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Here we go. Week 2 of writing up, and I’ve been spending my time with Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Comparatively, this chapter has been through the most iterations beforehand, so the way forward seemed pretty clear when I began. Again, there was lots of building up my methodological framework and plenty of interweaving with other chapters to be done, and now I’m a little worried that it might be the chapter with the most work still to do when I come back to doing round two of this process.
Still, the week was a pleasure. Some of the highlights included:
- Enjoying what might be the original Victorianist digital humanities project, the Rossetti Archive. What it lacks in an up-to-the-minute appearance, the site more than makes up for in comprehensive detail. It’s an invaluable resource for images of printed texts, manuscripts, and paintings, as well as summarising some of the key foundational critical works dealing with Rossetti’s work.
- Taking advantage yet again of the wealth of texts and information available on Monoskop.org. This week it was a quick canter through Umberto Eco’s The Open Work as well as Gérard Genette’s Paratexts. Not only does it offer full texts in PDF form, but they’re searchable too. I promise, it’s one of the sexiest research tools on the web!
- Coming back to a close reading and just thinking, “Nope. Plain wrong!” It’s wonderful quite how many interpretations a sonnet might hold, particularly if it has the convoluted and condensed syntax and imagery of a Rossettian one! In case you’re wondering, the misreading involved ‘A Superscription’, one of sonnets from “The House of Life” with some real pronoun problems! I think I have now satisfied myself as to what “that” in “the glass” is, but I may have changed my mind again by the time I come back to this chapter, so watch this space.
Image (c) Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University
As part of writing up my thesis, I’ve decided to dedicate a week to each chapter. This week was Michael Field Week.
My Michael Field chapter was the first drafted, almost two years ago, so it inevitably needed a lot of work (if I’m lucky, it’ll be the most work of all my chapters).
The core argument was clear and still solid from when I left it. I’ve presented my overall thinking before, at a Birkbeck conference (the Prezi is online, and I subsequently blogged for BAVS about it). The overall theoretical framework for my thesis has developed hugely, though, and there was a great deal of reframing and signposting to be done, particularly to weave in some of my thinking around cultural techniques, and to create links between this first chapter and the three others that follow. For me, signposting and structural work is always the last thing to happen, and I will forever envy people for whom a definite structure is a starting point.
Some of my highlights of the week, aside from the copious coffee and the fun of editing on paper:
- Needing to rifle through Michael Field’s life-writing, and finding this online archive of their diaries a total lifesaver, as the British Library is now a continent and ocean away! Marion Thain and Ana Parejo Vadillo are progressing a project to transcribe these so that they can be searchable, and I’m hoping to be a part of the team transcribing the 1890s diaries when we get to it.
- Having fun using Sarah Kersh’s wonderful digital edition of Sight and Song (it uses a similar annotation function to COVE and is simply beautiful). I’m hoping to add some of my close readings as annotations to it, and I think it’s a great resource that anyone studying Michael Field should be using.
- Playing around with graphs and charts that Excel and Numbers have to offer. I had a quick visualisation of the rhythm of the volume in my Prezi, which I included in the BAVS blog post, but it was crude. I’m not sure either package quite offers what I need, though, so once I’m going to look further afield once I’m done writing up.
I read an excellent post by Miranda Butler on ‘Carmilla’ on YouTube a little while ago, and I thought it would make an excellent addition to my blog series on Dracula’s legacy. I watched the first two seasons a little while ago and have just finished the first half of Season 3, which only recently came out (the second half is due next week). What follows attempts to avoid spoilers as far as possible, but don’t proceed if you want to watch the whole show without any details about it at all.
As part 2 of a series of posts about how we might apply some of Friedrich Kittler‘s media theory insights and reading of Stoker’s Dracula to modern vampire tales, I thought I would look at Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (2005).
Kostova’s text is concerned with how history is represented, in particular in book form. As I noted in my post about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is an inclination for vampire narratives to focus on old media, manuscripts and books, and the histories that they contain within their pages, legible hundreds of years after the fact of their production, perhaps because these media in some way mirror the ageless and unaging central characters. In his essay on ‘Dracula’s Legacy’, Kittler notes this similarity—with a difference—in observing that “the race of the Count” in Dracula “is the history of Transylvania, his blood a different sort of memory than reference works” (p.150). The Historian seeks to complicate this distinction by producing a vampiric cult that is mediated by texts, and a master vampire who is an obsessive collector thereof.
Although published in 2005, the novel chooses to return to the 1970s as its dominant ‘present day’, with the 1950s and 1930s featuring heavily as flash-backs. There are various personal (and political-historical) reasons why the author felt drawn to these time-periods, but as with Buffy, there is a deliberate authorial choice that limits the possible impingement of technology on the vampire narrative. The real lives of academics in the early 2000s—Google, JSTOR, digital archives, mobile phones, in short, Discourse Network 2000—are deliberately avoided, and the narrative proceeds on the (nostalgic but false) basis of what Kittler has called the “monopoly of writing”, to the extent that the novel often draws on manuscripts, a vellum-bound book inspiring Rossi and Paul, her father’s letters inspiring the narrator.
The Historian does not deny the supernatural power of the vampire, but chooses to inscribe Dracula within the same discourse network in which his foes exist. The Historian goes a step beyond Stoker’s Dracula’s destruction of letters and wax phonograph cylinders in an effort to control the flow of information. Instead, vampires invade the library, and as Paul correctly deduces, seek to impede research into Dracula. Helen is almost killed by a vampire librarian early on in the narrative, who follows them throughout most of their travels, and ipon discovering Rossi, near death, his big revelation is that Dracula too is a scholar who has founded his own secret library.
In a way, then, we can say that Kostova’s Dracula becomes like Kittler’s caricature of Jacques Lacan, who had his seminars recorded and then transcribed for him to read ahead of the next lecture. Kittler notes that in such circumstances “speech has become, as it were, immortal” (‘Legacy’, p.143). Like Lacan, Kostova’s Dracula has become a consumer of his own narratives; he holds a copy of Stoker’s novel in his library and takes an inordinate interest in the writings about him, whereas Stoker’s Dracula hoarded documents only that might prove useful to him (railway timetables and the like). Kittler notes that, “in order to replace the Id with an Ego, to replace violence with technology, it is necessary that one first fall into the clutches of this violence” (p.149). In his analysis of Dracula, this refers to the travels of the characters to Transylvania. Kostova, however, provides a more psychoanalytic account of Dracula’s own development of an Ego, having emerged from the “clutches” of violence into a figure of a literary man. Unlike Dracula, which posits the vampire as backwards and having a “child-brain”, The Historian suggests that even this most bodily and blood-y of demons, the vampire, is inscribed within the discourse networks in which he finds himself. Dracula is a librarian because books have come to rule the world.
We have here, too, what was almost entirely absent in Buffy, with its isolated Slayers and controlling Watchers Council. The Historian proposes a geneology of vampire hunting. The unnamed narrator is at the end of a line of academics who have hunted Dracula: Professor Rossi, his daughter, Helen, and his protege, Paul. This invisible blood connection with vampire hunting combines with the secret societies that are familiar from Buffy. One of the academics who help Paul and Helen gain is Professor Bora, who reveals himself to be part of a secret organisation, derived from the elite of the Janissaries, set against the secret organisation associated with Dracula, the Order of the Dragon. While imprisoned in Dracula’s library, Rossi writes an account of it, which he conceals within the archive. He employs, in lieu of the traditional crucifixes and garlic the same “modern defensive techniques of espionage” as Jonathan Harker (p.152).
While Kittler opposed text and geneaology in his reading of Dracula, reference works and blood are intertwined in The Historian‘s narrator. Dracula has begun to incline towards the former alone, while his hunters are connected through the latter. Espionage against the vampire—Rossi’s account, the novel itself—becomes, involuntarily, counter-espionage; the texts become part of the vampire’s own library, part of his own power, and the Order of the Dragon and its vampiric scholars continue to taunt each new generation of vampire hunters; the novel ends with the narrator, an academic in 2008, receiving the same book that led her father and grandfather towards Dracula. The Historian blurs the lines between vampiric and human modes of knowledge and draws into question the tools at the disposal of those on both sides.
As a change is as good as a rest, I thought I would take some time away from thesis redrafting to write something here about vampires from a media theory perspective. Yes. Vampires. Media theory. Settle in!
One of Friedrich Kittler‘s few extended literary analyses applies toBram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), wherein Kittler invites us to see Dracula’s fight as primarily against new mediums, particularly the typewriter and the gramophone. Here, I want to put Kittler’s reading of Dracula against one of the most influential vampire stories of our own turn of the century, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In this penultimate episode, the series cleaves quite closely to the Red Dragon novel, except this time it is Chilton going up in flames, rather than Freddie. I was wondering how the series would get around the fact that they have already used some of the best images and sequences from the novels, repurposed for previous storylines, and this is the solution. The episode is in two minds about whether it is Frederick or knowledge of Will’s stunt faking Lounds’ death that prompts the Dragon to set fire to Chilton after biting off his lips; when he awakes, Chilton feels pain in his back and on his skin, and asks whether he is burned. The idea seems to take hold with the Dragon, who repeats the word several times, but Jack reads Chilton being set aflame as a ‘copy-cat’ act. Nevertheless, setting Chilton as bait, rather than using Will himself, is an interesting twist. When they discuss it Jack, Will and Alana pretend that they are still trying to set Will up to tempt the Dragon, and that they are using Chilton only for legitimation, so that the Dragon is less able to see the trap, it is clear that this is only a shared delusion of control over the situation. Hannibal confronts Alana about her “professional discourtesy” towards Chilton, knowingly putting him at risk by inviting him to undertake a task that she herself would not.