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May 15, 2004

1000 Words -- "Carmilla"

Dear Friedrich --

It's been called to my attention more than a few times that I often write postings that are just, well, too damn long. Point taken. At the same time, sheesh, y'know, I'm forever running across bits of culture-lore and culture-thinking that I'm eager to gab about and pass along. What to do? I'm resolving this problem for the moment this way: I hereby initiate a series of postings on topics of cultural interest that I'll be presenting in a thousand words or fewer. Not an easy challenge for long-winded me. But no doubt good exercise, sigh.


The First Vampire Novel?

I bleed, I swoon

"The first Vampire thriller" -- it said so right there on the dustjacket of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale. How to resist? I'm no vampire-fiction buff, to say the least. But, an ever-curious lit-history and genre-history buff, I read that jacket copy and thought: "Whoa, a vampire novel that came earlier than 'Dracula'? Who knew? Well, I guess it makes sense. And, hey, maybe it's the ur-vampire novel!" So I bought "Carmilla" and had myself a read.

I know very, very little about vampire-lit history. (Note for a possible blog-rant: why doesn't a typical lit education nail down the history of the various genres: the western story, the romance story, the crime story, etc? Wouldn't you think that would be basic?) When I read "Dracula" long ago, I simply assumed that it was the archetypal vampire tale. I'm pretty sure that the only other vampire fiction I've read since has been a couple of Anne Rice's novels. Have you ever tried her work? I think she's a brilliant commercial novelist. For one thing: what a great idea, fusing vampire and rock-n-roll attitudes and iconography -- fiction for stoners, bikers and heavy-metal-heads. No foolin': I genuinely do think this is brilliant.

That said, and although I find Rice's porn novels (published under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure) pretty hot, I was barely able to get through a couple of her Lestat vampire novels. I spent my hours reading them alternating between a daze and a trance. I'm not sure why this was so: could it have the guitar-solo/mind-altering language? Or does the whole vampire thing -- the blood, the dark mutterings about immortality, the puncture wounds, the Goth fashions -- simply mean something to fans that it doesn't mean to me?

blood and roses02.jpg
What Roger Vadim saw in "Carmilla"

As far as movies go, I've seen the standard, well-educated-film-buff vampire canon, plus a few more; I have a small but real taste for funny vampire movies, and for porno vampire movies. But I've never searched the genre out. And let me tell you, there are vampire-film and vampire-lit buffs who know this stuff. (Check out Dagon's site, for example, here.) Vampire-wise, I sit a very long way from the head of the class.

So what was "Carmilla" like to read? Inevitably, I tranced out a fair amount. But I had a good time too. It's a short and pleasantly kinky tale, intriguing as a historical artifact and enjoyable on its own accessible terms.

What I found most interesting about the book is how straight it is -- straight not in the sexual sense (lots of lesbian overtones, actually), but in the sense of having no angle on the genre. It isn't "doing anything with" the genre; it simply is what it is. In fact, it has been the basis for a number of sexy-lesbian vampire films -- a Vadim, some Hammer horror, even a Jess Franco. (You can read my ravings about Jess Franco here.)

Despite how early in the cycle "Carmilla" came along, nearly all the standard vampire-tale elements are present, and right where you'd expect them: the spell-casting language, bristling with recherche adverbs; the carriages rushing through dark forests; the dank old castle in a remote mountainous region; the frightened peasants; the moonlight; the puzzled doctors; the fevers and the sighs ...

The book's appeal is pretty much what the appeal of vampire fiction has been ever since too: the sexiness of the sickly; the decadence and the languour; the creepiness of bloodless passion; the biting and the love-deaths, etc. "There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature," the sexy gal vampire of "Carmila" mutters at one point. Whew: if sentences like that one don't make your delicate sensibilities give a wicked flutter, I don't know what will. Let's just say that in writing "Dracula," Bram Stoker wasn't exactly fighting the temptation to give "Carmilla" a good ransacking.

Getting mighty kinky in here

Then to the research. And to cut to the historical chase: while "Carmilla" was indeed composed pre-"Dracula" -- Bram Stoker published "Dracula" in 1897, 25 years after "Carmilla" -- and while the book is historically very important, it appears that "Carmilla" was not the ur-vampire novel. Well, not the one and only ur-vampire novel, in any case. Dang. History, ain't it always a messier thing than we want it to be?

In fact, the modern vampire tale -- in contrast to the lowdown, rodent-like, "Nosferatu"-ish, folklore-esque version of Continental vampire legend -- was born in the early 1800s, and sprouted from the soil of Gothic horror fiction, the most popular fiction of the era. John Polidori, a friend of the Byron/Shelley circle -- actually Byron's personal doctor -- is credited with the very first modern (ie., featuring a sexy and aristocratic hero) vampire tale. This short story, which was published in 1819, became quite a popular phenomenon; it had been translated into many languages, and even adapted for the stage, by the time Polidori died, only two years later.

Given this success, it's odd that no further vampire fiction seems to have been created until 1847, when a former musician turned prolific literary hack named Thomas Prest published the popular "Varney, The Vampyre: Or, the Feast of Blood." "Varney" was published as a penny-dreadful -- as penny-an-issue serial fiction for the lower-classes. (More conventional Gothic tales were apparently published as books, and were too expensive for the less well-off.)

And "Carmilla"? Well, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, the novel's Irish-born author, trained as a lawyer, worked as a journalist, and then turned himself into a horror-fiction specialist. (He was also great-nephew of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan.) "Carmilla" was published in 1872, just a year before Le Fanu's death. So "Carmilla" turns out to be an early and influential vampire tale, rather than the very first.

Oh well: I suppose I could complain to the publishers about their misleading jacket copy ...


There's an awe-inspiring amount of vampire lore and scholarship in existence and on the web.

  • Here's a helpful-seeming Amazon Listmania list from Patricia Slezeny.

  • You can read more about "Carmilla" at Wikipedia, here.

  • I learned a lot from exploring Paco Quilis-Gómez's site, here.

  • This site here tells the story of Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Polidori. It turns out that the same rainy-days parlor game that gave rise to "Frankenstein" also kicked off vampire fiction.

  • Humphrey Liu has put up a fact-filled site here dedicated to "Varney the Vampyre." It's full of interesting info about the business of fiction publishing in England in the 19th century.

  • As far as I can tell, there's an audio reading of the entire novel "Carmilla" at this site here.

  • If you're in the mood to eyeball a lot of sexy vampire pictures, do a Google image search on "Carmilla."

  • You can look at stills from "The Vampire Lovers," a Hammer version of "Carmilla," here. Cute!

  • Fans seem to appreciate this Matthew Bunson "Vampire Encyclopedia," buyable here.

  • There's even a Complete Idiot's Guide to Vampires, buyable here.

As ever, there's no holding back the academics. Check out this passage here from a paper by Amy Nelson:

In "Carmilla," vampires ... identify and challenge gender roles of women in the Victorian age, as well as symbolize 'new women' or lesbians of that era. Though Freudian theory was not yet in circulation, many of Freud's ideas were represented in the literature of that time period. Male authors of the late 19th century used vampires to strike back at the women who refused to fit neatly into the patriarchy. If men couldn’t properly dominate women in life anymore, they chose to do so in writing.

Gotta love academics, eh? No discussion of the book's techniques, or of its historical significance. No discussion of the genre -- of its storytelling methods or of its iconography. Not even a discussion of what it's like to read the book. No, let's instead cite a discredited theorist (good to see that Freud is still managing to con people in lit departments), and then let's discuss the art-work as yet one more symptom of what's wrong with Western Civ.

Hey, if we Blowhards were to discuss art in a way that totally subordinated the art to our political agenda, do you suppose we could sell the package to a college somewhere? I don't know about you, but I'm getting old and tired. I could use some tenure about now.



posted by Michael at May 15, 2004


One of the chapters of S.S. Prawer's fine book Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror is devoted to an analysis of the elements from Sheridan Le Fanu's work--including "Carmilla" but also encompassing the collection of horror stories alongside which it was originally published, Through a Glass Darkly--that inspired Carl Theodore Dreyer's Vampyr.

I think I've asked you this before, Michael, but have you ever caught George Romero's Martin? It's my favorite modern take on the vampire myth, a genre it bears the same relationship to as The Turn of the Screw does to the Victorian ghost story.

Posted by: Mark Dellelo on May 15, 2004 06:10 PM

According to my English major friend,
"Theory is all BS. But it's fun."

I don't think Freud is really conning anyone, at least, not most of them (there is always the exceptions though, and I suspect they end up being the celebrated academics...). A lot of people use him for psychological theorizing, I suspect, because it's just been normalized. Plus you can wrench any character into some twisted mess using Freud, while more honest, modern methods 1) are less well-known outside of Psychological circles 2) would be harder to apply to fictional characters 3) don't get you juicy conflicts to promote the agenda du jour.

Posted by: . on May 15, 2004 06:14 PM

Well. As someone who has read a lot of vampire books, I could only come up with two to recommend.
We category readers sometimes do need to come up with a defense of our preferences. It ain't always

Dragon Waiting, by John Ford...A "good" Richard III has to cleanse the Kingdom of a vampire infestation. Politically extremely complicated alternate history + thriller.

Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler. Not vampires, but vampiric. A character who can take over another's body, expelling and killing the previous owner. Takes place in the ante-bellum South, and one of the few books in the category that deals seriously with the moral question of people as food, as objects to be used.

As a sub-category, modern vampire fiction is definitely a division of romance

Posted by: bob mcmanus on May 15, 2004 07:01 PM

I think Vampires suck male blood, too, don't they? Otherwise, how to explain...Dracula himself. I've always found Vampire stories to just be very thinly disguised kinky sex. And maybe a form of kinky sex everybody (or many people) have fantasies about. Being completely overtaken and ravaged (by someone you want to be overtaken and ravaged by, to carefully differentiate from rape) is a female fantasy, especially if it entails no effort or being straightforward about what you just "happens." It's just a wilder version of Kelly McGillis disrobing---supposedly unconciously, but not really---in front of Harrison Ford in "Witness"---hoping he'll reveal just a little Dracula. I always thought it was a ripoff and a shame he didn't. Probably just "taking" someone is a male fantasy. Like many fantasies, more seductive if they remain forbidden and fantasy. But it sounds to me that our female professor needs a little sex drive. There are certainly many more boring and bourgeouis ways that the arts have subjugated women with some hostility (Picasso, many seventies movies) but I don't read that as the primary focus of Vampire lit.

Posted by: annette on May 15, 2004 07:03 PM

That was way over 1,000 words, dude.

Posted by: gnotalex on May 15, 2004 10:08 PM

My personal favorite vamp writer (after Anne Rice, who is THE Queen, AFAIAC), is Tanith Lee. Her Blood Opera tales are a great read. A female Lovecraft and Poe all rolled into one.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 15, 2004 10:28 PM

There was a book a few years ago called Vampyres by Christopher Frayling which dealt with the early history of the vampire story. You might like to try finding that (it was published by Faber & Faber). Thomas Prest is actually only one of the putative authors of Varney, too. I've seen the authorship attributed to one James Rymer as well. No one seems to know who's actually responsible for it as it carried no author's name at the time. As for Anne Rice, I gather most of her later books have tended to suck big time and have never been bothered enough to read her books.

Vampires have never interested me that much anyway. I like Carl Dreyer's Vampyr and the first Hammer Dracula with Mr Lee in the title role, and don't care too much for the genre otherwise. I would be interested in seeing Martin. And on the subject of vampire porn, have you seen Jose Larraz' Vampyres?

Posted by: James Russell on May 16, 2004 04:07 AM

Michael, you're getting sloppy.

You know the Amy Nelson passage you quoted at the end of the post, the one you held up as an example of professional academic scholarship? Looks like it was written by an undergraduate in James Diedrick's "Victorian Sexualities" course, at Albion College (that's up in Michigan, BTW).

The author was probably twenty or twenty-one years old when she wrote the thing for class, but her work was good enough to fool you into thinking she was a professional scholar. I think on some level, that speaks well for her and for her teacher.

That said, I don't think you'll have to worry about her getting tenure anytime soon.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 16, 2004 05:12 AM

Mark -- Thanks for the "Martin" nudge. I'll give it a try sometime, although I'm really not a vampire buff. Sexy/funny vampires yes, but the usual thing doesn't get to me much. Eager to read you on vampires, though. The basic appeal of them (except when I think about it as pretty funny) really does elude me. Contemplating that whole fantasy world seems to put some people into a trance. Well, it puts me into a trance, but of the "just barely staying awake" rather than "turned on and alert" sort.

. -- That's really smart. The idea of Doing Theory as being a form of Fun hadn't really occurred to me, probably because A) I'm dumb and B) it's such a strange idea to me. But it explains a lot. Also makes me want to start scheming: how to make academics a little more responsive and responsible towards their ... well, customers? Any thoughts? I mean, it's kind of annoying that they get away with these arrangements, where they get themselves paid for, essentially, jerking off.

Bob -- We category readers need to stand up and stop making excuses, don't you think? Let's put everyone else on the defensive. Hey, has anyone read Poppy Brite's "Lost Souls"? I hear good things about it as a sexy pop-vampire novel. Not that I personally am likely to read another vampire novel in the next five years or so ...

Annette -- That's really a shrewd discussion of the basic appeal of the fantasy. Interesting too that vampire fiction spills over into porn, isn't it? Has anyone else read Anne Rice's porn? It really is pretty hot, at least IMHO. And, given some of what Annette says here, it's also interesting to notice that the fantasy seems to go both ways -- girls are meant to submit and guys are meant to submit too. (Some of the sex fantasy in her porn get very gay, although the overall tone is very straight.) I'd love to see someone do some thinking abuot that -- it's funny, imagining Anne Rice's readers really digging the sex, the kinky sex, and the homosex fantasies. Maybe it's just about permission to submit to your fantasy life no matter what it brings ...

Gnotalax -- Well, yes, if you count every darn word, you're right. But if you count just the words between the "***" and the "***" it's exactly a thousand words long. Not easy! I'm so proud! OK, so I like to clear my throat at first and pass along some links ...

Pattie -- Wow, yet another writer I've never even heard of. Amazing, the amount of talent in the world, isn't it? Thanks for the rec.

James -- Thanks, fascinatin'. You might enjoy poking around the Humphrey Liu site -- useful info about 19th century publishing. I forget the name of the guy, but Humphrey tells the story of the serial-trash-fiction publisher who was behind Prest and much of England's trash fiction of the era -- scrappy, hustling, unethical, successful. Given all that, I'm not surprised to learn that questions of attribution arise.
How would they not? It seems that Prest died a pauper, by the way.

Tim -- I'm always sloppy, and thanks for the fact-checking. Students post papers online these days? A new one on me. I find it somehow even scarier that that's the work of a student. Why hasn't some responsible prof knocked that kind of baloney out of her by now?

Incidentally, what I couldn't figure out given the resources I had was whether there was a lot of other vampire fiction floating around in the 19th century. From what I ran across, it looked like all of four works: Polidori, Prest, Le Fanu, and Stoker. But it seems unlikely that there weren't a lot of other vampire stories being written too. Wouldn't the impact of these four have inspired lots of others to take a whack at it? Was it a live genre in a larger sense, or were these four works really singular? Can any of you better researchers than I tell?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 16, 2004 11:53 AM

Gosh, Tanith Lee is also a childrens fantasy writer, specifically fantasy novels aimed at the teeny bopper set. FWIW.

Didnt Roman Polanski do a vampire movie with Sharon Tate? As I recall it was a spoof.

Posted by: Deb on May 16, 2004 08:32 PM

About responsibilty to theorists' customers..what customers? Most people aren't interested in anything deeper than American Idol, and there's a huge gap between academia and the public, because somehow academia goes forward, even as society stalls or goes backwards. But even if anti intellectualism is at its peak, it's not like the academics will just say "well, this is it, we're not studying anything anymore, let's stick to the current popular theory among the public!" and I'm glad for it.

Posted by: Shannon on May 16, 2004 09:19 PM

Sorry, Shannon, I'm not quite following. Academics' customers, so to speak, are students (and the parents who foot the bills). My question is, Why should they be paying -- really, why should anybody be paying -- lib-arts academics to amuse themselves "doing Theory"? Seems to me that the kids who are putting the time and energy into school (and the parents who are footing the bills) have every reason to expect a worthwhile education in return. But a brainwashing in Theory is good for what exactly? Doesn't prepare anyone for a life in anything but academia. And it doesn't broaden anyone's horizons, or deepen anyone's experience. It's just a lot of wheelspinning that seems to leave some people with the feeling that they can interpret anything they encounter.

I know there are Theorists (and some people sympathetic to them) who think that they're furthering the progressive cause by pushing Theory. Do you buy it? I certainly don't ....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 16, 2004 10:40 PM

Why hasn't some responsible prof knocked that kind of baloney out of her by now?

When you make comments like that, Michael, I only wish some responsible prof would haul up and "knock the baloney" out of you. Quit picking on undergrads, for chrissakes.

As for how this student could have come up with such outlandish ideas: First, the ideas are not outlandish at all, and second, they're clearly part of the course content. If you'd followed the links a little further (it only takes one click), you'd find that the student was writing for a queer-theory course on Victorian literature. The mention of "essentialism" in the professor's description is a dead giveaway.

I explored the official course website a little further, and found the syllabus intelligently designed. The professor's theoretical bent is Foucauldian, not Freudian, and the passage you quoted strongly suggests a Foucauldian reading of Freud (historicizing Freud is also a Lacanian trademark, but discussing Freudian theories of sexuality in terms of power relations is hard-line Foucault). Since I don't see Foucault on the syllabus, I'm pretty sure the students are getting their theory from the prof -- which makes sense, as Foucault's books are pretty rough going for even the brightest twenty-year-olds.

You may not think much of queer theory, Michael, but it's a perfectly legitimate area of literary scholarship, and students who take courses in this area produce solid written work. The undergrads in the class you cited are a case in point: They fooled you into thinking they were professional literary scholars. So if their work isn't good enough to pass for pro, then you don't know what you're talking about.

(BTW, in case some of you are wondering: Although the student work Michael cited is solid stuff, it isn't good enough to pass for pro.)

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 17, 2004 01:49 AM

Oh, and another thing, Michael: You know who the "customers" are for a university course? They're students. No one held these kids at gunpoint and forced them to take a whiz-bang theoryfest. They're in the class because they want to be there. The people who take 300-level lit courses -- undergrad English majors -- desire course offerings like the one you've been criticizing. In fact. they demand them. If a department doesn't offer these courses, expect protests.

Do you know what university administrators call a course that too few students sign up for? Cancelled. As a grad student, I signed up for a few course offerings that never got taught. My colleagues thought they were too fuddy-duddy, conservative and traditionalist; since only a handful of students signed up, the courses got cut. So I can testify that the free market is alive and well within the academy: I've been swatted by that invisible hand.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 17, 2004 02:10 AM

For a more overtly sexual, and heroic, vampire take a look at the Saint Germain books of Chelsey Quinn Yarbro. The conceit being the Comte is an ancient vampire once worshipped by a pre-historic tribe as a god, and ultimately destined for sacrifice as his 'sire' had been before him.

The vampires of his world are, without exception, sexually impotent, and so cannot 'follow-through' in any tryst. The count gets his blood, and his sustenance through foreplay. With the passion playing as great a role, if not greater, as the serum vitae itself.

As a matter of fact, there is a scene in one book where a young Dalai Lama of long ago offers Hsai Jhemai his blood freely, a gift which sustains the starving vampire for a length of time. Indeed, restoring the revenant totally.

On the other hand you have the 'ghouls' of Night of the Living Dead and its sequels. Creatures who fit old Romanian folktales of corpses rising from their graves to hunt down and kill the living, starting with their loved ones. Other then great strength they have no real powers. But, considering the psychology of grief, they don't really need any.

And on the other-other hand, you have the vampires in roleplaying games. The most famous being the creatures of Vampire: The Masquerade, with their Italian Renaissance tribalism and their Nietszchean ubermensch fetishism. Though most games feature a more 'traditional' vampire than the sanquine mafiosi of V:TM.

Yes, just as books have influenced movies—and vice versa, so have books influenced RPGs, and RPGs books. Much of our vampire lore has been cobbled together from stray bits of ancient lore, authorial license, script writers' brain storming, and game designers' memories of stories and flicks and stuff they ran across in the library one day when they were much younger. All to give us the predatory perversion of the natural order we call the vampire.

Remember children, Buffy Summers is a necrophiliac.:)

No, children, you really can't separate parts of our culture from other parts, for each and all impact and influence the others. To study only the vampire in art is to study a shadow of rumor. To understand the subject you must consider him in other forms of expression.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on May 17, 2004 03:03 AM

It depends on what you call worthwhile. If you're merely talking about jobs, why, we should wipe out the entire liberal arts section of the college. I mean, it's not like people with degrees in psychology make more than $17,000 a year on average, what with its new fangled teaching on 'abnormal psychology'. Although, since I am a student, I think it does widen their horizons. Many people have never thought about any other group but their own in their entire life, and in high school, literature is skimmed across, even in AP classes.

What they get from the world at large is no context at all, apparently people just jump up one day, say, I'm queer, just to bother all the normal people,but from theory, they do get a context about why things are the way they are- i.e. that they aren't handed down by God.

It's more a framework than the content inside of it that is important, I think. Just starting to think of the world as something that can be thought about actively, not passively explored through a TV screen, or given to you by someone else.

They can explore literature in a new way, and from another perspective. I think that in itself in valuable. Literature can be read in many ways is an insight I gained (from my comparitive literature classes). For example, I saw that The Ogre could be read as a magnum opus of Christian myths retold, but I could also see how there are various constructions of masculinity and femininity.

I guess I am going on too long, and not spelling it right, but think of theory as a set of lens, that reflects literature in different ways, and gives a much deeper understanding than just "This is what genre this is. These are the novels this grew out of" (although that's interesting too)

Posted by: Shannon on May 17, 2004 07:18 AM

Tim -- I've certainly read books by Theory-enraptured academics that are worse-written than this paper was. I'm a little amazed by two things, though. One's your lecturing tone. I've got a grad degree, I've got prof and writer friends, and I've done a lot of hanging out and reporting about the lit and academia scene for over a few decades. I certainly don't mind disagreements or debates. But I bristle a bit at the suggestion that I've got nothing behind my p-o-v, or that I'm speaking out my ass. If the Foucault-academic thing is "legitimate" -- I confess I don't know what you mean by the word -- then so's the criticism of it. (I've read Foucault pretty extensively, by the way.) There's an extensive body of work by an impressive lineup of minds arguing that the Theory thing has been both a dead end, and destructive. You can't be unaware of this work. Disagree if you will -- makes life interesting. But please, enough with the "I know and you don't," pedantic tone. If we disagree -- and why not -- it's not because you know more than I do. It's because we see things differently.

The other thing that amazes me is your defence of literary academics. I mean, I guess it's kinda sweet, and why not, although why you think that academia needs defending from the likes of a pseudonymous blog mystifies me. Academia's doing pretty well for itself. But you don't seem to have any idea what a joke the Theory end of lib-arts academia has turned itself into. Can you really argue that the study of the lib-arts is in a flourishing state? There aren't many who'd argue that case. One novelist friend of mine who teaches at a snazzy university, for instance, tells me that kids who really like writing avoid English these days and wind up in Creative Writing instead. The Theory thing has chased the kids who like writing out of the English Dept -- there's an achievement for you. Another writer friend who went to Yale and did decon there went on to grad study in lit in England; she tells me she had no idea what an education was until she got to England. At Yale, even in her lit classes, they'd barely read lit at all -- all they'd done was Theory. She rolls her eyes about it now.

And lib-arts degrees from Theory-ish places have become jokes in the real world. Kids who show up in the media, for instance, with a headful of theory make other people (and not just me, by a long shot) roll their eyes. They've got a few PC attitudes and a brain full of wheelspinning, and absolutely no actual knowledge of anything at all.

I'll take issue a bit with your contention that students alone are the customers of the academic industry, by the way. They aren't, after all, actually paying anything -- to call someone who isn't paying anything a customer strikes me as an odd use of the term. College is a funny time, as I'm a long way from being the first to point out, a kind of held-in-suspension period in life when the kids are kinda adults and kinda not. The customers of university-level academia are some combo of parents (who actually pay) and the kids. If college weren't an odd transitional time, by the way, there wouldn't be the debates there are about to what extent a college should act in loco parentis. I do agree with you that the Theory industry has been remarkably successul in some senses, although they clearly haven't managed to increase interest in the arts, and they clearly haven't managed to increase sales of their own books. They've been successful in terms of taking over certain college departments, certain arts and nonprofit organizations, feathering their own nests, and promoting thier own point of view. And you're certainly right that some kids go on falling for the Theory pitch, and ithat t's certainly worth wondering about why.

Personally I'm hoping that more discussion and more openness and more awareness will help a few kids (and parents) choose to avoid these kinds of dead-ends. Hence, to some very small extent, this blog. Hence, as well, we publish Nikos Salingaros (whose discussion of Tschumi is basically an attack on the Theory thing), and we promote other thinkers whose approaches to the arts strike us as solid and helpful, as opposed to wheel-spinning and attitude-copping.

Alan -- Good lord, dude, you're a real scholar of this vampire stuff! It's obviously an entire world and then some. And Buffy's a necrophiliac? I had no idea.

Shannon -- Glad to hear you enjoy your bouts with Theory. But can I suggest that you're getting defrauded and brainwashed? There are plenty of ways of having your horizons broadened, and plenty of ways of understanding what's going on in the arts, without Theory. It's one of the ways the Theory cult seduces you in, by contending that they and they alone offer insight. Have you noticed that applying Theory always spits out the same results? For instance, stuff about the "construction" of sexuality? I'd like to suggest that that's a reason to be wary of Theory, not a reason to embrace it. It's a sign you're getting indoctrinated, not that you're learning anything.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 17, 2004 08:26 AM

Tim seems to believe that mistaking an undergraduate's essay for that of a professional says something positive about the quality of the student's writing and education. I draw the opposite conclusion: that the writing of many professional academics in the humanities has become so laughable as to make it difficult to underestimate their work.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on May 17, 2004 11:04 AM

Another antecedent to the Stoker novel is an ~1830 opera named Die Vampyren (plural may be wrong) by a largely-forgotten German composer named Marschner.

The Polanski movie Deb asks about is "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and it does feature Sharon Tate. It's actually my favorite of RP's movies (although I haven't seen The Tenant) -- a comic take that is very engaging. Highly recommended.

Posted by: JT on May 17, 2004 11:35 AM

How you can get the same results from a study of The Ogre written as Christian myth and a study of the Ogre written as an expression of Freudian ideas boggles my mind. Maybe this theory thing you keep ranting about is just a boogie man, not a real thing.

If you're going all Horowitz on us, please note that many students in my school think professors should be allowed to use racial slurs in public speeches.

Posted by: Shannon on May 17, 2004 12:28 PM

Why dismiss ALL theory instead of judging each argument on its own merits? Some examples have clearly no relation to reality, but others can really teach you about the context of the work.

I agree that the essay is bad, but the basic argument is right (if not argued well), and sounded very familiar to me. I think the student just ripped off/ summarized the ideas in Elizabeth Signorotti's "Repossessing the body: transgressive desire in Carmilla and Dracula" . The original paper is written well, and I think would convince anyone who's read both books.

Posted by: asd on May 17, 2004 12:29 PM

Wow, stray away for a day or two, and totally miss the bliss!

You know how some topics travel in packs? Thru unrelated thread regarding advice on going to academia a commenter reflected on Theory in Grad School (Hope, MoI, you wouldn't mind this quoting):

I don't think postmodernism and deconstruction rule as soverign as they did when I was in grad school (although I don't know much about modern humanities departments), but if you are not into Theory, and you go to some kind of humanities-type program, you will be miserable. It's all Theory. Not much of it is palatable. Also, most grad school creative writing programs are useless except for networking (i.e. the criticism you get is generally crap), although the networking you get is usually pretty good.

On Anne Rice: tried reading once (a book about violinist -title escapes me) -swore never take anything of hers in my hands again: forever-dragging cold hard oatmeal with rare raisin of clear passage. May be I should reconsider after reading this post and thread...

Alan, I agree, there is definitely more dimension to vampires that as an art form, initiated (or impacted) would know.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 17, 2004 02:44 PM

Something I rarely see mentioned: I'm almost sure that David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" (2001, I think) is largely based on "Carmilla." At least it starts with the same basic concept, though gradually veering away into Lynch Land...

Posted by: Nigel Redcoffin on May 17, 2004 05:25 PM

Anne Rice is not unlike any other author; some of her stuff is great, some not. She is an acquired taste, tis true. I think her best works are "Cry to Heaven" about the 18th century castrati and "The Feast of All Saints", a story about the free people of color in 19th century New Orleans. Neither have anything to do with vampires, so I stray from the course of this discussion. Just defending a grand dame of literature, you see! (IMHO) Maybe pulp fiction to some, but a book snob I ain't.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 17, 2004 06:39 PM


Buffy's last two major crushes were Angel and Spike, both vampires, and thus unnaturally animated corpses. Something people tend to forget.

The whole subject of how people ignore unpleasant facts in the face of overwhelming evidence could be the font of a lot of discussion.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on May 17, 2004 07:22 PM

Shannon -- "Theory" spits out the same race/class/gender results no matter what it's applied to. "Theory" historically is what became of '68 Parisian radicalism -- in other words, it's Marxism in chic clothing, philosophy pretending to be litcrit and litcrit pretending to be philosophy. And like Marxism "Theory" is pre-programmed to cough up the same "oppression" results no matter what's fed into it. If taken seriously, it's a kind of liberation theology; it taken cynically, it's a swell way for academic-radical wannabes to pretend to be edgy and progressive while feathering their own nests. What "Theory" doesn't do is help anyone understand how art is produced or experienced. It's a scam, in other words, and one that's perfectly apparent to most smart people outside academia -- English departments especially have been considered a joke for quite a while now. You might want to give books by Frederick Crews, Alan Charles Kors, and Frederick Turner a try. They aren't remotely Horowitz-esque, they're academics themselves, and they argue against Theory with a lot of insight and insider knowledge too. I find Harold Bloom a big bore generally, but his critiques of the Theory thing are dead-on. This essay here by Nikos Salingaros does a wonderful job of exploring how the Theory thing resembles a religious cult. My advice: run away now, girl! You're in the grip of the Moonies!

ASD -- There's no point in debating Theory point by point because the Theory thing is one big package. Buy into any of it and you're sucked into the whole thing -- a characteristic of a cult. The only way I've ever figured out to deal with the draw of a cult is to wave at people inside it, let them know that life outside is fine, and if one of them looks intrigued, show them an exit door. Please do give the Salingaros essay a read -- it's a very, very smart deconstruction of Deconstruction.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 18, 2004 01:32 AM

"It's just a lot of wheelspinning that seems to leave some people with the feeling that they can interpret anything they encounter."

Boy, you could say that about modern psychobabble, too. Isn't it amazing? People needed to have things "make sense" to them so badly in the late twentieth century that they bought ANYTHING that even appeared to have a beginning, a middle and an end. No matter the corners were being madly cut.

Posted by: annette on May 18, 2004 09:27 AM

I don't see how your griping that OMG, academia realized that the other 99% of humanity exists, and this guy's hysteria about architects not designing the kind of buildings he likes(god, if the lines to tradition HAD been cut, we wouldn't have so many boring McMansions.) really interconnets except for the fear levels.

It seems totally Horowitzing to me, because it seems rooted in fear rather than the real results. He fears a loss of power, you fear change, but your fears aren't based in reality at all. I'm sure there was similar bellyaching when Ezra Pound and the Modernists came out, similar bellyaching when all other movements came about, and literature was fine. More people probably study literature today than when the Modernists were around.

It's like how everyone has bellyached about how the youth are stupid since Aristole, same crap, different day. Sure, talking and recognizing that the other 99% of humanity didn't just wake up, and decide they were oppressed for fun may make some people a biiiiiit uncomfortable, but really, it's an invitation to grow, dude. White supremacy, the belief system that everyone but white males just doesn't count, is for babies. We have a global economy nowadays, and gender parity(in US) is approaching- we have to adapt to these trends, and those trends aren't being adapted to, by sitting around pretending that those people (99% of humanity here) don't exist in literature, they didn't exist in art and that writers didn't have ideas on them.

We can't just say what we had before is fine, why do we have to learn new stuff? We always have to learn new things, if we don't, academia would actually wither away. Even in such conservative times as now, time keeps going forward, and new ideas are advanced. Instead of going around and soaking one's pants, embrace it, learn a few new things. Yes, all of humanity's story is starting to be heard, but that's not so scary- people may gripe, but they always have.

Posted by: Shannon on May 18, 2004 11:19 AM

Michael, the reason I implied you were "speaking out [your] ass," as you put it, was because you _were_ speaking out your ass -- and worse, you've encouraged others to join you, as is your wont.

First, you've quoted undergraduate work (probably discussion notes, since it's too short and informal to be a proper paper) as an example of professional literary scholarship. I didn't make that mistake. Do you think there might have been a reason you were fooled and I wasn't? If I were in your position, I'd certainly think so. I've been taken in plenty of times myself, and though I can't justify my own gullibility, I hope I can have the decency to admit to it.

Second, you've mentioned that a professor ought to "knock the baloney" out of the author -- not realizing, somehow, that most professors find little joy, or honor, in abusing their students so. I'm glad to hear you have a few academics for friends. They must be very tolerant people. Either that, or they don't know what you say about them, their jobs and their students once their backs are safely turned.

Third, you haven't published a correction to your original post; you still imply that Ms. Nelson is a tenured radical, instead of an undergrad. I know your blog is pseudonymous, Michael, but I don't believe Friedrich would have let such an egregious mistake pass uncorrected. You shouldn't, either, but you have.

The reason I'm lecturing you, Michael, is because you've richly earned it -- and since it looks like no one else has volunteered for the job, it falls to me. I know someone else could have done better, and I wish someone else had; Aaron Haspel, for example, can see through your pretensions as clearly as if they were made of Jello. All the same, if you'd gone after one of my students the way you went after Ms. Nelson, I believe my rebuke would have been far angrier, and far more severe.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 18, 2004 03:47 PM

Hmm. I should stay out of this Theory argument, but I can't help but note that (as a working scientist) just the application of the word to the goings-on of English majors is worth a smile and a snort. What a business we'd be able to run in organic chemistry if we could just posit anything we darn well felt like, call it a theory, and publish on it for the rest of our careers!

And as for Carmilla, since you mentioned Shelley, Polidori and company, there's a truly odd connection here from fantasy author Tim Powers. His novel The Stress of Her Regard follows the biographical details of Byron, Shelley and the rest of the crew, but grafts on a bizarre plot involving nephelim/vampires and much other weirdness besides.

This kind of thing is Powers's stock in trade. Sometimes it's worked quite well, although his last two or three novels have been (to my taste) misfires.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on May 18, 2004 09:45 PM

I just think people should remember that the Blowhards do publish all this for free, and if any of us's OK to say so, but, really, so what? This all really isn't so earthshaking.

To a couple of Tim's points: I would say that I think it is possible that a phrase like "knock the baloney out of her" is just a phrase, not literal. Sometimes that means a prof is challenging a student's critical thinking in order to de-cliche it. It does appear that the writer MBlowhard quoted has some cliche-itis. I had a prof I remember warmly who did that with some regularity in a lit class I had. Second, I do agree with one thing MBlowhard said: academia seems to be doing just fine, regardless of what he thinks of them. It hardly seems that they are so terribly picked on. And, the truth is, in all areas of academia---there is some baloney that has managed to stick around in the practitioners, not just the students.

Posted by: annette on May 19, 2004 05:10 AM

Hi Derek,

Did the organic chemists get as much pleasure out of the Alan Sokal hoax as we did in the astronomy department?

Shannon defends theory on the grounds that we must move forward in academia. I think this is why many of us disparage it, because it so clearly seems to be a step to the side, off a cliff, into a barracuda-infested river. The old saying in physics (Richard Feynman coined it, perhaps?) is that if you can't explain your work to a cocktail waitress using only your napkin and a pen, then you don't really understand it. The opposite seems to be true in much litcrit these days: deliberately obfuscating language, coded references meant to establish a clique of those in the know and those outside, and elaborate theories that have no link to the work itself are all designed to make the job of a humanities academic look much more important and more difficult than it actually is.

Posted by: C.S. Froning on May 19, 2004 10:01 AM

I always had my doubts about "Theory" and what the word was supposed to mean in the literary context. This website kind of cemented my doubts. Try reading the paper for a couple of paragraphs, then jump down to the bottom and get the real story.

Posted by: Nate on May 19, 2004 10:14 AM

An 1830 vampire opera? Many thanks to you vampire specialists out there for input and knowledge. I don't know about anyone else, but I find that it's lots of fun continuing with culture learning.

Shannon -- Not quite sure what you're going on about, to be honest. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that you think that any approach to knowledge that's non-Theory is not only reactionary but evil. That's a sign that you've been hoodwinked by the Theory crowd, who are really good at selling the notion that Theory (ie., academic Marxism in its current guise) represents the only alternative to corporate-exploitative culture. I encourage you not to fall for this claim, because it simply ain't true. You'll obviously feel free to ignore me here, but I also encourage you to explore some alternatives to Theory. Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" and Frederick Turner's "The Culture of Hope" are two good places to start.

Stick with Theory and you're likely to spend a few college years imagining that you're analyzing things in a worldly, exciting, and innovative way. But it's an illusion. You're just doing the tedious, played-out ol' Marxist thing. It isn't an uncommon experience for people who've gone through the academic-Marxist grinder to wake up in five or ten years and think, "What the hell was that all about?"

For example, take a peak at the comments in this thread by the science people. That's how a lot of people outside academia (including many of the people who are actually in the business of creating culture) react to Theory. For many, many people, Theory has got nothing to do with how culture is created or experienced. Theory is seen instead as meaningless academic wheelspinning, the contempo version of sophistry. And, practically speaking, the only thing Theory is good preparation for is a career in Theory -- ie., going on to be a professor who passes meaningless nonsense along to further generations of young, eager, sweet (but a little gullible) students.

Tim -- You seem to think you've scored some devastating coup by discovering that the paper I quoted from was written by a student, not a teacher. I can't imagine what it is. My point has been that academia's Theory approach to lit these days is silly. This paper's an academic paper -- and, as you point out, a proficient one -- in the Theory vein. I appreciate you pointing out that it's by a student, not a prof, but I can't see in what way your factual correction affects the validity of my point. Academic Lit Theory is silly, whether it comes from a prof or a student. I might have quoted from any of hundreds of professor-written books of academic Lit Theory to make the same point.

Since the "student or teacher" question is such a trivial matter and since your tone is so strikingly shrill, I find myself wondering what really irks you here. My guess is that you're offended by something. Why else would you be prancing about so self-righteously? I may be wrong, but I'm guessing that what you're really offended by here is the way I'm making fun of academic Lit Theory.

I'm not quite sure why this should bother you so much. In the first place, academia does very well for itself, thank you veddy much. An example: compare Harvard to this pseudonymously-written blog. Which of us (Harvard or blog) is in the more powerful position? Seems pretty clear that Harvard's an elephant and this blog is a dust mite by comparison, no? Earth to Tim: academia's a huge industry with a huge amount of influence and a huge number of connections to the Powers That Be. They really don't need you playing Thought Police. Harvard and Yale (etc) are anything but persecuted cripples in need of a heroic champion, especially one so injudicious that he wastes time attacking blogs no one has heard of.

But perhaps you're irked because you're only now being exposed to the fact that there are many bright people who think Theory's a joke, and that it has had destructive effects? If so, I'm surprised. I don't know what to say if this is the case, except to encourage you to explore some of the literature critical of Theory, as well as some of the thinkers who are offering alternative approaches to thinking about culture. None of it may change your mind about the worth of Theory, but at least your shockability will abate a bit.

But you're well-read: you must be familiar with the Sokal hoax, no? And, even in this comment thread, you must have noticed how free the science people feel to giggle about Literary Theory? So it can't be news to you that it ain't just science people who think academic Lit Theory is nothing but the narcissistic wheelspinning of a lot of (often very bright) people who seem completely disconnected from the actual processes of making and experiencing art and culture.

So what's making you flip out? It seems personal, if you'll forgive my coming to that conclusion. What do you have invested in thinking highly of Theory (or of academia more generally) that should result in you getting so angered? No, wait, I don't think I really want to know. But in any case, your vehemence seems out of all proportion to what's actually being discussed.

FWIW, I'm not especially interested in re-rehearsing the Theory wars, which raged for years and seem semi-spent these days. Even Terry Eagleton, formerly a Theory tsar, is now peddling the idea that we're moving into a post-Theory world. (Hey, it didn't work out too well -- such is his new discovery. Thanks a lot for wasting our time then, Terry.) And if you're convinced there's a great deal to Theory, and that its overall benefit has been to the good, that's fine with me. My experience, and the arguments on the Theory-is-silly side, persuaded me long ago that Theory is both silly and destructive. And there's probably no way you'll convince me or that I'll convince you. So be it.

But, please, can the pompous Little Professor behavior, OK? Really, get hold of yourself. This blog has no interest in being a scholarly journal, and no one who drops by here is a student of yours. This blog is a fun gathering place, but it's also private property, and though it shouldn't need explicit spelling-out, everyone's here on condition that we'll treat each other civilly and respectfully. Agreeing and learning is fun; disagreeing too can be fun and productive, as well as done in a pleasant way. Anyone who prefers to carry on in an uncivil and disrespectful fashion has lots of other places to go, and is encouraged to go there.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 19, 2004 12:15 PM

You haven't given me any facts, just white hysteria, some mumblings about 'marxism' (fear of communism isn't as strong in the post cold war days, so it's not a good tactic to get me to jerk the knee and say 'that theory is evil!' ) and saying 'well, people think it's useless'. So of course, I have a feeling that it is reactionary- it seems that theory is just a boogie man for 'what's wrong with the world'.

It's not like you laid out a cogent fact based attack. People don't like it isn't a good reason to reject something- just because people here might not believe in evolution doesn't mean I'm going to disregard most of biology. I see no problems with Marxism- it's just some ideas. If you don't like them, oppose them with better ideas. Just saying 'it's Marxism' isn't enough to discredit an idea.

I don't see how analyzing old ideas means that we suddenly stop creating new ones. I think we may have a false dictomony here. There have been many works of literature written since the 1950s or so. I also dislike the idea that just because I am not a certain age I can not think for myself. It reeks of Horowitz, who posits despite the widespread conservatism of today's generation that a bunch of over 40 teachers are the real culture markers of this age. Not to mention that if I think the narratives of my own folk count, I'm hoodwinked.

Not to mention, science people laugh at psychology too, does that mean we should stop studying pyschology? Whether people like it or not is not a good argument for the validity or invalidity of it. I don't like chemistry, does that mean that they should close the chemistry department? I mean most people who study chemistry wake up everyday and say 'huh, what was that all about?'. Especially if they get trapped in Orgo.

Posted by: Shannon on May 19, 2004 07:20 PM

Which Anne Rice books did you read? Her writing has gone steadily downhill for decades, especially recently since she refused to work with an editor. Interview with the Vampire (the first Lestat book) is very good. The Vampire Lestat (the second) is pretty good.

Posted by: Daze on May 19, 2004 10:54 PM

Shannon, you have ceased being interesting. You have the depth of a dessicated mud flat, and the insight of a newborn moose. You are as exciting as reading the rules for professional American football.

In short, grazing cattle provide more intellectual and emotional stimulation.

And the worst part is, you know this, and you glory in it.

It's not about being right, it's about winning. It's not about convincing the other, it's about pissing him off so he stomps off in high dudgeon. Which leaves you to gloat in another meaningless triumph.

But, you chose to try playing this game in another man's court. Using his rules, with his judges. Child, in such a situation what matters is not a win, but making a good show as you lose, and you have made an horrendous spectacle of yourself.

As you will because of this. Such as you are distressingly predictable, reacting to every challenge, every gibe and response in a stereotypical way. Your very words can be reliably forecast. Accusations of ignoring what you've said, attacks on my intellectual standing and standards, assertions of the rightness of your position, with no backing for your words. You will have a little tizzy over your treatment, all the while complaining to no-one about how the world treats you so vilely.

You're not even tedious.

I hope you have a long life, for your afterlife is going to be so disappointing.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on May 20, 2004 01:20 AM

Shannon will go far in academia. You go, girl!

Posted by: Tatyana on May 20, 2004 10:04 AM

I heard Marschner's opera "Der Vampyr" (1828) once and it was pretty good. It sounded rather like Weber's "Der Freischuetz" (the original German Gothic opera). The plot was based on Polidori's story. The BBC actually updated Marschner's work to make a soap opera set in 1990s London with yuppie vampires. I never saw it but maybe it's out on DVD or video.

Vampirism in the broadest sense goes back a long way in history. There is Lamia in Keats' poem of the same name, a monster disguised as a beautiful woman who deceives the hero into loving her. The story was taken from Philostratus' "Life of Apollonius of Tyana" (early 3rd century AD). According to one of my dictionaries, lamia was "the Latin name for a witch who was supposed to suck children's blood." Before that, in ancient Greece, there were the 'empusae', succubi who, in Graves' words "will lie with men by night, or at the time of midday sleep, sucking their vital forces until they die" (!). So the idea of vampirism goes back at least 2500 years.

If you're talking about 19th century vampirism, don't forget Maupassant's short story "Le Horla", about a man who believes he is being taken over by an invisible being and is no longer the master of his own movements. As far as I remember the tale shows the influence of Darwin's ideas: what if there is a species higher than the human which treats us like cattle? There is also a hint that the man's fears have been hypnotically induced. Maupassant was very interested in Charcot's lectures on was the young Sigmund Freud.

Oh yeah, and keep knocking the baloney out of Theory! I'm really enjoying it. I don't know about you, but I think there's a certain ironic logic that a discussion about vampires has ended up being one about Literary Theorists.

Posted by: J.Cassian on May 20, 2004 01:18 PM

You may think it 'boring', but I think keeping things reality based is very important. Much of the moral hysteria about the other is based more on fear than facts. There needs to be a counter balance in which we say "Ok, they say the world is going to collaspe if this happens. Let's see if it is so." instead of just accepting all rhetoric blindly.

For example, can we compare this hysteria to the hysteria about other cultural movements? Is there a good cogent reason to not teach people to think about groups other than straight white males? Are the claims of the opposing side even true? How has giving in to this sort of hysteria caused problems in the past?

If we give up this sort of intellectual rigor to far fecthed claims, factual inaccuracies, and non reality based whining, what use is it?

Posted by: shannon on May 22, 2004 03:01 PM

Shannon -- You seem bright, sweet and open, all of which is great. But someone's got you halfway bamboozled. It's not too late for you to drag yourself out of the cult.

FYI, the Theory Wars have been going on for decades. This isn't some new, politically-motivated phenomenon. I saw Theory coming in the late '70s for instance. I was a hippie/punk at the time, and plenty edgy. But I could see that the academic arts worlds were about to be taken over by people who aren't really arts people, who are primarily political people. So I hightailed it out of academia, as did many people who love art more than politics.

BTW, the hysteria you're describing isn't coming from the anti-Theory crowd, because they've got science, history and commonsense on their side. They don't need to get hysterical. It's the Theory crowd who set themselves up as the under-siege One True Religion, and who carry on loudly about how they're being persecuted by awful fascists, etc. They're the hysterics.

You keep asking for facts. I could point out a lot of facts that have been raised here. (It's not a minor fact that nearly everyone outside academia -- and there are a lot of smart, good, talented people who live and work outside academia -- thinks Theory's a joke.) But the main point is that it's the Theory crowd who have no facts. You're being sold a (very exciting-seeming, at least when you're a student) quasi-religion, and not a solidly-based, legitimate approach to the arts.

Please give at least a moment's thought to the possibility that this could be true. Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" may be helpful here. (Note that Pinker's not a political litcrit-philosopher -- he's a scientist. If you want an artier, more poetic view of how things stand, the Frederick Turner book "The Culture of Hope" is awfully good.)

Incidentally, though it's probably disappointing to learn, you aren't being attacked here by crazy reactionaries. You aren't being attacked at all, but offered a helping hand. And by interesting people. J. Cassian is a mysterious soul but he runs a fabulously informative and worldly blog. Alan's a brainy maniac who's into edgier things than you and I will ever be. Tatyana grew up in Russia, has degrees in Engineering and the arts, and works in NYC. I've got a fancy enough lit degree and have spent a couple of decades in the arts-and-culture world. We're no one's oppressors, and unlike a lot of Theory-addled profs, we actually have on-the-ground arts experience. Quick question: who's the shrewder, hipper, cooler, edgier person: the tenured prof spinning his wheels and feathering his nest while bamboozling undergrads? Or the equally bright person who's actually out there making a living in the field? We're talking the difference between someone who's comfy, and who writes abstract theory about rock and roll and the people who actually make the rock and roll. Which is the hipper person?

Plus, practically speaking, Theory's reign seems to be coming to an end. It's been nothing but empty radical fashion anyway. And why hurry to get on board a parade that's already falling apart?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 22, 2004 03:33 PM

I will try to be short- I'm half-way out the door for my continuing entertainment spree.

I only wanted to point out that Theory is not all that theoretical, it has very practical consequences, and sometimes it literally kills people. The arts and letters history in Soviet Russia influenced directly by evil theoritizing, having nothing to do with Arts and everything with Party's directives (yes, I mean a Communist party and beleive me, Shannon, contrary to what your pofessors might've told you, it is a BAD Party)

Starting with "Okna ROST, "LEF" which is partially responsible for Mayakovsky's suicide, campaign against "formalists", which effectively pushed out from publishing houses and galleries people like Kharms, Vvedensky, Fal'k, etc; than, after "processes" of the 38-40, people were actually shot (Meyerhold - and hundreds of thousands of others) - "social realism" times after the War, when no abstractionist painter was permitted to show, ever - well - who I'm talking to - you're all aware, I'm sure.

OK, I'm out, out!

Posted by: Tatyana on May 22, 2004 07:05 PM

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