Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00

NEW YORK VAMP CITY

This is the fourth type of Neogothic that I have found in New York through the lenses of a director who was born, lived and shot most of his films in this city, Abel Ferrara. One of his most interesting ”neogothic” films is undoubtedly The Addiction (1995). At first sight it looks like one of the usual films on vampirism, a theme par excellence of Gothic subculture. The plot is fairly straightforward: a New York philosophy student is assaulted by a woman who bites her on her neck. From that moment onwards, the student falls into a state of uneasiness and cannot stop vampirizing other people, with whom she has deeply philosophical and religious relationships. During her graduation party she bites the rector`s neck and sets off a bloody orgy. Taken to hospital, she dies after having been visited by the woman who had vampirized her and a friend who, even if she had been bitten on the neck, managed to escape her tragic destiny.
I was struck by the film, because even my book The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic (published in 1994, the year before Ferrara`s film) acknowledges that vampirism has a paradigmatic meaning to understand today`s life. This is characterized by a type of experience which is between life and death, focused on a sexual neutrality and an impersonal and posthuman sensitivity, that is exactly the same type the legend attributes to the vampire, nosferatu (in Romanian, it literally means ”has not passed away yet”). This type of pathology, that still has not been studied greatly by psychoanalysis, is deeply related to that part of modern philosophy, phenomenology, that gives a crucial importance to the state of abeyance, of epoché: by putting the subject in parenthesis, it introduces a dimension connected to things, but not to animal or to God. The focus on the things (on blood in the specific case of vampirism) unfolds an irresistible attraction to those extreme experiences that are the ones Ferrara`s films deal with.
The image of New York`s culture, shown by Abel Ferrara, is therefore entirely different from the one provided by a director who is far more renowned than him, Woody Allen. Whereas the latter`s work is focused on neurosis, i.e. on those pathologies that have always been greatly taken into consideration by psychoanalysis, Ferrara`s films are obsessed by perversions and addictions, that, in my opinion, have a deep relationship with philosophy, even if this is simply due to the fact that these share an irresistible attraction towards radical and extreme things. Woody Allen`s New York is a neurotic city, while Ferrara`s one is goth, namely a city where we have far more serious psychic pathologies that are almost always fatal.
These pathologies present features that swing between perversion and addiction. While in my book and in other essays I have tried to analyze these within the framework of perversions (even drawing on the influence of the psychoanalytic developments on the topic given by Jacques Lacan, Robert J. Stoller and Masud Khan), for Ferrara the starting point of the inorganic Neogothic is already in drug addiction. All the imaginary and symbolic world, with its complicated mediations and enigmatic transits, is annulled and turned simply into craving, into the impossibility of waiting, into the compulsive need to take something or do something. Therefore even if the world of perversions can provide a space of happiness, it is extremely difficult that this can take place in the world of addictions, because they are felt as absolute constrictions which are impossible to get away from. In the film The Addiction only the master vampire, who quotes Baudelaire and Nietzsche, manages to dominate dependence!
It is also significant that Ferrara still sees vampirism as the addiction par excellence. Therefore he discovers the reasons why Gothic subculture has lasted for decades, whereas many other paracultures turned out being ephemeral. Firstly there is the postsexual character of the phenomenon that, even though it does has strong sexual implications, goes beyond the difference between masculine and feminine and towards a sex appeal of the inorganic experience: in fact the friar Ludovico Maria Sinistrari, consultor of the ”Santo Uffizio” in the second half of the seventeeth century, claimed that the people who had had a sexual intercourse with a vampire, used to find any other lover poor and incapable. However the main feature is its metaphoric aspect: this is referred to the fact that the vampire`s need for blood is never satisfied and will keep on drawing it from his victims until they are weakened. But vampires would not be so popular, if in the unconscious of today`s society there were not such an unconscious desire to be vampirized.
New York has been the vampire city par excellence in the world for the last fifty years. It is the city that has sucked the whole world`s blood, feeding itself on the cultures, knowledge, styles, information, material and spiritual goods coming from all over and turning them into values, wealth and resources suitable to circulate across the globe. In philosophy, the so called French Theory is exemplary: post 1968 French thinkers have been vampirized by New York and then sent to American universities.
The issue that Ferrara`s film addresses regards the opportunity of resisting vampirization: in any case, the vampirized, starting from the chief character of the film the The Addiction, could resist the mortal bite, if they were strong enough to fight it off firmly. The vampire says to the chief character: ”Look at me and tell me to go away”, but this does not happen. Ferrara believes in free will: the addicted in his films are always questioned and are guilty because they do not give the right answer. Someone manages to get away from New York: for example, in the film Bad Lieutenant the nun`s rapers are forced by the policeman to get a coach that will take them far away from New York. In Mary the chief character ends up being so involved with the role she is acting, that she goes to live in Jerusalem. Nevertheless she gets tracked down by the journalist of a New York television talk show and takes part in the programme via telephone with a performance that puts the director in the shade, who realizes with the utmost concern that he is no longer the star of the show. The thing is that nowadays there are too many people who offer their blood free and without any feeling of guilt! In the film New Rose Hotel, a plan set up in New York by a secret agent and a prostitute, expresses the former`s abstract will to power and the latter`s capacity of seduction. Not much later, however, there will be neither one of them. In fact Abel Ferrara`s addiction is still full of immoral tension, that weakens due to the continuous banalization of today`s life.
So this is how the myth of New York ends along with the Gothic myth. Myths in which the great New York novel writer William Gaddis never believed. In his two great novels The Recognitions and Carpenter`s Gothic, he started a fifth type of Gothic which folllowing the institutional, the alternative, the commercial and the inorganic could be called derisive Neogothic; a type of gothic which in a certain sense paradoxically summarizes all the other ones, vampirizing them and turning them into the best antidote to trash in Gothic subculture.
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