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The Powers of Horror
David Buuck

Dodie Bellamy
The Letters of Mina Harker

Hard Press, PO Box 184, West Stockbridge, MA 01266, 1998, 221 pages.



The Letters of Mina Harker collects a number of epistolary texts that Bellamy has published over the last ten years in a variety of public (and private) forums, written under the pen-name Mina Harker. Mina is no simple pseudonym, however, but a performative rewriting (and rewiring) of Van Helsing's secretarial adjunct from Dracula, and as Dodie Bellamy's mouthpiece, Mina becomes a feminist vampire for the 90's. Over the course of the letters (written to person[a]s living, dead, and "invented"), Mina chronicles the events of her (and "Dodie"s) colorful life as a writer living in San Francisco, as well as the ongoing (and playful) "tension" between the "author" Mina Harker and the "character" Dodie Bellamy, whose body Mina sometimes inhabits.

As an experimental, cross-genre foray into intertextuality, Bellamy's writing itself is vampiric, resurrecting the classic horror corpus and inflecting (infecting) the corpse with the blood of her own desires. In addition to the "primary" textual site of Stoker's Dracula, Bellamy borrows, bends, and breaks a number of other diverse sources and cultural-intellectual traditions: epistolary fiction, Kathy Acker, the confessionalism of Plath, horror films, French feminist theory, sadomasochism, film theory, erotica, working-class identity, and the gay and artistic circles of 1980's San Francisco, where the AIDS epidemic haunts the novel, extending the vampiric erotics of sex, blood, and death into the contemporary.

The above is not meant to be a mere listing of influences or reference points. Bellamy does not simply raise the flags of hip tropes and "sexy theory," nor does she superficially pastiche these notions as hypothetical parlor games - her text enacts them, structurally, in a real-time melange of flesh and blood, where theory just happens to be the after-the-fact explanation for what is the case. In Bellamy's fiction, the world and the self (and all attempts at explication) are fundamentally hybrid, cyborg, "both-and," and the moments of crisis (horror, abjection, disgust) are only a result of our attempts to repress experience into tidy categories with solid boundaries. These boundaries (between bodies, between worlds, between genres) press up against and penetrate one another, enacting an unmitigated new world of "trans." It is this moment of "trans" - the slash in outdated "either/or" binarisms, the "cross" in cross-genre or cross-dressing - that becomes the site of self (and textual) (de/re)construction, that heightened moment of horror where boundaries and categories break down, enacting a kind of reconfigured utopia (literally no-place) that in Bellamy's hands becomes freeing rather than threatening.

The ultimate utopias, of course, are to be found in sex and death, the abject "loss" of self within the formless dissolution of being and intentionality. Orgasm, for Bellamy, is not merely an exalted state of some escapist bliss or sensationalist subject matter, but rather an exemplary moment of immediacy that Mina wants to capture in writing as well. "Sex, no matter how fondly recalled, comes across as generic" - i.e., descriptions of sex are genre-laden - but the orgasm (as ineffable, as l'petit monde) exceeds descriptions or categories, exceeds the literary per se: "This [orgasm] is an ideal state of discourse - unmediated, with a totally receptive audience." The second half of this quote demonstrates Bellamy's humor, a performative, self-conscious pleasure-of-the-text that is erotic as well as "embodied."

However, as the novel (not "progresses" as much as) proceeds, Mina (as construct, as persona, as corpus/corpse) begins to take on a cyborgian self-consciousness that questions the presumed jouissance of the performative and eroticized text. In a text so attentive to the physicalized politics of gender and sexuality, the realization that writing (in the form of letters, or gossip, or narrative) places yet another set of boundaries on the "feminine" self, presents Mina with the double-bind of writing her own demise, performing her own self-deconstruction: "life as a corpse to be embalmed by the writer ... THE TEXT IS NOT A BODY it is a coffin." This self-reflexivity adds yet another layer to an already dense and complex narrative. For Mina Harker, as for Bellamy, writing is a matter of breathing life into a literary corpse (contemporary fiction) so that the living dead (the pulsing, erotic, written words) may startle us into self-recognition. If the novel is dead, The Letters of Mina Harker are missives from beyond the grave, as well as letters from fiction's future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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