A "Truth Like This": Language and the Construction of Power and Knowledge in Vampire Fiction

Abstract: The paper examines the relationship between power, knowledge, and language in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight from the vantage point of discourses on vampirism. Based on Michel Foucault’s notion of power as a localized, ubiquitous, and heterogeneous set of social strategies, it discusses the constitutive role of language in the construction of power relationships, focusing on gender and sexual relationships in both novels. In Dracula, the patriarchal system functions as a dominant discourse which prescribes legitimate sexual relations for women, while vampirism threatens this order by pointing out its gaps and inconsistencies. Revealing the ‘in-between’ of this order’s dichotomous relations, the rupture of its supposed coherence and ‘naturalness’ manifests itself through the notion of desire. Desire shares important features with language, as it is characterized by difference and deferral. Despite its appearance as an alternative social order, the interplay between power, knowledge, and language in Twilight suggests similar restrictions to female sexuality. This discourse on vampirism and sexuality is constructed by Edward and Bella, but is decisively mediated through Bella’s narrative voice. Their collaboration establishes a relationship of power which casts Bella in a state of weakness and submissiveness but also shows how language and knowledge may transform power relationships.

Vampires have captivated the attention of readers, writers, and critics for centuries. As literary figures, vampires fascinate due to the powerful but subtle manner in which they reflect upon a particular societal order—its precepts, prohibitions, and fears—and thus make visible the cultural and social dynamics in relation to the individual subject. The transgression they embody marks cultural, social, and personal boundaries and, time and again, offers alternatives to dichotomous constructions of these categories. Uncovering the limits of the social order through attacking, challenging, and eluding them, the vampire reveals their production, their failures and silences, their gaps. As a result, the disguise of the social as the ‘natural’ order of things and the relations of power through which it maintains itself become discernible. It is in this sense that the vampire always also opens up possibilities of subversion and deconstruction of these boundaries: of seemingly fixed categories of the societal. In this game of social power, it is language which constitutes the essential instrument of challenge and collaboration, signifying both the speakable and the unspeakable, and ultimately revealing the constructedness of the social order. Language is, moreover, crucial in negotiating and locating the so-called individual subject, and its (im)possible positions of power within the social world.

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