Ah, the zeitgeist! A fancy German word that means the “spirit of the time” or “spirit of the age” meaning, of course, the popular trend in a culture. We are all affected by such spirits in our age. Some more than others. It’s what resonates inside of as a culture, a people and as individuals.
I have chosen the ultimate zeitgeist creature for this discussion: vampire. Also, vampyre, vampyr, strigoi and other things. Essentially an Eastern European legend that, forgive me, never seems to die.
Years ago, when I first delved into the lore, I remember turning to my friend Keith and saying, “Now, Keith, I want you to answer me totally honestly. If you–if they were real, would you become a v–”
We all know what vampires are and what they do, and are mostly familiar with the basic mythos surrounding them from Vlad the Impaler to Dracula to Edward Cullen. But the question in this blog is not what they are or what they do, but why they stick with us like they do. I mean, come on! Do we ever tire of vampire tales. No, we don’t. I mean, we just don’t.
So why do they resonate so well? Why do they represent this spirit of the age for all ages?
Big Lance had a theory. It went like this. Vampirism is really a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease. After all, the “infection” is transmitted through the blood, through bites and exchange of bodily fluid and the swoon from drinking the blood compares with the sex act itself.
I believe he had a point.
I never got into vampires before Anne Rice‘s “Interview” and outside of enjoying Bram Stoker’s original, never cared much for other renditions. I did like how China Mieville portrayed them in The Scar, but then, I like how China Mieville portrays everything.
I read Twilight and was disappointed with them in that book, not that that is such a surprise, but I admit, I liked the first Twilight movie. I thought the movie was better than the book. But, that leads me to my theory of why they resonate.
They are the perfect creature for eternal love and by that token, eternal loss.
They are wonderfully romantic, even when–or especially when–they are drinking from a woman.
I think most people would agree with that, but why? How is that even remotely romantic? I dare say, if I were to take a woman out and attempt to drink her blood, most women would shut me down, quick. They wouldn’t even think twice about it and afterwards, after I left and she was safely tucked away in her apartment, she would not remember it with anything but disgust and fear and perhaps, a little pity. And this would be despite her bookshelf that is FILLED with vampire romance novels!
So…that leads me to this: they are the perfect creature to explore our own human nature.
Now, the vampire has the unique ability to defy death and sickness, two things humans cannot overcome. Even if you NEVER get sick, you will die. Eventually.
Or will you?
For certain, the body will die. That much we can say without question. I would, however, venture to say that most people believe in some kind of life after death scenario. Some kind of soul, human spirit, ghost. Medical science is familiar with OOB’s or Out of Body Experiences. More than one person has “been standing there watching” when they lay him out and do the operation. Most people believe in such a thing, not all. But assuming that the human organism possesses a non-material aspect, one could postulate that when you die, some part of you survives.
Then in comes speculative fiction. What if that part of you, was all of you? What if your body survived its own death? What would that look like? And what if in order to maintain that state, you had to drink human blood? To what lengths would you go? How would you feel about that and how long before you tired of living, and yet, lived on anyway?
Anne Rice’s vampires go “into the ground” every seventy or so years. In other words, they simulate death. They need a rest, a release. Some go insane, others jump on a funeral pyre and commit suicide and beg the survivor to spread the ash so they won’t come back. Some slump into apathy and otherwise resign to their fate.
And some, find ways and means to keep it interesting and create reasons to celebrate, to carry on.
I don’t know about you, but that all sounds eerily familiar to me.
In this light we see ourselves without all the societal props. Through the eyes of the vampire, we begin to see beyond the immediate need to work, to make money, to collect possessions. We get a break from the hectic live-live-live pace of raising a family and doing everything we can before it’s too late. Suddenly, we see, its never too late and then we glimpse eternity.
We glimpse just how long eternity can be. And that scares us more than death ever could. Only then do we see what horror really is. An eternity trapped in this earthly existence feeding on the life of our friends and watching all those we love die and die and die again, while yet, forced to live on. Forever.
Eternal love. Eternal damnation. The perfect creature to see ourselves and the universe that has us.
That is how, I believe, vampires form the zeitgeist.