EN 4223 – Seminar 12 Material (Dracula, Conclusion)
II. Misogyny, Narrative Hypocrisy/doubleness, Victorian “Separation of the Spheres”
III. Dracula and “Religion”: Like many of the other geopolitical texts we have read, Dracula could be read in quasi-religious terms – as an attempt to move beyond institutional Western religion, into a new form of (syncretic, exploratory, abstract) belief-systems.
In Dracula, the use of ironic parody constantly invokes but also undermines orthodox Christianity. Thus there are a number of Biblical echoes and symbolic parallels: “the blood is the life” is from the Mosaic law in Leviticus 17: 14: “For it is the life of all flesh: the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh; for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.” Dracula as on the one hand the most flagrant violator of this Biblical injunction, gratuitously taking blood; but on the other hand, he is a kind of alternative god – giving life to whomever he chooses (a theoretically eternal life), setting free (from social inhibitions and strictures – he arguably liberates Lucy to do what she, judging from her flirtatious behaviour with the men, had always wanted to do), he commands worship (e.g. from Renfield, who calls him “Lord and Master” p. 298), he is a kind of patriarchal figure (with his vampire brides, and his potential to create a brood of blood-children).
When he says to Mina that she is “flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood,” he is echoing (in paraphrase) Genesis 2: 23: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (typical of his parodic nature, he inserts the “blood of my blood” part).
Perhaps pushing things a little, we might even say that in his basic role of a (sort of) bridegroom coming to steal his bride(s) away from society, and into a kind of secret and spiritualised society, he is a parody (anti-Christ?) of Christ who is described in the Gospels and Revelations as the bridegroom coming to take his bride (the church) away from worldly society, into the spiritual kingdom of heaven. And in his death, there is a kind of Christ-like symbolism? The piercing (not by nails and spear, but by bowie knife), the look of “peace” (Christ as “Prince of Peace”)?
As for the gang of virtue, on the one hand they don the discourse/symbolism of Christianity (Abraham Van Helsing, quasi-Biblical patriarch who teaches his spiritual children the truths of spiritual warfare, battling the forces of evil; the Harkers “going forth to multiply” in quasi-Edenic terms; the use of the crucifix and host, the discourse of “unclean” when Mina is scarred by the host, etc). Yet there is a sense in which they merely play at Christianity/spirituality: their actual project/quest functions at a very earthy, primal level (folklore and superstition – garlic is as effective as the host, if not more so), and Dracula is finally killed by violent primitive weapons (bowie and kukri), not by any spiritual power. Their quest, underneath the moral mumbo-jumbo, is the very primal one of revenge, xenophobia, blood-lust, the hunt/chase/adventure.
In the final analysis, Dracula is about (re)writing, not about real/absolute right-wrong or good-evil: the weaving together of a new syncretic spiritualism, a domain of spiritual possibility in an age of uncertainty. The older Christian discourses of good-evil, spiritual warfare, Christ and anti-Christ, blood/host/crucifix etc, all get written into a more inclusive and general story of impurity and the need for its exorcism and purification. Into this story are also woven in nationalistic/racist elements, xenophobic geopolitics, sexual anxieties, folklore, adventure/romance elements, etc.
Dracula as a symbol/novel of purification, as well as in its eclectic narrative elements, is an example of cultural negotiation, and narrative-as-ritual, in the age of geopolitics. Spiritual purification becomes the antidote to (as well as displacement of) the materialist, social and political realities of geopolitics (racial contact and conflict, immigration, xenophobia, capitalist invasion), permitting at a spiritual/symbolic level a kind of cathartic excess which is not possible in concrete/real terms. At the same time, that narrative of purification cannot be homogenous, and cannot derive homogeneously from the existing religious orthodoxy of the dominant race/culture, because that comes too (ideologically) close to the level of the real geopolitical conflict. The narrative eclecticism serves as further displacement of the real conflict, painting the actual story of geopolitical/racial conflict as a story of (as it were) timeless and borderless good triumphing over evil – i.e. a new spiritualism as “universal” (and thus escaping the geopolitical bind).
IV. End-of-Module Conclusion/summary:
This set of texts have a (literary/social) historical focus (generally last 2 decades of nineteenth century, except Moonstone) and a number of common thematic concerns, although calling them “geopolitical” texts does not deny their overlap with other genres/themes (domestic, detective, realist, colonial, gothic, modernist, etc).
A geopolitical approach does not require that we turn a blind eye to certain thematic interests in order to make these texts “fit” a geopolitical ambit; geopolitics is intended as a means of opening up texts to new readings based on an awareness of a commonly-ignored element – space – and the ways in which we (as individuals in a society) are conscious of, demarcate, negotiate and move through space. That emphasis on space is justified by the anxieties of space in the historical moment we call “geopolitical” – but in terms of methodology, this approach is no different from any other approach which seeks to liberate more meanings in the text by introducing a new/different angle (psychology, gender, sociology, history etc). This means that there is no need for a kind of “crisis of interpretation” simply because new textual elements/themes now come to the fore.
However, exams/projects are a different matter – it is expected that project titles and exam questions will in fact foreground certain themes/approaches at the expense of others (the non-geopolitical ones). Thus is might be helpful to sum up the main (not all) themes and concerns on this module:
1. Obviously, movement/travel (distance/range, vector/direction, speed/manner, subjective impressions/consciousness). Travel themes/literatures are not unique to the late 19th C, but what is perhaps unique is the symbolic and ideological pressure placed on movement/travel, in its association with colonialism, capitalism, modernity/technology, urbanism, etc.
2. Landscapes, maps/mapping, description: particularly peculiar and recurrent landscape features (Shivering Sand, sandbars, divisive/”retrograde” rivers, roads which are re-trodden and thus in effect become circular, anthropomorphic landscapes, etc). Again, these become projections or displacements of the peculiar anxieties of Western Europe at the end of the 19th C.
3. Boundaries and their blurring/confusion (what we have been calling “schizophrenia,” as an attempt to try to arrive at some peculiarity of this late 19th C version of a more general phenomenon – pointing to that peculiarly maddening, disorienting, alienating quality – but which can conceivably be described in ways that don’t rely on the term “schizophrenia”) – not confined to geographical boundaries, but also the ways in which these inevitably invoke other social and cultural boundaries (class, race, economics, gender etc).
4. Capital and capitalism: not just its existence or even its prominence in the world of these texts, but especially its mobility, and its influence on human spatial-social relations.
5. Power relations: a broad term including politics, governance, colonialism, force/violence, race relations, gender etc; but for the narrower purposes of the module, focusing on change and the unsettling of the expected power relations, via the agency of space/movement/land. E.g. in Kim, the way in which the expected colonial power relations are displaced onto the peculiar relationship between Lama and Kim; or in KSM, the way in which the expected story of colonial adventure and exploitation is complicated and deferred through the sub-plot of white-native masculinity united against a hostile and threatening (feminized) landscape.
6. Spiritualism: not as a catalogue of different belief systems, but rather the attempt to blur their boundaries in the writing of a new, inclusive/eclectic and more general system (again, as part of the blurring of cultural boundaries – a kind of geopolitical movement).
7. Supernaturalism: different from the kind of more-or-less conscious geopolitical spiritualist project; a less conscious, deeper/unconscious resurgence/return of repressed elements (especially the “dark” realm of desire, sexuality, violated taboos, miscegenation, violence/death) which cut across conventional/conscious categories and divisions, usually with unpredictable results. In its deep unconscious element, there is arguably a kind of universalizing quality which is pertinent to geopolitical change/movement.
8. Narrative form: not a theme/trope, and overlapping with the kinds of symbolic and representational mechanisms invoked above (things like landscape, race etc). But there seems to be a specific geopolitical role played by narrative form/structure/shape: the narrative as allegory for, and bearing part of the ideological burden of, geopolitical anxiety. I.e. (and at the risk of simplifying somewhat) narrative form as a kind of mapping of consciousness, journey of readerly experience, which echoes or reinforces the geopolitical mapping/journey going on at the thematic level. So we talked about (in admittedly broad strokes – other, and finer, distinctions of narrative form are of course possible) the quasi-“encyclopedic” (Said) nature of the editorial narrative forms of novels like Moonstone and Dracula (reflecting a similar mapping/view of the global world as a big and barely-manageable emporium/encyclopedia of facts); the frenetic and yet also wandering, quasi-circular forms of novels like Sign of Four and Kim (reflecting frenetic and threateningly circular/endless journeys in a filled earth); the individualized, impressionistic and yet also strangely universalizing (because of the many parallelisms) narrative in Outcast, as a narrative reinforcement of the “connected islands” paradox of the filled earth; etc.
Difficult as it may be to sum up the kind of thematic emphasis of a geopolitics module such as this one, we might risk it by saying that we are fundamentally interested in the pressures placed on relationships (both between human individuals, as well as between the individual and his/her consciousness/experience of space) by the socio-economic and cultural changes taking place in late 19th C modernity.
Every reading strategy/approach has to justify itself by its critical/interpretative payout, its ability to differ from (and thus in many ways, to run counter to) other kinds of readings – otherwise, why bother? The main payouts/differentiations offered by a geopolitical approach (while stressing that such an approach doesn’t forbid us from invoking, or combining with, other thematic elements and generic approaches) might be:
1. A deeper awareness of a category/concept which is often ignored or treated as neutral/unchanging in many other readings/approaches – i.e. space; an awareness of its changing, historicized, ideological nature.
2. An inflection against, or nuancing of, the potentially crudifying readings of colonial power/racism, by seeing the surprisingly complex cultural negotiations and displacements (including the varied workings of capital/consumption/professionalism) that cut across colonialism in the age of geopolitics.
3. A potential “opening up” of more spatially-close novels (we saw this to a certain extent with Moonstone – but conceivably this approach could also be brought to bear on texts with even more scant mention of foreign others, e.g. Wuthering Heights? Oliver Twist? Villette?).
4. Finally, there may even be something to be said for an approach like the geopolitical one, which works towards the increasing of critical foci/trajectories – its potentially confusing plenitude is the flip side of a potentially enriching eclecticism/pluralism.