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Vampires in Pop Culture: The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice

Foreword

I first wrote this analysis of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in March 2004 for a seminar on literary theories but the original intent to write it was born during my earlier stay in Kyoto the year before. During that exchange year I started to understand a lot about the themes present in popular literature and it was also when I wrote my original interpretation of Final Fantasy X which I later reworked for publication on this site (German).

I had rented the movie adaption of Queen of the Damned despite the bad reviews and it turned out every bit as bad as its reputation but I nevertheless wanted to form my own opinion on it so I watched it anyway. It was still very much worth watching because when I thought about what was missing from the movie I really began to understand the actual depth of the original novel. The way Akasha is defeated, instinct ripping off ratio’s head, discovering this symbolism was the real starting point for this analysis.

The paper originally was titled „A Lacanian Approach to The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice“ and was supposed to be an application of Lacan’s theories to an actual piece of literature. I had read up a bit on C. G. Jung for my FFX analysis and wasn’t really much of a fan of Freud. But although Lacan is Freudian I found some common ideas with Jung in his text which gave me further grounds to showcase the psychoanalytical approach already evident in Rice’s book. Basically I’m just spelling out what is said in the quotations already, using Lacan’s lingo.

This version is more strongly modified than my later Ghost Dog analysis and I didn’t stop at implementing the corrections by my lecturer Andrea Lutz but also tried to explore the meta-novel aspects of the Vampire Chronicles, as suggested by her. I added a short summary of Lacan’s ideas as well which took some rereading of his text “The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious”. This is also why this article took so long to be ready for publication on this site, with Ghost Dog I could basically copy and paste the paper I had handed in years ago only making minor corrections.

I also want to note that in one of the seminars I took following writing this paper I had the pleasure to meet four different students named Claudia all taking the same seminar. Claudia is by no means a rare name but this still was a curious coincidence considering the role of the character of the same name from Rice’s novel.

Riddel in the Forest

Riddel in the Forest

While Rice has given up on her vampire novels, thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Joss Whedon and the more recent Twilight by Stephenie Meyer vampires continue to be a mainstay in popular culture and they have a similar importance in Japanese comics and games as well, which of course is my focus on this site. In fact there is a shōjo manga by HAGIO Moto with a similar constellation of two male vampires raising a girl in one of its episodes. The Poe Family (Pō no ichizoku) by HAGIO predates Interview with the Vampire by a few years but Rice’s original short story was still some years earlier than the episode with the vampires‘ adoptive daughter in HAGIO’s manga.1 Serialization of The Poe Family started in March 1972 and ended in June 1976. The episode Rideru: Mori no naka was published in April 1975. Rice started work on her novel Interview with the Vampire in 1973 and it was published in 1976. It would be far-fetched to assume that they influenced each other given the temporal and language barriers but maybe they share a common influence that made them both write about male vampire couples raising a girl.

It’s interesting to note that in the Japanese variant of this story it’s the male vampires that are condemned to stay children forever and watch their adopted daughter grow older and older. In Rice’s story the adopted daughter is also turned vampire and thus denied her coming of age which her male parents had already passed when they quit the life of the living.

Today’s vampire literature still shows strong traces of Rice’s and HAGIO’s earlier works which is why I decided to juxtapose my analysis with some clips from Buffy and other recent vampire stories for this republication. They’re not directly related to each other but there are common underlying themes, some of which also contributed to this analysis. I was watching the end of Buffy season 6 specifically during my stay in Kyoto.

Lacan’s contribution to psychoanalysis

Vampire Diaries

Vampire Diaries

Before Lacan the unconscious was thought to be chaotic, primordial, instinctual and, most importantly, pre-verbal by orthodox Freudians2 Barry 1996: 79. but Lacan introduced the idea that the unconscious itself is structured like a language. Which makes linguistics a viable tool to analyze the unconscious as it manifests itself in language. C. G. Jung had already analyzed the dreams of his patients using an approach not unlike the one taken in literature studies to interpret the psychological traits of characters in fiction and in The Queen of the Damned Rice illustrates this connection between these two fields of analysis.

Lacans addition to previous forms of psychoanalysis that drew on literature studies is the linguistic approach applying Saussure’s association of signifier and signified to the unconscious. Here any one signified can also become a signifier itself, both on its own as well as in combination with other signifieds. Same as simple letters combine to form complex words, each word (or rather the concept represented by it) itself can in turn become a new letter, i.e. a symbol for something else not previously signified by it. In this way signifier and signified form endless chains of associative meanings.

To characterize the nature of these symbols Lacan borrows the distinction between the terms metonomy and metaphor3 Note that all terms based on Lacan’s theories are in italics throughout the paper. established by linguist Roman Jacobson but Lacan further associates them with Freud’s ideas of displacement and condensation, the former being an expression of a desire and the latter being a symptom.4 Barry 1996: 80.

1. A Death in the Family – The Immortal Vampire

 

Lie to me

In the original Interview with the Vampire, the main character and narrator Louis feels guilty for the suicide of his younger brother.5 In the film version, also written by Anne Rice, the suicide of the brother is substituted with a wife dying at child-birth. This was probably changed in an effort to streamline the lengthy sub-plot about the brother being a would be saint, who had visions Louis just could not believe in. Note that Louis is not married in the book.He develops a death wish himself in the process, which is granted by the vampire Lestat. But Lestat does not really end his life, and instead turns him into a vampire, a monstrous abomination, which has to kill to survive, and never dies itself. If not taken literally, this monstrous state can be seen to reflect Louis’ self-image. He has an inferiority complex towards his brother, who was highly religious, to the point the more worldly Louis could only interpret this as madness.6 Fußnotenauszug: The fact that the brother is kind of an visionary and a mad man actually hints at Rice’s mother being a probable model: „She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher.“, Article on Anne Rice at Merriam-Webster.... Unable to fulfill the role of protecting his younger brother he let him die a meaningless death and as a result loses his own purpose in life. Now as an immortal Louis outlives people younger than himself, like he outlived his brother.7 The situation is much the same in the film version. Louis is likely to feel inferior to his wife, who fulfilled her role by giving birth. He fails as a protector, and outlives his wife and child. The victims of his ever repeating nightly killings echo the death of his brother, which he also feels responsible for.

For Louis immortality is very much a curse, but the situation is quite different with Lestat8 Lestat’s story is told in the second book of the vampire chronicles, The Vampire Lestat, Rice 1985.. Lestat never decided to become a vampire, he had a promising future as a human when he was kidnapped and turned into a vampire against his will. Therefore he does not feel guilty for what he is, and embraces his role as a symbol of evil. While he cannot continue the life of a human, and is in a way robbed of his human family, he defies the dividing order of life and death, and turns his living mother, Gabrielle, into an undead vampire. The lost son is thus reunited with his mother in death. Death meaning dead to human society, emancipated from its rules.

Finally, in The Queen of the Damned we have the human, Jesse, and her Aunt Maharet, who is a vampire. Jesse is the youngest generation of the Great Family, whose history stretches back to Old Egypt, 6000 years ago. Maharet is actually the first generation of the Great Family, and has watched over the family and its lineage since the beginning. She does not interfere with the human affairs of the family though, and since she hides her vampire identity from the younger generations is to them immortal only in name:

Before Maharet, there had been her mother, now called Old Maharet, and before that Great-aunt Maharet and so forth and so on as long as anybody could remember. “There will always be a Maharet” was an old family saying, rattled off in Italian as easily as in German or Russian or Yiddish or Greek. That is, a single female descendant in each generation would take the name and the record-keeping obligations, or so it seemed, anyhow, for no one save Maharet herself really knew those details.(Rice 1988: 147/148.)

This reflects the traditional notion of immortality, becoming immortal in name, one’s lifework and family tree. Maharet is immortal, because there is Jesse, who remembers her name, and continues both her lineage and her legacy. Maharet is not only considered dead, but also acts her part, by not meddling with the affairs of the living. It is the supposed natural order, the old dying before the young. This is turned upside down in the case of Louis, where immortality is an allegory for the prolonged life of oneself when somebody else has died. Finally in the case of Lestat and Gabrielle we have true immortality as a supernatural phenomenon, which we only find in fiction, and remains wishful thinking in the real world. Some religions however, most prominently Christianity, promise immortality in a non-corporal afterlife, and immortality as vampires can be seen as a twisted variation of this Christian idea, as is hinted at by numerous comparisons in the novel:

How many times had Khayman seen such a gesture between immortals, the young one verifying for himself the texture and hardness of the elder’s flesh. Hadn’t some Christian saint slipped his hand in Christ’s wounds because the sight of them had not been sufficient? (Rice 1988: 212)

And Lestat was Christ on the cathedral cross. How describe his overwhelming and irrational authority? (Rice 1988: 230)

You [Lestat] were born for me, my prince,” she [Akasha] said. “You were tried and perfected. And in those first years, when you went into your mother’s bedchamber and brought her into the world of the undead with you, it was but prefigurement of your waking me. I am your true Mother, the Mother who will never abandon you, and I have died and been reborn, too. All the religions of the world, my prince, sing of you and me.” (Rice 1988: 262ff.)

Like Christ, vampires die and are reborn. Like Christ, Lestat is a symbol of immortality (“But Lestat was just a symbol now. A symbol of himself. A symbol of them [vampires] all.”, Rice 1988: 282.) Like Christ is associated with his mother Maria, Lestat is associated with Akasha, the Mother of all vampires and The Queen of the Damned.

In the Lacanian sense, life and death can be considered metonymies of family, since both the dead members and the living ones can represent the family (lineage). When any one family member dies, we feel the lack produced by the loss of that person, and although it is beyond human knowledge, we often presuppose that in the same way the dead desire to be living again. It is certainly the case with the vampires in the books of Anne Rice, who long to be alive as humans again, or the humans like Gabrielle or Louis who long for the dead. We can consider the vampires as a special kind of humans close to death, a metonymy for human existence. Thus human problems are displaced in The Vampire Chronicles as vampire problems, and the different modes of immortality actually represent human affairs. Life and death are condensed in the religious metaphor of vampires, which Lacan would interpret as a symptom.

2. Sex and Violence – The ‘Evil’ Vampire

 

Anne

Vampires do not procreate and for that reason have no use for their genitals anymore (“And the organ, the organ we don’t need, poised as if ready for what it would never again know how to do or want to do […]”, Rice 1988: 357.) Instead of the penis they use their fangs to penetrate their partner9 In Rice’s novels vampire lovers drink each others blood without hurting one another. They still need to feed on human victims though. or victim and drink their blood. Both male and female vampires do this, and since fangs substitute the penis all vampires are automatically phallic and in effect bisexual.

If we consider vampires as displaced human existence, then blood drinking should likewise be considered a displacement of sex, although a much more violent form of it. Granted at its base normal sex also has traces of violence, e.g. bleeding when deflowered, vocabulary like ‘penetrate’ or phallic imagery of swords etc., but the ultimate end of sex is creating life. On the other hand, when a vampire drinks the blood of anyone but another vampire, it usually means taking a life (it must be noted that neither the giving nor the taking of life is really the reason for sex or blood drinking respectively, the motivation is usually to satisfy a physical need or simply pleasure.) Like sex, blood drinking is also an act of intimacy and union, the victim’s mind and recollections are laid bare before the vampire, and the victim’s death is an obvious metaphor for sexual climax.

This passage about the vampire Pandora will illustrate the sensuality of blood drinking quite nicely:

It had been years since she had sought the exquisite pleasure. She thought not merely of the blood itself, but of the momentary union with another soul. […] She embraced him, crushing his ribs in her haste, her teeth sinking deep into his neck. Alive. The blood poured into her, reached her heart and flooded its chambers, then sent its heat through all her cold limbs. […] The death shocked her, knocked the breath out of her. She felt it pass into her brain. She was blinded, moaning. (Rice 1988: 69)

Humans will usually take contraceptive precautions, so the actual creation of life requires prior decision. In the same way vampires can decide to not just take a human’s life, but to make him also an undead like themselves. In the following passage Armand, who is reluctant to grant his human lover Daniel the wish for immortality, needs some persuading to do so:

But don’t you see,” Daniel said, “all human decisions are made like this. Do you think the mother knows what will happen to the child in her womb? Dear God, we are lost, I tell you. What does it matter if you give it to me and it’s wrong! There is no wrong! There is only desperation, and I would have it! I want to live forever with you.” (Rice 1988: 113)

In vampires we find different aspects of human existence amplified and exaggerated, but their ‘evil’ still reflects human ‘evil’. About Armand, who was made a vampire before he reached human adulthood, Rice writes:

The point was, Armand didn’t know what men felt. […] of true aggression he knew little. He killed because it was his nature as a vampire; and the blood was irresistible. But why did men find war irresistible? What was the desire to clash violently against the will of another with weapons? What was the physical need to destroy? (Rice 1988: 89)

In the end, vampires and men are quite similar, as they can both give life and take life. These acts become two sides of the same coin, life always implies the possibility of death, and confrontation with death may make one lose one’s belief in the meaning of life in the first place. Which explains Armand’s reluctance to give birth to another vampire.

Still, vampires are considered evil and men good, which raises the question, what exactly makes vampires evil? In Christian, i.e. biblical terms, violence, especially killing, is considered evil, but strangely enough it is forgiven during times of war. Sex is considered solely a means of procreation, the refusal of procreation, which can take the forms of contraception or homosexuality, is considered evil. Sex and violence are condensed in a metaphor of Evil, the fact that for vampires killing is the satisfaction of a physical need suggests that the symptom is mainly a sexual one: “That was the source of the shame. It hadn’t been the killing; it had been the monstrous feeding. It had been the pleasure. Ah, these two were such a pair.” (Rice 1988: 406). The true sin of the vampire is his failure in giving life, it is their essentially selfish/hedonistic and bisexual nature.

3. The Other – The Phallic Vampire

 

Twilight

Twilight

Jesse is the human heroine among a cast of mostly vampires, which in the beginning she only knows from the novel Interview with the Vampire10 Fußnotenauszug: Anne Rice writes each of her Vampire Chronicle books from the perspective of one vampire that narrates the story either being the author himself like Lestat for most of the volumes following the original one or telling it to someone else like Louis to the human interviewer Daniel in this work. These books both exist in the reality of the reader as well as in the stories of the books themselves, co...:

The main characters of the work––rather glamorous immortals when you got right down to it––had formed an evil little family in antebellum New Orleans where they preyed on the populace for over fifty years. Lestat was the villain of the piece, and the leader. Louis, his anguished subordinate, was the hero, and the one telling the tale. Claudia, their exquisite vampire “daughter,” was a truly tragic figure, her mind maturing year after year while her body remained eternally that of a little girl. Louis’s fruitless quest for redemption had been the theme of the book, obviously, but Claudia’s hatred for the two male vampires who had made her what she was, and her own eventual destruction, had had a much stronger effect upon Jesse. (Rice 1988: 172)

As a member of the Talamasca, an organization that investigates supernatural phenomenon, Jesse is often dealing with spirits, which seem to be the fading memories of the dead, but the idea of immortals seems unrealistic even to her. Keeping with our earlier interpretation as established in chapter 1, we can say that she is deeply rooted in the traditional notion of immortality. But still she is somehow fascinated by the idea of vampires:

There is something obscene about this novel. It makes the lives of these beings seem attractive. You don’t realize it at first; it’s a nightmare and you can’t get out of it. Then all of a sudden you’re comfortable there. You want to remain. Even the tragedy of Claudia isn’t really a deterrent.” (Rice 1988: 178)

When Jesse sets out to investigate the “facts” described in the book, she finds some of the belongings of Claudia, the character she could identify with in the novel:

She lifted her flashlight. A compartment lined in cedar. And there were things there. A small white leather-bound book! A rosary, it looked like, and a doll, a very old porcelain doll.

For a moment she couldn’t bring herself to touch these objects. It was like desecrating a tomb. (Rice 1988: 182)

Claudia is thus represented by a diary, i.e. her story, a rosary, i.e. her belief, and a doll. About the doll we learn from the diary:

Of course, he [Lestat] gave me [Claudia] a doll as usual, the replica of me, which as always wears a duplicate of my newest dress. To France he sends for these dolls, he wants me to know. And what should I do with it? Play with it as if I were really a child? (Rice 1988: 183)

The identification of the doll with Claudia demonstrates her financial dependency on Lestat, who would keep her forever a child. When Claudia decides to become independent from Louis and Lestat and chooses a human woman to make into her vampire companion, she is sentenced to death by vampire society. (Rice 1976.) Jesse empathizes strongly with Claudia’s fate:

The climactic events of Interview with the Vampire came back to her––Claudia destroyed in Paris. […] Jesse felt a dull shock, and the rapid silent beat of her heart against her throat. Claudia gone, while the others continued. Lestat, Louis, Armand. . . . (Rice 1988 :183)

Robbed from the female character to identify with, only male vampires remain. But as the existence of vampires is proven to her Jesse seeks out Lestat himself and meets him at his concert. Like one of his many fans she touches the rock star Lestat and convinces herself of his existence. But the concert turns out to be a dangerous place and Jesse is deadly wounded by another vampire. Some of her last thoughts before her ancestor Maharet saves her by turning her into a vampire are as follows:

I don’t know what I want. All I know is I don’t want to die! I don’t want to stop living. What cowards we are, she thought, what liars. A great fatalistic sadness had accompanied her all the way to this night, yet there had been the secret hope of this always! Not merely to see, to know, but to be part of . . . . (Rice 1988: 239)

Lestat is Jesse’s The Other, meaning he is everything she is not: male, immortal, empowered, supernatural, famous, disrespectful, evil. As a vampire, Lestat also represents the Phallus, which is a male symbol of power. Jesse’s relationship with him is ambiguous, but in the end the desire for him, i.e. the power he symbolizes is confirmed. In The Interview with the Vampire Jesse’s reality as a reader is displaced in Claudia, a powerless child vampire. In The Vampire Lestat it is displaced in the male vampire Lestat, she becomes empowered by becoming male.11 The closest to being a female lead character in The Vampire Lestat is Gabrielle, Lestat’s mother, who is empowered by her son. Gabrielle’s role is not as big as Claudia’s was, but as Lestat’s mother she holds more authority than his daughter Claudia. The Queen of the Damned is finally a story about an all powerful female Vampire, Akasha.

In The Vampire Lestat her role was purely that of a symbol, a sleeping statue of the Mother of all Vampires. In The Queen of the Damned she awakes and starts to really take action only after Jesse herself has become a vampire. Akasha is Jesse as phallic, who takes her revenge on men. In an act of reverse sexism she begins to eradicate men, seeking to destroy the source of all violence by the use of violence. The reasoning behind this plan reveals it to be patriarchy put upside down, she rationalizes her intention of severely restricting male population like this: “And don’t you think the peoples of this earth have limited in the past their female children?” (Rice 1988: 365). What Akasha proclaims is really patriarchy in a different guise, matriarchy as patriarchy.

But Jesse as a woman was not exactly powerless, she was a witch, and member to the Great Family, which is of matrilineal hierarchy.12 Rice 1988: 159. Her understanding of spirituality is that of a savage, pre-Christian and without a confirmed afterlife. Jesse belongs thus to a tradition that is entirely non-patriarchal and pre-phallic. She is torn between her human heritage (“In sum, the Great Family is the human family.”, Rice 1988: 428), and the supernatural fantasy of vampires.

4. Heart vs. Brain – The Apocalyptic Vampire

 

Buffy Huge Spoiler

Buffy Huge Spoiler

The advent of Akasha is accompanied by dreams about the twins Maharet and Mekare, who are Jesse’s ancestors. The other vampires comment on the dreams as follows:

Then the dreams may not be a deliberate message,” he said, his words marked by a slight French accent. “They may simply be the outpouring of a tortured soul.”

No. They are a message,” Khayman said. “They are a warning. They are meant for all of us, and for the Mother as well.”

[…]

The dreams must be a communication,” […]

We were there in the beginning,” Khayman said. “We were the first children of the Mother; and in these dreams lies the story of how it began.” (Rice 1988: 284/285)

In this passage we can sense an almost psychoanalytic approach to the dreams, which is somewhat affirmed by the description of the witches function as related by Maharet, who also narrates the story of the dream:

We gave the dream potion to those who requested it. And they would fall into a trance, or sleep and dream heavily in vivid images, which we sought then to interpret or explain.“ (Rice 1988: 317)

[…] And in this regard what we did was not so different from what doctors of psychology do in this century; we studied images; we interpreted them; we sought for some truth from the subconscious mind; […]” (Rice 1988: 318)

Maharet tells the story of the twins to a gathering of surviving vampires spared by Akasha. The now vampire Jesse is also present, and although she is described as very powerful, she is quite passive and does not speak up or interfere with the events around her. She is still very much the “reader” in this regard. The story of the twins obviously has relevance to Jesse, since they are her ancestors and it explains the dreams she was having. But it is also the story of Akasha, and of how vampires came into being. Akasha is very religious and suffers a shock of disillusionment when confronted by the brutally rational Mekare:

“ ’Stop your questions. You speak in stupidities,’ she declared. ’You have no gods in this kingdom, because there are no gods. The only invisible inhabitants of the world are spirits, and they play with you through your priests and your religion as they play with everyone else. […]The spirits are real, but they are childlike and capricious. And they are dangerous as well. They marvel at us and envy us that we are both spiritual and fleshly, which attracts them and makes them eager to do our will. […] you live in the lie! But we will not lie to you.’” (Rice 1988: 331)

The belief in gods is revealed to be based on a lie by childish spirits, and historically speaking religion as a whole is said to be rooted in the “childhood of humankind”:

It is as if the human species has grown immune to such things; it has evolved perhaps to a higher stage where the antics of spirits no longer befuddle it. And though religions linger––old religions which became entrenched in darker times––they are losing their influence among the educated very rapidly.” (Rice 1988: 309)

One reason why many people cling to religion is surely the promise of an afterlife. It is also of great concern to Akasha:

“ ‘What do you know of the life after?’ she [Akasha] asked. And when the spirits said only that the souls of the dead either hovered about the earth, confused and suffering, or rose and vanished from it completely, she was brutally disappointed. Her eyes dulled; she was losing all appetite for this. When she asked what of those who had lived bad lives, as opposed to those who had lived good lives, the spirits could give no answer. They didn’t know what she meant.’ “ (Rice 1988: 338)

Akasha believed that good people should be rewarded by the gods with eternal life. Instead she attains immortality by becoming an evil vampire. It is a selfish immortality that is conditional on the death of others.13 This corresponds to one of the modes of immortality in chapter 1, immortality as an allegory for prolonged life. Lestat dreamt of an utopia that is a world without death, where everyone is immortal like himself. It is an utopia in which the disillusioned Akasha has no faith anymore. Yet Lestat insists on his dream:

There has to be a way without death. There has to be a way that triumphs over death.“

Now that my beauty, is truly against nature,” she said. “Even I cannot put an end to death.” She paused; she seemed suddenly distracted; or rather deeply distressed by the words she’d just spoken. “An end to death,” she whispered. It seemed some personal sorrow had intruded on her thoughts. “An end to death,” she said again. But she was drifting away from me. (Rice 1988: 367)

As there is no ideal utopia in the afterlife, Akasha seeks to build utopia in the realm of the living, by violently interfering with human affairs. She identifies men as the root of all evil, and decides to rid the world of the male sex. She spares only a select few males, among them Lestat, who she thinks she can control. Masculinity is at the same time both sexual and violent:

[…] Right now the world burns with masculine fire; it is a conflagration. But when that is corrected, your fire shall burn ever more brightly––as a torch burns.”

Akasha, you prove my point! Don’t you think the souls of women crave that very fire? My God, would you tamper with the stars themselves?”

Yes, the soul craves it. But to see it in the blaze of a torch as I have indicated, or in the flame of a candle. But not as it rages now through every forest and over every mountain and in every glen. There is no woman alive who has ever wanted to be burnt by it! They want the light, my beauty, the light! And the warmth! But not the destruction. How could they! They are only women. They are not mad.” (Rice 1988: 369)

Of course, this kind of plan is only thinkable because of her supernatural powers as a vampire. But it resembles what she has done as a human queen, when her power was purely natural.

Maharet relates that the customs at the time were cannibalistic, i.e. people ate the flesh of their dead relatives. A few tribes also ate the flesh of their enemies, warring on other tribes for that purpose. Cannibalism is thus ambiguous, on the one hand a healthy ritual to deal with death, on the other hand a violent act of bringing death. Akasha, however, did not differentiate between the two sorts of cannibalism, and used her power as queen to do away with this custom altogether, even warring on other tribes who did not want to give up their customs. On the surface, Akasha’s motives are justified and even sound, but it is a rationality which never satisfies:

This queen had no true morality, no true system of ethics to govern the things which she did. This queen was one of those many humans who sense that perhaps there is nothing and no reason to anything that can ever be known. Yet she cannot bear the thought of it. And so she created day in and day out her ethical systems, trying desperately to believe in them, and they were all cloaks for things she did for merely pragmatic reasons. Her war on the cannibals, for instance, had stemmed more from her dislike of such customs than anything else. Her people of Uruk hadn’t eaten human flesh; and so she would not have this offensive thing happening around her; there really wasn’t a whole lot more to it than that. For always in her there was a dark place full of despair. And a great driving force to make meaning because there was none.” (Rice 1988: 330)

Akasha’s clinging to religion is a clinging to simple truths:

Allow me to draw your attention to what I have just said. It was the spiritual question which fascinated her––you might say the abstract idea; and in her fascination the abstract idea was everything. […]” (Rice 1988: 332)

Akasha’s shares a lot of characteristics with the spirits, she is childish like them (“her voice contained still a childish ring to it, a ring which evokes tenderness instinctively in others, and gives a faint music to the simplest words.”, Rice 1988: 331), and like the non-corporal spirits envy the humans for their flesh, Akasha bears a grudge against flesh (cannibalism). If we treat flesh as metaphor for sensuality we can identify a metaphoric chain between religion, spirits, childishness and chasteness. Once again sex is a symptom.

But humans are “both spiritual and fleshly” (Rice 1988: 331); which is metaphorically expressed in the twins. When their mother dies, Maharet is to eat her heart, and Mekare her brain. The heart is a metaphor for the flesh and for feelings, and linked to Maharet. The brain is connected to the eyes, it is a metaphor for ratio, the ability to see and understand, personified in Mekare.14 Rice 1988: 322-323. Although two different things, heart and brain are part of the same body, and are easily confusable like the twins: “People always confused us or thought of us as one being.” (Rice 1988: 333). But Akasha separates the twins, which is a symptom for the separation of ratio and feelings.

There are several crimes committed by Akasha against the twins leading up to the separation. First, they are prevented from eating the heart and brain of their mother, thus denies the chance to let go of the dead. Then, as punishment ordered by Akasha and her husband Enkil, they are raped by Khayman, the chief steward. The prohibition of cannibalism enrages Akasha’s human subjects, who try to assassinate her. The rape of the twins enrages the spirits, who turn Akasha’s dying body into a vampire. Khayman, who has raped the twins also turns them into vampires later on, which is the third crime against them.

Vampires are a metaphor and a symptom, here we find the causes for these symptoms. The rape as punishment was perfectly customary and thus allowed by Akasha. It is also heterosexual. Still, this sort of male violence is later despised by her. The feasting on the remains of the dead was also customary, but not by the standards Akasha was brought up upon. If we interpret the eating of flesh as sexual, it would also have been incestuous (daughter/mother) and homosexual (female/female.) The ritual to let go of the dead is not consummated however. Instead vampires are born.

The last crime against the twins is mutilation. Mekare’s tongue is cut off, so the rational part cannot speak its feelings anymore. Maharet’s eyes are also cut out, the sensual part cannot see anymore. After that they are separated and Mekare is lost in the primordial rain forest, and not found for 6000 years. She becomes an animal-like being, reduced to her instincts and only able to communicate through the dreams she sends to Jesse and the others. She is a metaphor for repressed feelings.

In the end, Akasha cannot finish her rational, but overly simple plan of eradicating men. Mekare comes for her and furiously rips off her head. It is a metaphor for instinct prevailing over ratio. Mekare then proceeds to eat Akasha’s heart and brain, the ritual to let go off the dead, in this case the undead Akasha, is consummated.

5. Conclusion

 

IWAI Shunji's Vampire

IWAI Shunji’s Vampire

When Jesse met her aunt Maharet and spent some time with her, she sensed that there was something different about her and her friends, but she never suspected they were bisexual vampires.

Yet in truth, Jesse never tried to figure it all out. She resisted theories about what had happened as she resisted theories about everything. And it occurred to her, more than once, that she had sought out the Talamasca in order to lose this personal mystery in a wilderness of mysteries. Surrounded by ghosts and poltergeists and possessed children, she thought less and less about Maharet and the Great Family. (Rice 1988: 170)

Maharet is opposed to Jesse joining the Talamasca. She argues, that while supernatural phenomena do exist, they make no difference to the destiny of the human race. Supernatural phenomena are like a Sci-Fi version of magic in children’s stories, a tool to solve all kinds of problems which are not easily solved in reality. Maharet arguing that these in fact exist can be seen as acknowledging the vividness and detail of literature taking on some life of its own but never effecting or making any change in reality. They “should not interfere in human history.” (Rice 1988: 166) Her letter to Jesse ends with the following words:

The Talamasca is an interesting organization. But it cannot accomplish great things.

I love you. I respect your decision. But I hope for your sake that you tire of the Talamasca––and return to the real world––very soon. (Rice 1988: 166)

While the power of art is great it shouldn’t become an obstacle to leading a fulfilling life. For the undead vampire Maharet, it is humans existence that is really fascinating:

Something of the real world was alive still for her now, something that evoked awe and grief and perhaps the finest love she had ever been capable of; and it seemed for one moment that natural and supernatural possibility were equal in their mystery. They were equal in their power. And all the miracles of the immortals could not outshine this vast and simple chronicle. The Great Family. (Rice 1988: 428)

The vampires being characters from a book that turn out to be real, Jesse’s story is the story of a reader shifting more and more from real life to imagined life in literature. And only when this shift is getting close to completion, only when humankind (real life) is threatened by apocalypse at the hands of Akasha (Queen of vampires, i.e. of utopian literature taking on a life of its own), Jesse realizes that Maharet had been right:

A terrible pain welled in Jesse. A terrible pain. To be swept away from all things real, that had been irresistible, but to think that all things real could be swept away was unendurable. (Rice 1988: 429)

In one of the following volumes the vampire Jesse is committing suicide which is in fact a reversal of her already undead status. Killing her literature self she can rejoin the living in reality. Sex, violence and death represent the fearsome realities of adulthood, by giving up her desire for eternal life which she seeks to acquire in never changing literature, the undead remains of living or already deceased authors, by allowing to age even if that means to die eventually she can lead her own life. Suicide is a mere metaphor for those rites of passage, death the beginning of adult life.

Afterword

 

Normal again

Normal again

Growing up is a painful process and some of those childish ideals seem to be too good to give up. On 24 February 2002 the episode “Man and Superman” of David E. Kelly’s TV show The Practice aired in which the lawyers Jimmy and Lindsay took the case of a deluded man who caused a terrible accident due to his psychosis of imagining himself to be Superman. The episode had a very corny ending which affirmed the sympathy people feel for Superman wannabes like him despite his illness. Only two weeks later the Buffy episode “Normal again” aired which had a decidedly similar take on this issue, although going for cool and shocking instead of corny. The striking similarities are surprising but as with Rice and HAGIO both probably share a common influence. It’s like TV America joined forces to say fuck you to the latest “superheroes are over” naysaying article in some magazine, struggling to find a balance between ideals and naivety.

What is interesting that some recent movies like Shutter Island, Inception or the new Sucker Punch also seem to have rediscovered this issue.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

  1. Anne Rice. Interview with the Vampire. New York: Ballantine Books, 1976.

  2. Anne Rice. The Vampire Lestat. New York: Ballantine Books, 1985.

  3. Anne Rice. The Queen of the Damned. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

  4. HAGIO Moto. Pō no ichizoku, Volume 1. Shogakkan bunko, 1998.
  5. Neil Jordan. Interview with the Vampire. Movie first screened in November 11, 1994.
  6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. TV series running from March 10, 1997 – May 20, 2003.
  7. The Practice. TV series running from March 4, 1997 – May 16, 2004.
  8. Vampire Diaries. TV series running since September 10, 2009. Based on the books by L. J. Smith.

Secondary Sources

  1. Barry, Peter. Beginning theory, an introduction to literary and cultural theory.Manchester Univ. Press, 1996.
    • Lacan, Jaques. „The insistence of the letter in the unconscious.“: 80-106.
  2. Sarup, Madan. An introductory guide to post-structuralism and postmodernism. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1989.

  3. Green, Keith and Jill Le Bihan. Critical Theory & Practice: A Coursebook. London: Routledge, 1996.

  4. http://www.veinotte.com/anne/bio.htm, 29.03.2004. Seems to be down, as of 30.12.2010.

  5. Article on Anne Rice at Merriam-Webster, 30.12.2010.

Footnotes

  1. Serialization of The Poe Family started in March 1972 and ended in June 1976. The episode Rideru: Mori no naka was published in April 1975. Rice started work on her novel Interview with the Vampire in 1973 and it was published in 1976. []
  2. Barry 1996: 79. []
  3. Note that all terms based on Lacan’s theories are in italics throughout the paper. []
  4. Barry 1996: 80. []
  5. In the film version, also written by Anne Rice, the suicide of the brother is substituted with a wife dying at child-birth. This was probably changed in an effort to streamline the lengthy sub-plot about the brother being a would be saint, who had visions Louis just could not believe in. Note that Louis is not married in the book. []
  6. The fact that the brother is kind of an visionary and a mad man actually hints at Rice’s mother being a probable model: „She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher.“, Article on Anne Rice at Merriam-Webster. []
  7. The situation is much the same in the film version. Louis is likely to feel inferior to his wife, who fulfilled her role by giving birth. He fails as a protector, and outlives his wife and child. []
  8. Lestat’s story is told in the second book of the vampire chronicles, The Vampire Lestat, Rice 1985. []
  9. In Rice’s novels vampire lovers drink each others blood without hurting one another. They still need to feed on human victims though. []
  10. Anne Rice writes each of her Vampire Chronicle books from the perspective of one vampire that narrates the story either being the author himself like Lestat for most of the volumes following the original one or telling it to someone else like Louis to the human interviewer Daniel in this work. These books both exist in the reality of the reader as well as in the stories of the books themselves, connecting the real world with the fictional one and making Jesse an avatar for the reader, who is drawn into the world of vampires. []
  11. The closest to being a female lead character in The Vampire Lestat is Gabrielle, Lestat’s mother, who is empowered by her son. Gabrielle’s role is not as big as Claudia’s was, but as Lestat’s mother she holds more authority than his daughter Claudia. []
  12. Rice 1988: 159. []
  13. This corresponds to one of the modes of immortality in chapter 1, immortality as an allegory for prolonged life. []
  14. Rice 1988: 322-323. []
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