Feb062017: Vampires and Orientalism

“Would you please tell us about vampires and orientalism?”

Oh my god you all have been so great allowing me to INDULGE in talking about all these things. The following is a summary of a larger essay that I’ve been wanting to write in my free time – the relationship between vampires and orientalism and how one can subvert it in their writing (which is what Vol II of The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya is about)

Let’s start with Dracula:

Dracula is a character purposely written as foreign: he is from the East, he has an accent, he is “exotic”, mysterious, dark, sexualised. He’s in contrast to the other characters, who are white, Western, Victorian, scientific, proper. What makes him distinct, alluring and dangerous – besides the obvious fact that he’s a vampire – is his foreignness. In fact you could say they are about one and the same thing.

What Dracula represents is the threat of the Western/Victorian social order.

Most vampire-like lore originates from the East or the Levant: strigoi, pontianak, jiangshi, ghuls, etc. Dracula is inspired by such lore. In these cultures, vampires are traditionally seen as transgressors of their culture – they are the result of violating social norms:

Born w/ ‘unexpected features’, and/or buried w/ no kin or improperly (which is a big deal in many traditional cultures). There are many other violations which will make one more likely to become a vampire after death, but these are the main ones.

Vampires thus are impure or/and liminal. Ritually uncleased. Unexpected. Unknown. Unpredictable. They straddle the line between life/death, norm/transgression, right/wrong. They are liminal beings. Because they exist in a space where society may not be able to account for, to have answers for, to avoid being challenged for its failure, vampires are seen to threaten the social order, both physically and culturally.

Modern vampires are also social transgressors. But in a different way. I’ll focus on the transgression of Western norms, how it relates to Orientalism and how you can possibly subvert it (what I’m planning to do in my comic).

Orientalism describes the dichotomy between “East vs West”, or “Orient vs Occidental”. The Orient is exotic, different, strange, sexually liberal, the other. Completely in contrast to the cold clean rationality and civility (and thus superiority) of the Occident. Or so the Occident wants you to believe. There’s a lot you can read about Orientalism (Orientalism – A Brief Definition) and its critics but for now let’s go along with this simple definition.

Victorian vamps originally symbolised the Other. They come from & exist outside of the ‘rational, Western’ framework, geographically/physically/culturally. Which makes them villains, threats to kill, destroyed by ‘light’. Men, like van Helsing, who embody the scientific West, are tasked to protect the vulnerables from ‘corruption’ – the women and children – and kill these so-called racial threats.

(Foreign doesn’t necessarily have to mean from a foreign land. Foreign can be a value that relatively is considered ‘immoral’ in Victorian era culture – as in the lesbianism of Carmilla. Foreign can be both things.)

(This is SUPER gross Victorian era misogyny and racism but that’s the stuff you’ve to deal with when analysing vampires)

(Also please see: the moment vamps became white and Westernised (aka it stopped becoming the Other), they are then seen as sexy, desirable, sins forgivable, and written as exciting characters. HMMMM)

The original view of the vampire as a racial threat comes from imperialism, western superiority, and orientalism. 2 of these things still around. So how do you subvert that? You humanise the vampire. You break that BS down. You return your vampire oc back to their roots. You show the real villains to be the ones who demonise you, who see your heritage as a threat, who tear you down to preserve their ego.

After all, Man is the real villain, the monster is just their mirror – which is why they show you your reflection, and not their own.

Mary Douglas: Purity and Danger
Victor Turner’s Betwixt and Between
Asa Simon Mittman: Introduction to the Study of the Monstrous
Basic Article on Liminality

#THIS IS JUST A SUMMARY SO I LEFT OUT A LOT OF THINGS

#but this is basically the idea

#I’d have loved to talk about the horror and intrigue towards the other/the monster but that would make this ask SUPER LONG

#you can wait for my article or do some research yourself

 

 

Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

Perth Comics Arts Festival, July 27-28

Comic Arts Workshop, September

Melbourne Comics Art Jam, every Saturday 1-3pm

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Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

Perth Comics Arts Festival, July 27-28

Comic Arts Workshop, September

Melbourne Comics Art Jam, every Saturday 1-3pm

Follow My Blog

Pop your email in the box below and be notified of my next post.

Categories

Archives