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the Complete Review
the complete review - non/fiction

The Passive Vampire

Ghérasim Luca

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To purchase The Passive Vampire

Title: The Passive Vampire
Author: Ghérasim Luca
Genre: Non/fiction
Written: 1945 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 134 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Passive Vampire - US
The Passive Vampire - UK
The Passive Vampire - Canada
Le Vampire passif - Canada
Le Vampire passif - France
  • French title: Le Vampire passif
  • Translated by Krzysztof Fijałkowski
  • With numerous illustrations

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Our Assessment:

(--) : surreal oddity, fascinating in parts

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2009 Irene Gammel
Forward . 22/5/2009 Joshua Cohen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Luca is well served here not only by Krzysztof Fijałkowski’s faithful translation but also by the elegant introduction, which provides fascinating biographical details and deftly situates the book" - Irene Gammel, Bookforum

  • "Part two, the eponymous "Le Vampire Passif," is a text not about Surrealism, but of it. Readers habituated to reading for sense should know that with Luca, words and sentences and entire paragraphs exist exclusively for purposes of atmosphere, or mood; that anti-meaning is, significantly, meaning, and that Surrealist plots tend to debauch their resolutions amid purple prose, alcohol and smoke." - Joshua Cohen, Forward

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ghérasim Luca was one of many Romanian writers that moved relatively easily between his native Romania and France, a significant figure on the more surreal fringe of the large group that emerged around World War II (writers ranging from Cioran and Ionesco to surreal compatriot Gellu Naum). In this volume, Krzysztof Fijałkowski provides a helpful introduction to 'Luca the Absolute' and this unusual pair of texts.
       The Passive Vampire was written in French but first (self-)published in 1945 in Bucharest; it consists of a fairly straightforward explanation of 'The Objectively Offered Object' (O.O.O.) and then the title-piece, a surreal essay cum fantasy that defies easy description (or reading).
       The piece on 'The Objectively Offered Object' explains Luca's concept of the O.O.O., and offers numerous examples. Luca argues that nowadays a gift is generally: "an object that is bestowed only after having been stripped of its objective erotic character" -- and he means to infuse that character (and more) right back in (with quite the vengeance). To illustrate what he means he describes objects he found and embellished and then explains why he gave them to certain people -- including, for example, André Breton, for whom Luca pieced together a doll. Luca does put a lot of thought (and/or feeling) into these objects; the results, however, can be disturbing: so, for example, when making the Breton-doll -- The Letter L:

I mutilated the head (the sex) using several razor blades and, as a supreme ejaculation, with the last one I sliced the doll's eye. This convulsive-sadistic action thus took on a concrete, bewitching value.
       There are pictures of several of the O.O.O.'s, too, including the The Letter L -- including a close-up of the treated head. Quite unsettling, to put it mildly -- but then Luca is after effect, and he certainly achieves it here.
       'The Passive Vampire', then, is like a fantasia on the same theme -- beginning:
     Objects, these mysterious suits of armour beneath which desire awaits us, nocturnal and laid bare, these snares made of velvet, of bronze, of gossamer that we throw at ourselves with each step we take;
       And that's among the clearer parts.
       Still, Luca's flights of fancy have some appeal, including the passage that suggests why he chose the title he did:
     I close my eyes, as active as a vampire, I open them within myself, as passive as a vampire, and between the blood that arrives, the blood that leaves, and the blood already inside me there occurs an exchange of images like an engagement of daggers. Now I could eat a piano, shoot a table, inhale a staircase.
       Needless to say, a little of this goes a long way; admirably, Luca mixes it up enough to sustain at least moderate interest. Some of the ideas don't work too well -- a formula to explain Van Gogh's cut-off ear ... -- but even there he often redeems himself with yet another fine turn of phrase or observation ("I like badly-type texts crisscrossed by rows of x x x x x x x because they give me the vague feeling of being confronted by mystery").
       At its worst, Luca claims to have found a kind enlightenment -- always a suspect claim:
     Since I have started living out my dreams, since I've become the contemporary of the centuries to come, I no longer know death under the annihilating guise it has maintained in today's society.
       But even in such moments he has his moments:
My delirium of interpretation was the response of a man terrified by his own audacity, the attempt to attain the seeming calm of an initiate and bite mystery on the shoulder as if it were a woman.
       Much of The Passive Vampire is, indeed, a 'delirium of interpretation'. There is certainly some appeal to it -- here is a mind thinking and feeling out of most of the conventional boxes -- but also only within limits. Still, at only a hundred-odd pages, it's a worthwhile surreal ride.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 March 2010

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The Passive Vampire: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Ghérasim Luca lived 1913 to 1994.

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