Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vampire Animal Studies: The Figure of the Vegetarian Vampire

I recently came across an article in n+1 entitled "Vampire Studies". In the concluding paragraph, the author includes this part of a sentence, "So when Vampire Studies replaces Animal Studies as the latest academic vogue" the author goes on to make some rather vague claims and nothing is really ever given why vampire studies is suddenly juxtaposed with animal studies. But what this really gives me is an excuse to return to the figure of the vegetarian vampire. I talked about this before in one of the more popular posts on this blog, and this is a slightly different and slightly longer version of that post.


For those of you lucky enough to not be familiar with the phrase vegetarian vampire, it comes from the novels and movies of Twilight. Recently everywhere I look I see references to vegetarian vampires. T-shirts reading ‘I heart vegetarian vampires,’ and chapters of pop culture philosophy books. Within the world of Twilight, the ‘good’ vampires are a family of the Cullens, who refer to themselves as vegetarians.

When I first heard about a vegetarian vampire I wondered if we were dealing with another comedic adaptation, like the early 90s cartoon Count Duckula. But no, oh no. The vegetarian vampire of Twilight is suppose to be anything but comedic. Edward Cullen, the romantic interest, represents another in the line of both emotive and guilt-ridden vampires. Moreover, these vegetarian vampires of Twilight kill and drink the blood of other animals, they just don't kill and drink the blood of humans. This begs the question: What does vegetarianism mean, if it does not actually mean abstaining from the flesh of other animals?

This question allows us to see a way that vegetarianism, and I would say veganism as well, enters into an economy of the sacred and the profane, the innocent and guilty, the pure and the contaminated. In this case the word vegetarianism has obviously no real meaning, except for one -- to demarcate that the present vampire is 'good'. The concept of vegetarian is wielded in such a style as to make the vampire not a vampire. I mean this in two registers. The first is in the way that vegetarianism is stereotyped as essentially anti-masculine. The vampire that does not drink the blood of humans is a fundamentally 'defanged' vampire. Why, after all, do you think Bill, in the HBO series True Blood, only drinks human blood while having sex, or when he is committing an act of violence? This 'defanged' vampire is the sensitive and brooding vampire. To take another example, in Joss Whedon's Buffy and Angel universe, the vampire Angel also lives only on animal blood. He exclusively drinks animal blood because of a curse that gave him back his soul. If he ever has a true moment of happiness, a repeated euphemism for sex, he will turn back into an evil vampire.

But these tropes of vegetarian vampires are not just used to connect vegetarianism to a lack of virility. Vegetarianism is used in another way, too. The vegetarian is also a trope of a split within vampiric being. Not only is this split connected to the questions of virility mentioned above, but there always remains a yearning for human blood. What is referred to again and again, as The Hunger. As a quotation from the movie of Twilight illustrates: ‘Drinking only animal blood is like a human only eating tofu. It's filling but never quite satisfies.’ Vegetarianism is presented as paralyzed being rather than becoming. The vegetarian vampire is never satisfied with his or her vegetarianism. Rather, this vegetarianism is seen as denial of their true nature, They really are fun filled blood thirsty monsters, but go around saying “woe is me, woe is me” because they don’t kill humans. And the danger, the excitement, of these vampires is that at any moment they may snap. Their vegetarianism maintained only through the greatest will power. Instead of being a creature whose existence symbolizes an impure and con-fused nature, a transgressive nature in thrall of all that is profane —which is what the vampire has classically been used to represent-- this vegetarian vampire seeks after purity and redemption, a Vampyr Sacer. These sacred vampires are fundamentally brooding creatures, racked by guilt and shame. The vampire traditionally has no reflection—they cannot see themselves in mirrors—but all these vegetarian vampires are able to do is reflect upon their lives. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari declared in A Thousand Plateaus that ‘thought is a vampire.’ By which they meant that thought in its most intense manifestations is never a reflection, never a Cartesian moment, but always a creation of something new. Descartes himself, who denied that animals could feel pain or pleasure and carried out horrible vivisections, but at the same time loved his dog and did not eat the flesh of animals was something of a vegetarian vampire as well. These vegetarian vampires reassert reflection as the core of being, and therefore deny the intensity of existence whose impure blood allows multiple becomings. Vegetarianism here seems to indicate nothing other than morality, but a morality of the most incoherent and sickly variety. An anemic morality of a demon who has found religion.

This brings us back, at least briefly, to the philosophy of Antiquity. These practices of the self were referred to as askesis. This term, askesis, became translated by the Christian monks into the idea of asceticism. Indeed, many of the practices you’d find among the stoics and epicureans you’d find transposed with subtle but important differences by the early monastic orders. To give one example […]. Asceticism is therefore rooted deeply in the denial of the self. You deny your human, read animal, nature in order to affirm your higher, divine nature. Therefore, Christian asceticism is a dualism, the same dualism we see in Cartesianism and the figure of the vegetarian vampire. And in all of these dualism we see an extreme bias against the animal. Askesis, on the other hand, is not rooted in denying the self. It doesn’t begin with the idea that we are inherently split, and indeed such a dualism would seem quite alien. Rather, askesis is conceived as a set of practices of self-production, of a form of metamorphosis. Veganism, or better, becoming-vegan, when conceived as a type of askesis is not about self-denial, it isn’t about refusing some primal instinct that is essential to who we are. Which isn’t to say that becoming-vegan isn’t sometimes hard, or that it doesn’t require work. However, it also have a great deal of pride and joy involved. You know, if we lived be several centuries old I don’t think we’d go around being like, [vampire accent] “I am so uptight because I want to suck your blood, but I can’t.” So, becoming-vegan is an askesis, a practice of changing our being.
Now, most of the vegans/vegetarians I know in the animal emancipation movement do not believe they are innocent. But, and this is important, they too are seeking redemption. We need a way becoming-vegetarian that means both we are never innocent, but it also means that we don't have to be trapped by guilt or rituals of purity. However, those of us in the animal emancipation movement see these rituals of purity everywhere we go. Welfarists vs. Abolitionists. Pacifists vs. Militants. A movement that has trouble moving because of all its fractures. A movement that has trouble moving because the question of tactics is always raised to the level of the pure and the impure. Vegetarianism has become a symbol for putting the vampire back into the play of the sacred and the profane, however we desperately have to revert this process. If the animal emancipation movement is to have a chance at changing both our relationships with other animals, and our relationship with the animal that we are, we are going to have to find ways to escape these protocols of guilt and innocence. We need less vegetarian vampires and more vampiric vegetarians.


For long time readers of this blog this will have been mostly repetitive, but I after reading that partial line I couldn't resist.