The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 27, Issue 1/4, 2011

Including a Special Section

Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Morris B. Holbrook
Pages 1-45

Consuming the Vampire
Sex, Death, and Liminality

One of the largely untapped potentials of Sausserian semiotics is the ability it provides to examine shifts in the cultural meanings attached to objects and ideas across time. To explore this potentiality, we trace the intertextual evolution of one of the most enduring mythic figures, the vampire. Our analysis begins with ancient texts and moves forward in time to contemporary cinematic and televised depictions of the vampire. We document the deployment of the vampire as a vehicle carrying oppositional meanings as it moves through various eras. For example, vampires may connote both racism and racial resistance, homophobia and gay acceptance, women’s subjugation and women’s empowerment. By using the vampire to mediate contested, liminal regions of cultural discourse, storytellers have constructed increasingly complex and multivocal portraits of this figure. At present, vampire narratives have come to resemble an alternative universe of human morality and behavior, complete with family structures, emotional depth, and interpersonal conflicts.