Evolution and Information, or Eroticism and Everyday Life, in Dracula and Late Victorian Aestheticism

  • Regenia Gagnier


In ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs’, Donna Haraway signals three boundary breakdowns causing considerable stress in late twentieth-century life, in which the meaning of life — that is, of the word ‘life’ — is part of the stress.2 These boundary breakdowns are between the human and animal, the human/animal and machine, and, a subset of the second, the physical and non-physical. Biology and evolutionary theory have claimed that human and non-human animals share language, tool use, social behaviour, and mental events, and that nothing really convincingly settles their separation; and advocates of animal rights have repudiated the need for such a separation. The distinction between organism and machine has disappeared with organicism in post-modern life: pre-cybernetic machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous, says Haraway, they were not selves at all, but only a caricature, like Frankenstein’s monster, of the masculinist reproductive dream. Today, machines challenge the difference between natural and artificial, self-developing and externally-designed; moreover, machines are near the hearts of many of us, prolonging our lives mechanically. The distinction between physical and non-physical is further eroded by modern machines, which are quintessentially microelectronic devices, nothing but signals, but are nonetheless, as Haraway says, ‘a matter of immense human pain in Detroit and Singapore’ (p. 70). Sherry Turkle, the anthropologist whose fieldwork is among Hightech Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that in the nineteenth century when machinery was transparent, when as


Unique Existence Mass Society Male Bonding Aesthetic Significance Boundary Construction 
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  1. 1.
    This paper has profited from my conversations with Kelly Hurley, Elizabeth Bohls and Lydia Fillingham, and was first presented at the North East Victorian Studies Association Annual Conference, April 1985, in Providence, Rhode Island. I am grateful to these and, once again, to Regina Barreca.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Donna Haraway, ‘Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, Socialist Review, No. 80 (March-April 1985) pp. 65–107.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sherry Turkle, ‘A New Romantic Reaction: The Computer as Precipitant of Anti-Mechanistic Definitions of the Human’, paper presented at ‘Humans, Animals, Machines: Boundaries and Projections: A Conference on the Occasion of the Centennial of Stanford University,’ April 23–25 1987.Google Scholar
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    Julia Kristeva, P owers of Horror: A n Essay on Abjection, translated by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Evelyn Fox Keller, ‘Language and Ideology in Evolutionary Theory: Reading Cultural Norms into Natural Law’, and Arnold Davidson, ‘The History of Horror: Abomination, Monsters and the Unnatural’, papers presented at Humans, Animals, Machines Conference (see n. 3). Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Passion: An Essay on Personality (New York: The Free Press, 1984) and Knowledge mzd Politics (New York: The Free Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For a summary of the psychoanalytic tradition see James B. Twitchell, The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1981) especially p. l35n.ff. Also Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders (London: New Left Books, 1983). For the feminist tradition, see Nina Auerbach, Woman and the Demon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); Carol A. Senf, ‘Dracula: Stoker’s Response to the New Woman’, Victorian Studies, vol. 26 (1982); Kelly Hurley, ‘Seduction by Surrogate: Stoker’s Dracula’, Sequoia, vol. 28 no. ii (Spring 1984) pp. 24-36. Other references to specific arguments are included in notes below.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Twitchell (n. 6); R. B. Kershner, Jr, ‘Degeneration: The Explanatory Nightmare’, Georgia Review, vol. 40 (Summer 986) pp. 416-44; Montague Summers, The Vampire in Europe (New York: University Books, 1961; first published 1929); and The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1928).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Dracula (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983). All subsequent references in the text are to this edition.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For a full analysis of sexual surrogatism in Dracula, see Kelly Hurley (n. 6).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For the theory of mediated desire see Rene Girard’s Violence and the Sacred (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977); as applied to male bonding through the mediation of women, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia, 1985); and as applied specifically to Dracula, see Christopher Craft, ‘“Kiss me with those red lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, Representations, vol. 8 (Fall1984) pp. 107-33.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    I discuss this at length in my Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorimz Public (Stanford: Stanford University Press and London: Scolar, 1986).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (New York, 1969) pp. 219-54.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Stoker probably saw the print of Vlad Tepes (‘the impaler’) - a Romanian popular heroon exhibition in London in the early 1880s. For the historical Dracula, see Twitchell, p. 133n (n. 6). For another political interpretation of Dracula, see Twitchell, p. 139n (n. 6).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit, 1977) pp. 24, 42.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See Eastman Kodak ’Pocket Kodak’ advertisements of the period and Edward Lyttleton, Memories and Hopes (London: John Murray, 1925) p. 9. For Darwin, see The Autobiography, Editor by Nora Barlow (New York: Norton, 1969) p. 79.Google Scholar
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    Strother Pardy, ’Technopoetics: Seeing What Literature Has To Do With The Machine’, Critical Inquiry, vol. II, no. i (September 1984).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Norman Holland and Antony Niesz, ‘Interactive Fiction’, Critical Inquiry, vol. II, no. i (September 1984).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    All citations are from Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson: An Oxford Love Story (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983).Google Scholar

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© Regina Barreca 1990

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  • Regenia Gagnier

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