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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.

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‘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.

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Why are millenials workaholics?

Millenials are workaholics, research suggests. They are more likely to give up paid leave, and to see themselves as “work martyrs”, than previous generations, and the research seems to stand up to removing the variable of age from the equation. But why?

The HBR blog reporting on this latest piece of research ties the trend to an increase in narcissism, in a belief that one is an important person, as well as increased economic vulnerability: higher levels of personal debt, unforgiving housing markets, etc. So, it’s a combination both of a sense of self-importance and a fear of irrelevance? I guess millenials have got a lot of issues to work through…

I don’t really think of myself as a millenial, but technically I am (1981 feels like a really early start-date, demographers!). So I thought I would write something about loving work, and how we learn to love it.

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The Historian and Dracula’s Legacy

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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.

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Stories about stories

After a long work week, I’m having a day reading fiction for pleasure before I go back to reading drafts of thesis chapters again. My justification for reading popular fiction is usually that it is in a second language, so I’m reading José Carlos Somoza‘s La caverna de las ideas (published in English as The Athenian Murders). It’s a crime story set in Classical Greece, intertwined with a meta-narrative of a literary critic’s translation and interpretation of the story, and it has me thinking about why we find stories about stories so compelling.

There are lots of examples of this narrative nesting across popular fiction, as well as in TV and film (like Inception or Synecdoche, New York). It tends to be literature that is most involved with stories of literary interpretation, though, just as Synecdoche, New York is involved with filmmaking. Novels like The Marlowe PapersThe Tragedy of Arthur, or the ergodic S invite us into the world of reading and interpreting texts. La Caverna is particularly interesting because it invents a rhetorical figure around which the meta-narrative of literary interpretation centres: eidesis (which has its own—French—Wikipedia article). 

At one point, the footnotes through which our translator communicates include a narrated rant to a colleague about the frustrations of diverging literary interpretations. What he sees as eidesis, others see as merely extended metaphor. It is the presentation of the contingency of meaning that I find so interesting in this novel. Many novels leave reader with frustrating ambiguities, but few stage such explicitly the problems at the heart of apparently successful interpretation by a critic who cannot persuade others of their reading.

I think what fascinates readers in stories about stories is the way in which our own actions are mimicked. ‘Relatable’ characters are one thing, but a shared reading experience is compelling precisely because it is so hard to come by. Unlike watching film or TV, reading is inherently solitary. Even book groups do not involve simultaneous, shared immersive experiences. Stories about reading and interpreting stories are the closest we get to sharing those experiences. Novels like La Caverna or S not only tempt us into feeling this connection, but also invite us to care more deeply about the narrative than we might otherwise by showing us the fascination of others. Somoza’s narrator becomes obsessed with the possibilities of the text, with extracting its meaning. In calling our attention to certain details with their footnotes, we are invited to engage critically, rather than passively, to challenge or agree with narratorial interpretations as well as enjoying the simple content of the narrative.

I haven’t finished the book yet, although I have a certain suspicion as to how it will end for Somoza’s narrator! I am finding the illustration of a too-absorbed, too-earnest, too-meaning-starved literary critic fascinating to read for its romanticised academicism!

Moments of quiet…

It has been rather a long time since I’ve had a chance to do any blogging, but it seems that this weekend, of all weekends, might be a good opportunity to start again.

I’ve decided to move the posts that were on Blogspot over to this—much older—Wordpress blog. It’s been amusing to read some of the posts from when I was an undergrad, and most (although I admit not all) have made it back into the public domain here. There is so much continuity—I still love Pushkin, I’m still not quite sure about my own future working on English literature—and yet so many things have changed in the interstices.

In the long pause between this WordPress blog concluding in 2009 and me beginning blogging again on Blogger in 2012, I finished law school—which I’d started instead of a funded PhD—and gotten a job in an entirely new sphere.

In the much briefer moment of quiet between my last blogpost on the finale of Hannibal on Blogger and my return here, I’ve made good progress on my part-time PhD, with my four author-specific chapters done but a lot of work to be done stitching together those chapters and my overarching theoretical framework. I’ve decided to leave London—and my job—for a little bit to live with my husband in the US and to dedicate myself to writing, and publishing, and other fun academic stuff.

Here’s to quiet reflection and my own sort of progress, meandering and circuitous, but progress nonetheless.