Blair McClendon at Bookforum:
THRALL IS A JEFFERSONIAN WORD. In Constructing a Nervous System, the critic Margo Jefferson is enthralled by or to: her mother, her father, Bing Crosby. She suspects Condoleezza Rice is enthralled by or to George W. Bush, and Ike Turner by or to “manic depression and drug addiction, to years of envy, . . . to a Mississippi childhood that was a trifecta of domestic abuse, sexual treachery and racist violence.” A young James Baldwin enthralled the Harlem faithful. Nina Simone refused the thrall of “warring desires.” It’s the last that clarifies the stakes. Thrall, some time after it meant “slave” to Northern Europeans, found a new Gothic use. Dracula, through hypnosis and sheer erotic power, holds his servants and whole towns in his thrall, the better to protect him while he hides from the sun. Those enthralled submit totally, pleasurably. Influence doesn’t always have to provoke anxiety. There is danger of losing oneself, of being absorbed by the force of another’s will and gaze and magnetism, and that’s before they seize upon your neck. But there’s a reason Dracula persists. Beneath our regimens of self-help, self-care, and self-improvement, we might think briefly of annihilation and find it sweet.