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Neo-Victorian #AcWriMo: week 3

Week three is up, and my #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo project is on-track at 36,500 words and counting.

I spent a fair amount of time this week tinkering around with Scalar to try to improve the styling, and I’m increasingly sceptical of the merits of Scalar for digital publishing. It might be useful for people without the time or inclination to produce something independently, but the Scalar 2 interface is currently poor. In the end, I abandoned it and reverted the whole piece back to Scalar 1 in order to get something that was more manageable. In Scalar 2, for example, it proved difficult to change the background colour (because it overlays its grey-and-white page over the top of it) or right-align any text without it intervening into the space left for the annotation tab. The whole structure seems to be under-developed at the moment, so reverting felt like the right thing to do.

I also had to go through the pieces already posted in order to deal with html that followed me from Scrivener. I haven’t used Scrivener for quite a long time, as it didn’t really suit my PhD writing process. Although I still like the organisational structure it gives for chapters and other pieces, which works well for creative projects, for future chapters I’m going to take things first through Atom and do some marking up there, as the Scalar HTML content pane isn’t very friendly for larger pieces (this is one of the few points where the Scalar 2 interface had the upperhand).

In terms of the writing itself, the story is finally branching out from the original, so the amount of creative work required has increased substantially. There’s quite a lot of research to be done, but I’m looking forward to getting the story substantially completed this week, and then getting to work on the framing and final touches. Only 10 days left!


Online publishing and pedagogy: some thoughts from working on NAVSA’s COVE

I have been working on various parts of NAVSA‘s Central Online Victorian Educator (COVE) for six months now, and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the experience, as well as on how COVE might serve educators in the future.


A question of machines

I’m doing some wider reading this week now that I’m in the final stages of revising my PhD, and I started reading through some of Steven Connor’s talks and speeches on machines. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed his writing. Try out How to Do Things with Writing Machines!

‘Carmilla’ and Dracula’s Legacy

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.


The Historian and Dracula’s Legacy


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.

Buffy vs Dracula’s legacy

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.


Hannibal — TV review (S3E12, And the number of the beast was 666)

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. 

Will confesses to Bedelia — his new psychiatrist, as they both use the other as a Hannibal-proxy — that he puts his hand on Chilton’s shoulder for the publicity photograph deliberately, consciously establishing Chilton as a possible target. Will is beginning to develop something of a split personality. On the one hand, he is the empathetic, tormented Will Graham who can barely stand to hear Chilton’s screams on the Dragon’s videotape of his torture, and who hallucinates about all of the women about whom he cares suffering the same fate as Mrs Leeds and Mrs Jacobi. On the other hand, he is Hannibal’s agent in the world, as Bedelia calls him; he is curious about what violence he can provoke from the Dragon, and Bedelia calls him to account with the same words that Hannibal used to her: “that’s participation”. Will is the lamb, but he is also — as Hannibal warns Jack — becoming a lion, and his righteous wrath has the potential to be devastating. That is, if he can hold himself together. 

The Dragon’s confrontation of Chilton is the most verbal scene that Richard Armitage has been able to play this far. His speech is precise but not laboured; the Dragon proves articulate, except when he is speaking about himself, when guttural growls creep in and begin to conceal the words themselves. When Reba arrives, he lets her in, and despite her frequent glances around the room, as though she senses Chilton’s presence, the scene is wryly funny in bringing together the most terrifying kidnap with a very domestic circumstance: a woman bringing soup to a prospective lover who claims to be sick. The scene strikes the same tone as some of the flashbacks with Hannibal and Abel Gideon, and it tempts us into thinking that Reba might go free, but at the end of the episode she has been kidnapped by the Dragon, and we seem to be in for a finale that follows the books quite closely. 

More generally, this episode was full of some wonderful dialogue, especially between Chilton and Hannibal.  “I have seen a lot of hostility, but this was quantifiably bitchy” is a great line from Chilton, and I would like to see the quantifying scale for bitchiness! “A man becomes famous because he has the proper stuff in him. You don’t have the proper stuff, Frederick” is also an excellent retort from Hannibal. Chilton also taunts Hannibal about what life will be like in the mental institution after Alana stops protecting him, including threats of sexual assault. With his books gone, and the number of threats about degrading treatment escalating, it certainly feels like Hannibal is gearing up to free himself from his prison.

In terms of how the next episode will play out, Will now seems to be convinced that his family life is over, now that Hannibal has chosen to destroy his happy family by putting them in danger. Bedelia, however, feels herself relatively safe because Hannibal is not in a position to eat her, and he would not have her harmed until he could achieve that end. Being able to trust Hannibal’s promises offers a certain security. Will calls her Bluebeard’s wife, riffing on the their previous encounter when they accused each other of being ‘brides’ of the monstrous Hannibal. She notes that she would rather be the last wife of Bluebeard, who survived finding her strangled predecessors in Bluebeard’s ‘forbidden’ room by the skin of her teeth. Bedelia, we know, is always planning how to survive, just like Hannibal. Will, on the other hand, seems only to be planning how to destroy the evil that surrounds him. I would really rather like it if this series ended in the same way as series two did, with Bedelia and Hannibal preparing for round two together, although that might be too much to hope for. Definitely too much to hope for would be Will and Hannibal escaping together, I think because Will is less self-actualised than either Hannibal or Bedelia; he seems to take on whatever form those around him allow. It will be interesting to see what opportunities the final episode offers him.

Image (c) NBC