Friday, 24 February 2012

Q & A with Peter Mario Kreuter, part 2

You've read the 'teaser', now we're back with Peter Mario Kreuter. He staked his claim on the vampire scene with the publication of his 2001 thesis, Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa. Studien zur Genese, Bedeutung und Funktion. Rumänien und der Balkanraum (2001). Here's the rest of his answers1 to my questions.

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Going on the regional scope of your thesis, what are your thoughts on the universal vampire theory, i.e. that the vampire is a supernatural being present in cultures all over the world?

Well... I have my doubts on this. In my opinion, each culture on the world that buries the corpses and does not destroy them fears the dead body in a certain way (with just few exceptions in Africa). So the idea of the revenant is very common in those cultures. But does this necessarily mean that each belief in revenants indicates already a close connection to the vampire? I say – no. The vampire is just one of the many variations of the revenant.

Your research interests include 'Paracelsus and the influence of folk-magic and belief in witches on his work', 'Southeastern European folk belief in demons, particularly vampires' and 'Witches and persecution of witches, particularly in the Danube area'. Is there a correlation between these subjects?

There are several correlations. One of those correlations are the roots, which all of those fields of interest have in popular culture. For vampires and witches, this is clearly visible. But even in the case of Paracelsus, one has to dig deep in popular believes and culture of the 16th century. Another correlation is the fact that Paracelsus builds up his medical theories about diseases on the idea that a disease is caused by the infection of a human being with a bad or evil spirit. Even a witch is in his opinion the victim of a kind of disease… infected by an evil “ascendent”, she is forced to do evil things without wanting it. And there are some more…

Your essay rebutting Heinrich Kuntsmann's theory on the ancient Greek etymological orgins of the word, vampire2, provides many insights into your own theories on vampire's etymological origins. Have you refined your theories since then? Where did 'vampire' originate?

In that case, I have nothing to add. Heinrich Kunstmann never wrote that detailed theory he announced in 1992. Therefore I saw no need to sharpen my own ideas about the etymology.

The same essay also mentions, 'And finally, by the way, I have shown in my own doctoral thesis that the folkloric vampire of the Balkans sucks no blood at all.'3 That's a startling claim in context with historical vampire cases like Plogojowitz and Paole. For those unable to read your thesis (including me!), could you elaborate on that?

OK, here we go – in none of the “classical” reports on vampires from the 18th century, the villagers mention sharp teeth or bloodsucking. Both Arnont Pavle and Peter Plogojowitz killed their neighbours by visiting them and doing something like “killing them” or “pressing them to death”. Other vampires of the traditional folk belief neither do anything we can identify as bloodsucking. Blood plays a role, but only when a vampire is detected… “blood” comes out of nose and mouth. We find indeed the word “bloodsucker” in those reports from the 18th century, but one should not forget that none of those military doctors spoke Serbian. We simply don’t now what the Serbs finally said in those reports, how they described those unrotten corpses. We have only the interpretation of the doctors. And that interpretation entered our common image of the vampire.

Which works and/or authors have inspired your own writings on the undead?

I have to admit that I am generally influenced by the English way of “doing history”. It is not only the way of presenting the results of the research part in a clear, modest and nevertheless lively way, but also that open-minded access to history as such. Even if your theory might sound weird, you get some friendly backing. The German tradition is drier, especially when it comes to the moment of writing down your ideas, thoughts and results. No anecdotes, please, we’re German! So the English way of historiography has attracted me in general, not a special author or volume.

You taught a 'proseminar' called 'Heilige, Hexen, Vampire. Religion, Volkskultur und ihre Synkretismen in Mittel- und Südosteuropa (Schwerpunkt: 17./18. Jahrhundert)' over Winter 2009-10. That seems to be your latest teaching gig. Do you intend on teaching any more vampire-related courses?

Yes, my intention is to focus more on popular believes [sic], and that will include of course the vampire. In this winter, I teached [sic] about conspiracy theories in history, and hopefully next winter, I can offer a course about misinterpreted persons in history – and Vlad the Impaler will get his nice and warm place in that course. But also witches and vampires from the folk belief will return on my agenda. They are perfect to demonstrate the methods of cultural and oral history, and they give me the opportunity to focus not only on German history, but to start there a journey throughout the European historiography.

Last year, you mentioned you were 'writing a new book about the popular vampire belief. It will be in English, and the publishing house shall be Palgrave Macmillan.' How's the book coming along?

This volume here <üdosteuropas-frühen-Mittelalter-Gegenwart/dp/3791723685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329855747&sr=8-1> took a lot of my time in the last three years. So now it’s time for other books!

Weighing in at 893 pages, he's not kidding! Geschichte Südosteuropas: Vom frühen Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, 'History of Southeast Europe: from the early Middle Ages to the present', was published November 2011. I'd like to thank Dr. Kreuter for agreeing to this interview spanning 'oceans of time'. For a list of his other publications, click here.

Previous 'Q & A' instalments:
  1. Niels K. Petersen (part 1; part 2)
  2. Martin V. Riccardo (part 1; part 2)
  3. Bruce A. McClelland (part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4)
  4. Thomas J. Garza
  5. Edward Meyer

1. PM Kreuter, 'Finally!!!‏', Wednesday, 22 February 2012 9:02:11 AM.

2. PM Kreuter, 'The name of the vampire: some reflections on current linguistic theories on the etymology of the word vampire', in P Day (ed.), Vampires: myths and metaphors of enduring evil, At the interface/probing the boundaries 28, Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 57-63.

3. ibid., p. 60.

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