I am Vampire

The Bible tells the story of twin brothers Jacob and Esau, estranged after Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and received the father’s blessing of the firstborn son. At the end of their long estrangement, Jacob and Esau met again. Genesis 33 tells us that Jacob saw Esau approaching from the distance with 400 men and, afraid that Esau would order his men to attack, arranged his household strategically so that those most precious to him would be the most likely to escape. Most Christian translations say that when Esau met Jacob on the way, he ran and “kissed him on the cheek,” but an accurate Hebrew translation is more sinister and surprising, as well as being upheld by rabbinical teachings and Jewish tradition: The rabbis teach that Esau fell upon Jacob’s neck and bit him, vampire style!

I’ve been interested for a while now in the current American preoccupation with vampires, which began roughly around the time that Anne Rice’s Lestat series became best sellers (1976), and has culminated with the Twilight series in print, and True Blood on HBO. Esau’s legendary role as a would-be vampire would be disconcerting had I not done as much reading and mulling over these brothers as I have; but I keep returning to the New Testament admonishment that spiritual folks should not allow themselves to develop a character like Esau’s, or to let an Esau thrive in their midst. “See to it,” Paul wrote, “that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau among you, who sold his own birthright for a bowl of soup.”

What is a vampire, if not a person whose birthright–his experience of being fully human–has been lost? What is a vampire, if not a once living person who succumbs to another blood sucker and must afterward live off the literal lifeblood of others, having no remaining life of his own? Isn’t this the perfect metaphor for our somnambulent American culture with its reality TV, true crime best sellers, celebrity tabloids and gossip magazines, thinly-disguised Facebook and MySpace voyeurism, and constant inane tweets where meaning must be communicated in 140 characters or less?

Life is Tweet

Recently I’ve been in several different social settings in which I noticed people sitting together eating, at the theater, and even at sporting events while texting or tweeting furiously, or otherwise engaged with their cell phones. This behavior amuses and appalls me at the same time. I wonder if people are conscious to what they’re doing? And what are we doing, if we are not trying to infuse ourselves with life from others when we text message and update our Facebook status in the midst of crowds, at restaurants where we’ve met friends for dinner, while watching a DVD with friends or family? We have this great treasure of human spirit in these temporal bodies, such wondrous possibilities of becoming and being, but so many squander it by living in the shallows. Even in the midst of other people, many will seek to escape life in the moment, with the people who are present.

Anne Rice has said that she wrote her vampire series during a time in her life when she was without God, alone in a universe of fellow dead, and that the anguished cry of her spirit was given voice through her vampire series. That her work resonated with millions of Americans–her books have sold over 100 million copies–does not surprise me. We are a generation of people to whom God is dead, from whose major religions all numinous symbols have been removed, for whom “mental health” simply means being undiagnosable and well-adjusted to a culture that is spiritually and psychologically ill.

8 responses

  1. Yes, I think that you are right. I wish that I had thought of it myself.

    I’m thankful for technology. Recently a third cousin sent me a photograph of my great-great-grandfather’s grave. Without her help and without the website that led me to her I do not think that I would have found it.

    However, technology should be a tool. Only a tool. When I find myself regarding it as an extension of myself, I start to get scared.

  2. I’ve had a long and tortured relationship with vampires, starting with having the bejeezus scared out of me watching Salem’s Lot as a young girl and going through to college and slogging my way through Anne Rice’s books. I still don’t understand what they really symbolize.

    Rudolf Steiner described blood as the carrier of the ego (his “ego” meaning consciousness, more or less). I wonder if that’s why vampires are so scary: have they lost their egos, and so are repellent half-humans who prey on others’ consciousness?

  3. How your brain sees virtual you

    As players who stay up all night fighting imaginary warriors demonstrate, slipping into the skin of an avatar, and inhabiting a virtual world can be riveting stuff. But to what extent does your brain regard your virtual self as you?

    Brain scans of avid players of the hugely popular online fantasy world World of Warcraft reveal that areas of the brain involved in self-reflection and judgement seem to behave similarly when someone is thinking about their virtual self as when they think about their real one.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18117-how-your-brain-sees-virtual-you.html

    You’ll forgive me for possibly taking this in another direction. What’s next, virtual neurosis or maybe real wholeness through virtual psychotherapy? I can only imagine what Jung, or Freud would think of the decreasing boundaries between “real” and virtual, form/matter and energy. While long, the below is also strange AND interesting.

    A Rape in Cyberspace

    How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society

    First published in The Village Voice, December 23, 1993

    http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle_vv.html

    • Librarian, I must apologize that your comment was held in a queue. I moderate comments with two or more links in them to prevent spam, and just realized that this one had been held.

      Mea culpa! I think I will increase the number to three or more, just for you. You’re often helpful with information that’s useful and interesting.

      This information about how people may perceive virtual and actual selves as similar is fascinating, for I’ve long been interested in the popularity of MMORPGs like WoW and EverQuest and have played them with my children for some time, meeting folks from all walks of life, most parts of the world, and of all ages as a result. Many do seem to identify with their characters, though from my perspective it’s generally the younger players who do so. But I digress.

      I’ll read the second article and come back to comment.

  4. I agree that while technology can allow us to be more connected (i.e. I email my mom who lives 2 states away twice a day) there is also a disconnect if we let technology consume us. However I have to not dis FB for awhile as it may have allowed us to have contact with one of my son’s bio-brothers! (grin)

    While technology mis-use (i.e. people on cell phones 24/7 and texting during meals) annoys me, I choose my companions based on who can and will intentionally be present during our time together.

    Another form of vampirism that I am more at a loss to solve involves when a family member (or it could be a close friend) is the constant taker in a relationship. Because in my case it is family, it has continued to happen over and over and it was what immediately sprang to mind when I read your post title.

    • Lee, don’t get me wrong: I love technology. When the web first started being what it became so robustly, I was among the first HTML writers setting up web communities for the likes of AOL and Prodigy (remember them?). I have and use a lot of gadgets and could not do without my computer, laptop, iPhone, iPod, Google, blogging, and (maybe even) Facebook. Email has allowed me to make and keep friends all over the world. It’s so convenient.

      On the other hand, I see the dark side and wonder by what sort of mass hypnosis it’s considered OK, acceptable, or even preferable to have hundreds or thousands of “friends” on Facebook and to have large groups of folks “following” you on Twitter. It’s mass hypnosis on call; anything to keep a person from being alone, standing alone, being an individual.

      I object to that.

  5. Interesting post! Usually I would think about this in terms of, for instance, living a leisure lifestyle on the labor of third world workers, but yours takes the vampire metaphor to a different place, it seems. If I read you right, we’re literally sucking meaning for our lives out of “others” or through technology. Not finding meaning for ourselves, we’re never truly happy with what or who we are, so we seek meaning from somewhere else. But its not satisfying, so we ferentically search harder and miss what’s in front of us. Yeah, I see myself doing that sometimes.

    I really like your definition of mental health as it pertains to our culture.

    • Scott, yes, I am always concerned that being “well adjusted” in America is exactly what it appears to be: a marginal existence using someone else’s life, at best.

      But that’s a dark thought.

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