See the bottom of today’s ‘stack for some news and updates, and also for some summary comments on  my “reader survey” of two weeks ago.  Weste

Justin E. H. Smith's Hinternet

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2022-09-23 21:31:22

See the bottom of today’s ‘stack for some news and updates, and also for some summary comments on my “reader survey” of two weeks ago.

Western Europeans and Americans visiting Romania for the first time will often be told that any association of the place with vampires is really an unfair imposition, having mostly to do with Bram Stoker’s more or less ex-nihilo invention of a Transylvanian setting for his 1897 novel, Dracula. After all, just over a century earlier, in 1780, a Transylvania University could still be founded in Kentucky with no connotation but the generic one of being “across the forest” — an etymology students and faculty at that institution must get very tired of having to explain. The English novelist’s tale, you will hear, is a typically Victorian confession of England’s own deepest fears — of pestilence; of pathologia sexualis, hopelessly interwoven with what would soon be called the “death-drive”; of uncouth swarthy continentals (“The wogs begin at Calais”, it used to be said across the Channel from where I write, and by that measure a Transylvanian was the nec-plus-ultra of wogdom). Depending on your precise location in Romania, as for example in the shadow of the Bran castle that once was home to Vlad the Impaler, you might enjoy the irony of hearing this revisionist history lesson while surrounded by a whole gallery of vampire kitsch — kiosks with plastic fangs for sale; a painted wooden plank in vampire-form with a cut-out oval hole for the face, where infantilised tourists can have their pictures taken in the guise of a sort of Dracula, though one as diminutive and unthreatening as his descendants Count Chocula, of breakfast-cereal fame, or Sesame Street’s own Count von Count.

It has been a long time since I was on the receiving end of such a lecture, but back when they still happened I often found myself unable to suppress that exclamation, so completely taboo in our era of stay-in-your-lane deference: “ Well, actually…” It is not that I had a particular interest in vampirology, though I had at least done a bit of reading; had seen popular entertainments such as Interview with the Vampire (1994), both F. W. Murnau’s and Werner Herzog’s versions of Nosferatu (1922, 1979), and the memorable Blacula (1972); and I had long enjoyed observing that analytic philosophy preferred to go with “zombies” (or some Americanised form of them unrecognisable from their initial appearance in rural Haitian folk-culture; see my attempt at a deconstruction of the “philosophical zombie” here), rather than this other species of the undead that interests us here today, for reasons that might be instructive about differences between philosophical styles. Vampires have in general been more useful to the imaginations of thinkers descended broadly from Romanticism, while zombies give us all of the conceptual problems about mind and consciousness, but none of the feeling, and are thus perfect water-carriers for whatever it is the analytics are trying to do. To “think with vampires” is by contrast to think about feeling, mood, and the dimensions of human existence these disclose.

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