Well, another week, another Column. It’s been almost a month since I’ve done a normal one of these, what with the Amityville Horror repeat, the Vampire Hunter Mocking, and then, last week’s Retrograding.
This week’s topic comes via a conversation I had with an archaeologist friend of mine as we discussed literary criticism, and how it’s usually so far off the path from the writer’s original intent, that they are more comical than anything to read.
So I thought I’d share two schools of thought in regards to literary criticism about everyone’s favorite monster (Or at least me reader’s considering it’s the topic I am most asked about): The vampire. Let’s take Freudian and Jungian literary criticism and show you how those schools of thought “read between the lines” of any vampire tale or novel.
I should bring up before we start that due to the overwhelming popularity of vampirism in the 20th century, the vampire is now listed in some fields of psychology as an archetype, which is an intrapsychic psychological interpretation in the collective unconscious. Or if you prefer a less wordy definition, “an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience” Because of the vampire being linked as a modern archetype, the two schools of literary criticism we’re looking at automatically looks for metaphor, simile, and other forms of hidden author intent, either consciously or subconsciously.
Sigmund Freud was the first psychologist to legitimize the study of human fantasies about the dead and undead as a serious intellectual and psychological study for scientific research. Through Freud’s theory and concepts of psychoanalysis, he developed a “map” of the human psyche divided up into such things as impulses, repressed desires, and self destructive and/or sexual thoughts. The school of Freudian thought is that while we are sleeping, we are merely viewing our unconscious mind which is inhabited aspects of life that continue on, even while we are slumbering.
According to psychoanalysis, any dreams about vampires or other forms of the undead, are a metaphor for the fascination and fear mankind has with the concepts of death and the dead. In fact, thanks to J. Gordon Melton, I have a quote from Freud himself expressing Freud’s own words on the concept of death.
“All human experiences of morbid dread signify the presence of repressed sexual and aggressive wishes, and in vampirism we see these repressed wishes becoming plainly visible.”
Members of the Freudian school of thought who do literary criticism in this style strongly focus on ambiguity, mystification, and uncertainty that permeates vampire stories, especially the earlier ones, as more modern stories are quite blatant towards their sexuality. Other topics of importance are how death coexists with the longing for immortality, showing man’s love-hate relationship with both concepts, how greed, sadism, and aggression are intermingled with desire and a compulsion to possess and express said desire, and the consistent use of metaphor for virginity, innocence, and vulnerability and the overlapping of images of guilt.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking one of two things. “Right on!” or “What the f*ck?” I suppose there’s also a third possibility of, “I can’t understand a single sentence written in this column so far. Remember, that I think Freudian literary criticism is full of crap, as is pretty much everything Freud has done, but it’s a lot of fun to see what this man had on his brain. Let’s take a little deeper look at how Freud and his modern-day followers examine vampirism.
The first thing a Freudian will usually comment on in regards to a vampire story is how they are a metaphor for infantile and perverse sexuality. Of course, the most commented on and studied vampiric work is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For Freudian scholars, Dracula, is a combination of all the traditional myths of the vampire merged with what they consider to be the epitome of Freud’s Oedipal complex concept.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Oedipal complex, according to Freud this emerged around the ages of three to five and is the main source of unconscious guilt in the male mind. Small boys feel Oedipal rivalry with their fathers with creates a concept of “castration anxiety” in them. Castration anxiety is when young boys, seeing a girl’s genitalia for the first time, will erroneously come to the conclusion that the girl must have had her penis removed, probably as punishment for some misbehavior, and is fearful the same fate shall happen to him.
Before we all start giggling at the stupidity of this idea, in Freud’s time a lot of cultures, notably 19th century Europe, parents had no qualm towards threatening their children with castration to make them behave, or to otherwise threaten their genitals. Freud was particularly fond of documenting this for some reason. This may help to explain Freud’s reasoning regarding castration anxiety’s role in human development.
According to Freud, both boys and girls can fall under the Oedipal complex in which feelings of aggression occur towards the parent whose gender they share and feelings of possessive erotic desire develop towards the parent of the opposite sex. Remember, this is ages three to five.
These thoughts, feelings, and desires are neither conscious nor fully understood by the child due to ego defenses in the mind which block the conscious mind from these dangerous impulses and prevent anxiety levels from rising. According to the Freudian school of thought, the function of dreams are to disguise your base and perverted wishes into a form that allows you to release them from your psyche, but also not stir you to consciousness and then act on these thoughts.
Thus a competent dreamer, (i.e. a Freudian), can awaken and trace him or her dream images back to the Oedipal complex the originated from.
Again, to Freud, this is what vampires and especially, Dracula, is all about.
For a Freudian literary criticism, the vampire legend will be described and discerned as a modern interpretation of the denied Oedipal wishes. A Freudian will look at the sexuality combined with brutality of the feeding off of the living’s blood and say it is suggestive a child’s interpretation of watching his parents copulate for the first time. In other words, the male child views sexual contact as the male parent hurting the female and is confused to the enjoyment of it.
As well, a Freudian would take the early parts of Stoker’s novel, where Dracula has a triad of female vampires that live with him, and would state that this relationship is an incestuous father-daughter one created by repressed desires that make the daughter subservient to the father. The female is immature and who lacks her own autonomy of herself and her actions, unconsciously agrees and wants her father to continue his own claims to controlling her existence.
I personally don’t agree with Freud, but it is up to you whether or not the Freudian school of belief is correct in their belief that the vampire originated as repressed desires and fears made into an archetype, or if he really goes off on a bizarre tangent in regards to the psychological makeup of vampire novelists and their creations.
I like Jung’s concepts, but I don’t take them seriously at all. Jungian metaphysics and psychoanalysis is one of the cornerstones or the Persona game series, which many of you who read my video game stuff know is amongst my favorite games of all times. So I thought it would be interesting to show you that school of thought’s interpretation of what a vampire “truly” means.
For Jungians, the fact that the Vampire developed in nearly every culture in the world at the same time without contact amongst developing humans, this is both proof of the vampire as the archetype, but also proof of Jung’s concept on the Unconscious Collective. The concept of vampires and vampirism indicated that vampires are not mere stories or explanations created by personal experience or folk tales, but are in fact a species-wide psychological structure that all humans share in primitive thought,
What this means is that Jungian believe vampires are an intuitive concept to the human psyche. Something we understand in some way, shape or form, from the moment we exist into this world. Vampires reflect significant issues universal to all human life.
For Jung himself, the vampire was the representation of a psychological aspect he called, “the shadow.” The Shadow is made of aspects of one’s self that the conscious mind and ego were unable to recognize. The shadow was primarily negative concepts, such as repressed thoughts and desires, out anti-social impulses, morally questionable judgment, childlike fantasies, and other traits we normally feel shame for expressing or thinking.
Jung himself describes this shadow self as:
“The Shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.”
What does that say about Jung then, eh?
Jungians see the vampire as a projection of that shadow aspect of one’s personality. Jung interpreted the vampire as an unconscious complex that had the ability to taken over the conscious mind by means of “enchanting” the psyche or akin to what we might label a spell. But even with this vampiric shadow in control, it could not overwhelm the conscious mind, instead it merely projected itself onto the psyche into which some humans told stories and invented characters where beings did in fact act with this shadow self as their conscious mind, AKA the vampiric narrative.
The vampire became a key fixture in society according to Jungians, because it became a mental scapegoat of sorts. It allowed humanity to project the negative aspects of ourselves onto something we could both openly revile and admire without actually acting out the desires and impulses ourselves. The vampire acts in the way humanity wishes it could, but can not due to social restraints.
The Jungian interpretation of the vampire assumes that all humans have a vampire inside of them. We have an unconscious understanding this archetype in real and part of us all, and that it is both evil and yet tragic at the same time. However, the majority of humanity fails to grasp that the vampire is in fact an expression of our inner selves, that it represents a fragile reality that is both elusive and yet threatening, and that one can only engage in it through empathy and effort.
Here’s the thing though that really separates Jungian Criticism from Freudian in this regard. Jung did not limit his observation of the vampiric archetype to simply saying vampiric traits are merely a projection onto others. Jung also added that there are other traits the vampire possesses, such as auto-erotic, and narcissistic traits, as well as a personality that is predatory, anti-social, and parasitic.
For many Jungians, a vampire and someone with “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” can be exchanged freely, and through their literary criticism, they often are.
NPD is described as “It is as if they feel they have the right to control and possess others and to exploit them without guilt feelings —and behind the surface, which very often is charming and engaging, once senses coldness and ruthlessness.
This fits in perfectly with the Jungian outlook on Vampires.
Some Jungians literary critics build on this in various ways. Daryl Coats in The Journal of Vampirology wrote an essay about Dracula where he states,
“Dracula treats Mina Harker the way Jonathan Harker would like to treat her but he is scares to do so. Dracula treats Lucy the way her fiance would like to treat her. The Vampiric Lucy can respond to me the way the non-vampiric Lucy could not.”
There’s also Jungian analyst Julia McAfee who wrote, “The Vampire Archetype and Vampiric Relationships.” Her ENTIRE paper is centered around the vampire as the shadow self, but that of a narcissistic mother. According to McAfee, the mother appears on the surface to have good intentions and a nurturing outlook towards the child, but in reality, the mother is draining the will and spirit of the child through various forms of emotional abuse and exploitation. This correlates very strongly to Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy (MSP). To McAfee, this is the underlying meaning of vampiric folktales where these undead creatures prey on children. Of course, vampires in folktales RARELY actually went after children…
The concept of vampiric parents and/or psychic vampires is a concept better left for another time however.
So we’ve taken a look at just two forms of literary criticism and how these schools view the vampire in literature and psychologically. There are many other schools of thought ranging from Marxist to feminist to economist and so on. As I’ve said already, and what many professional authors will tell you, that these schools if literary criticism are usually very far off from the writer’s original intent and thus show more what the critic was thinking and their own thought process than any real substantial knowledge about the writing or author. But don’t tell your English professors that. Literary criticism is a large piece of their bread and butter.
The Catfish Institute mailed me a free cookbook for some reason this week, and so as a thank you I thought I’d plug a catfish recipe this week.
Catfish is one of my favorite fish. When I was a little kid, I couldn’t stand fish, mainly because I had to eat horrible lake fish like perch, sunfish, walleye, and the like. Yuck. But as I grew older, I found lots of fish that I enjoyed. Things like Salmon, shark, swordfish, halibut, and of course the catfish.
Catfish is by far one of the most versatile fish to cook, but most often you see it fried and served with hush puppies. It’s a popular southern dish. But let’s go with something a little more interesting, and a lot more healthy for you, but also keeping the Southern flair alive.
Grilled Catfish with Black Bean Salsa
4 Catfish fillets (4-6 oz)
One-Half tsp garlic salt
One-Half tsp ground black pepper
1 15oz can of drained black beans
1 cup corn kernels
One-fourth cup minced onions
One-half cup diced red bell pepper
One-fourth cup minced cilantro
4 Tablespoons minced jalapenos
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Sprinkle Catfish fillets on both sides with garlic salt and the pepper. Plance on clean baking sheet; cover and chill until ready to cook.
2. In bowl, combine black beans, corn, onion, red pepper, cilantro, jalapenos, oil and garlic; toss well to mix. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and hold until ready to serve.
3. Place seasoned catfish fillets on well oiled grill rack or basket and grill uncovered over medium heat about 5 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily. Place fish fillets on serving plate and spoon black bean salsa evenly over fillets. Serve.
This should take a total of 20 minutes for you to prep and make. Quick and super healthy meal. A great one too, even for people who normally don’t like fish.
What did I write last week? Well I reviewed three games! Stella Deus, Psychonauts, and Pokemon Emerald. I was busy busy busy.
In Games, O’Reilly reviewed Spy vs. Spy and Liquidcross bitches and moans a bunch
In Wrestling, Eric S brings up Soylent Green, a movie I absolutely hated because I expected it to be like the SNL parody where Heston’s character would be running around screaming “SOYLENT GREEN IS MADE OF PEOPLE!” but instead he mutters it as the last line of the film. Bleck. Oh, and Jeremy Lambert talks about Chris Candido’s passing.
In Comics, I continue to worry as Andy Campell gives a very mediocre Flash issue a perfect score, and I’m not sure if Mathan was going with some obscure pun that relates to the issue of Wonder Woman he reviews, or if he meant “In Medias RES”. I fele his pain though. No matter how often I look through my articles, some typos always slip through.
In Music, Kyle David Paul also was at Coachella, but seemed to go to completely different artists than I did, while Good ol’ Gloomchen seems to be living up to the first part of her handle. God knows I’d ask people to write her happy notes to make her smile, but sadly knowing the majority of the IP audience (and some of our writers), you’d all proposition her for cybersex.
In Movies, McCullar seems to have liked House of Flying Daggers far far more than I did. I thought it was too much Russo’s WCW what with all the attempt to constantly twist the plot. When Brendan Campbell reviewed Crash, I thought he was going to talk about the old crappy NC-17 movie about car accident sex.
In Figures, Batesman talks Zim and Buffy, while PK talks Street Fighter.
That’s it for this week. Same bat-time, same bat-channel. And as always, email me with any questions of curiosities you need answered.