Update the first:
I have a book coming out with PM PRESS!
Click here to read more (and see yet more wonderful art that NO BONZO and Kevin Matthews have worked on for it! And because I particularly like this work, I'm posting it here apropos of it being relevant daily advice.)
Optimistically, my book is due to be released in June of 2023. It is meant to be an approachable text for general audiences on the life of Nestor Makhno, Ukrainian anarchist, revolutionary and writer.
(I did a very, very, rough prototype of the text in the form of a blog/video series in 2020, though of course, I go into far more greater detail in the book and discovered many new interesting things there).
Update number the second:
I've been doing some freelance writing for PM PRESS on various topics. Here's my author page at PM! Such writing includes:
A blog about the People's Townhomes in West Philadelphia
A blog about the many (alleged) deaths of Nestor Makhno
I heartily recommend checking them out if these things interest you. I am in the middle of over-hauling/updating this website (and getting back into the habit of posting on a semi-regular basis on this website).
Now, to the Undead:
Now, since Halloween is closing in, I hope to leave you with some of the more interesting interpretations of vampires in fiction--it's the time of year to write about the undead, afterall. Nothing to do with the fact that, according to at least one study, a sharp uptick in vampire media tend to preface severe economic recessions.
To quote John Edgar Browning in a 2011 interview, a mere three years after the 2008 financial crash: "Vampires, in many ways, have always been in vogue, whether mythically or artistically; however, the recent, popular “resurgence” seems to have occurred in tangent with the economic recession, which wouldn’t be the first time that sort of thing has happened."
I've written about the undead before on this website, but in a second-hand way. I wrote about the historical Vlad III and his more unnerving legacy of helping to create and maintain a state by secret police, terror and nationalism last year (and a cheeky story about Bram Stoker writing a decidedly different version of Dracula after a bad dream--this version of Dracula focuses a lot of crabs, for example, which is supported by some of Stoker's diary entries early in his creative process).
There are a bunch of disputing factions about how prominent or important the historical Vlad III was to Stoker's conception of Count Dracula. Most, as far as we can tell from Stoker's own notes, conclude that the life of Vlad III was largely irrelevant to the fictional vampire.
Stoker only had one volume that referred to Vlad III (as Dracula) and immediately seized the name (previous drafts had the antagonist as 'Count Wampyr' which...may have needed some workshopping).
History Podcaster Historical AF has an excellent line of inquiry about Irish folklore influencing Stoker's conception of vampirism and the Count, which is well worth a listen and I won't spoil for you.
I think I'm just going to tick off a few examples of vampires that are less discussed and hopefully that will be enlivening.
1.Vampire as a metaphor for capitalism:
“Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” -Karl Marx, Capital
According to Dr. Strielkowski and Dr. Lisin, Marx refers to vampires in Capital at least three times, and never in a fun 'gee aren't vampires great as a power fantasy' kind of way. Engels also uses the vampire metaphor as well. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this small tangent is a nugget tucked away at the end of the blog, which I will quote in full:
In one particular case, when describing Wallachian peasants performing forced labour for their boyars, Marx refers to one specific “boyar” who was “drunk with victory” and who might have been no one but Wallachian prince Vlad (called “The Impaler”) – or Count Dracula himself!
Engels died in 1895 (two years before the publication of Stoker's work) and Marx well before that (1883) so it is impossible that either of them got this specific point of comparison from Stoker's work. 19th Century vampire fiction (and anti-capitalist messaging using the vampire as a metaphor for the moneyed classes/the cops/robber barons) was a whole sub-genre in any case.
This summary hints at a reference by Marx to Vlad III as a vampire from an economic standpoint before Stoker took his name and made it a worldwide sensation. Again, this is simply speculation (the word 'might' in the above quote is doing a lot of heavy lifting) but it speaks volumes about the presence of the vampire as an image in 19th century political and economic thinking. I just wish I could find a handy quote by Marx's best frenemy (and anarchist theorist) Bakunin on vampires, but we're on a tight schedule.
To summarize: Capitalism doesn't create wealth, it extracts it. Like a vampire.
2. Vampire as a time-traveler: The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas
The Vampire Tapestry is a series of interconnected novellas that examine the seemingly timeless vampire (called Weyland, though it's not his real name) as he moves through the worlds of academia, imprisonment, therapy and flight. So there is a lot going on.
Weyland the vampire is an odd creature--there is no magic about him. Everything about him is mundane. He isn't a re-animated corpse. He's entirely organic--he doesn't even have fangs. Weyland does have, under his tongue, a retractile barb that comes up when blood is near and creates a neat little hole, like a needle, in the victim's skin.
Like Peter S. Beagle's unicorn in The Last Unicorn, Weyland is a singular creature. There is only one vampire in the world, as so far as anyone in canon knows, and that's Weyland, who is old enough to faintly remember knapping stone tools into spearheads (at one point, a fellow anthropology professor asks Weyland to help demonstrate the technique to his class. Weyland declines, because he recalls exactly how to do it and fears that his ease with the pre-historic tools will raise suspicions and questions about him that will lead to him having to flee his cushy academic post).
Weyland is mundane--and hardly immortal--the longevity he seems to demonstrate comes solely from hibernating. Said hibernation is 'blind'--he can't set his biological clock for say, a decade, or a hundred years or a thousand years. He wakes up whenever he does, without a name or any particular memories save for learned skills (how to make a fire, languages, knapping etc.). He is a time-traveler who has to rely on his wits to survive--and the price of that survival is the blood of others. He finds satisfaction in working in the cut-throat world of academia, viewing it as a variant of 'hunting'.
“The vampire as time traveler, you ought to be writing science fiction, Weyland.” -A wag in the text who doesn't realize what sort of novel they are in.
Weyland is a pared down person. A minimalist's minimalist outside of concealment (academia) and hunting (survival).
Everything that isn't involved with concealing himself from inquisitive strangers or procuring blood has been stripped away from Weyland, he insists, from grim necessity. He's as spare and lean as a leopard.
His therapist in the third novella (part of his life in academia can only be reclaimed if he seeks counseling--the book opens with him getting shot by a prospective victim) reflects that while under gestalt therapy, Weyland had become so upset that he'd damaged the chair he sat in with his hands.
“She thought of the broken chair, of Weyland’s big hands crushing the wood. Old wood and dried out glue, of course, or he could never have done that. He was a man, after all, not a leopard.”
The joy of reading The Vampire Tapestry is from its terse, tight writing style and Charnas's deft character work. Weyland's exposure to innocence (a boy who helps him escape captivity), intimacy of any kind (emotional or physical, in both cases with his therapist) and art (the ballet, opera, music in general) slowly make him less of an piece of flint or leopard and more into a person.
Weyland the vampire slots into that space that Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter would slide into years later--a lean, sharp monster with more to him than meets the eye and the power to ask unnerving questions.
3. Vampire as a transhumanist, existential threat (Blindsight by Peter Watts)
Like the protagonist in The Vampire Tapestry the vampires of the Watts-verse are not magical, but solely biological. Whereas Weyland is a singular being leaping blindly through time through hibernation, Watt's vampires are decidedly transhumanists, though not as a result of technical rejiggering. Like Weyland they are a variant of humanity, but Watt's creatures are a Neolithic predators brought back into the near future by the greed of pharmaceutical companies looking for 'outside the box solutions' through gene-re-sequencing.
Great plan, what could possibly go wrong? As we all know from the (checks watch) two years of worldwide pandemic, pharmaceutical companies would NEVER EVER do something mind-bendingly callous and stupid, just to enrich themselves, right?
In the Blindsight-universe, the vampires are an extinct sub-species of human that evolved to prey on other sub-species (araneophagic behaviors can be observed in the Portia genus of spiders--a fact that is nodded to in another of Watt's works--that almost exclusively hunt and consume other spider species).
As such they are faster, stronger and better coordinated that baseline humans and worse still, have savant-level intelligence and pattern-recognition. They have eyes that are adapted for low-light, are crepescular and are pretty much sociopaths from the word go. Our beliefs about vampires in this world are the result of both folklore and genetic memory.
Worse still at a remove--like most intelligence in this fictional universe--the vampires view self-awareness (and all it's attendants, like music, art, self-expression) as a flaw unique to human beings. Sentience, in this universe, is not required for intelligence or problem solving, and the vampires are only one of the humanity-ending threats present in Watt's work with this view point. It's a friendly, sunny sort of place.
Watts even made a slide-show about his version of vampires here to tie in with his books.
Fortunately, the vampires in the Watts-verse have a huge weakness, which is that they 'glitch out' whenever they see two intersecting right angles (you know, like a cross or a windowpane). This 'crucifix glitch' meant that pretty much the second that humans invented architecture, the vampires died out--and in the grim future, the reconstituted vampires can only survive by taking copious amounts of "anti-Euclidean" drugs to compensate.
4.Vampire as a (progressive?!) force: Dracula (2013)
John Rhys Myers as Dracula-taking-Nicola-Tesla’s-role-in-history to make a limitless energy source that would also coincidently allow him to daywalk sounds like a fever dream. There is also a revenge-plot against the historical Order of the Dragon (who did this iteration of Dracula wrong) and more than a few schlocky fight scenes (with the requisite tight leather suits, because of course, can't have a vampire franchise without catsuits).
A brief note on this briefest of entries--Nonso Anozie steals the show even from Rhys Myers in this show. His Renfield is worth the price of admission.
5.Vampirism as an intensifier of grief: The Vampire Gideon's Suicide Hotline and Halfway House for Orphan Girls
In Katz's novel, the curse of unlife for Gideon means that his grieving process (and the trauma of becoming a vampire in the first place) is unnaturally extended past a mortal lifespan.
He withdraws from the world, largely, interacting with it most via a headset (making him the only vampire in fiction I'm aware of that has set up a suicide hotline). Gideon dispenses advice to desperate people who happen to call--de-escalating, yes, but also, outside of his occasional sips from criminals, his only form of social interaction at the novel's start, until he meets teen-runaway Margot.
Things get interesting from there. Katz's writing--particularly his sharp and witty dialogue--sparkles and carries the premise to the end.
Of all the vampires on this list, Gideon is the only one with a half-way functioning moral compass. Well worth a read, would heartily recommend!
That brings us to the end of this update. Cheers, and happy Saturnalia/Halloween/Samhain!