Friday, 8 August 2008

Magia Posthuma

After nearly two months away -- Canada and various campsites around the UK -- I'm dipping back, catching up with some reading. And making some new discoveries, so I thought I'd announce my blog-return with something new. I can't even remember where I got tipped to this, but I found reading Magia Posthuma very interesting. (If anyone can remind me who pointed this out, I would happy to credit it.)

Magia Posthuma is a blog dedicated to the study of vampires, but not in a vulgar, another-goth- freak-thinking-death-is-cool sort of way. As the blog's mission statement makes clear, it's about contextualising the idea of the vampire in the social and cultural history of knowledge.

It is the sort of history, the sort of project, that Foucault would applaud, and one that I find particularly fascinating. Just look at this summary, from the blog's sidebar:

Magia Posthuma is the title of a book written by the Catholic lawyer Karl Ferdinand von Schertz in 1704. In the book von Schertz examines the case of a spectre that roamed about and harmed the living. Several of these cases were known in Moravia where von Schertz published his book, as well as in neighbouring areas. Only two decades later, a similar case was investigated by Austrian officials in North Eastern Serbia. The local people called the spectre a vampire. This incident inspired the deacon Michael Ranft to publish a study on the mastication of the dead. Just a few years later, in 1732, another case of vampirism was investigated in Serbia. Reports of this investigation were published throughout Europe with the consequence that the interest in vampires exploded. Vampires became the topic of numerous learned articles and books. Cases of magia posthuma or vampirism, however, kept occurring. In 1755 empress Maria Theresa aided by her court physician Gerard van Swieten began passing laws against the exhumation and destruction of corpses as well as other acts of superstition.
Terrific, isn't it? Another example of a delicious disconnect in Enlightenment thinking. When totally ridiculous, impossible phantasies pass themselves off as rationally, even scientifically viable. Like spiritualism in the 19th century, or trickle-down economics in the twentieth.

Anyway. More on vampires to follow shortly.

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