tape_2046 / beatrice vorster                    © 2023 


conspiracy, disembodiment and the internet

In all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting. 

Jonathan Harker’s journal (Stoker, 402).
Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness (1973)

The uneasy relationship to the original is embedded in the literary relationship to inauthenticity: Victorian Gothic aesthetic recalled a fantasy of medievalism. In Erik Butler’s study of literary vampire metamorphosis, he notes that in 1725 Imperial Provisor Frombald, an Austrian army medical officer, wrote the first records of modern European vampirism in a letter to his superiors. The officer outlines the exhuming, staking and burning of a corpse whom the locals believed had risen from the grave and killed villagers at night. These activities, unfamiliar to Frombald and his colleagues, resulted in their flight from the occupied territories (Butler, 32). The vampire travels from rumour to activity and is documented as fact - a pre-internet example of going viral. The original opening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, presents the accumulation of documents that forms the narrative as verifiable truth:

I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. All the people who have willingly - or unwillingly - played a part in this remarkable story are known generally and well respected. Both Jonathan Harker and his wife (who is a woman of character) and Dr. Seward are my friends and have been so for many years, and I have never doubted that they were telling the truth.

(Barker and Stoker)

Stoker testifies to the reliability of his fictional creation. The format of the novel relies just as heavily on fictioned ‘official’ records such as newspaper articles, invoices and shipping cargo logs as diary entries and letters which are assembled and re-typed by Mina (and by implication, recovered by the author). Although this literary technique was not unusual for the era, it highlights the way in which the presentation of fact interweaves with gestures of fictioning in the subgenre. For example, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) utilises this slippage, opening with still journalistic images. These grainy, black and white photographs depict American military atrocities in Vietnam, accompanied by a version of Ngủ Ngon, a Vietnamese folk song with a voiceover indicating a lecture. Viewers of this film may recognise these images and know them to be documentation from events which occurred in our reality. The mechanical sound of the slide projector, which punctuates the audiotrack and the male voice of the lecturer, operates as a kind of signifier of brutal authority which overpowers the marginal folk music. The scene is presented as a lecture, yet the body from which the auditory authority emerges is not seen. The power of the disembodied voice shifts with the second use of documentary image which instead is accompanied by a voiceover from our protagonist post-bite. She claims that “there is no history, everything we are is eternally with us”. Through her infection, she has become formally more powerful - her voice can exist outside of herself - while increasingly vulnerable in her body.

These auditory indicators of ‘fact’ are deployed by Peter Watts in his video work, Vampires: Biology and Evolution, which also utilises the lecture format, in this case delivered on behalf of a fictional big-pharma corporation whose new medicine has vampiric side-effects. It is a world building exercise that springs from Blindsight, a novel by the author that re-frames the science fiction narrative as a power point presentation of medical care under capitalism in tongue-and-cheek fashion. Conventions of ‘truth-telling’ are motorised: the echoey, grainy audio reminiscent of low-quality lecture captures, the dry delivery utilising the mechanics of academic language. This is accompanied by the boring and conventional format of the powerpoint with photographic ‘evidence’ testifying to its authenticity. These qualities amount to the documentation of a lecture rather than a restaging of it as we see in Ferrara’s work. The originator of the voice of information cannot be visualised in this context (just as Chion notes regarding radio disembodiment), however this does not relieve the tension so much as fully situate it in an online space where there is not a real sense of origin. Rather, there is an encoded uncertainty in this space where verification is something which can be purchased as a ‘blue tick’ for a monthly fee. Watt’s work captures and reproduces the mechanisms of conspiracy theory videos which permeate online spaces. Just as vampire fiction often insists that there are two levels - our level and the vampiric level - such modes of discourse are co-opted by alt right content creators. Paranoia is symptomatic of decontextualisation: we learn this from fiction.

Have you ever seen a vampire? Well first of all, they’re not romantic. Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies. It’s not like they’re hopping around in rented formal wear, seducing everyone in sight with cheesy eurotrash accents. They don’t turn into bats, crosses don’t work...

Vampire Hunter Jack Crow, Vampires, 1999

Vampire hunters have shifted from scientists - representatives of the rational - to conspiratorial myth busters to relocate the viewer and allow for larger narrative continuity within the broader subgenre. In the scene above, transcribed from John Carpenter’s 1998 movie, Crow’s vampire-facts are not accompanied by the revelatory and dramatic score (also by the director) which infects most of the film, but rather, the sound is stripped back, realistic as if to indicate a moment of ‘truth’. In The Transfiguration, cinephile Milo, gives value to works which toe this threshold of fiction. His reluctance to engage with parts of the subgenre are expressed as such: “it’s just, I bet the vampires in Twilight aren't very realistic”. By this he means, they cannot be imitated and therefore exist outside of our reach. This update of the vampire is one who is aware of the back catalogue and listens to Bauhaus, reflected in the scoring practices of vampire films in the early 80s onwards. It is described by Janet Halfyard as a process of de-othering, in which the underscore does not demonise the undead but presents the viewer with a complex, sympathetic character by using a popular music soundtrack (171). It has the double effect of aligning us with the vampire at the same time populating ‘their world’ with our music. This merging has further facilitated the transmedial expansion of the subgenre, which calls on us as participants in the lore. Iterations such as Blade Techno (Rave Techno Mix) and Vampire L.A.R.P. groups spill into our lives, mobilising the fiction.

This practice of constantly redefining the parameters of vampirism gestures towards the anxiety felt when estranged from the source, particularly of the body, and poses several questions. What are the edges of fiction? Where are we located when the spread of the lore is so vast that it is wholly a part of ‘our’ world? The vampiric body is not bounded, but totally estranged. They are not limited to the constraints of their body: “He can transform himself to a wolf ... he can be as a bat ... he can come in mist ... as elemental dust” (Stoker, 254). Their shape-shifting, and the consequential paranoia around the status of the body, is audibly reflected through a preoccupation with amplifying the sounds of the body. In Ganja & Hess (1973), the vocal echo is deployed as Ganja becomes a vampire - particularly her scream, the elongation of which spills across cuts, fusing with moments outside of the vocal excess. As she becomes a vampire, she also becomes technologised - the scream capping the limiter either in the process of recording or distribution. There is a double dehumanising at stake through technological mediation. It alludes to a subtle reading of the Gothic by Fisher as “a plane that cuts across the distinction between living and nonliving, animate and inanimate” (Flatline, 2). Embedded within this unreliability of distinguishing between the two, is the disembodiment: a severance of our conception of the ‘real’ vs ‘virtual’.