>--> Nick Pappas reflects on Dracula in many media.
Geoffrey Winthrop-Young posts a response
To begin with, a vignette from the days of Dracula: late in his career, Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) wondered whether sacramental absolution could be conferred over the phone. Penance, after all, does not require the presence of a material sign--all it needs is the voice of the penitent and the ear of the confessor. But does the latter really have to be physically present? Or will AT&T suffice for sacramental purposes? This is not a matter of technology demeaning or debunking sacraments. Rather, the question is whether those who abstain or are excluded from modern communication media will be in a position similar to those who abstained or were excluded from the old sacramental media.
Why bring up media when talking about Dracula? Because regardless of whether you (like Pappas) prefer Coppola's resolutely Catholic or (as I do) Stoker's confused Anglican version, the media issue is central to what Pappas has in mind. Fortunately, the dreary days when Dracula was read predominantly as a twisted yarn about really strange sex are over. To quote Friedrich Kittler, we have come to appreciate it as the "perennially misjudged heroic epic of the final victory of technological media of the blood-sucking despots of old Europe." More to the point, to introduce media helps defuse a conflict brewing between Pappas and an adversary far more formidable and undead than any vampire: Martin Heidegger.
For Pappas, the typewriter is a "machine"; indeed, he uses the typewriter to illustrate his distinction between "tool" and "machine." Heidegger--as if anticipating this very distinction--interrupted his lecture on Parmenides to label the typewriter "an 'intermediate thing' between a tool and a machine." How do they differ? Pappas concentrates on the mechanized production process and then moves forward to the standardized product, while Heidegger moves backward from the production process to the user, wondering how humans will be affected by a tool/machine that keeps their hands off the page by linking them to a technological artefact. The term medium encompasses both movements, and this is exactly how media function in Stoker's text and Coppola's movie: as tool-like extensions of ourselves and as self-sufficient technological units or systems that "crank out" their effects "automatically."
Following this minor adjustment, I can fully agree with Pappas. Stoker/Coppola depict a world in which sacramental and technological media are functional equivalents; and Stoker in particular depicts how the latter are taking over the former's position. Dracula's pathetic lack of success is due to his retrograde appreciation of sacraments and technologies. He doesn't understand the latter and tries, in the words of Pappas, to subject the former to "the demonic workings of [his] capricious subjectivity." Or should we say that he tries to turn cold machines into obedient tools, all the while still hoping to produce standardized prey? In any case, his retrogade media use makes it easy for modern tools and machines to kill him im off in three puny lines: without any sacraments and in violation of all vampire lore with a quick slash of the throat and stab at the heart.
Geoffrey Winthrop-Young Department of Germanic Studies University of British Columbia