. Holleran writes, “I’ve started writing a novel that I want you to read. A gay novel, darling. Bout all of us.”24 On one level this technique creates a metanarrative, a self-­‐referential strand of the novel’s discourse that serves as a story within a story. This technique would function as a creation of a public itself, and a counterpublic at that. On another level, the reader is reading a novel: accessible via any bookstore, available via any public means.25 Yet at the same time, by having characters introduce, or conclude these stories, Holleran places their discourse within a specific counterpublic.


Both of these novels’ characters arguably belong to a queer counterpublic in which


their specific dialogue, ideas and mentalities are referenced in their letters. As shown in Dancer, the man writing from New York City is currently engaging in


embodied queer sociality, while the Southern man has chosen to leave this specific sociality for a different life in the south. This duality is also present in Chaos. Seth


relates Jack’s sex life to a person stereotypically aligned to queer sociality of New York City. “I guess I can’t get too worried about your—what do you call it?—chaotic


sex life? That just makes you one more Chelsea fag.”26 White’s specific language here—Chelsea fag—would be known specifically to a queer audience, those gay men


in New York City familiar with a particular type of gay men known specifically within this queer sociality.


The specific language used in these letters could be seen as aspects of Warner’s main theories regarding counterpublics-­‐-­‐ specific modes of address, the possibility of hostility outside of the counterpublic and a poetic world making—all factors leading to the specific discourse essential to queer literature. Holleran writes, as the Southern Man, “However, I must caution you, love: Those things may be amusing to us, but who, after all, wants to read about sissies?” This language parallels Warner’s notion of certain counterpublic discourse being met with hostility outside of the counterpublic. Holleran knowingly acknowledges that his novel would be met with resistance outside of the queer community of the 1970s. Those “things”— bathhouses, sex, clubs, partying, loves—the language itself of these words so a part of this specific group would be met with hostility outside of the counterpublic. Suggestively, Holleran states “read” here, as opposed to “know,” “learn” or “hear” about sissies. He is purposefully acknowledging this circulation of discourse between an author and the reader, leaving any judgments in terms of language and


  • Holleran, Dancer From the Dance, p. 14.


  • However, one would have to search within “gay and lesbian literature” within the bookstore, which could be argued as a counterpublic within itself. Also, this ability to pick up a novel at a bookstore is rapidly declining given the closing of many traditional “brick and mortar” bookstores. One would have to specifically search on websites for “gay novels” if one wanted to read this specific genre. In both instances one could argue either way in regards to accessibility of queer fiction.


  • White, Chaos, p. 93.




ideas within the realm of the specific discourse: the book and language. By using “read” Holleran keeps fresh in the reader’s mind the importance of language used, so important in Warner’s definition of a counterpublic.


Furthermore, this counterpublic is characterized within the concept of the sender and the receiver. Here, the letter writer who is penning the novel is sending his work to a specific audience—his letter receiver. However, this novel that he has written, has become the novel we hold in our hands. This type of discursive circulation, existing in multiple levels at the same time, coming into existence by mere attention, is, again, central to Warner’s concept of a counterpublic. Thematically, this bookending device allows the reader to identify with the two letter writers’ feelings in regards to New York City as a physical space of sociality. As one of the letter writers states, “I had to leave New York, you know, not for any practical reason but for a purely emotional one: I simply couldn’t stand to have it cease to be enchanted to me.”27 New York City not only serves as a destination, but as a specific character in the way it embodies so many of the desires and affiliations of the characters. The embodied sociality of so many of the venues described in the novel—the clubs, the baths, the parks—are intrinsically tied to the characters, their emotions, their world making,


It is telling that Holleran chooses the word “enchanted”: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the root word “enchant” is defined as “to influence irresistibly or powerfully, as if by charm.” I suggest that this terminology is akin to Warner’s notion that a counterpublic reflexively creates its own discourse in relation to a text or object. Both terms, a public and to enchant, require a sender and a receiver, a discourse of circulation and a transformative power. Here, Holleran seems to be stating that New York City, as both a public and as an entity, has come into existence through the transformative effect it has on the novel’s characters. This embodied sociality, this New York City, not only serves as the platform for the discourse of circulation but a discourse of itself. Holleran writes “Those streets, those corners. Malone was possibly more committed to it than any of us—whatever ‘it’ was—”28 Malone, and by extension, all the characters in Dancer, became so intrinsically linked to those city streets, those physical spaces become definitive of their characters and embodied within them.


Both novels address the concept of readership: specifically, the problem of viewing queer lives through a heteronormative gaze. One of the letter writers in Dancer,


upon hearing that the other is writing a novel states “Those things may be amusing to us, but who, after all, wants to read about sissies? Even if people accept fags out of kindness, even if they tolerate the poor dears, they don’t want to know WHAT THEY DO.”29 Seth writes to Jack at the end of the novel “All that sex talk, frankly, kind of disgusts me, especially when you talk about shit we’ve done. Really, really, that shit




  • Holleran, Dancer From the Dance, p. 240.


  • Holleran, Dancer From the Dance, p. 241.


  • Holleran, Dancer From the Dance, 14.




seems sort of sketchy and I really don’t like the idea of opening up the bedroom door and inviting everyone in from the street to watch you sucking my dick.”30 In both of these moments, the reader is forced to examine their own public, having the reader step out of their specific circulatory nature of the discourse of author to reader and address the concept of being a viewer in a larger scheme. The reader is forced to acknowledge how and in what ways they have become a part of those specific practices that the characters don’t want to see addressed, namely queer sexuality. I would suggest that this would be an example of Warner’s notion of multiple publics coming into existence at the same time, involving both the circuit between the author and the reader and then a reader at large in respects to queer sexuality. Also, these two novels address this notion of a discourse that intends to provoke a reaction in the reader. This is done to introduce the reader to these counterpublics in different contexts. In Dancer, by showing the reader the specific attributes of the queer counterpublic—a specific, sexually-­‐inflected language—at the beginning of the text, Holleran again is setting up his counterpublic by moving from a micro to a macro viewpoint, framing his language within the specifics of a dialogue between two people. This introduction serves as a preparatory examination of the specific language and ideas so intrinsic in the formation of a counterpublic. Placing queer sexuality in letterform, between two people, allows the reader to identify queer sexuality in relation to two people, not a public address. What we are reading at the beginning of the novel is a correspondence between two individuals—acclimating the reader to this queer world in a personal context.




Conversely, White’s admission of queer sexuality and readership is placed at the end of the novel and further situates the context of queer sexuality in Seth’s terms of public and private (“I don’t like the idea of opening the bedroom door and inviting everybody in from the street to watch you sucking my dick.”) Firstly it is telling how White’s concept of “street” differs from Holleran’s. In Holleran’s novel, the street serves as an extension of the characters’ lives: a physical destination that is also a metaphor for loneliness and an avenue for sexual liaisons. The street represents embodied sociality where cruising and socialization form a large part of how the characters define themselves as queers. In White’s reference, the street serves as a heterosexual population, the bedroom as a safe enclosure of queer sexuality. This of course might be put in dialogue with Warner’s notions of the loss of physical queer spaces within New York City, and Warner’s concepts of embodied sociality building. As previously stated, Warner argues that loss of such sites has an ossifying effect, leading to the loss of community building. Perhaps what the reader is seeing in White’s novel is the ramifications of this effect: the loss of physical space having an impact of this character’s views of sexuality. It is telling that Seth’s first objection to the story that is to be published is how it would specifically effect how his queer sexuality is perceived, as opposed to Holleran’s characters, who do not seem to mind how they are personally perceived, but how the heterosexual population views queer sexuality more broadly.



  • White, Chaos, 92.





To address this another way, Seth is concerned about how he is perceived within a heteronormative public, whereas Holleran’s characters question how the public views their queer counterpublic as a whole. Seth seems to be concerned with the very notions Warner is addressing, chiefly his statement regarding the importance of a public sexual culture benefiting what goes on “in the bedroom.” Warner writes “It is the pleasure of belonging to a sexual world, in which one’s sexuality finds an


answering response not just in one another, but in a world of others.”31 This exemplifies the sexual culture in Chaos. As Seth writes to Jack in his email “I’m not


saying you’re out of touch. You’re too much of a vampire to be out of it. You need fresh blood every day. I’m no better, don’t get me wrong. I have to hook up three or four times a day.”32 Seth finds a kindred spirit in Jack, in least of terms of their sexuality. What is important here is that Seth acknowledges this similarity having had a relationship with Jack, a relationship which is, of course, a form of embodied sociality. Although Seth’s view of Jack is shared via an email, a new form of communication by an online sociality, their relationship, and identification as similar sexual people, is only after their physical time spent together. Their experiences, although at first dictated by an online sociality, only grows via an embodied sociality.


Having examined Warner’s work in regards to the importance of embodied sociality


in regards to queer sociality, the decline of queer spaces within Warner and Berlant’s “Sex in Public” and The Trouble With Normal, and what constitutes queer


counterpublics in “Publics and Counterpublics,” I have shown how this scholarship might be put in dialogue with queer literature. While many aspects of both these texts could indicate their participation in forms of discourse associated with queer counterpublics, it would be problematic to simplistically state that the online queer sociality within Chaos constitutes a queer counterpublic. I would suggest that in the future scholars could examine how in and what ways publics and counterpublics could be seen within online sociality. At the very least it is important to acknowledge the need to readdress Warner’s criteria of “a” public in regards to online sociality. The internet that Warner references in 2002 is not the same as it is in 2013. The full manifestation of this discourse is still being shaped.33 However, in queer sociality, all of Warner’s work values the specific need within queer communities for world-­‐making and community building. As scholars begin to address online queer sociality, I hope to have shown that Warner’s stress on the positive aspects of social embodiment—an understanding of oneself and others by means of sexual and social interpersonal communication—should continue to be a part of this discourse. For regardless of physical or online sociality, world-­‐making is dependent upon sociality with others.


  • Warner, The Trouble With Normal, p. 179.
  • White, Chaos, p. 98.


  • A November 26th 2013 Michelangelo Signorile article for The Huffington Post focuses on the growing trend in queer online sociality within the past four years. Signorile, Michael. “Joel Simkhai, Grindr Founder And CEO, On Gay Social Networking App’s Worldwide Impact.” HuffPost Gay Voices., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

Never Let Me Go & the Necropolitics of Biomedical Engineering

Kazuo Ishiguro gained critical acclaim after publishing his third novel The Remains of the Day in 1989. The novel features a narrator named Stevens, a butler in a traditional English manor who reminisces over his years of service to his former lord, a Nazi sympathizer with sinister visitors, and in doing so ponders the traits that are required to be a gentleman and the meaning of class distinction, dignity, and purpose in life. As a narrative about interwar England concerned with class exploitation and the persecution of the Jewish community, we might put The Remains of the Day in dialogue with its post-­‐war English counterpart, Ishiguro’s later novel Never Let Me Go (2005), which dives into a world that is suggested by the aftermath of the austere scientific rationale of the war, further developing the ideas of class disparity addressed in The Remains of the Day.1

Like The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go is told in the first person by a narrator in England recounting past experiences and coming to terms with loss and the cruelty of their personal service. Kathy H. narrates the story in the late 1990s as she is coming to the end of her life at the age of thirty-­‐one. She and all of her friends are bred through cloning to be killed by the rest of humanity in order to donate their organs to allow the outside community’s lives to continue, a fate they slowly become more and more aware of throughout their lives. Years of disillusion go by filled with attempts to assimilate into the society that oppresses them by trying to find their “possibles,” or those individuals whom they were cloned from originally, by parroting the social norms of the people they see on television, and through a failed attempt to escape their morbid fate involving a fabricated belief that if two of them prove they are in love they may escape or postpone their fate. Kathy eventually becomes a “carer,” one who looks over organ donors as they gradually die giving up their vital organs, a job the clones must take on before they themselves become donors. At the close of the novel she looks over her childhood friends as they expire, or “complete,” and Kathy is left alone to continue caring for donors until she herself must give up her body for the rest of society. In the closing chapter, she reflects upon her isolation in the world and the futility of her life before she calmly acquiesces to her fate. Kathy tells the story of her life and the development of her friendships from early childhood onward, highlighting her steadily increasing understanding of her social place in society as a member of an exploited class and/or race and the psychological turmoil such an understanding causes.2


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day, Vintage International Edition, 1993


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, Vintage International Edition, 2006





Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day have a great deal in common; both utilize a first person narration that occasionally addresses the reader directly, both explore themes of emotional isolation, loss, exploitation by other groups, a love life


never fulfilled, and cold calculability in the political treatment of human beings, and both take place in provincial England. The primary area in which Never Let Me Go differs from The Remains of the Day is in its more contemporary temporal setting and its thematic reach into the realm of science fiction. Never Let Me Go depicts a


society driven on the use of cloned human beings in a form of exploitation akin to slave labor, a system put into practice shortly after what the reader would assume is


the Second World War, a glimpse of the story’s history disclosed in the end of the novel. In this sense the novel can be seen as a continuation of The Remains of the


Day, an extension of the harsh rationality of Nazi Germany and the ideologies of the Second World War into the fervor of biological exchange and technological advancement in the contemporary moment.


The ambiguous genre of the novel reflects the eclectic assortment of themes it brings to light. Never Let Me Go contains elements of science fiction in its exploration of cloning, realism in its focus on the mundane, historical fiction in its post-­‐war temporal setting, the bildungsroman in the development of the characters since early childhood and the steady disillusionment they face, and even romance in their tragically thwarted relationships. Due to its mixed form, the most fitting genre that we might use to classify the novel is the broad umbrella term of speculative dystopian fiction. By utilizing this open genre, the novel incorporates a wide range of themes and sets up an entire discursive world. In this sense the novel traverses freely between themes in order to better express the multifaceted implications of biotechnology and exploitation of an underclass instead of being confined to potentially restrictive generic conventions. The use of elements from the bildungsroman establishes a psychology of otherness in the clones with which Kathy and the others must come to terms, science fiction allows for an insight into the biomedical aspects of our current technologically driven epoch, and an even more curious political exploration comes to life in the novel’s dystopian speculation which is, in turn, thrown into high relief by a jarring tendency towards the realist everyday. Without constraint, Never Let Me Go is able to escape the facile and achieve mobility across genres emphasizing the complexity of what remains in post-­‐ war England in the wake of the rationalized and political death regime of Nazi Germany.


This broad genre calls for multiple theoretical approaches. The most crucial elements of Never Let Me Go seem to be as follows: the ontologically altered


biomedical field and cloning, the psychological development of exploited demographics, and the political system that allows for such exploitation. I will use three different theoretical paradigms to address these three primary themes in the novel, drawn from respectively, Eugene Thacker’s The Global Genome, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and Achille Mbembe’s “Necropolitics.”




A Destabilized Ontology


Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering have become prevalent areas of research and medical advancement, although many of the developments are still experimental. Thacker succinctly sums up the general logic of tissue engineering, stating it is “to combine ‘cells and materials’ to grow tissues and organs, and then to implant those tissues and organs into the patient’s body.”3 In basic terms, the most common model for tissue engineering involves taking a cell sample without damaging the donor site, implanting the cells into a biomaterial skeleton for structural support, inducing regeneration of the tissue or organ, and transplanting the engineered organ into the patient’s body.


Thacker highlights a crucial element of the procedure: “at no point in these processes are mechanical or nonbiological, nonorganic artificial materials or components incorporated as part of the core process of cellular and tissue regeneration. All ‘natural’ biochemical processes are maintained […] The regenerative tissue thus ultimately derives from the patient-­‐subject’s own biological resources.”4 With this in mind, Thacker claims that “tissue engineering is in the process of constituting a unique biomedical normativity based on a notion of the body as ‘regenerative’ and as self-­‐healing,” a biomedical ideology embedded in regenerative medicine.5 Of course, tissue engineering is not entirely “natural” because the body is not capable of growing, say, a new heart without outside intervention, but the “natural” processes of the body themselves are not altered, they are, so to speak, merely redirected. In addition, past concepts of biological normativity are typically grounded in the idea that medicine is applied to the body in order to return the body to a normal or healthy state, but tissue engineering does not utilize medicine outside the body, and there need not necessarily be a deviation from a healthy or normal state for tissue engineering to prove beneficial to the patient.6 Therefore, instead of conventionally treating the body as separate from medicine, “regenerative medicine purports to treat the body as marked by operational deficiencies open to improvement in design.”7 In other words, the healthy or normal state of the body is obliterated; if there is room for improvement, the body can benefit from regenerative medicine. The notions of sick and healthy are rendered obsolete and instead we are left with the potential for reaching beyond what is considered healthy in a form of regenerative augmentation. In this sense, the practice of tissue engineering is paradoxically both of the body, in that the engineered organ or tissue comes purely from the patient’s own biological resources, and beyond the body, in that tissue engineering enables the patient to transcend the natural restrictions of the “normal” human body.



3Eugene Thacker, “The Thickness of Tissue Engineering,” The Global Genome, p. 254

  • , p. 258


  • , p. 260


  • , p. 260


  • , p. 262




This state of being within and without the body works to redefine what we perceive as truly human. Theoretically a patient could be the subject of numerous organ transplants and regenerative practices, both transcending natural human capabilities as well as becoming more cloned parts than “naturally grown” parts, forcing us to consider where we draw the line to determine what we consider still human. Thacker poses a number of open-­‐ended questions brought to light by the practice of tissue engineering, such as:


Does the involvement of a range of biotechnologies fundamentally change the ontological status of the particular body part regenerated? Is the regenerated organ or tissue mass exactly the same as the “original”? What are the phenomenological and psychological dimensions of this process of autoalterity? If the biomedical body of tissue engineering is dispersed throughout these techniques and technologies, how and where do we situate the body that is supposedly “proper” to the patient-­‐subject?8


Additionally, due to the suggestion that tissue engineering opens up the notion of the body being “open to improvement in design,” the body becomes a sort of canvas for the patient to act upon and experiment with. Aside from the ongoing trend of bioart9 where such an approach to the body is evident, regenerative medicine upholds a new concept of the human: “a strange body that is constantly surpassing itself, a body-­‐more-­‐than-­‐body,”10 a notion idealistic yet chilling, playing into the modern fear of the loss of the human.


Ishiguro explores many of the implications of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in the economic and medical purpose of the clones in Never Let Me Go. The


actual process of the cloning and organ donation in the novel is left fairly vague, but we know Kathy and the other students are clones created for the sole purpose of donating their organs to the outside society, a system of regenerative medicine that extends and explores the existing practices of tissue engineering described by Thacker. The clones in the novel thus exemplify the destabilized definition of what it means to be human in our biomedical epoch. When in public, the clones are indistinguishable from ordinary human beings,11 but when any member of the outside society becomes aware of the clones’ origins they recoil in horror.12 Towards the end of the novel, Kathy visits Madame, an old acquaintance from outside the cloned community who recognizes their status as clones due to her previous time with them. She describes the encounter, observing “I don’t know if she recogised us at that point; but without a doubt, she saw and decided in a second what we were, because you could see her stiffen.”13 Kathy does not describe Madame as deciding “who” they were, but instead as “what” they were, clearly showing that Madame does not consider the clones entirely human. The clones are objectified


  • , p. 264


  • , “Conclusion: Tactical Media and Bioart,” p. 305-20


  • , “The Thickness of Tissue Engineering,” p. 286


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, 163, 166


  • , p. 35, 248


  • , p. 248




despite the fact that they appear just as “normal” humans would. This discrepancy between what is considered human and what is visually apparent parallels the ontological complexities of tissue engineering addressed by Thacker. Like an engineered organ, the clones are seemingly indistinguishable from the original, all the biological processes of the body are maintained, and their bodies are comprised entirely of “natural” biological phenomena. And yet, again, like an engineered organ, the clones could not be created without some sort of “unnatural” biological manipulation, and the legitimacy of their very being is subject to question. As readers we empathize with Kathy and most likely consider the clones human, but cannot explicitly state why. By opening up the implications of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine into a narrative, Ishiguro creates a paradox of human and not human that arrests the reader in a form of ontological play.


The novel also addresses the notion of “improvement in design” that is perhaps the most profound aspect of regenerative medicine. Towards the end of the novel, Miss Emily, a previous caretaker of the students, describes to Kathy and Tommy a controversial scientific breakthrough by a scientist known as James Morningdale. She states, “What he wanted was to offer people the possibility of having children with enhanced characteristics. Superior intelligence, superior athleticism, that sort of thing. Of course there’d been others with similar ambitions, but this Morningdale fellow, he’d taken his research much further than anyone before him, far beyond legal boundaries.”14 In her description, not only does the Morningdale controversy allow for a brief speculation of “improvement in design,” but it also suggests the ethical issues such practices bring to light and the line that must be arbitrarily drawn between what is considered acceptable and “human,” and what is considered unnatural. The society is comfortable with creating clones in order to sacrifice them for the benefit of continuing their own lives, but there is an immediate refusal of notions of altering human design. Miss Emily continues, emphasizing the public’s rejection of such ideas, “It’s one thing to create students, such as yourselves, for the


donation programme. But a generation of created children who’d take their place in society? Children demonstrably superior to the rest of us? Oh no. That frightened


people. They recoiled from that.”15 This moment in the novel forces the reader to ponder further what it is that deems something human or not human. From the beginning of the novel, we consider Kathy human and through her life story we gain a deep empathy for her. The society’s refusal to accept Kathy and other clones as human therefore seems barbaric to the reader, but the scandal caused by the Morningdale incident appears strange in comparison, for its implications seem relatively mild. The seemingly arbitrary sentiments of the public in the novel reflect the difficulty in answering the open-­‐ended questions Thacker proposes.


Thacker suggests that in order for regenerative medicine to progress, society must rethink the dichotomy of biology and technology through what Bruno Latour calls hybridization, amalgamating the two instead of perceiving them as mutually


  • p. 263-64


  • , p. 264




exclusive. Without reconsidering these now pliable definitions, “it becomes all too easy to desire habitually, at any cost, the vision of a body transcending itself, sublimating itself, curing itself, and yet still ‘a body.’”16 Never Let Me Go does not necessarily suggest hybridization, but it experiments with the ontological implications of the biomedical field. The creation of life is becoming more and more hazy in its specifications, especially in a world that by and large accepts children born from in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood as entirely human; to question the legitimacy of life created in such a way seems absurd, but if we accept it then how do we approach regenerative medicine? Furthermore, if we consider the act of cloning an organ for donation as acceptable, but we consider the act of cloning an entire being like Kathy for donation as inhumane, where do we draw the line? At what point does an organ or a series of connected organs become human? The novel does not answer these questions and simply presents them for the reader to ponder, evoking a sense of trepidation over the potential ramifications of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, and constructing a form of biomedical ontological play at the heart of the story that lays the foundation for the question of what it means to be human, a question shared by both the reader and the clones in the novel themselves.


The Human and the Other


The ontological play Ishiguro constructs manifests itself in the clones’ development of identity. Kathy and her friends are not immediately aware of their status as clones segregated from the outside community, or of the organ donations ahead of them, although she notes that there was always some notion that they were different in the back of their minds.17 Instead, much of the novel focuses on the various points in Kathy’s childhood where she slowly comes to grasp the extent of her social otherness and the exploitation of her life. The first moment of true realization arises when the children all rush towards Madame, a regular visitor from outside Hailsham, the closed community in which the clones are raised, only to be shocked by Madame’s revulsion towards their very existence. Kathy recalls the scene, stating


As she came to a halt, I glanced at her face—as did the others, I’m sure. And I can still see it now, the shudder she seemed to be suppressing, the real dread that one of us would accidentally brush against her. And though we just kept walking, we all felt it; it was like we’d walked from the sun right into chilly shade. Ruth had been right: Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders. 18


Before actually surprising Madame, the act had been merely a kind of blithe childhood dare, and “if not a joke exactly, very much a private thing we’d wanted to settle among ourselves,” but afterward Kathy observes “we were a very different


  • Eugene Thacker, “The Thickness of Tissue Engineering,” The Global Genome, p. 274


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 69, 83
  • , p. 35




group from the one that had stood about excitedly waiting for Madame to get out of her car,”19 and the whole event takes on a seriousness unanticipated by the children. The scene is a turning point in Kathy’s life, for she notices at eight years old for the first time the difference between her and others in the world, and the brutality of such a realization. She continues, speaking of the scene as


the moment when you realise that you are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you—of how you were brought into this world and why—and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.20


Kathy’s social disillusionment in this scene is also reminiscent of Fanon’s concept of coming to consciousness of one’s racial alterity. Fanon writes of the subject: “As long as the black child remains on his home ground his life follows more or less the same course as that of the white child. But if he goes to Europe he will have to rethink his life, for in France, his country, he will be different from the rest.”21 Additionally, Fanon notes that “the black man is unaware of it as long as he lives among his own people; but at the first white gaze, he feels the weight of his melanin.”22 The clearest resemblance between the scene in Never Let Me Go and Fanon’s concept appears in his footnote to the previous sentence:


Let us recall what Sartre said on the subject: “Some children, at the age of five or six, have already had fights with schoolmates who call them ‘Yids.’ Others may remain in ignorance for a long time. A young Jewish girl in a family I am acquainted with did not even know the meaning of the word Jew until she was fifteen. During the Occupation there was a Jewish doctor who lived shut up in his home in Fontainebleau and raised his children without saying a word to them of their origin. But however it comes about, some day they must learn the truth: sometimes from the smiles of those around them, sometimes from rumor or insult. The later the discovery the more violent the shock. Suddenly they perceive that others know something about them that


they do not know, that people apply to them an ugly and upsetting term that is now used in their own families” (Anti-­‐Semite and Jew, p. 75.)23


When Kathy runs out to surprise Madame she feels herself placed under the “white gaze” and comes to consciousness of her otherness. Although there is no mention of race with regard to the clones in the novel, the clones are racialized by the outside community and are seen as ontologically inferior. Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine suggest the question of what it means to be human, and


  • , p. 35
  • , p. 36


  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, “The Black Man and Psychopathology,” p. 127


  • , p. 128





Ishiguro addresses the question from a different angle as well. Kathy and the children not only exhibit an aspect of Ishiguro’s ontological play in the fact that they are clones in a system of tissue engineering, they also take on the psychological traits of a racially oppressed “other,” a form of otherness at the center of the brutal human ontology of colonialism. As Fanon starkly states, “I shall say that a Black man is not a man. […] There is a zone of nonbeing.”24 Like the racialized other, the clones are relegated to nonbeing, and are not considered human. Kathy feels something momentous shift in her perception of her identity, just as is mentioned in Fanon’s quotation of Sartre, she describes the sensation as a realization of difference, and like “walking past a mirror you’ve seen every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else.” Similarly, Sartre remarks of the recently disillusioned racial other that “suddenly they perceive that others know something about them that they do not know.” Kathy’s recognition of her racialized alterity is a critical moment in her childhood that initiates her into a life of otherness framed and defined by her impending premature death, a moment as significant as that which Fanon depicts. Kathy reflects upon it as so, noting, “it was the start of a process that kept growing and growing over the years until it came to dominate our lives”25


Later in the same section, Fanon notes that after coming to consciousness of one’s otherness, the racialized other must also understand that they are what Fanon calls “phobogenic”: “We have said that the black man is phobogenic. What is phobia? Our answer will be based on the latest book by Hesnard: ‘Phobia is a neurosis characterized by the anxious fear of an object (in the broadest sense of anything outside the individual) or, by extension, of a situation.’ Naturally such an object must take on certain aspects. It must, says Hesnard, arouse fear and revulsion.”26 In other words, the black man inspires fear and revulsion in the white community. Again, Kathy’s coming to consciousness parallels Fanon’s study, for at the moment of realization Kathy notes that people like Madame “shudder at the very thought of you


  • dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs,” and fear the other “in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders.” Ishiguro addresses the colonial society’s fear of the racialized other, more specifically he likens it to the fairly common phobia of spiders, arachnophobia. Even Miss Emily, the most


sympathetically drawn “guardian,” or pedagogic overseer at Hailsham, remarks on her fear of the clones. She tells Kathy “We’re all afraid of you. I myself had to fight back my dread of you almost ever day I was at Hailsham. There were times I’d look


down at you all from my study window and I’d feel such revulsion.”27 In setting up the social dynamic of fear in the relations between the clones and the rest of society in such a light, Ishiguro allegorizes the element of disgust involved in racialized otherness. The novel not only expresses the fear of the other but also its internalization, tapping into the deep revulsion that Kathy faces in coming to consciousness, constructing the identity of the clones as phobogenic.


  • , “Introduction,” p. xii


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 37


  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, “The Black Man and Psychopathology,” p. 132-33


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 269





After facing disillusionment and being forced into the realization of their otherness, the clones continue to exhibit psychological traits of a racialized other. After leaving Hailsham, Kathy and the others move into the Cottages, the last communal area for the clones. During their stay, Kathy observes the older students and in particular “how so many of their mannerisms were copied from the television. […] the way they gestured to each other, sat together on sofas, even the way they argued and stormed out of rooms.”28 Ruth, one of Kathy’s close friends, begins to mimic the older students and use body language seen on television. This bothers Kathy, who eventually tells Ruth, recalling “I just pressed on, explaining to her how it was something from a television series. ‘It’s not worth copying,’ I told her. ‘It’s not what people really do out there, in normal life, if that’s what you were thinking.’”29 Kathy berates Ruth’s behavior in a peculiar manner, highlighting Ruth’s attempt to appear less like a clone and more like a member of “normal” society through the adoption of language. Kathy acknowledges two crucial aspects of the behavior of her peers: the copying of the language of the community that oppresses them, and the fact that such mimesis reflects a desire to assimilate into the oppressive community. Fanon writes of this phenomenon “the more the black Antillean assimilates the French language, the whiter he gets—i.e., the closer he comes to becoming a true human being. We are fully aware that this is one of man’s attitudes faced with Being. A man who possesses a language possesses as an indirect consequence the world expressed and implied by this language.”30 In addition to attempting to appropriate the culture of the oppressive community through the mimicry of language, the clones declare their very being in an effort to be recognized as “a true human being,” an ontological status they have been denied.31


The clones’ effort to assimilate culminates in the search for Ruth’s “possible,” the original person from which she was cloned and a member of the outside society.



  • , p. 120-21


  • , p. 123-24


  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, “The Black Man and Language,” p. 2


  • It should be noted that Fanon focuses primarily on the appropriation of the French language by the black Antillean, a subject with a spoken language entirely different from the French. The clones in Never Let Me Go have been raised speaking English just like the outside community and frequently allude to the myriad of literature they have read, and therefore do not face as large a degree of separation as the black Antillean from the oppressive society in the utilization of language. Although this is the case, the clones still seek to appropriate body language and small mannerisms such as slang or idioms evident in the outside community to assimilate further. Fanon also addresses such mimicry, albeit briefly, writing, “Professor Westermann writes in The Africa Today that the feeling of inferiority by Blacks is especially evident in the educated black man who is constantly trying to overcome it. The method used, Westermann adds, is often naïve: ‘The wearing of European clothes, whether rags or the most up-to-date style; using European furniture and European forms of social intercourse; adorning the native language with European expressions; using bombastic phrases in speaking or writing a European language; all these contribute to a feeling of equality with the European and his achievements,’ (p. 9). In this sense, the mimicry of language is broadened into more than spoken and written language. Kathy and the clones from Hailsham, the more educated of the cloned communities as the reader learns throughout the novel, quite accurately display this form of mimicry.




While at the Cottages, two of the older students inform Ruth that they may have seen her possible, someone who looks exactly like her, and they gather the group together for a trip outside the enclosed Cottages. Kathy describes the fervor over the subject of possibles, stating,


One big idea behind finding your model was that when you did, you’d glimpse your future. Now I don’t mean anyone really thought that if your model turned out to be, say, a guy working at a railway station, that’s what you’d end up doing too. We all realised it wasn’t that simple. Nevertheless, we all of us, to varying degrees, believed that when you saw the person you were copied from, you’d get some insight into who you were deep down, and maybe too, you’d see something of what your life held in store.32


The clones’ desire to find the person they were copied from in order to get “insight into who you were deep down” reflects their abrogated identity. The clones have no positive sense of being, having been denied humanity by the rest of society, but they do not acquiesce to the idea that they are purely to serve for economic and medical purposes. They are left devoid of a sense of self, and the search for possibles is a representation of this psychological struggle. The racialized other experiences a similar desire, attempting to find whiteness within oneself. Fanon writes,


the black man cannot take pleasure in his insularity. For him there is only one way out, and it leads to the white world. Hence his constant preoccupation with attracting the white world, his concern with being as powerful as the white man, and his determination to acquire the properties of a coating: i.e., the part of being or having that constitutes an ego. As we said earlier, the black man will endeavor to seek admittance to the white sanctuary from within.33


Here Fanon is discussing the racialized other’s determination to be accepted by the white community by means of acquiring a white sexual partner, but the broader notion that finding whiteness within oneself allows one to establish an ego or self is applicable to the clones’ search for possibles. The clones seek their possibles in order to find themselves, or those who are apparently biologically identical to themselves within the oppressive community. By seeing copies of their bodies accepted in the outside society and leading normal lives, the clones are able to find the whiteness within themselves, so to speak, in the sense that they can observe their bodies and to a certain degree their selves as human and being treated as so. The clones cannot accept their rejection from the “normal” world, and their desire to find whom they were modeled from is both a grasp at identity and humanity and an attempt to psychologically become a part of the rest of society.


Race is never mentioned in Never Let Me Go until near the very end of the narrative in the most climactic scene in the novel. Kathy and Tommy find Madame and Miss Emily, two of the guardians at Hailsham, in order to ask for a deferral on their donations. Kathy and Tommy have heard from other students that such a deferral is possible on the grounds that they can prove they are in love, although Miss Emily


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 139-40


  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, “The Woman of Color and the White Man,” p. 33-34




tells them it is merely a rumor and there is no hope in escaping their morbid fate. In their meeting, Miss Emily has a Nigerian caretaker named George whose presence is subtle yet intriguing. Miss Emily recalls a previous moment when she passed Kathy in the street, stating, “you certainly didn’t recognise me then. You glanced at George, the big Nigerian man pushing me. Oh yes, you had quite a good look at him, and he at you.”34 Miss Emily tellingly dwells upon the gaze between Kathy and George, a character who has no purpose in terms of plot. In this moment she draws a connection between the two exploited social castes, the clone and the service worker. Kathy must care for the weak and eventually donate her body to serve the outside community, and George too cares for the now weak Miss Emily and must relinquish the autonomy of his body for the service of those in power. Ishiguro connects to the two characters in their similar exploitation, and also alludes to British colonialism in his use of a Nigerian caretaker, who reminds the reader of another dehumanizing method of racialized exploitation that has left class disparity and hatred in its wake.


The association between the clone and the service worker is even more apparent when considering Ishiguro’s attention to class in The Remains of the Day. Stevens is


humiliated one night when Mr. Spencer, a guest of Lord Darlington, accosts Stevens and presses upon him a series of questions about economics and politics that Stevens is unable to answer, replying “I’m very sorry, sir, but I am unable to be of assistance on this matter,”35 to every question directed at him, much to the amusement of the guests. Mr. Spencer goes on to conclude that the parliamentary system, which relies on the votes of lower classes, is obsolete due to the fact that Stevens clearly cannot answer any of the questions. Lord Darlington apologizes to Stevens for the mockery, but also tells him “Democracy is something of a bygone era. The world’s far too complicated a place now for universal suffrage and such like. […] The man in the street can’t be expected to know enough about politics, economics, world commerce and what have you. And why should he?”36 Lord Darlington ultimately supports Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, stating, “Look at Germany and Italy, Stevens. See what strong leadership can do if it’s allowed to act. None of this universal suffrage nonsense there.”37 He later excludes Jewish workers from his service staff as well, but instead of protesting, Stevens supports Lord Darlington’s position in order to justify his own life, declaring


Let us establish this quite clearly: a butler’s duty is to provide good service. It is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation. The fact is, such great affairs will always be beyond the understanding of those such as you and I, and those of us who wish to make our mark must realize that we best do so by concentrating on what is within our realm; that is to say, by devoting our




  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 256-57


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day, p. 195


  • , p. 198-99


  • , p. 198-99




attention to providing the best possible service to those great gentlemen in whose hands the destination of civilization truly lies.38

Similarly, after the failed search for her possible, Ruth flies into a rage, revealing the


clones’ recognition of their own pitiful class. Ruth denounces the entire search on the grounds that “They don’t ever, ever, use people like that woman. […] We’re not


modelled from that sort.”39 She goes on to make the fabricated claim, “We’re modelled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts maybe, just so long as they aren’t psychos. That’s what we come from. […] If you want to look for possibles, if you want to do it properly, then you look in the gutter. You look in rubbish bins. Look down the toilet, that’s where you’ll find where we all came from.”40 Although it is highly unlikely that the clones are actually modeled from the socio-­‐economic group that she suggests due to the fact that the clones must be healthy, Ruth’s diatribe reflects the social class that the clones identify with: the lumpenproletariat, those who are bound to remain the lowest class without any hope of escape. The clones are both a racialized group and a class of their own, destined to be slave bodies for the oppressive community and nothing else. Their struggle therefore reflects both the psychological repercussions of racialization and rationalized class exploitation. The clones form a race and class of their own.


Death and Biomedical Hegemony


The focus of both Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day on class disparity and those who give up their bodies for the service of others shows a trend running


across both of Ishiguro’s novels. The austere calculability of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in The Remains of the Day translates to Never Let Me Go in a modern


biotechnological form. Ishiguro transposes the mass extermination in the concentration camps of World War II and the brutal racism that implicitly justifies


the atrocity to the world of the clones, faced with a similar rationalized death regime. The comparison is even suggested in Never Let Me Go, when Kathy describes

an event in one of her classes, recalling,


We’d been looking at some poetry, but had somehow drifted onto talking about soldiers in World War Two being kept in prison camps. One of the boys asked if the fences around the camps had been electrified, and then someone else had said how strange it must have been, living in a place like that, where you could commit suicide any time you liked just by touching a fence. This might have been intended as a serious point, but the rest of us thought it pretty funny. We were all laughing and talking at once, and then Laura—typical of her—got up on her seat and did a hysterical impersonation of someone reaching out and getting electrocuted. For a moment things got riotous, with everyone shouting and mimicking touching electric fences.


I went on watching Miss Lucy through all this and I could see, just for a second, a ghostly expression come over her face as she watched the class in


  • , p. 199


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 166


  • , p. 166




front of her. Then—I kept watching carefully—she pulled herself together, smiled and said: “It’s just as well the fences at Hailsham aren’t electrified. You get terrible accidents sometimes.”41


The reader may infer from this scene that other institutions for the clones outside Hailsham are much more cruel, but most importantly, perhaps, the direct reference


to the death camps of World War II solidifies the continuation of themes explored historically in The Remains of the Day in the speculative dystopian world of Never Let Me Go.


Achille Mbembe writes of the Nazi regime, “According to Foucault, the Nazi state was the most complete example of a state exercising the right to kill. This state, he claims, made the management, protection, and cultivation of life coextensive with the sovereign right to kill.”42 In his essay, Mbembe uses Foucault’s notion of biopower as a foundation for his work, assuming that “the ultimate expression of sovereignty resides, to a large degree, in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.”43 In other words, Mbembe analyzes the politics of death, or what he calls “necropolitics.” The exercise of precisely such necropolitics is a fundamental aspect of the dystopian society in Never Let Me Go; the society allows the outside world to live while demanding that the clones die. With this in mind, Kathy’s recollection of her class discussion of the concentration camps possesses a necropolitical bent. She says her classmate describes the concentration camp as strange because it is a place “where you could commit suicide any time you liked just by touching a fence.” The child describes the camp not by its restrictions or by its inhumanity, but rather by its strange instantiation of suicidal agency. The child seems intrigued by the possibility of suicide more than fearful of the injustice of the Nazi state. Mbembe states that in the contemporary sovereign state, “death and freedom are irrevocably interwoven,”44 and death becomes a last resort grasp at individual autonomy. He writes,


Far from being an encounter with a limit, boundary, or barrier, it is experienced as “a release from terror and bondage.” As Gilroy notes, this preference for death over continued servitude is a commentary on the nature of freedom itself (or the lack thereof). If this lack is the very nature of what it means for the slave or the colonized to exist, the same lack is also precisely the way in which he or she takes account of his or her mortality. Referring to the practice of individual or mass suicide by slaves cornered by the slave catchers, Gilroy suggests that death, in this case, can be represented as agency. For death is precisely that from and over which I have power. But it is also that space where freedom and negation operate.45


The child in Kathy’s recollection describes the electric fence as an available object of suicide due to his subjugation in the necropolitical regime of the outside community.


  • , p. 78


  • Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15(1), Duke University Press (2003): p. 17
  • , p. 11
  • , p. 38
  • , p. 39




Death becomes the only means of maintaining one’s autonomy, and thereby a beacon of freedom in an oppressive world. This power over death the subjects attempt to maintain and the hegemony over who may live and who must die by the state comprise the dialectical tension of necropolitics.


Mbembe states that while the factors leading up to the Nazi regime are multitudinous and complex, “according to Endo Traverso, the gas chambers and the ovens were the culmination of a long process of dehumanizing and industrializing death, one of the original features of which was to integrate instrumental rationality with the productive administrative rationality of the modern Western world (the factory, the bureaucracy, the prison, the army).”46 The dehumanization and industrialization of death is evident in the novel as well, primarily in the entire system of which the clones are an integral part, a system that raises them in contained environments in order to be sacrificed for the outside society. This dehumanizing rationality is particularly apparent in the clinical language Kathy uses to describe the donation process. When a patient dies from donating organs, Kathy says that they have “completed,”47 and when boasting of her adequacy as a carer, she tells the reader “my donors have always tended to do much better than expected. Their recovery times have been impressive, and hardly any of them have been classified as ‘agitated,’ even before fourth donation.”48 Kathy’s cold classification of emotions and pain and her use of almost technological terms to signify death reflect the industrialization of death through administrative rationality


that Mbembe describes. Ishiguro takes the dehumanized and calculated death regime of Nazi Germany and extends it into the speculative narrative of Never Let Me Go.


But it is not just in the systemized death of the clones that the novel expresses its ties to necropolitics, for Mbembe also writes of the dehumanization and industrialization of death, “This development was aided in part by racist stereotypes and the flourishing of a class-­‐based racism that, in translating the social conflicts of the industrial world in racial terms, ended up comparing the working classes and ‘stateless people’ of the industrial world to the ‘savages’ of the colonial world.”49 In short, he writes in observance of Arendt’s thesis, “what one witnesses in World War


  • is the extension to ‘civilized’ peoples of Europe of the methods previously


reserved for the ‘savages.’”50 Fanon’s study of postcolonial subjects becomes directly applicable to the psychologies of the clones under the system of necropolitics. Kathy’s coming to consciousness as a racialized other and the psychological traits the clones exhibit as a class and race of their own are byproducts of the necropolitics of the oppressive community. On racism Mbembe writes,



  • , p. 18


  • The first example of this term appears on page 101, Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  • , p. 3


  • Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture, 15(1), Duke University Press (2003): p. 18
  • , p. 23




in Foucault’s terms, racism is above all a technology aimed at permitting the exercise of biopower, “that old sovereign right of death.” In the economy of biopower, the function of racism is to regulate the distribution of death and to make possible the murderous functions of the state. It is, he says, “the condition for the acceptability of putting to death.”51


The outside community racializes the clones in an attempt to justify the rationalized system of necropolitics they are attached to, and to allow themselves to continue putting the clones to death. If the clones were not considered something outside of humanity, something ontologically inferior, the society’s medical practices would cease.


The society in Never Let Me Go justifies its death system as a source of medical material for the outside community. This resource extraction from the death of the clones is again related to necropolitics, for the necropolitical state of Nazi Germany and to a degree all modern states “undertook to ‘civilize’ the ways of killing and to attribute rational objectives to the very act of killing.”52 Those who must die are relegated to communities or “colonies” separate from the rest of society where they may live and die. They are stationed in “the zone where the violence of the state of exception is deemed to operate in the service of ‘civilization.’”53 This zone in the novel is Hailsham and the other institutions that raise the clones, communities isolated and excluded from the rest of society, contained areas for the exercise of the necropolitical. The rationalized purpose of Hailsham and its associates is to serve the rest of society in an austere, dehumanized, biomedical manner; the clones die so that the rest of civilization can continue to live. The clones are the subject “whose biophysical elimination would strengthen [the outside society’s] potential to life and security,”54 the victims, in other words, of necropolitics. In her last meeting with Kathy, Miss Emily tells her the entirety of her dehumanization, exploitation, and economic purpose:


After the war, in the early fifties, when the great breakthroughs in science followed one after the other so rapidly, there wasn’t time to take stock, to ask the sensible questions. Suddenly there were all these new possibilities laid before us, all these ways to cure so many previously incurable conditions. This was what the world noticed the most. And for a long time, people preferred to believe these organs appeared from nowhere, or at most that

they grew in a kind of vacuum. Yes, there were arguments. But by the time people became concerned about … about students, by the time they came to


consider just how you were reared, whether you should have been brought into existence at all, well by then it was too late. There was no way to reverse the process. How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer and curable, how can you as such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There was no going back. However uncomfortable people were


  • , p. 17
  • , p. 23
  • , p. 24


  • , p.18




about your existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neurone disease, heart disease. So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren’t really like us. That you were less than human, so it didn’t matter. And that was how things stood until our little movement came along. But do you see what we were up against? We were virtually trying to square the circle. Here was a world, requiring students to donate. While that remained the case, there would always be a barrier against seeing you as properly human.55


This scene expresses most directly the concern of this essay as a whole. Miss Emily states that the science, which created the clones, came after the war, thus again applying the cold calculability of Nazi Germany to the contemporary biomedical field. The ontological implications of biomedical engineering suggest the redefinition of what is human through the possibility of transcending the human, all the while the cloned beings are regarded as ontologically inferior and are relegated to the status of a racialized other. Miss Emily tells Kathy that people convinced themselves “that you were less than human, so it didn’t matter.” Such otherness serves to justify the exploitation of their bodies and the death that is imposed upon them by the state, that further justifies the death system by upholding the medical benefits the system produces.


Mbembe states that “to exercise sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power,” thus posing the question to the reader, “What place is given to life, death, and the human body?”56 This question is emphasized by Thacker in his study of regenerative medicine and through it the potential for a human body without death. Thacker writes, “tissue engineering seems to be gearing itself toward a standard of the biomedical body that strategically eliminates one entire sector of the biological body’s contingencies (chromosome degradation, tissue aging and decay, and the markers of the body’s mortality).”57 Thacker notes that the many factors of regenerative medicine “point to a more general desire effectively to engineer biological mortality out of the body.”58 Similarly, according to Mbembe the negation of death is what ultimately defines the sovereign. He writes, “the sovereign world, Bataille argues, ‘is the world in which the limit of death is done away with. Death is present in it, its presence defines that world of violence, but while death is present it is always there only to be negated, never for anything but that. The sovereign,’ he concludes, ‘is he who is, as if death were not. […] he is the transgression of all such limits.’”59 Like the speculative implications of regenerative medicine, the sovereign does away with death by containing it in selective areas, the areas of the racialized other. The


  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 262-63


  • Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture, 15(1), Duke University Press (2003): p. 12


  • Eugene Thacker, The Global Genome, “The Thickness of Tissue Engineering,” p. 272-73


  • , “Regenerative Medicine: We Can Grow It for You Wholesale,” p. 285


  • Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture, 15(1), Duke University Press (2003): p. 16




sovereign’s control of life and death presupposes “the distribution of human species into groups, the subdivision of the population into subgroups, and the establishment


of a biological caesura between the ones and the others. This is what Foucault labels with the (at first familiar) term racism.”60 The ontological redefinition implied by


regenerative medicine necessarily also implies a “biological caesura” between those who must give organs and those who take, and therefore an “other” to be exploited. That is why, in the novel, the clones face the psychological turmoil of racialized others.


The title of the novel, Never Let Me Go, derives from a song of the same name that Kathy listens to as a young girl. Kathy tells the reader that she interpreted the song incorrectly, being the child that she was, confessing,


what I’d imagine was a woman who’d been told she couldn’t have babies, who’d really, really wanted them all her life. Then there’s a sort of miracle and she has a baby, and she holds the baby very close to her and walks around singing ‘Baby, never let me go…’ partly because she’s so happy, but also because she’s so afraid something will happen, that the baby will get ill or be taken away from her.61

At one point Kathy listens to the song and begins holding a pillow as if it were her child, singing along, and notices Madame watching her, and when she looks at Madame she realizes Madame is crying. Towards the close of the novel, Kathy asks Madame about the scene, telling her the erroneous interpretation of the song, wondering if Madame interpreted it similarly. Madame replies,


I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That is what I saw. It wasn’t really you, what you were doing, I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I’ve never forgotten.62


Madame’s interpretation of the scene is fairly straightforward. Madame sees the new scientific world as cruel and austere, and her idea of the “old kind world” cherished by “a little girl” reveals her nostalgia for a purer humanism, soon to be extinguished by the encroaching medical era. She directly laments the establishment of a rationalized world and the loss of a culture that still upholds humanist ideals. On the other hand, Kathy’s interpretation is “for an altogether different reason” as Madame says it is. Kathy’s interpretation of the song, although childish, reflects an aspect of the society in the novel from a surprising perspective not yet addressed. She focuses on a mother that, due to some medical condition is unable to produce children, only to miraculously be granted the opportunity. Recalling our societal acceptance of in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood, two forms of creating


  • , p. 17
  • , p. 70


  • , p. 272




life that push ontological boundaries and also allow motherhood for those previously denied it, Kathy’s interpretation recognizes the promises of biomedical advancement and the extent to which it actually propagates the humanistic ideals Madame extols. The two interpretations of the same song recognize the complexities of motherhood and birth, as well as the implications of the biomedical field as a whole, both in the fictional world of the novel and in the world of today. Never Let Me Go juxtaposes the necropolitical with the humanistic, death with birth, and the possibilities of the future with the danger involved, an assemblage that encompasses the expectancy and trepidation of the contemporary moment.


In the wake of regenerative medicine and necropolitics the question becomes: who now must die for our lives to continue? Despite the bleakness of the novel, Never Let


Me Go does not promulgate naïve Luddism, adamantly against the biomedical advancements of the modern era; rather, the novel expresses the urgent necessity for examining regenerative medicine because of its inherent possibility of creating another atrocity in light of the ongoing necropolitical paradigm. In colloquial terms, we must think before we leap, for after we do it will be too late. As Miss Emily states, “There was no way to reverse the process. How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There was no going back.”63 If we are trading in life, where do we draw the line? The world is on the brink of altering the human, and Ishiguro’s novel reminds us that we must keep in mind all that is at stake.


































  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, p. 263




Works Cited


Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove, 2008.




Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Vintage, 2005. Print. Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. New York: Vintage, 1993. Print. Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Trans. Libby Meintjes.Public Culture 15.1, Duke

University Press (2003): 11-­‐40. Print.


Thacker, Eugene. The Global Genome. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005. Print.