Monday, September 29, 2014

New to the Cabinet: Vampires and Eroticism

Just added to the cabinet, an essay once presented at a conference, one of my favorites: "The Emergence of the Occult from within the Culture of the Occult, or, When a Vampire is Just Trying to Get Laid."

It's an exploration of three Hammer horror films from the 70s: Lust for a Vampire, The Vampire Lovers, and Twins of Evil, primarily via de Sade and Bataille. It is definitely a meeting of cinema and theory, but a fun one. (Very well received at the conference.)


Here's a preview:


My playground today is the Karnstein trilogy, the trio of vampire movies produced by Hammer studios in '70 and '71: The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil. They are all based to one degree or another on Le Fanu's novella "Carmilla," though they can not at all be said to be in any sequence, or even of the same narrative world. They are famous among the Hammer films as being at the vanguard of the studio's move into nudity and more explicit sexuality, the first two films marked especially for their lesbian content, the third for featuring as the title characters Playboy's first twin playmates. In fact, sexuality dominates the thematics of the three films to the point of their being far more about desire than horror: not solely within the narrative proper, but also in the film as engaged by the viewer. Yet much of the body of that thematics – both visual and ideational – would hardly fall under the heading of the erudite. Segments of the films are easily described as soft-core porn; and it is not surprising how many reviews of the films – irrespective of their overall opinions on quality รข€” will speak of an "immature approach" to the sexuality, or "scenes that exist only for the titillation of the male audience,"[FN1] or even "adolescent masturbatory fantasy."[FN2] One online reviewer renamed the second film Lust for Knockers.[FN3] All fairly, and all with ample reason: for example, Vampire Lovers includes a scene of a towel clad and topless Ingrid Pitt chasing a half-undressed, soon-to-be victim around a bed in girlish, slumber party giddiness; and Lust for a Vampire features a running shot tracking through the rooms of a finishing school while the young women attendees are dressing for bed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Something I Read #4 — de Man, "Lyric and Modernity"

A follow-up on the previous post: the closing lines from the next essay in the de Man's Blindness and Insight, "Lyric and Modernity":

The question of modernity reveals the paradoxical nature of a structure that makes lyric poetry into an enigma which never stops asking for the unreachable answer to its own riddle. To claim [. . .] that modernity is a form of obscurity is to call the oldest, most ingrained characteristics of poetry modern. To claim that the loss of representation is modern is to make us again aware of an allegorical element in the lyric that had never ceased to be present, but that is itself necessarily dependent on the existence of an earlier allegory and so is the negation of modernity. The worst mystification is to believe that one an move from representation to allegory, or vice versa, as one moves from the old to the new, from father to son, from history to modernity. Allegory can only blindly repeat its earlier model, without final understanding, the way Celan repeats quotations from Höldernin that assert their own incomprehensibility. The less we understand a poet, the more he is compulsively misinterpreted and oversimplified and made to say the opposite of what he actually said, the better the chances are that he is truly modern; that is, different from what we – mistakenly – think we are ourselves. This would make Baudelaire into a truly modern French poet, Hölderlin into a truly modern German poet, and Wordsworth and Yeats into truly modern English poets.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Something I Read #3 — de Man, "Literary History and Literary Modernity"

Was doing a bit of random, off-the-shelf reading and came across this moment. These are the closing sentences to Paul de Man's essay "Literary History and Literary Modernity," found in Blindness and Insight. It makes an interesting counterpoint to some historiographic essays by Arnaldo Momigliano being read (and quipped) by an FB friend, essays which (at least to my viewing) approach history from the opposing side, out of the idea of history as constituted of discoverable truths.

The need to revise the foundations of literary history may seem like a desperately vast undertaking; the task appears even more disquieting if we contend that literary history could in fact be paradigmatic for history in general, since man himself, like literature, can be defined as an entity capable of putting his own mode of being into question. The task may well be less sizable, however, than it seems at first. All the directives we have formulated [previously in the essay] as guidelines for a literary history are more or less taken for granted when we are engaged in the much more humble task of reading and understanding a literary text. To become good literary historians, we must remember that what we usually call literary history has little or nothing to do with literature and that what we call literary interpretation – provided only it is good interpretation – is in fact literary history. If we extend this notion beyond literature, it merely confirms that the bases for historical knowledge are not empirical facts but written texts, even if these texts masquerade in the guise of wars or revolutions.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: The Vorrh by B. Catling

This is something from the reviews in the Cabinet, also an Amazon review, which repost here because this book deserves all the word of mouth that can be had.


Link to publishing site.

In his forward to The Vorrh, Alan Moore (author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta) writes the following:

"By definition, surely every fantasy should be unique and individual, the product of a single vision and a single mind, with all of that mind's idiosyncracies informing every atom of the narrative. A genre that has been reduced by lazy stylization to a narrow lexicon of signifiers . . . wizards, warriors, dwarves and dragons . . . is a genre with no room for Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, arguably the earliest picaresque questing fantasy, for David Lindsey's Voyage to Arcturus with its constantly morphing vistas and transmogrifying characters, for Mervin Peake's extraordinary Ghormanghast books or for Michael Moorcock's cut-silk Gloriana. It is certainly a genre insufficient to contain the vegetable eternities of Catling's Vorrh."

The key word there is "insufficient." It is a word of attack and accusation against the admirers of fantasy.

It is a common complaint of the patrons of the genre that fantasy gets little respect within literary circles. It is works like The Vorrh that speak why such recognition is not offered because it is mostly undeserved. For The Vorrh stands head and shoulders — even navel and knees — above the common fare of fantasy. It reveals in its literary writing and its symbolic imagination just how banal, repetitive, poorly written, and indubitably un-literary most of the fantasy scene actually is, and how indefensible most fantasy works actually are. Indeed, this book, just as with Alan Moore's words, is itself attack and accusation against the admirers of fantasy. For this is a book that fantasy enthusiasts should be holding up at con panels to popular writers with an accusation of "why are you not writing works like this?" It is a book that they should be thrusting before the publishers and bookstores saying "We want more of this."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Something I Read #2 — Coleridge, Lectures on Shakespeare

This is found in Coleridge on Shakespeare:The Text of the Lectures of 1811-12, edited by R.A. Foakes (1971; pg. 41). It is from the diary of John Payne Collier, who shorthand notes are the only original source for Coleridge's lectures. This moment in the diary is from his description of an evening where Coleridge was one of the guests of his father. The diary date is Monday, 21 October 1811, four years before he writes the Biographia Literaria.

In religion Coleridge is completely an enthusiast, and maintains that it must be founded upon moral feeling, and not upon reason: it must be built on the passions, and not on the understandings of mankind. In his ind, the moment you began to reason, that moment you ceased to be religious. For this reason he denied that Unitarians had no religion: theirs was a theory: he had been brought up to the Church, but he did not reason upon it: he could not do it: if any person asked him why he believed in the existence of a God, his answer was because he ought: but he would not attempt to prove the existence of God, as many did from his works: no: if he acknowledged a Creator every feeling of his heart, every being in his works, were in harmony and vibrated with the notion: if he did not acknowledge a God, all was confusion and disorder. he therefore believed in God because he ought, and could give no other reason; nor would he seek for any.

Two ideas stand to the front. First, how it describes the unity of morality and poetry (and the third, philosophy), grounded not upon a priori or Christian historicism or dogma, but upon the foundation of the individual psyche in direct experience with the cosmos.

Second, how much the language describes the Jungian archetype that underlies the divine, the psychical ground for understanding that direct experience with the cosmos.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Reading of Philip Larkin's "An Arundel Tomb"

Something new to the Cabinet, a reworked post from the Jot.

The poem can be found here.


I am only a casual reader of Larkin, which is to say I have never done any academic work on him. (Though, my first introduction was in the classroom.) At this point I only possessed the first edition of the Thwaite Collected, which did not organize the poems by the books published (something I think always an error in a collected). The second edition is in the post, however, and I look forward to being able to read The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows as they were meant to be read.

For me, while Larkin gives an air of the conversational in his poetry – a quip on the back cover reads "Larkin is our most accomplished and memorable poet of the common places of experience" – it is false to think Larkin was a kind of English version of James Wright. Larkin's poetry usually carries a density, a subtlety, an intellectuality that Wright's work rarely achieves. Larkin's poetry is controlled poetry (in the very positive sense of the word). Unlike much New Formalist poetry I see, he never (ok. never say never, so, rarely) uses a word for the sake of the rhyme or rhythm alone. (Which is the usual case for competent UK poets writing in verse, something to which the New Formalists haven't seem to caught on yet). I do not think it is for nothing that he sometimes reads to me like a UK Wallace Stevens. Both would chose the archaic word that works both aurally and ideationally over the more common or contemporary word that does not work as well ideationally. Which, personally, is rather a requisite of writing poetry: all of English language (all of language) is always in play, with the only deciding fact being the right word/phrase/line/stanza for the work as a whole.