Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Critic of the Week—Susannah Clements

Mocking Stephanie Meyer’s sparkly, asexual vampires has become a recreational sport in certain circles. But that’s shooting the wounded. Why would book buyers emasculate the former embodiment of evil and human decay? Susannah Clements suggests that as society devalues objective ethical standards, we domesticate our expressions of dark inclinations.

The Vampire Defanged traces vampires from the 19th Century to the present. Clements considers several vampire narratives, focusing primarily on just five. Beginning with Dracula, Clements illustrates the rigid Christianity beneath Bram Stoker’s seminal revenant. Crucifixes and holy water play such key roles that they resemble clichés, but Clements says these religious artifacts are thematically crucial.

But Clements isn’t satisfied with Stoker’s rigidity. She seems warmer to Anne Rice’s constant struggle to reconcile a conflicted world. Where Stoker’s pat theology spits in science’s eye, Rice would rather weigh evidence and balance her answers against her larger world. Though Rice’s vampires reach ambiguous, contradictory conclusions, Clements apparently prefers them to Rice’s self-righteous Christ novels.

From here, in Clements’ reading, vampires devolve. She disdains the Buffyverse’s moral equivalency, mocks Sookie Stackhouse’s compartmentalized humanism, and sees in Stephanie Meyer no mere stylistic lapse, but indeed a failure of ethical foundation. These stories, she says, embody the absence of sin and grace, not just in vampire literature, but throughout Anglo-American culture.

Despite her overt Christianity, only in her conclusion does Clements promulgate theology. She cares more that vampires reflect hidden aspects of society, and what they reveal doesn’t reflect well on us. Her lucid criticism eschews terminology and indirection. In both clarity and insight, Susannah Clements embodies what good critics should strive after.

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