Thursday, July 26, 2007

vampire technology

i am reading one of those bedford/st.martin's case studies in contemporary criticism editions of Dracula which some book rep sent me at some point. it is aimed squarely at college students. it has footnotes throughout the text to translate that small passage of latin for you, explain the shakespeare reference you might have missed, and define that word that isn't in your dictionary as a small carriage on springs popular in the nineteenth century throughout europe and drawn by two horses instead of four or six (as if you care, but sure, that's what footnotes are for). it also helpfully footnotes the following term: typewriter ("a writing machine that produces characters resembling those printed by a press").

now i know i am old, but this is ridiculous, right? i realize our students have never themselves written a paper on a typewriter. i feel i must point out, though, NOR HAVE I. more to the point, i have also never used quill and ink to craft a letter or a hammer and sharp thingy (technical term) to carve my story into the wall of a cave, but i have still heard of and generally understood these writing technologies.

or maybe this is the (otherwise seemingly humorless) editor's little joke? Dracula IS kind of boring.... so i ask you, are they literally kidding me with this? or are they just kidding me with this?



Daniel said...

Or, perhaps, this is clever commentary on the text itself -- a novel, after all, that is a collection of various documents: journals, telegrams, typewritten letters. Dracula is, one might argue, itself a writing machine. It is a story about the production of texts, and the "frame tale" is one which reads itself as a series of documents. So then, an editor that enters into the text through footnotes, detouring to comments that explain and define, invariably participates in the narrative of a series of texts that detail their own creation. The typewriter, the footnote tells us, is a writing machine that "produces characters resembling those printed by a press" -- resembling the printed characters like the ones you are looking at in this definition. The truly frightening dimension of Dracula is not the predatory undead. It's the absence of humans, and the creepy way that the text seems to endlessly refer to and generate itself. The inappropriateness of this definition is a clue...the writing machine wants your blood...[glass breaks, woman shrieks, shutters slam]

Mita said...

Mostly, footnotes in general suck and I don't believe that the editor had any of this in mind when including this particular fn ... but since you asked ...

The first typewriters were invented during the second half of the nineteenth century ... and were more and more coming into use during the fin de siecle when Dracula was written. Just as much as the humans are attempting to master Dracula, they're attempting to master text/language. And the two are connected as well; the characters believe that if they can only record accurately the events they're participating in, then they might be able to gain control over Dracula. Despite technical innovation designed to record the world quickly and accurately (and I would include Seward's use of the phonograph), both Dracula and "truth" (the texts of the gothic revival are reacting directly to the realist period just preceding) remain elusive.

Also--the fact that the common man (and, really, "New Women" such as Mina) have the ability to produce characters "resembling those printed by the press" speaks volumes. Mina adds to all of her newspaper clippings these personal "reportings" (her transcriptions of the journals) to create the "master text." Dracula is social press and personal reflections brought together--and yet this amalgamation doesn't produce any better knowledge ("like any of that's enough to fight the dark master ... bator"). We're still left with this group of namby-pamby lame-os to represent the mighty British nation.

Oh god. Blah blah blah. At least I managed to fit in that Buffy line ...