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The Return of the Vampire

The vampire is no metaphor.

by
David Solway

Bio

September 6, 2011 - 12:03 am
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Which brings us to the immediate circumstances. Perhaps the specter that most keenly taxes the confidence of many Americans is the suspicion of impending cataclysm. Its sepulchral origin may escape the majority of those who are distressed by the prospect of a coming debacle, but it is embodied in a pervasive and commanding presence. The determined scavenger crouching beneath the casements of the national edifice should not be hard to identify, for it too has been invited past the threshold and treated by many as an honored guest. As Byron described the fiend’s lurid passage, “His floating robe around him folding/Slow sweeps he through the columned aisle.”

Whether through inertia, ignorance, or moral blindness, we are the frequent victims of our own fearful unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious. What flits through our anxieties and forebodings is staring us straight in the face, if we would only look. For despite the mists of inscrutability that surround the bearer of a sinister mission and the reluctance of many to see through its blandishments, its real nature can be readily perceived — assuming, of course, that we struggle to stay vigilant. But not enough of us do. The deluded among us continue to be captivated by the peregrinations of the vampire through the Imaginary of the culture and yet are incapable of recognizing its manifestation before our very eyes. One thinks of John Polidori’s unsuspected “vampyre” in his 1819 novella The Vampyre: A Tale, the undulant Lord Ruthven strutting about like a depraved grandee “remarkable for his singularities,” whose “peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house.” Only this vampire is no metaphor. “It’s too bad,” says David Wiedemer in Aftershock, analyzing yet another and complementary aspect of the marauding force at work, “that it’s not just a story.”

Who or what is the vampire? It seems to have more than one name, though Nosferatu serves as a convenient tag. It has a complex and exotic family history though its full biography remains a Carpathian enigma and its behavior and intentions are shrouded in a false identity. It presents itself as a composite figure — a political party, an ostensibly liberal bringer of gifts and cachet, a potent ideology that strives to transform the world, a utopian philosophy that promises bliss upon conversion to its purposes but leads only to a society of the locavore undead. Its acolytes and minions swarm through the world infecting the gullible with the serum of its malignity.

Thus, it proceeds systematically to undermine the strength of those among whom it freely moves, surviving by transfusions of the energy and substance of others who remain unaware that they are the quarry and not the beneficiaries. It redistributes the lifeblood of nations throughout its own body and the collective body of its adherents. It offers ease, comfort, and security, but at the insidious expense of vitality and freedom — and ultimately of the very ease, comfort, and security it has guaranteed. Its manner can be suave and polished though often enough a rough impatience pokes through its carefully constructed veneer. It responds to challenges with aristocratic haughtiness and gutter ruthlessness. It is clever and unscrupulous. It is a purveyor of lies and deceptions. It loves the accoutrements of power and the grand architecture of its residence. It embraces what appear to be noble causes the better to hide its appetite for dominion. It is both furtive and conspicuous. And the irony is that eventually it must run out of blood, to everyone’s cost, even the vampire’s.

The vampire is real and its voracity unbounded. There are only two things that can frustrate its designs, namely, Walser’s “dignity and subtlety of mind.” Or alternately, the symbols of faith and the light of reason, both, unfortunately, in free fall. Absent their belated revival, the vampire is sure to triumph.

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David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, and is currently working on a sequel, Living in the Valley of Shmoon. His new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, was released by Mantua Books. His latest book is The Boxthorn Tree, published in December 2012.
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