Monster in a Box: The Phonograph in Stoker's Dracula
...the reality of power belonged to he who was able to reproduce the divine world, not he who gave it voice on a daily basis. Possessing the means of recording allows one to monitor noises, to maintain them, and to control their repetition within a determined code.
We were all silent; we could do nothing.
Bram Stoker (D 347)
For anyone who has not read Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula but has seen one of the numerous cinematic renditions, it may come as a surprise to learn that Stoker's tale is less concerned with vampires than it is with technology. The railroad system, telegraphy, shorthand, typewriters, and phonographs are as central to the novel as the vampire himself; in fact, these technologies do not only aid the character's search for and destruction of the vampire, but they largely compose and produce the novel itself. Numerous scholars have elaborated on the significance of these machines. However, few have examined the phonograph's unique role in Stoker's drama, where it acts as the vampire's mirror image. Dracula's control over others (particularly animals, buildings, and women) depends largely upon the power of his voice to compel silence or servitude on his legions. The vampire's voice, moreover, is not contained within the boundaries of space and time, but, like a telegraph or telephone, can transmit his messages instantly across great distances.
While the phonograph is limited to recording and reproducing sound only within specific parameters, it can do something Dracula cannot: it can transform sound into writing. It is this power-a power clearly defined as a product of western civilization and scientific reason-which finally enables those crusading against Dracula to defeat him. By relying upon machines to determine the outcome of their battle, the crusaders effectively transfer control over the production of language and meaning to the devices themselves, as opposed to the human agents who built the machines. This, I believe, is why the final struggle between Dracula and the crusaders occurs through the body of Mina Harker, who brings together the mythical powers of Dracula's ancestry and the scientific powers of modern England. In this way, the novel becomes less a conflict between good and evil or human and machine. Rather, it is a struggle in which the foundations of language, authority, and power are questioned but finally maintained by reestablishing control over one woman and her voice.
II. Metallic Whispers
It is probable that Dr. Seward's phonograph was a variation of the Edison Class M Electric Phonograph, which was first commercially produced in 1889 by the North American Recording Company. The device in question employed a wax cylinder and was powered by a two-and-a-half volt DC motor. It could record and reproduce sound, and had numerous attachments for more specific functions. It was, moreover, specifically designed for professional pursuits and not for entertainment, since it came equipped with a stand upon which a typewriter or other business tool might be placed. Hence, Seward's phonograph is specifically designed as a tool, a means of recording information in an expedient manner. At the same time, however, this machine was one of Edison's 1888 "perfected" phonographs, unveiled in England "during the Handle Festival at the Crystal Palace," where a recorded message from Edison (made a month earlier in New York) was played to the crowd and another phonogram recorded a performance of Handel's "Israel in Egypt." Even if Edison's phonograph is not the phonograph found in Dracula, the dual roles that the phonograph played at this time suggests the marketing shift referred to in the preceding chapter. This shift corresponds to the device's movement from the social and male-dominated worlds of business and "high" culture to the female-dominated domestic sphere and "low" or popular culture.
In regards to this historical context, it is interesting to note that a man and a woman, Dr. Jack Seward and Lucy Westenra own the two phonographs mentioned in Dracula. Such a move would seem to call attention to the phonograph's shifting social function, for it would highlight the technology's increasingly important role within the domestic sphere. However, since Seward uses the machine to record the case studies and journal entries that are included in the novel, his phonograph is evident throughout the novel. Lucy Westenra's phonograph, on the other hand, is almost entirely effaced, except for a brief aside in one of Seward's own entries, in which he remarks, "I am entering this on Lucy's phonograph" (D 194). In fact, as it is Seward's voice transcribed onto that cylinder, the phonograph itself becomes gendered male-and not only male, but a doctor, who uses the machine for the benefit of his scientific research. By negating Lucy Westenra's role in regards to the phonograph, Dracula reinscribes the assumption that the talking machine is a tool for businessmen and scientists.
To position the phonograph in such a way, however, is to suggest that the mechanical sounds emanating from the device are transparent impressions of the written words that Mina Harker eventually transcribes onto her typewriter. On the contrary, the role which sound itself plays in the novel suggests that a limited reading of the phonograph is not complete. Early on, Jonathan Harker, trapped in Dracula's castle, overhears "a sound in the courtyard without-the agonized cry of a woman." The woman, he realizes, has come to beg the monster to return her child. She screams, tears her hair, and "abandoned herself to all the violence of extravagant emotion" (D 61). Then, Harker writes,
Somewhere high overhead, probably on the tower, I heard the voice of the Count calling in his harsh, metallic whisper. His call seemed to be answered from far and wide by the howling of wolves. Before many minutes had passed a pack of them poured, like a pent-up dam when liberated, through the wide entrance into the courtyard. (D 61)
The terminology that Harker uses to describe Dracula's voice ("harsh" and "metallic") suggests the antithesis of the woman's frightened but human sounds. The description of the voice suggests a cold, calculating creature that operates solely on drive and is bereft of any understanding of human emotions or empathy for his victims. In short, Dracula is the embodiment of a machine, which, rather than acting as a tool for the benefit of its human agents, proceeds to suck the life out of them. Like the phonograph, Dracula's "metallic" voice both entices and repels those who oppose him. Consequently, both machines often seem human, but only to the extent that they can accomplish their inevitable aim: namely, the preservation of their own immortality.
In many ways, Dracula's untiring ability to consume any living being exemplifies the very media culture that the phonograph helped instigate. As Jennifer Wicke notes, "Dracula's own biorhythms are...very much those of everyday life under the altered conditions of the mass cultural; Dracula must consume on a daily basis." "Consuming," in this case, does not imply passivity or a passive consumer; rather, it implies a menacing, omnivorous force bent upon the annihilation of social customs and values. In fact, the count's power resides in his ability to call attention to the sexual and violent desires buried beneath the veneer of social order. In Dr. Van Helsing's words, Dracula is able to "come out from anything or into anything, no matter how close it be bound or even fused up with fire" (D 290). In this, he suggests both sound's own multiplicitous trajectories (its ability to be heard from every angle) and the novel's fascination with surveillance-the fear that, at any moment, he might be listening.
Dracula is, in many ways, an aural novel. Aberrant noises, strange or unusual voices, and other creepy sounds permeate every page. Such sounds, moreover, are rarely familiar: they are either enticing or erotic, as in the case of Lucy's fascination with Mr. Morris' American slang (D 77), or else menacing and dangerous, as with the "barking and howling" dog during the sea captain's funeral (D 117). There is an uncertainty about the sounds in this book that is strikingly consistent with the crusader's inability to fully textualize or contain them. This unfamiliarity is magnified by Jonathan Harker's early confrontation with the count. Because of his position as a foreigner with little knowledge of the local language, Harker is conscious of what he hears; this attentiveness, moreover, translates into a hyper-awareness of other sounds, such as the noises made by dogs and wolves, whose howling functions as Dracula's leitmotif. En route from a small village to Dracula's castle, Harker and his driver (whom, he later learns, is Dracula himself) encounter numerous animals who are howling in "a long, agonised wailing, as if from fear" (D 17). The noise frightens the horses, whom Dracula pacifies by whispering "something in their ears" (D 17). Later in the journey, after the howling subsides, Dracula leaves the coach and runs into the forest. While he is absent, "the horses began to tremble worse than ever and to snort and scream with fright" (D 18). The wolves suddenly begin howling, and Harker "shouted and beat the side of the caèche, hoping by the noise to scare the wolves from that side, so as to give him [Dracula] a chance of reaching the trap. How he came there, I know not, but I heard his voice raised in a tone of imperious command, and looking towards the sound, saw him standing in the roadway" (D 18-19). Dracula's movements evade visual recognition, so the only sense available to Harker is his hearing. However, the sound of the count's voice is overwhelming; it silences both the animals and Harker, who "was afraid to speak or move" (D 19).
The power that the Count holds over his prisoner emerges in his voice: his "low, sweet ripple of laughter" (D 66), his endless conversations, which investigate every aspect of London and English legal code that Harker can muster, and the sound of nails being hammered into Dracula's coffin for his transport to England (D 68). Such sounds reinforce Harker's helpless position as victim, or prisoner, to Dracula's whims, while simultaneously suggesting the Count's purpose in detaining Harker. This link between sound and the fear of Dracula's voice is duplicated when the scene shifts to England. As Harker later notes, "I think the feeling [of dread] was common to us all, for I noticed that the others kept looking over their shoulders at every sound and every new shadow, just as I felt myself doing" (D 301). Similarly, Dracula's appearances before Lucy, Renfield, and Dr. Seward are all represented in specifically aural terms: he is represented either as the sound of a bat flapping against a window (D 174-5, 200), as a barking dog (D 117, 309), or, in Renfield's case, as a "a noise like thunder" (D 335). While writing attempts to paint a picture, fix an image, or encapsulate an emotion, Dracula's voice renders such attempts futile, thereby negating the strength that the crusaders hold over their enemy.
Dracula's "unnatural" powers are naturalized and logically understood as a power over sound; his voice, by extension, is the medium through which he is able to transcend logic and exceed the limits of space and time. This is most evident in his telepathic control over Mina, which I will discuss later. What Dracula desires, however, is access to the noise, chaos, and technological dominance of Harker's modern culture. In one of their earliest conversations, Dracula outlines to Harker why he finds London so appealing:
I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its charge, its death, and all that makes it what it is. But alas! as yet I only know your tongue through books. To you, my friend, I look that I know it to speak. (D 28)
Dracula's desire is to be surround in "life" and sound, to be enveloped in the cacophonic turbulence of a city to an extent that writing is incapable of attaining. In a way, his eagerness to embrace modern civilization is principally derived from an economic need "to modernize the terms of his conquest, to master the new imperial forms and to learn how to supplement his considerable personal powers by the most contemporary understanding of the metropolis." All the same, Dracula's own fear-that "as yet I only know your tongue through books"-suggests the difficulties that such an expedition would face. Dracula's powers derive from a culture in which writing is secondary to speech. His greatest fear, in fact, is that he will be unable to properly speak with a London accent and, therefore, not properly assimilate into this culture. Although Dracula understands the importance of writing and books, he misinterprets the locus of power within this modernized world. That is, he ignores Harker's acknowledgment that "you know and speak English thoroughly" by responding that, "True, I know the grammar and the words, but yet I know not how to speak them" (D 28). He fears that, in London, he would be seen a stranger-a passive position which Harker himself holds during this conversation. He would be denied power to shape or define others; as he says, "I have been so long master that I would be master still-or at least that none other should be master of me" (D 28). Dracula sees control emanating exclusively through his ability to control the subtleties of sound; what he does not understand is the fundamental power of the written word.
III. Writing, Memory, and Meaning
"Let me begin with facts-bare, meagre facts, verified by books and figures, and of which there can be no doubt" (D 42). Jonathan Harker's initial encounter with Dracula orients the reader into the supernatural world of vampirism, savagery, and doom, while focusing one's attention upon the principle weapons against such depravity: namely, careful and complete documentation of all events. "Remember, my friend," Van Helsing counsels Dr. Seward, "that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker.... I counsel you, put down in record even your doubts and surmises" (D 157). Writing itself is crucial to the crusader's mission against Dracula, for it is in and through writing that the count's uncanny hold over Lucy, Renfield, and Mina Harker can be examined, broken apart, and rationalized. "It is," Rosemary Jann notes, "as if the very act of ordering details and writing them down verifies the experience as authentic, even if the meaning is not fully understood at the time." Writing, in fact, comes to occupy the emotional center of the crusader's struggle; in order to believe in Dracula and vampirism, it must first be written down. Jonathan Harker, for instance, notes: "I must keep writing at every chance, for I dare not stop to think. All, big and little, must go down; perhaps at the end the little things may teach us most" (D 345). Later, Harker reaffirms this directive: "Mina and I fear to be idle, so we have been over all the diaries again and again. Somehow, although the reality seems greater each time, the pain and the fear seem less" (D 374). To believe in Dracula is to renounce logic; by focusing upon written documentation, the characters seek a means of reclaiming logic by authenticating their experiences. In other words, they need to find a way to align their experiences within their culture's belief systems.
Because of the ambivalent relationship between reason and superstition in Dracula, it is not surprising that science would occupy a mediating center: a space through which the "unnatural" might be processed into logical and coherent sense. It is, after all, the two scientists, Van Helsing and Seward, who are able to discover the enemy and ascertain his weaknesses. At the same time, the otherworldly content of this information, although gathered in a "scientific" manner, directly contradicts many of the fundamental claims which "normal science" held at this time. In an important exchange midway through the novel, Van Helsing admonishes Seward for accepting hypnosis as a scientific fact while dismissing telepathy or Mesmerism as trivial parlor games. In doing so, as John Greenway points out, "Van Helsing ... raises a fairly subtle issue in [the] philosophy of science and a difficult issue for Seward: how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience." In fact, what Van Helsing offers is an historical view of science's conception of truth. This is evident when he tells Seward, "there are things done to-day in electrical science which would have been deemed unholy by the very men who discovered electricity-who would themselves not so long before have been burned as wizards" (D 236). To read truth itself as subject to question is to challenge the very ideology foregrounded by the crusaders' own struggle against evil. In this context, the institution of science is personified in Seward's rigid adherence to "a world of sentimental conventions," where "social theory informs...scientific views."
In this scene, Van Helsing is attempting to persuade Seward to accept a myth (that of vampirism) as a subject for scientific inquiry. In this case, the purpose behind science is reconfigured to incorporate phenomenon outside the logical boundaries that contain "normal" scientific discourse. The debate between these scientists is a reflection of English culture in the 1890s, where the desire to find scientific proof for the supernatural was widespread. At the same time, the very "leap of faith" required to undertake such an investigation is replicated in the novel's obsession with technologic devices-specifically, in the instruments used to write the diaries and letters which comprise the book. Technologies like the phonograph, the typewriter, and shorthand function in a manner similar to the gimmicks used in James Bond films-that is, as novelties designed to emphasize the powers and resources at work on the side of good. Just as clever gimmicks enable Bond to escape death at the very last moment, so too do these technologies enable the group to understand, locate, and destroy Dracula. By enabling victory, the mechanisms come to occupy a position in the narrative that exceeds their original purpose. As Mina Harker cryptically notes, "there is...something about the shorthand symbols that makes it different from writing" (D 96); by this, she suggests the very fascination which these instruments hold for the characters. Her sentiments, likewise, parallel her husband's explanation as to why Dracula does not destroy his shorthand-written journal: "I am sure this diary would have been a mystery to him which he would not have brooked" (D 55). The scratchings of shorthand, like the markings of a phonograph cylinder, cannot be read without first being decoded. It is this decoding that enables the technologies to transcend their material forms.
The physical markings on the phonographic cylinder (that is, the sound of Seward's voice) both highlight technology's uncanny connection to the supernatural and foreground the anxiety that such a connection presents. As Wicke notes, "Seward's diary constitutes the immaterialization of a voice, a technologized zone of the novel, inserted at a historical point where phonography was not widespread, because still quite expensive, but indicative of things to come." While Wicke suggests the relative novelty of the apparatus, her reference to the "immateriality" of the voice suggests less a phonographic recording than Mina Harker's transcription of that recording. In other words, Seward's act of speaking into a horn is a particularly unsettling event for a narrative intent upon destroying a figure that controls others by controlling sound.
The phonograph is most evident in Mina Harker's journal for 29 September, where she recounts a visit to Dr. Seward's study. Just outside the door, she notes, "I thought I heard him talking with some one." When she enters the room, however, she says, "To my intense surprise, there was no one with him. He was quite alone, and on the table opposite him was what I knew at once from the description to be a phonograph. I had never seen one, and was much interested" (D 268-69). The fact that she had never seen a phonograph is itself unusual: since Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker were so close, one would assume that Harker would have knowledge of the possessions in her room (especially such a luxury as a phonograph was at this time). Moreover, by mistaking Seward's recorded voice for another, human voice, she foregrounds the very debate over authenticity which were raised in the Scientific American article mentioned in the previous chapter. Her interest in the voice is also reminiscent of Dracula's own voice holds, both as an enticing force that seduces one's ears and as a sound that dispels logic and reduces the listener to confusion and silence. "Why, this beats even shorthand!" she exclaims. "May I hear it say something?" These reactions highlight her fascination with yet another mechanism that speeds up the process of gathering information. Likewise, her comments serve to direct her attention to the machine's voice. She proceeds to ask if she might hear how her friend Lucy was killed, to which Seward, "with a horrorstruck look in his face," replies: "Tell you of her death? Not for the wide world!" (D 269). Seward's unwillingness to impart the gruesome information surrounding Lucy's death is understandable; however, his reaction is almost hysterical. What instigates Seward's anxiety is the idea that Mina would hear his voice describe the events, rather than allowing the information to be unveiled in such a way that the immediate horrors would be less apparent. The phonograph's power, here, is to make events themselves too real to be contained within the arbitrary and neutral domain of information.
Moreover, after Harker questions the doctor's unease, he suddenly admits that, "although I have kept the diary for months past, it never once struck me how I was going to find any particular part of it in case I wanted to look it up" (D 269). Although the phonograph is an expedient way to keep records, the phonographic messages effectively separate the speaker from the stored information. Moreover, in the process of retrieving information, the act of listening to the phonograph is unable to excise or censor itself. As Harker later exclaims to Seward, "This is a wonderful machine, but it is cruelly true. It told me, in its very tones, the anguish of your heart. It was like a soul crying out to Almighty God. No one must hear them spoken ever again!" (D 271). Upon saying this, she proceeds to make her exclamation a reality by transcribing the contents of Seward's cylinders onto her typewriter. As Rosemary Jann notes, the "subjective experience" of the phonographic recording is here "ordered into reality and made factual" by Mina's typewritten distillation of sound to text (D 283). In effect, information loses its objective power when it is stored on a phonographic cylinder; consequently, it becomes necessary to translate Seward's voice into written text to reclaim that objectivity. The anxiety between sound and self, revealed through the phonographic recording, is too powerful; it must be silenced into letters, words, and sentences.
While the passages in Stoker's novel containing references to the phonograph are brief and generally tangential to the larger narrative, they foreground the central role which sound and technology play in the struggle between the crusaders and the count. This struggle is embodied in the novel's ambivalent reaction to technology's crucial role in the writing process. This is most evident late in the novel, when Dracula gains access to Seward's study and destroys the doctor's phonographic cylinders, along with "all the manuscripts" (D 341). By doing this, the count seeks to erase the evidence heretofore gathered by the crusaders, thus nullifying their ability to defeat him. This move, however, is defeated because Dracula is unable to recognize the chief advantage of both writing and technology: their reproducibility. "Thank God there is the other copy in the safe" (D 341), Seward notes, referring to the typewritten copy Mina Harker transcribed in triplicate off Seward's cylinders.
The count's understanding of information and knowledge suggests Walter Benjamin's statement that "the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity." Benjamin's notion of "presence," here, is similar to Derrida's use of the term, in that an original object possesses an "aura" which separates it from all other objects, thereby transforming it beyond its materiality to a level of immanent significance. To Dracula, the "aura" of the journals and records resides in the cylinders, for they hold the doctor's stored voice. However, as Benjamin also notes, "the age of mechanical reproduction," which begins with the phonograph, "detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence." Although the phonographic voice is destroyed in the above scene, the information that it contains is not destroyed because its status as a sound object is not the determining factor of its significance.
Before mechanically reproduced art, authenticity enabled a particular work to achieve a position of authority that, according to Benjamin, was centered "in ritual, the location of its original use value." By "use value," Benjamin is working from a Marxist framework that reads the worker, the producer of commodities, as "degraded to the most miserable sort of commodity," entirely separated from the objects which they make. This is to say "the object that labour produces, its product, confronts [the worker] as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labour is labour that has solidified itself into an object, made itself into a thing, the objectification of labour." As Mina Harker's misrecognition of Seward's voice demonstrates, the phonograph effectively transforms the act of recording into an exterior and alien object that separates the speaker from his/her voice. Consequently, although technology enables the narrators to search for Dracula, the result is a loss of discursive power. As Heidegger notes in his famous essay on technology, "Technology is not demonic; but its essence is mysterious." The "essence" of technology-what links the material object to universal or transcendent ideals, including cultural or political ideologies-produces an agentival shift whereby human subjects are dislocated from their positions as makers and definers of meaning. The "mystery" behind this "essence" of technology, in other words, is its ability to elide the "trace" through which language, power, and meaning are determined.
Benjamin, in his essay, seeks to demonstrate that the power of a work of art is transferred in the age of mechanical reproduction from the artistic product to the means of production. In other words, in the twentieth century, the power to "make meaning" resides with those who control the technologies of mechanical reproduction. In Stoker's novel, the phonograph and the typewriter negate Dracula's belief that, in destroying the cylinders, he is insuring his own immortality or "aura." Hence, Dracula does not regain any semblance of "aura" by destroying the cylinders or manuscripts; rather, the "aura" is remade by the very technologies that ensure the safety of the information contained within the journals and diaries. The power to shape and define a given culture is thereby dependent upon having the technologic capacity to record and store information.
To control technology implies an ability to shape and determine meaning within a given culture. Ironically, this is the same power and the same threat that Dracula himself embodies to the crusaders. Dracula represent a threat not only because he is a vampire but also because he embodies the inversion of the moral and social framework governing western culture. Van Helsing, the Harkers, and the rest do not fight solely to protect themselves from becoming vampires but to prevent the pollution of western civilization. As Van Helsing notes, "if we fail in this our fight he must surely win....we become as him; that we henceforward become foul things of the night like him-without heart or conscience, preying on the bodies and the souls of those we love best. To us for ever are the gates of heaven shut; for who shall open them to us again?" (D 287). To fail is to be denied the benefits and rewards of western culture; in that case, the crusaders would become monsters ruled by a power that they could not destroy.
Desire-specifically sexual desire-is, of course, a central theme in this novel. The desire for technology, however, is rarely (if at all) mentioned by scholars, despite the fact that the most specific moment of sexual desire is the technologizing of the body and mind of Mina Harker. At the same moment that the phonograph cylinders were burning, the two Harkers, left alone, encounter Dracula, who immediately tells Mina, "Silence! If you make a sound I shall take [Jonathan] and dash his brains out before your very eyes" (D 342). Thereupon the count takes blood from Mina, who, "strangely enough ... did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is a part of the horrible curse that such is, when his touch is on his victim" (D 342-3). When the blood is drained and Harker has nearly passed out, Dracula "mockingly" condemns her:
And so you, like the others, would play your brains against mine. You would help these men to hunt me and frustrate me in my designs! You know now, and they know in part already, and will know in full before long, what it is to cross my path.... You have aided in the thwarting me; now you shall come to my call. When my brain says "Come!" to you, you shall cross land or sea to do my bidding; and to that end this! (D 343-44)
Upon saying this, Dracula opens a vein in his chest and forces Mina to drink his blood. This exchange "is on one level part of the supernatural machinery of the novel," for it is both telepathic and technologic. Because of this bloodletting, Harker becomes a telephone. This allows Dracula both to command her thoughts and listen to his enemy's conversations.
By transforming Mina Harker into a machine, Dracula is able to control her actions, desires, and responses. While this enables the monster to acquire information about his enemies that he could not otherwise obtain, it also serves to dramatize Harker's very ambiguous position within the novel. Although her intelligence and technical abilities far surpass those of other characters, she is also perceived as the ideal example of Victorian femininity. This contradiction appears to elicit an uncertain responses on the part of the men who surround her; however, her unique talents only inspire admiration. As Van Helsing notes, "Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man's brain-a brain that a man should have were he much gifted-and woman's heart. The good God fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when He made that so good combination" (D 284). Although there is hint of misogyny in these comments, they are intended as a compliment, as a means of verifying Harker's worth. He accomplishes this, moreover, not by emphasizing her embodiment of both male and female characteristics, but by demonstrating that she transcends gender roles and embodies all that is good and pure in English culture. It is specifically the need to justify their culture, to serve "a purpose," which enables Harker to achieve such a distinction: to unite disparate and potentially destructive identities and transcend the anxiety brought about by Dracula's British invasion.
Dracula's vampiric "tainting" of Harker, however, threatens this fusion of male and female, body and mind, logic and emotion. As a result, Harker herself-and, by extension, the men who "worship" her-are removed from positions of moral and cultural superiority because the very source of their power is itself questioned. This is made evident when Van Helsing attempts to administer a "Sacred Wafer" to Mina Harker's forehead, in order to cleanse her "in the name of the father, the Son, and--" (D 352). Before Van Helsing can finish, the wafer sears her, burning "into the flesh as though it had been a piece of white-hot metal." The result of this "was a fearful scream which almost froze our hearts to hear," followed by Harker's own proclamation: "Unclean! Unclean!" (D 352-3). In effect, Harker's fusion with Dracula positions her as an abject body, which Julia Kristeva describes as a "violent, dark revolt of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable." The abject is an inversion: a negative force within a positive terrain. In Kristeva's reading, abjection does away with binaries altogether, by destroying the borders that separate in from out, or (in this case) Dracula's vampirism from English culture. In its positive sense (the way Kristeva reads it), the abject is a force that exceeds language by embodying a conception that cannot be fixed or defined. In Dracula, however, Harker's abject body negates the role that enabled the men surrounding her to define themselves: namely, the role of idealized "mother." Whereas Harker's body previously brought disparate forces together, creating a unified whole, her link with the count effectively reveals this "whole" as a hole: an absent space masquerading as real. Consequently, in order to reclaim control over language and narrative, Dracula's telepathic link must be systematically (that is, scientifically) broken down or redefined.
The use of Mina Harker as a telecommunications device enables Dracula to control Harker while simultaneously "listening in" on her compatriots conversations. It allows him to discover their plans to destroy his coffins; with this knowledge, he is able to escape on a ship heading towards Transylvania. By empowering Harker, the count effectively inverts the very technologic and scientific power which the crusaders themselves saw as their greatest strength (as Van Helsing notes, "We have on our side power of combination-a power denied to the vampire kind; we have sources of science; we are free to act and think; and the hours of the day and the night are ours equally" [D 288]). Under Dracula's power, Harker begins to change her physical appearance. As Seward notes, "I can see the characteristics of the vampire coming into her face.... Her teeth are some sharper, and at times her eyes are more hard. But these are not all, there is to her the silence now often; as so it was with Miss Lucy" (D 382). Seward's observations help link her condition to that of Lucy Westenra; however, Mina is not Lucy: she has a "man's brain" and is therefore capable of scientific and logical thought. These attributes enable her to overcome her physical alterations. For example, it is Harker's own understanding of her situation that enables her to command her husband "not [to] tell me anything of the plans formed for the campaign against the Count" (D 385), for she knows that whatever she learns Dracula, too, will learn. Likewise, it is Harker who discovers a way of tapping the telepathic waves in her head, when she says to Van Helsing, "I want you to hypnotise me!" (D 370).
Although Harker is telepathically connected to Dracula, her physical body is still with her partners. In other words, although the count controls Mina Harker, the machine, he does not have direct access to its parts, nor can he control entirely how the machine itself behaves. Consequently, as Seward asks, "perhaps the same power that compels her silence may compel her speech" (D 381); in other words, if the link between Dracula and Harker could somehow be located and understood, perhaps its effect could be reversed in their favor. The act of hypnosis, therefore, serves to reposition the mechanism of telepathy back into a framework understood and discerned by science. Hypnosis, according to Van Helsing and Seward, is a proven scientific fact, defined and explored by Jean-Martin Charcot in the mid-nineteenth century (D 235). In Mina Harker's case, however, science is intertwined with the supernatural events associated with Dracula's telepathic powers. This is most evident in the uncanny hypnosis scene where Van Helsing's hand movements above and around Harker's face force the woman into unconsciousness, whereupon she awakens with "a far-away look in her eyes" (D 370). The reduction of Harker's body to a passive state occurs silently; once under Van Helsing's control, however, it is only in and through the voice that they can control her. "The answer came dreamily," Jonathan Harker's narrative notes, "but with intention; it were as though she were interpreting something. I have heard her use the same tone when reading her shorthand notes" (D 370-71). Her voice is both dream-like and "with intention," spiritual and scientific: a description that suggests the very fusion of binaries necessary for Harker's body to transcend its material form.
While most of the questions are answered with an "I do not know," Van Helsing's question, "What do you hear?" provides a different response: "The lapping of water" (D 371). This fact reveals to the crusaders that Dracula is somewhere near water, probably in a boat; from here, they deduce the Count's motives and his logical destination. At the same time, this clue highlights the significance of auditory power in the novel. Before this moment, Dracula's was able to use the power of sound against the group; here, however, it is sound itself which empowers the crusaders, for it not only reveals the count's whereabouts but does so by controlling the Count via his telepathic double. From this point forward, the novel's eventual outcome is assured, for by reclaiming Mina's voice from Dracula the crusaders manage to technologically reproduce the monster's voice, pinpoint his trajectory, and otherwise render his material body immaterial.
In his analysis of technological writing and Dracula, Fredrich Kittler notes that "No despot can survive when a whole multimedia system of psychoanalysis and textual technologies goes after him" (DN 356). While despotism seeks to destroy a civilization's entire framework and replace it with the tyrant's own image, technology makes that image immaterial, something that can be reproduced and redistributed at will by whoever runs the photocopier. In effect, this is the result of Dracula's search for and destruction of its monster. What Stoker's novel really comes down to is a struggle between two cultures: one centered upon a romantic notion of truth and beauty and the other focused upon a desire to modernize and harmonize the world through progress. Dracula's romantic belief in the power of human bodies and voices is, in this narrative, no match for the overwhelming force of technology and all it represents. Ironically, the result of this modernization is a reinscription of the same "romantic" values and beliefs that were initially questioned by the advent of the phonograph: namely, the primacy of the "word," the hierarchy of gender, class, and race, and the link between science and authority. Consequently, the ideological tropes that shape and configure this culture are reinvented in Dracula alongside developments in technology and science.
1 Jacques Attali, Noise: or The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1985), 87.[back]
2 See, for instance, Jennifer Wicke, "Vampiric Typewriting: Dracula and It's Media," ELH 59 (1992): 467-493; John L. Greenway, "Seward's Folly: Dracula as a Critique of 'Normal Science,'" Stanford Literature Review 3 (1986): 213-230; and Nina Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1995).[back]
3 I use the term "crusaders" to refer to the group of men and women who comprise the authors and principal characters of Stoker's novel. I do this principally because I cannot think of a more convenient way of speaking of the group as a whole. Moreover, the term "crusaders" seems well suited to a novel that has, at its heart, a Grail-like quest for the restoration of good and the destruction of evil.[back]
4 "The Edison Phonograph," Illustrated London News, July 14, 1888, 1-2.[back]
5 Seward basically repeats this note in his diary entry for 18 September: "I shall take this cylinder with me, and then I can complete my entry on Lucy's phonograph" (D 182).[back]
6 Wicke, 479.[back]
7 His departure would later be explained by Dracula himself as a "superstition": "it was commonly believed that on a certain night of the year-last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked sway-a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed" (D 30). In effect, Dracula's departure into the woods in search for treasure positions him (like his fascination with sounds) in the oral culture that Harker's "modern" world specifically dispels.[back]
8 Wicke, 487.[back]
9 Rosemary Jann, "Saved By Science? The Mixed Messages of Stoker's Dracula," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 31 (Summer 1989), 278.[back]
10 Greenway, 222.[back]
11 Ibid., 220.[back]
12 Greenway's article presents a good picture of the scientific discourse surrounding this topic, especially in relation to the study of psychic phenomenon, specifically telepathy. He quotes David Wilson as saying that, although "never accepted by the larger part of the Scientific community, psychic research was certainly not restricted to popular or non-scientific levels for support and sympathy" (224).[back]
13 However, he later writes a letter to Mina in shorthand which the Count sees and promptly incinerates, exclaiming that it "is a vile thing, an outrage upon friendship and hospitality! It is not signed. Well! So it cannot matter to us" (D 57-58). It is not certain whether he destroys it because of what it says (as Harker notes, the letter explains his situation "but without the horrors which I may only surmise. It would shock and frighten her to death were I to expose my heart to her" [D 57]) or because he cannot read it. The latter would make sense, due to Dracula's later incineration of the phonograph cylinders.[back]
14 Wicke, 470-1. Although I agree with Wicke's assessment of the phonograph's role in the novel, she incorrectly describes the device as a "gramophone." As I noted in the previous chapter, although today the two terms are interchangeable, that was not the case in the 1890s.[back]
15 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Illuminations, trans. Hanna Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 220.[back]
16 Ibid., 220.[back]
17 Ibid., 224.[back]
18 Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1977), 77.[back]
19 Ibid., 78.[back]
20 Heidegger, 333.[back]
21 Jann, 282.[back]
22 The surveillance which the Harker-machine makes possible has become a standard in any movie that remotely involves technology. See Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, in particular. Interestingly, the only film version of Dracula to include the phonograph is Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula.[back]
23 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Rudiez (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1982), 1.[back]
24 Leonard Wolf's footnote notes the following regarding Charcot (1825-1893): "a French neurologist and pathologist of international reputation, made significant contributions to psychiatry in his studies on hypnotism. It was Charcot, working with women patients, who defined hypnosis as consisting of three stages: the cataleptic, the lethargic, and the somnambulistic. The cataleptic is the motionless, rigid state produced by the hypnotist using a sharp noise or a sudden light before the eyes; in the lethargic stage the subject appears to be asleep, though there is sound produced by the larynx and foam may appear in the subject's mouth; the somnambulistic state, following on the first two, is the one in which the subject's head droops and he appears to be asleep, though he answers questions freely. It is in this state that the hypnotist can most successfully impose suggestions on the subject" (Dracula 235, fn. 14). He goes on to say that, "Dr. Van Helsing, dealing with Mina, later, seems to go directly to the third stage with her."[back]
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