Friday, 3 February 2012

A weblog approach

LIT Verlag
I finally received a copy of Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie on Monday. It was air mailed to me after the previous copy LIT Verlang sent went AWOL in the post.

As you might suspect from the title, the book's written in German, but there is one English contribution: Niels K. Petersen's 'A weblog approach to the history of Central and Eastern European vampire cases of the 18th century'.

It's much more in-depth than you'd think—for an essay about starting a blog. Not only does he discuss his research, quest to find a copy of the supposedly 'lost' Magia posthuma, but also relates the impact his blog's had. 'It has also been an inspiration for other bloggers, including the so-called Amateur Vampirologist from Australia who mentioned "Niels K. Petersen's brilliant Magia Posthuma" as one of the sources of inspiration in his initial post to the blog Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist.'1 True story.

His essay also highlights our different 'takes' on vampires. My approach is somewhat 'genealogical'; when did that first appear? Who said that first? Who was the first vampire? To that extent, I keep a file of sources in chronological order. They're good for spotting deviations in the 'script'. Like this. Niels, on the other hand, is interested in sociological angles: 'Understanding the vampire as part of history is, as all history, an attempt at understanding the development of human concepts and ideas.'2

It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyway—that context is just as an important angle in vampire research as establishing the development of the vampire mythos through various sources, so I certainly respect Niels' approach. Other vampirologists share his approach, too. Theresa Bane writes, 'Knowing the "who, what and where" is one thing, but knowing and and more importantly understanding the "why" is another'3, which is indirectly echoed by Joe Nickell: 'There is a serious field of study—embracing folklore, psychology, cultural anthropology, literature, history, and so on—that attempts to research and make sense of the various aspects of the vampire myth. To that study the term vampirology may well be applied.'4

So why is my approach so different? Well, apart from not being well-versed in these fields, I also believe that delving into sociological context too much, can stray the author off into their own impositions and tangents (not to say that the folk I've covered already do that). Susan Lynne Beckwith alludes to this in a book review: 'However, it is worth wading through this section to get to his final, and perhaps most rewarding, premise—that our scholarship on vampirism reveals more about our own anxieties than it provides evidence of Victorian sexual repression.'5

We do that all the time, of course, i.e. inflicting our biases, interests and whatnot, on the subjects we study. Christopher Rondina, for instance, admitted to adding a word to a newspaper article he reproduced because he was 'disappointed to see the absence of bats in the original folklore'.

I generally take a 'safer' route, as a result. It's the one I know. 'Just the facts, ma'am.' I'm interested in direct correlations, which is one reason why I don't subscribe to the Global Vampire theory. The vampire—as G. David Keyworth establishes6—is a (spoiler alert!) comparatively 'unique' entity. That, of course, steers us into the murky territory of defining what a vampire 'is'. That's where things start unravelling. Is sharing certain characteristics enough to earn the label? Should we only use the term in accordance with local usage? And so on. In terms of scholarly approaches, too 'wide' and too 'narrow' have their drawbacks. It's our job to steer the course between.

1. NK Petersen, 'A weblog approach to the history of Central and Eastern European vampire cases of the 18th century', in C Augustynowicz & U Reber P Day (eds), Vampirglaube und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie, Austria: Forschung und Wissenschaft, Geschichte vol. 6, LIT, Vienna, 2011, pp. 264–5.

2. ibid., p. 259.

3. T Bane, Encyclopedia of vampire mythology, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, N.C., 2010, p. 1.

4. J Nickell, Tracking the man-beasts: sasquatch, vampires, zombies, and more, Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y., 2011, p. 125.

5. SL, Beckwith, review of A geography of Victorian gothic fiction: mapping history’s nightmares by Robert Mighall, Criticism, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, p. 364.

6. GD Keyworth, ‘Was the vampire of the eighteenth century a unique type of undead-corpse?’, Folklore, vol. 117, no. 3, 2006, pp. 241–60.

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