Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Am Legend

I Am Legend has turned the idea behind vampires from a myth based on religion and superstitious fears into a post-apocalyptic scenario in which science holds the key to survival. In all my readings of vampire novels I never really stopped to consider why garlic, mirrors, crosses or stakes affected vampires, I just went with it. Now that I think about it from a scientific perspective I realize I’ve just been following along with the religious beliefs without questioning anything on a biological level.

The first thing I noticed about this novel was that it is incredibly different from the movie that I’ve seen. I would have to say that in the movie, the ‘vampires’ were more zombie-esque and they didn’t talk or torment Neville by hanging out around his house and calling out his name. This seems more fitting to the vampire stereotype, especially with all of the superstitions about keeping vampires away explained. Robert himself is an interesting character because he is struggling to survive through the attacks and the emotional turmoil and the fact that he may very well be the last human alive and to us it seems he has no reason to keep living. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to keep on going if everyone I knew in my lifetime had died, or in this case become infected and changed completely.

He doesn’t really seem like a ‘hero’ to me, but more of a typical human trying to survive. He is acting like most of us would if we encountered a similar situation. He’s brave and strong but not so much that he seems unrealistic. He has fears and doubts and plenty of moments of weakness. For example, the part when he was mourning over Kathy was a really human moment where he showed pain and loneliness.

“Robert Neville went back into the crypt, chest rising and falling with harsh movements. Then he closed his eyes and stood with his palms resting on the cover of the casket.

I’m here, he thought. I’m back. Remember me.

He threw out the flowers he’d brought the time before and cleared away the few leaves that had blown in because the door had opened.

Then he sat down beside the casket and rested his forehead against its cold metal side. Silence held him in its cold and gentle hands.

If I could die now, he thought; peacefully, gently, without a tremor or a crying out. If I could be with her. If I could believe I would be with her.” (p.37) 

It made me wonder, what does he mean about believing he could be with her? Maybe he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, or that something entirely different happens after all of this infection spread. 

To me, this scene represents his human weakness of sorrow and sense of loss, if you can consider it a weakness. Maybe this is his strength against the vampires, the reason he is able to live is because he retains those memories and that sense of his human self? Why does he keep fighting to live when all else is lost to him? It’s so interesting to follow his story.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Online Artifact

 Vampires: What is the Appeal?
            Vampires represent so many things both alluring and disturbing that it is difficult to categorize them as either monsters or romanticized lovers. They may represent death, disease, fear, supreme power or control or other such negative connotations. On the other hand, vampires may also represent romance, sexual tension or sexual acts, the power to bring about sexual submission, immortal life etc…Vampires are perhaps the only mythological creature that causes such a battle of emotions in the human psyche. The question is: Do we love or hate them? Perhaps it is a little bit of both.

This essay asks that question and provides several examples of what we connect vampires with both confirming and arguing against certain points that we assume when we think of the vampire novel: Dvorkin makes many good points throughout his piece, questioning common beliefs about vampires and Dracula specifically and the appeal or the allure of the vampire. For instance, the point about Victorians being afraid of sexuality was untrue; they were not afraid of sex but they did not openly speak of it. Sex, would be written about obscurely and it was often difficult to pick up on, at least for us modern readers. It makes me wonder how some of our contemporary literature might go over had it been introduced in that time period. Our views about sex have changed a great deal over the years. In American society we are fairly open about sexuality, it is in our movies and media and sexy women or men are portrayed almost naked on magazine covers or advertisements that anyone in the public may see. Homosexuality and its acceptance in our society is shaky at best but such organizations as LGBT have made many changes toward greater acceptance. We feel free to speak about sex in the open, while in Victorian England it was not acceptable or proper.

Women that encounter Dracula change a great deal. The three Weird Sisters, as Jonathon called them, were lusty creatures that wanted nothing but to sate their desire for blood and sex, often at the same time. Dracula himself seems to have an infatuation with Jonathon, though it is somewhat understated.

“How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me.’ The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him—

‘You yourself never loved; you never love!’ On this the other women joined and such a mirthless, hard, soulless laughter rang through the room that it almost made me faint to hear; it seemed like the pleasure of fiends. Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively and said in a soft whisper—

‘Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?” (p.43)

Homosexuality being expressed in the open was as uncommon as women being ‘loose’ or open about sexual encounters but this does not necessarily mean that vampire novels represent a fear of homosexuality. The same goes for women and the concept of sex. Women in Dracula such as Mina and Lucy were supposed to represent an ideal Victorian Lady. Neither was perfect of course, yet both were more ladylike than the vampire women. Of course, both changed a great deal after encountering Dracula, particularly after being involved with the exchange of blood—which represents a bodily fluid or a subtle representation of a sexual encounter. Lucy in particular changed a great deal; she was not quite as ‘Ladylike’ as she should have been after all the visits from Dracula and the loss of her blood, followed by the transfusions of others inside of her. There are plenty of sexual innuendos in Dracula though they are well masked and a reader often has to read between the lines to find them.

Another point in Dracula and Dvorkin’s essay is that vampires are both loved and hated. The three ‘Weird Sisters’ in Dracula are both feared and lusted after for example,

“They came close to me and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. Two were dark and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. […] All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth. They whispered together, and then they all three laughed—such a silvery, musical laugh but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips. It was like the intolerable, tingling sweetness of water-glasses when played on by a cunning hand.” (p.42)

Stoker uses such words as intolerable and sweetness, musical and hard in the same sentences, contrasting the vampires against a human by portraying their monstrous characteristics next to their appealing ones. This brings to light the question; can something be loved and hated at the same time? In this case, vampires can and are feared, hated and loved. Vampires adapt through time, yet our emotions and feelings toward them remain the same. They are terrible creatures, but there is an enticing allure about them that we just can’t seem to resist.

Yet, why do we love vampires so much? Perhaps we have an infatuation with them because they have no rules. They can revel in their sexuality and their power without consequence while we are tied to morals and rules of society.

Dvorkin says, “We aren't afraid of monsters hiding the dark; we're afraid of ourselves.” Which is a very fascinating point and I cannot say I disagree with him. We are afraid of our vices such as lust and greed and the corruption it can ultimately bring about. We may become monsters ourselves simply by being human.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dracula Part One

I found the reading for this week to be an emotional roller-coaster. A great deal of it was interesting but there were so much jargon in the beginning about real estate that it was at times difficult to follow. While I have read this novel before and knew what to expect, what I found most interesting in this version were actually the notes. Some points in particular I found interesting was the fact that Dracula in Stoker's version is not only a vampire but also retains characteristics of wolves and has control over them as his servants. It is also intriguing that Dracula is depicted in Stoker's novel as being very hairy, including the hairy palms--a sign of masturbation. And yet, in the films he is depicted in a clean-shaved and smooth this merely to make him more appealing to  a broader audience? Over the years in film adaption it seems Dracula's character has been made to look 'sexier'.

"Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)" does a decent job keeping with the overall feel of the book but Hollywood will always be Hollywood and it is always going to make things more appealing to the eye.

I think this is part of why people find vampires so alluring, not only are they powerful, dangerous and mysterious but movies makes them look sexy. What fascinates me about Dracula though is that the vampires (both Dracula and the three vampiric sisters) are both repulsive and attractive. For instance, Johnathon's encounter with the 'Weird Sisters',

"Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. [...] All three had brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips." (p.42)

"The fair girl went on her knees, and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white, sharp teeth." (p.42)

There is a definite sexual tension here, any time a vampire sucks the blood of their victim. It's clear too that more than just a poke at the neck is going on. There is a kind of hypnotic fascination, a bodily desire. I think, more than 'love' vampires 'desire' and lust after their victims. The fair vampire's statement about Dracula's inability to love is not so surprising, what is surprising is his reaction:

"You yourself never loved; you never love!'

'Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past." (p.43)

Also what is fascinating are the notes on the bottom of the page, both that the word 'belong' to Dracula means possession of, and that he considers himself perhaps above humanity and able to take what he pleases and do with it as he wishes. Also, the idea that vampires cannot have sexual contact with one another but only with humans brings to light the idea of sexual tension and a distorted idea of love and lust. Dracula's connection to Johnathon and Lucy hardly seem to be love but rather fascination or need for the contact, for the life blood of the victim.

What is amusing is that vampires in recent media (books, movies, television shows) are more 'human' in a sense and have a capability to do more than act on an animal desire for blood or contact. The idea that a vampire can love is certainly an interesting one, and I can see where the appeal for them being romantic creatures comes from. I love to see the evolution of vampires and how they are portrayed, but one thing that never seems to change is the sexual tension.