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  • Vampires, fantômes et apparitions: nouveaux essais de pneumatologie littéraire par Daniel Sangsue
  • Colin Davis
Vampires, fantômes et apparitions: nouveaux essais de pneumatologie littéraire. Par Daniel Sangsue. (Savoir lettres.) Paris: Hermann, 2018. 303 pp.

Vampires and ghosts roamed widely through the nineteenth century, or, at least, through its literature. This book builds upon, and to some extent presupposes, its author’s previous work, especially Fantômes, esprits et autres morts-vivants: essai de pneumatologie littéraire (Paris: José Corti, 2011). Terminologically, Daniel Sangsue prefers ‘pneumatologie’ to alternatives such as ‘hantologie’ or ‘fantomologie’, for contextual reasons. The latter terms resonate respectively with the work of Derrida, and of Abraham and Torok, whereas ‘pneumatologie’ — from the Greek pneuma, meaning breath or spirit — was already in use in the nineteenth century. This conceptual scruple preserves historical context, it but may also restrict the interest of the book for readers concerned with why and how, from the very beginnings of culture to the present day, the dead are somehow felt to be still among us. In practice, we are offered astute, expert readings of works by Nodier, Dumas, Gautier, Balzac, Verne, Baudelaire, Flaubert, and others. One chapter compares Western and Chinese ghosts, and feels slightly out of place. The author concedes that a significant blind spot here is the failure to confront the representation of the supernatural as a diabolical manifestation (p. 13). His preferred revenants are benevolent rather than infernal. Although he underlines that ghosts, vampires, and zombies are an important part of modern culture, he avoids generalizing about the significance of the phenomenon. A list of recent novels involving ghosts elicits a reference to one of the author’s other works, but on this occasion there is little analysis of why a nineteenth-century theme persists in the present (p. 15). And in case you were wondering, Sangsue is fully aware of the relevance of his own name to his research topic: ‘Il y a près de trente ans, j’ai commencé par étudier les vampires, motivé au départ, je dois l’avouer, par le désir espiègle de transformer mon nom en aptonyme’ (p. 8). The essays included here might have been of wider interest if they had incorporated an attempt to think through the conceptual and interpretive implications of the topic. As it stands, this is a very good collection which will be of great interest to specialists in the field.

Colin Davis
Royal Holloway, University of London


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