Bill Hughes deposited ‘Legally Recognised Undead’: Essence, Difference, and Assimilation in Daniel Waters’s Generation Dead in the group Horror on Humanities Commons 2 years ago
Vampire literature since Le Fanu at least has been conspicuously about ‘Otherness’, that crucial term of identity politics, and has thus rendered itself most obligingly to interpretation in terms of those politics—at least, since the rise of that paradigm in cultural analysis, it has been available to be read that way. Appearing deceptively human, animated, yet without a soul, vampires have conveniently represented alterity, whether foreignness or deviant sexuality, or both. Lately, zombies have been spotted lurching alongside their fellow undead in greater numbers, embodying otherness in a different, perhaps less exotic manner. But it was in Joss Wheedon’s Buffyverse (at a time, the 1990s, when identity politics in the US and Western world generally became mainstream) that we first saw a world where different undead cultures interact, are tolerated if not granted legal status, or are persecuted for their difference, particularly in Angel, with the Caritas nightclub, or in the various demon joints in Buffy. On the basis of these possibilities, later texts imagine the consequences of the claims to citizenship of the undead—and two kinds of responses that reveal very common stances on contemporary identity politics: a liberal one and a conservative one. The undead may be legally recognised, or they maybe neglected or even persecuted by the State. I shall examine these polarities in books from two series: the Southern Vampire novels by Charlene Harris (rather than the HBO True Blood adaptation for TV, which handles these themes rather differently), and the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I then consider one of the most dialectically subtle of recent presentations of undead would-be citizens: Daniel Waters’s Generation Dead novel for young adults avoids making obvious points or mechanically allegorising, and reveal the potential illiberal menace of the State, yet also dares to mock certain platitudes of liberal tolerance of difference.