Rreview of Lawrence Rickels, The Vampire Lectures (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999) ISBN: 0816633924. 376 pp. $17.95 pb.
Other Voices, v.2, n.2 (March 2002)
Text copyright © 2002, Catherine Liu, all rights reserved.
This original and important book is in dialogue with hotly-debated issues in Cultural Studies, Film Studies, Queer Studies, Psychoanalytic Theory, and Vampirology. Not only does it give a thoroughly rigorous account of Rickels' highly original engagement with theories of technology and group psychology, it also offers an excellent pedagogical model for the large introductory lecture course for which humanities departments often find themselves responsible. Rickels shows in The Vampire Lectures that such courses can be both innovative and uncompromising. In this work, a fascinating dynamic is set into motion as the reader is made witness to the processes of thinking and teaching. Since taking dictation plays such an important role in Rickels's reading of Stoker, the sense of the transcribed lecture is dealt with in a calculated manner, always self-conscious of the fact that some of the most powerful interventions in the history of psychoanalysis have taken place via the lecture transcript (one only has to think of Freud's Introductory Lectures and Lacan's Seminars).
Certain of the transcribed moments of Rickels' pedagogy have the uncanny effect of mirroring a reader's possible response, thereby marking a textual interruption in the reading or resistance that can accumulate either in the form of total understanding or partial misunderstanding. The reader is witness to and subject of the construction of a powerful transference: the experience of reading is doubled as it becomes clear how the students are being taught to read, and how we as readers are also being drawn into Rickels' theorization of vampirism. In the process, it becomes clear that literature, theory, and psychoanalysis are made legible via their mass media doubles. Vampirism is read as related to the rise of the telegraph, the typewriter, and the printing press. The book is a refreshing break from the heavy-handed critiques and thoughtless celebrations of popular culture that have taken place in academia in the past fifteen years. It shows that what is often at stake in the production of popular culture is the management of mourning, melancholia, and relations to the dead. Rickels begins with the vampire as medieval phantasm and then goes on to prove what Adorno and Horkheimer noticed about mass culture fifty years ago: that it is almost always intellectual, participating as it does in the mass production of the most precious myths of the Enlightenment.
The Vampire Lectures is a performative text. No word game is played gratuitously here. Rickels' theorization of vampire material brings together the different strains of theory that Rickels has thoroughly metabolized in his language. Rickels demonstrates to his readers and interlocutors the uncanny compatibility of the American vernacular with continental philosophies of technology. Rickels's word play always pushes the envelope of academic style: in his previous books, he pioneered this inimitable engagement with expressions and idioms of the Teen Age. Sexual difference is also not neglected in The Vampire Lectures, as it becomes clear that the woman's body becomes one of the most important contested sites of modernity and technological progress. Camp and drag play important roles in Rickels's readings of Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood. In short, the vampire becomes a theatricalized allegory of contemporary subject relations.