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David Reed—Vampire Study Center
Vampire Study Center Index
From the artist’s journal
Reference sheet, cigarbox
Gunther's letter
Madore text
Vampire movies
Quote: Carl Dreyer
Quote: Planet of Vampires
Quotes about Graz
Video Tape Script
Peter Weibel text
(in English), parts I & II
Peter Weibel text
(in English), part III
Peter Weibel
(auf Deutsch), Teile I & II
Peter Weibel
(auf Deutsch), Teil III

Museum of Contemporary Art San DiegoRosenbach Museum and LibraryNeue Galerie GrazDavid Reed-Painting/Vampire Study Center Catalogs

Interactive Cubes:

  • Dracula
  • Dracula on Stage
  • Phantom Painting
    Reading Reed: Painting between Autopsy and Autoscopy —Peter Weibel

    (Parts I & II)

    Je suis comme un peintre qu'un dieu moqueur
    Condamne à peindre, hélas! sur les ténébres;
    Charles Baudelaire, Un Fantôme, I Les Ténèbres, 1861

    I. The Industrial Revolution and Vampirism

    In his 1836 project, The Romantic School, Henrich Heine aptly wrote that the 19th century "saw specters all around." In Henrik Ibsen's drama of 1882, which is appropriately titled Ghosts, the character Mrs. Alvig says,

    "I almost think we are all of us ghosts. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that 'walks' in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas and lifeless old beings and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can not shake them off.... There must be ghosts all the country over..."

    What gave rise to this view of that era? It was a view of life as a Ghost Sonata, as August Strindberg titled it in his drama of 1908. What is the origin of this perspective that immerses reality in a ghostly twilight? It's in this haze that Baudelaire can reverse what is glamorous. In a poem of 1861, he writes of Les Métamorphoses du Vampire:

    Et quand je les rouvris à la clarté vivante,
    À mes côtés, au lieu du mannequin puissant
    Qui semblait avoir fait provision de sang,
    Tremblaient confusément des débris de squelette...

    Here we see the first signs of the motifs that will characterize vampirism: blood transfer, mortal agony and light.

    The last third of the 18th century saw the birth of the Gothic novel in England. (for example, Horace Walpole's, The Castle of Otranto, 1764, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794, or The Monk, 1796, by Matthew Gregory Lewis.) William Beckford's Vathek of 1787 would herald the coming of the grand Satanic glory of Poe and Baudelaire.

    Out of the tradition of the Gothic novel (crowned by Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer of 1820) there evolved a proliferation of ghost and vampire stories. This type of work is exemplified by Edgar Allen Poe's, The Fall of the House of Usher, in which Lady Usher, wrapped in shrouds, apparently awakens from death. Poe's The Premature Burial exploits the universal fear of being buried alive. Encounters with the dead and the seemingly dead developed in 19th-century England into the literature of the Fantastic.

    I will attempt to demonstrate that Reed's painting is an innovative element within this tradition. As Reed stated in 1995: "The Fantastic is the subject of my paintings." Here, I will try to show what the Fantastic means in Reed's painting.

    In Immanual Kant's essay, Dreams of the Spirit Seer, Explained by the Dreams of Metaphysics, 1766, (the "spirit seer" refers to Swedish spiritualist Emanuel von Swedenborg) Kant defines the Fantastic in his very first sentence: 'The shadow empire is the paradise of those who dwell in the realm of the Fantastic. Here they find a land without borders where they can settle however they please." Within this tradition, Friedrich Schiller's only novel, the Gothic fragment of 1787, Der Geisterseher (The Spirit Seer), links the secretive, extrasensory and the uncanny, but wants to resolve and explain them as social phenomena.

    Several popular genres of literature in the 19th century drew on the supernatural: horror and ghost stories, vampire, werewolf, Dracula and Frankenstein novels. In that famous summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati in Geneva, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Byron's doctor, John William Polidori, wrote four related answers to the challenges of the industrial revolution, answers which were to unsettle contemporary thought. Through a thundering storm, the friends read ghost stories aloud. The stories were selected French translations of the five volume German Gespensterbuch (published by F. Schulze and J. Apel between 1811-15). Byron proposed that the friends write ghost stories themselves. Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818). Percy Shelley wrote Alastor. Byron began his Faustian drama Manfred (1817), and left behind an unfinished fragment that elaborated on the motif of another fragment, the vampire from his Turkish tale The Giaour (1813). Polidori wrote Ernesto Berchtold, or The Modern Oedipus (1819). More momentous was the fact that Polidori later completed Byron's fragment, giving the vampire an aspect of Byron himself. A Hegelian master-servant relationship had developed between Polidori and Byron, a relationship comparable to that between Frankenstein and his creature. Polidori's tale, The Vampyre, was published in England in 1819, first erroneously under Byron's name, and then correctly under Polidori's. Bram Stoker's masterpiece Dracula (1897), a compendium of fin-de-siècle phobias, is the direct successor. Polidori's rendering became extremely popular. Many plays were adapted from his story and were enormously successful in London and Paris. (for example, J. R. Planché's melodrama, The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles of 1820.) The popular thriller series Varney, the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymer was published between 1845 and 1847. This work, initially, was wrongly ascribed to Thomas Preskott Prest. The Vampyre by Polidori was the prototype for all vampire art that was to follow, from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872), which portrayed a female vampire, right up to Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976). It was also the prototype for vampire films, from Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror by F. W. Murnau (1922), to Dracula by Tod Browning (1930), to Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dreyer (1932), a free interpretation of Carmilla, to Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987).

    How should we interpret this fascination with horror and ghost stories, this fear of the living dead? Was 19th-century society really a society of ghosts as Karl Marx suggested at the beginning of the Communist Manifesto (1848). Was it true that "A specter is haunting Europe"? In his book Capital (1867), he goes so far as to compare capital to an actual vampire, dead labor living on living labor. The capitalist as blood-sucker is born.

    But what had transformed society from a realm of Dead Souls (Nikolai Gogol's novel of 1842) into The Dance of Death (Strindberg's play of 1900)? What had triggered a crisis of middle-class consciousness in Europe, a crisis so elemental (as Hegel diagnosed it)that people saw their own reality as alien, eerie and uncanny? Freud published his work on The Uncanny in 1919. What were the unconscious structures of order that made the 19th-century subject feel buried alive? What did the dominating social powers of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie fear would tear apart their web of lies? Nina Auerbach rightly indicates in Our Vampires, Ourselves (1995) that Stoker's Dracula of 1897 is a compendium of fin-de-siècle fears and that even today vampires personify our fears: fears of homosexuality, social change, Communism, nuclear war, and the fear of life itself.

    What did people fear could dwindle and vanish? Was it conviction, ideology, and belief that had died and could only be kept alive artificially? Or was it the fear of the demise of a particular class and a particular social form?

    Our theory is that the Gothic novel and ghost stories of the 18th and 19th century are a reaction to the radical social upheaval engendered by the industrial revolution. Indeed, the industrial revolution did do away with everything people had formerly been familiar with--everything from familiar social hierarchies and rules to familiar experiences of space and time, both near and far. The industrial revolution (above all in England) was the source of the vision that immersed reality in a ghostly twilight. The reality people had known disappeared, or if it remained, it had become uncanny. Reality became a death dance of defunct ideas. It became eerie in the light of the new time of machines and speed. Indeed, the horror and monster novels accompanied monstrous social changes, they accompanied the demise of certain classes and their constructions of reality, and in turn, the works reflected these frightful changes in the social order. On the other hand, these novels are not just visions of horror but of elation. The vampire, phantom and ghost literature of the 19th century is a symptom of a crisis among a social class that had ruled hitherto. It was a fear of decay and the dissolution of historical structures of order. But these processes of social decay were, in turn, a joy to the other classes that profited from the social changes. Fear and pleasure in horror are thus two sides of the same coin.

    This interpretation is not diminished by the fact that the technical term 'vampire' was first recorded in 1732 as a Serbian word for an epidemic of disease that occurred in the Balkans, along the borders of the monarchy’s south-eastern defensive ring. (Cf. Augustin Calmet, Dissertations sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires au revenants de Hongrie, de Moravie & C., 1749.) The enigma of this epidemic, this vampiric disease, will always be connected with the nightmare that evokes the image of the living dead. The acute suffering and dying of the living was somehow connected with the imperishability of corpses--as evidenced by the continuing growth of hair, beard and nails. The relationship between the grotesque bodies of the dead and the disturbed souls of the living is thus the real problem and phantasm of the Serb syndrome. The living perish because of something dead that will not die. Because the dead, 'death,' wants to continue to live, the living, 'life,' must die. It is precisely within this relationship, this meshed dialectic of disappearance and presence, that we can discern the factors that were to favor the re-emergence of vampirism, a phenomenon that had vanished since 1770. This essay will look into vampirism as a cultural phenomenon, as an echo of the industrial revolution, and not as a real scourge (particularly today in the age of bioprostheses when the human body is being traded as if it were a spare parts depository for living organs).

    II. The Machine as an Uncanny Double of Man

    The crisis of the consciousness of reality corresponded to a crisis of representation in culture.

    If instead of asking about the driving force behind the dissolution of historical constructions of reality, we ask about the driving force behind the dissolution of the historical systems of representation which correspond to them, we will find the answer to both the latter and the former question--the birth of the machine from the spirit of the industrial revolution. The machine is the uncanny, the monster, the horror that makes us shudder, that immerses reality in a ghostly twilight.

    The machine is the heart of the radical transformation of 19th-century social order. The machine requires artificial food such as coal, gas, diesel and oil. It drained both Man and the land dry. The Gothic novels and vampire stories are tales of the history of the social transformation caused by the machine. Owing to its superiority, the machine not only threatens to bury the human body alive but also to replace it outright: from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) to Gustav Meyrink's Golem (1915), the machine becomes the symbol of artificial life and artificial beings. The machine becomes the doppelgänger of Man, who feels threatened by these mechanical doubles. So Man invents stories in which he recreates himself as a ghost, vampire, machine monster or phantom. This is what gave rise to the motif of the doppelgänger in the era of the ghost stories and Gothic novels. E.T.A. Hoffmann, the so-called 'Gespenster-Hoffmann,' wrote two famous novellas with the motif of the doppelgänger, The Devil's Elixir (1814) and Princess Brambilla (1820). Edgar Allen Poe, too, tells his version of the doppelgänger story in William Wilson (1839). The shadowless Peter Schlemihl from Chamisso's wondrous tale returns in Hoffmann's Story of the Lost Mirror. This vampire motif, blended with the motif of the doppelgänger as a mirror image, also underlies the successful film drama The Student of Prague by Hans Heinz Ewers. The hero Balduin by shooting his phantasmatic mirror image, actually shoots himself. The master-servant dialectics return in Andersen's fairy tale The Shadow. In this tale, the shadow no longer wants to remain a slave, but rather wants to be the master. On the eve of the master's wedding, the shadow degrades the original into a shadow, and then gets rid of his former master. Hoffmann also dealt with the doppelgänger motif in The Stone Heart, Choosing a Bride, The Sandman and, above all, in Die Doppelgänger. It was probably Jean Paul who first introduced the doppelgänger motif into Romanticism. In Siebenkäs and Hesperus, he has the Self shudder, facing itself rising as an eerie ghost.

    The Self, the bourgeois subject, the subjectivist appropriation and construction of the world, thus becomes a ghost in the industrial revolution. The Self is divided into two parts, the one a living being and the other in suspended animation, the mirror reflection. The doppelgänger is the result of a split Self that takes the vampire motif a step further, for the reflection lives on the living being and the living being lives on the reflection. Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) is a consummate synthesis of the doppelgänger and vampire motifs. The doppelgänger as a reflection usually is a vampire of the living. But in this novel, the picture ages instead of the living person. The mirror, in this case the picture, is an inverse vampire. The Self is split and the subject becomes his own vampire--the literary manifestation of early capitalist self-exploitation and self-alienation.

    The eyes of the sick corpses are not mentioned in reports on the Serb scourge and so they were depicted as faceless beings in 18th'century pulp fiction. This is the beginning of the absence of the vampire's image in a mirror.

    The vampire is thus a fetish of absence. His eyelessness turns into facelessness, and facelessness becomes the absence of sight. The vampire cannot be seen in the mirror and he cannot see his own reflection. Sight and light are his death, so the vampire is invisible, like death. The invisible figure of death, for death always approaches in an invisible form, is the doppelgänger of the vampire. Death and the vampire, who can only be seen by his shadow, are both signifiers of absence.

    Dostoyevsky's youthful novel The Double (1846) is the most lucid expression of this divided Self and self-alienation in the age of capital. By using the example of the mental disturbance of someone who doubles himself by transforming into an orderly official and a disorderly subject, he demonstrates the breakdown of historical constructions of reality. The mirror means doubling; it is the source of the doppelgänger. The reflection of reality no longer works in a disturbed or false consciousness. Familiar reality vanishes like the reflection, like the shadow: This is the trauma to which Romanticism reacts throughout the industrial revolution.

    The vampire and the doppelgänger are thus corresponding concepts. Both are signifiers of disappearance and the fear of disappearing. The subject of death arises from vampirism and from the doppelgänger motif, the yearning for the cancellation of death, the narcissistic desire for immortality (the living dead, the return of the undead), and the subject of loss. The dissolution of the accustomed reality of the subject (for example, Dostoyevsky's Golyadkin in The Double), as demonstrated by the industrial revolution, implied the destruction of the foundations of his world. The traumatic loss of reality, the terrible fear of one's familiar world disappearing as a result of the omnipresent triumph of machines, is the origin of vampirism. The machine has brought about a phantomization of the historical world. Vampirism means phantomization, dealing with phantoms, with loss, disappearance, ghosts and the uncanny. The machine immerses the old world in the pale shine of the phantom; the old reality becomes invisible. The vampire as a fetish of absence is the real figure of the phantom. In this way it was possible for Dion Boucicault to change the name of his popular melodrama The Vampire (1852) to The Phantom without any alteration, inconsistency or consequences. The vampire is the measure of phantomization. Dealing with vampirism means dealing with phantomization. In today's world where we are experiencing a new thrust of the industrial revolution, the digital phase, a piece of the old familiar world is again disappearing, a piece of reality is again being phantomized and bleached, which is why we are seeing the resurgence of interest in vampire and doppelgänger myths as well as in other forms of escapism.

    In summary we can say that Man has become faced with a doppelgänger in the form of the machine, a double that phantomized the historical world of experience so that there really were "specters all around" as Henrich Heine asserted. The historical world of experience became a world of ghosts because of the industrial revolution. The machine age, the experience of time through machines in factories, indeed transformed minutes into what author Charles Robert Maturin called "hours in the night-book of horror."

    Continued in Weibel text, part III


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