Friday, October 30, 2009

INCARNADINE, if you will

As we careen to the most bowdlerized holiday in the calendar (and don't let those "War on Christmas" dopes fool you. Nobody goes to a Christmas party dressed as Zombie Jesus), now is probably the best time to mention that I am, indeed, about to start reading a pal's treatment of Dracula.
Dracula, I said. (And, yes, I am aware that we were all supposed to get over that by the Summer before Eighth grade.)
Not vampires. Vampires are an entirely different issue; I refrain from acknowledging the sparkly ones and Sarah Michelle Gellar is little Charlotte Grace Prinze's mom now. The ubiquity of vampires, like that of their simpler undead counterparts -- zombies -- dilutes every attempt to discuss moral relativism. Zombies are created by science, and vampires by demonic personal politics. I guess. Like any fashionable soap opera, a bit of brain (or eye) candy, a catchphrase or two, a few irreverent T-shirts, some Internet buzz, and suddenly there are all sorts of arcane rules to follow, and self-appointed experts who have it codified.
Contemporary attempts at incarnations of Dracula's ilk all seem to avoid that original model -- what with all of their new-fangled gloomy boyband romantic otherness that so popular with a certain easily-marketed demographic. Popular culture machines grind out entirely new forms of vampire that need to be more special, bloodier and more extravagant (in numbers and variations) than predecessors.
Popular stories only give the public exactly what they want: titillation and a little trepidation. Vampire books and movies and teevee shows sexualize youth and resonate with the low hum and cheap buzz of social laissez-faire and fatuous individualism. What teenager doesn't want to wave a stick and lose that annoying suitor forever in a puff of talc?
Our media gives us simple. Regular crooks die of gunshot wounds because they are bad people; vampires must be staked or burned or beheaded or stuffed with garlic precisely because they are not regular guys. They aren't human; they're wampyr. And no matter how bad we are (by killling them, for instance), we can't be as bad as something that's not "we," can we?

Hey wait! That's not Ray's book!
But we're not talking about mere 'vampies.' We're talking Dracula. Show some polite curiosity and click on the INCARNADINE link. It's the official site of R.H. Greene's True memoirs of Count Dracula.

Stoker introduces his Count and that's all that's necessary. By marginalizing a creepy foreigner and subduing him through British know-how, Stoker simply fed his Victorian readers their own xenophobia and technophilia. Gypsies? A telephone? Good times.
While today's vampire fairy tales whack clumsily away at our society's alienating and minimalizing shallowness, they dismiss ecclesiastical speculation as useless mental exercise. We rarely discuss evil anymore, even as we assign it to fangy demons. After all, the President himself is often enough portrayed as "evil" by newscasters and other lamebrains. The very term "evil" is degraded, near-meaningless.
What about the evil that cannot be mocked? The pellucid evil that simultaneously assures us and menaces us? The Dracula kind of evil we can only hypothesize about.
R.H. Greene gives a voice to that evil -- excuse me, "that Evil" -- in Incarnadine. Stoker's book is a collection of correspondences and diary entries and perhaps Stoker, as original "editor" of Dracula read but eschewed this very source material which has "fallen" into Greene's authority. A brilliant conceit, even if I've completely misapprehended or invented it.
You can read two bits of Incarnadine online. Ray's Foreword to the tome here and the Prologue of Konstantin Kuzmanov is here. If you've read it -- or plan to -- I'll enjoy sharing thoughts on this in the "Notes" section below.

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