Horror Eroticism: Bram Stoker’sDracula

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Horror and Eroticism:Bram Stoker’sDraculaGregory KershnerInterim Senior Assistant Dean, New CollegeAdjunct Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and LanguagesWhitby Abbey, the place that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. Copyright istock.com. Photo by Kelvin Wakefield.he menace of the vampireis that — and this is partlywhat makes Dracula sucha unique horrormasterpiece — it works onus from the inside, taking over ourbodies, “infecting” our deepest desireswith the lust of sexuality and iniquity.In Dracula, it is the rupture of thebourgeois world that yields the extremelimitlessness of anguished ecstasy.Torment and anguish reveal theyawning gap in which subject andobject, vampire and victim, aredissolved. It is the identity ofcontraries, divine ecstasy and itsopposite, extreme horror, that erodesT26HOFSTRA horizonsidentity, unleashing experience from theorthodoxy of Victorian mores. It is witheroticism in nosferatu that thecontraries of sexuality and horror arevisibly conjoined, where Gothic horror,disclosed in sacrificial bloodsucking,becomes linked to the abyss oferoticism. Stoker’s Dracula exemplifiesthe link between horror and eroticism.Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published May26, 1897, is steeped in fin-de-siècledecadence. The sexually chargedvampire is essential to the anxiety-riddenfabric of Dracula. One distinctive Gothictheme in Dracula is the threateningnature of evil itself. The novel registeredfall 2006a late 19th-century feeling that somegigantic evil was gnawing away atVictorian self-confidence. The evil thathaunts Stoker’s work most persistently isthe desire for sex:I was afraid to raise my eyelids, butlooked out and saw perfectly underthe lashes. The fair girl went on herknees, and bent over me, fairlygloating. There was a deliberatevoluptuousness which was boththrilling and repulsive, and as shearched her neck she actually lickedher lips like an animal, till I couldsee in the moonlight the moistureshining on the scarlet lips and on the

red tongue as it lapped the whitesharp teeth. Lower and lower wenther head as the lips went below therange on my mouth and chin andseemed about to fasten on my throat.Then she paused, and I could hearthe churning sound of her tongue asit licked her teeth and lips, and couldfeel the hot breath on my neck. Thenthe skin of my throat began to tingleas one’s flesh does when the handthat is to tickle it approachesnearer—nearer. I could feel the soft,shivering touch of the lips on thesupersensitive skin of my throat, andthe hard dents of two sharp teeth, justtouching and pausing there. I closedmy eyes in a languorous ecstasy andwaited—waited with beating heart.(pp. 45-6)The dreadful pleasure experienced byJonathan Harker (the above passage’snarrator and Dracula’s private realestate agent), punctures not only the“repressive hypothesis” (the process bywhich, according to Freud, anunacceptable impulse is renderedunconscious), but also the liberationistfallacy that, after lingering in theshadows of repression, sexualityemerges in the clear light of Victoriansocial discourse. The mode of ecstasyand enjoyment described here isessentially outside Victorian society asit has been conventionally understood.The relationship between Victoriandiscourse and its outside changessignificantly as ecstatic and extremeexperience are gathered under therubric of “sexuality.”Exceeding articulate speech andunderstanding, vampires disclose an“unknowing” or vacuum of sense; andthe heart of this experience delineates alimit of Victorian culture. Thus, on thebasis of this “unknowing,” the “fissure”around which sexual discourse inDracula attempts to close, sexualitybecomes the pivotal theme of the novel.Dracula’s violent bloodsucking caneasily be read as an obsessive substitutefor sexual gratification. When VanHelsing (the professor and vampirehunter) finally convinces Holmwood(Lucy Westenra’s true love) that thewoman he was to have married is anosferatu — an un-dead vampirepreying on the blood of the living —the sexually thwarted young lord doesnot hesitate:Arthur placed the point over theheart, and as I looked I could see itsdint in the white flesh. Then he struckwith all his might.The Thing in the coffin writhed; anda hideous, blood-curdling screechcame from the opened red lips. TheStoker’s Draculaexemplifiesthe link betweenhorror anderoticism.body shook and quivered and twistedin wild contortions; the sharp whiteteeth champed together till the lipswere cut, and the mouth was smearedwith a crimson foam. But Arthurnever faltered. He looked like afigure of Thor as his untrembling armrose and fell, driving deeper anddeeper the mercy-bearing stake,whilst the blood from the piercedheart welled and spurted up aroundit. (p. 230)Edvard Munch: Vampire. Lithograph, 1895. 2006 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group /Artists RightsSociety (ARS), NY.fall 2006HOFSTRA horizons27

One distinctiveGothic themein Dracula isthe threateningnature ofevil itself.Image of a hysteric under hypnosisat Salpêtrière, France. Bram Stokerwas familiar with Charcot’s studieson hysteria.28HOFSTRA horizonsThe motivation for destroying Draculais the fear that he will multiply,threatening the survival of VictorianEngland. Professor Van Helsing’s fearis that, if allowed to survive, CountDracula will reign as “the father orfurtherer of a new order of beings,whose road must lead through Death,not Life” (p. 322).In both passages, the intensity of theexperience invests the encounter withthe mystico-philosophical significanceof “eroticism,” reversing the veiledpornographic flickerings of Dracula. Inthe eroticism of Dracula, the object ofdesire radiates with a nocturnalbrilliance that reduces the vampire tonothing but the infinite movement ofdesire itself. In the ecstatic movementbeyond individual experience, amovement of consumption by anunattainable, impossible object ofdesire, Mina Murry (Jonathan Harker’serstwhile fiancée and vampire ingénue)comes to understand the truth ofDracula’s revelation: he is evil anddivine. She notes in her journal on thenight of Dracula’s visit: “Was it indeedsome such spiritual guidance that wascoming to me in my sleep?” (p. 276).Dracula entered Mina’s bedroom, whileJonathan slept, told Mina that she wasto become “flesh of my flesh, blood onmy blood; kin of my kin; my bountifulwine-press for a while; and shall belater on my companion and my helper”(pp. 306-07). The non-sense of theunknowing that manifests itself inswooning intoxication, or ecstasy’sflight, also drives her eroticism,dissociating it from the impulses ofnatural animality or sexuality.It is Mina and Lucy (longtime friend ofMina Murry) who assume roles in thenovel where the object of desirefall 2006exceeds both objectivity andsubjectivity with glimpses of anunknown infinity. That this is so is nodoubt an effect of a particular culturalconjunction: a new representation ofwoman was emerging in the finaldecades of the 19th century. Thisrepresentation, for the famed hypnotistCharcot and his contemporaries, tookthe shape of the female criminal. Stokeralmost certainly talked to Charcot andmentions him in Dracula (“And ofcourse then you understand how it act,and can follow the mind of the greatCharcot — alas that he is no more! —into the very soul of the patient that heinfluence,” p. 204). It was the “femaleecstatic” and hysteric that culminates inthe character of Mina herself:I was bewildered, and, strangelyenough, I did not want to hinder him.I suppose it is part of the horriblecurse that such is, when his touch ison his victim. And oh, my God, myGod, pity me! He placed his reekinglips upon my throat! (.) I felt mystrength fading away, and I was in ahalf swoon. How long this horriblething lasted I know not; but it seemedthat a long time must have passedbefore he took his foul, awful,sneering mouth away. I saw it dripwith the fresh blood.” (p. 306)Mina, in Victorian England, assumesthe intermediary function of adiscredited femininity, the impossibleobject between finite sensuality andinfinity that in terms of the vampirehabitus guarantees erotic excess. Mina’sproximity to the divine is manifested inher jouissance of submitting toDracula’s bloodthirsty desires.Mina’s encounter with Draculaexemplifies the joys, anguish and

what tricks ourdreams play on us,and howconveniently we canimagine.) The mistgrew thicker andthicker, and I couldsee now how it camein, for I could see itlike smoke—or withthe white energy ofboiling water—pouring in, notthrough the window,but through thejoinings of the door.(. . .) Things began towhirl through mybrain just as thecloudy column waswhirling in the room,and through it allcame the scripturalwords: ‘a pillar ofcloud by day and offire by night.’ Was itindeed some suchspiritual guidancethat was coming tome in my sleep?(pp. 275-76)Jean Delville: Mystery or Madame Stuart Merrill. Thedemonic gaze was a frequent theme in decadentart and literature. 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS),New York/Sabam, Brussels.horror in the face of divine iniquity,represented by the eruptive, exuberantcontinuity of blood. She embodies thevery vitality and surplus of sensuality; afluid movement of blood beyond bodilyconstraints, she resounds with a joyrepeating “encore”; her divine gazepenetrates the fog:I closed my eyes, but could still seethrough my eyelids. (It is wonderfulIn her dream, she istransfixed, torn apartby her own horrifiedencounter with afissure within and a joy beyond herself,“such spiritual guidance.” Horror anderoticism, then, for both Mina andDracula, but in different ways, connotea transformation, an opening ontosomething entirely other, abjection inan experience that appears sovereign.Evil expressed in Dracula — an acuteform of evil — has a sovereign value.But this concept does not excludefall 2006morality; on the contrary, it demands a“hyper-morality.” In relation to theFreudian notion of economy (thedistribution of libido in the psyche),abjection is an effect of cultural systemsof rejection, prohibition and taboo. Theinner experience of vampirism is boundup with the transgression that definesboth the limits of human productivity inLucy and Mina and their particularrelation to it. Where Victorian culturerecoils in horror from the undead, decay,filth and sexuality, vampirism restoresits homogeneous limits and bindsindividuals to its service, creating anautonomous totality. Dracula’stransgression of boundaries turns,thereby, on abjected forms of Victorianbehavior, those that are animal, sexualand taboo. Reassuring his Victoriancontemporaries in the triumph ofmorality, Dr. Van Helsing writes: “He isfinite, though he is powerful to do muchharm and suffers not as we do. But weare strong, each in our purpose; and weare all more strong together” (p. 336).From such expenditure of unnaturalenergies, in Dracula’s embrace of therejected, profane world, eroticismparadoxically accedes to the sphere ofthe sacred, negating nature, preciselythrough his adoration of the basecorporeality of blood. Hence his eroticattraction of limits and taboos, and thedreadful apprehension of un-death,produces a subjective experience thatplaces him before a nauseating void, thedefinitive emptiness of the world of theundead. From the pragmatic Victorianpoint of view, represented by Dr. VanHelsing, vampirism is a form ofexpenditure that goes beyond use-value:Nosferatu does not conserve energy butconsumes it in the act of bloodsucking,thereby destroying it. Dracula displaysthe accession to divine chance in that heHOFSTRA horizons29

risks everything. In eroticism andhorror, the poles of life and death, beingand nothingness, fullness and emptiness,are one in the vampire; they aredissolved like subject and object in theinsensible totality of darkness. Dracula’sdesire exceeds any particular object; it isdirected instead at the ungraspable,impossible reality of death and thetotality of nonexistence. He movesexorbitantly in search of the desirable.The eroticism and horror of Draculacontest Victorian mores, and negatenature. He manifests a particular kindof negativity, one intimately connectedto death. The work of Dracula is theunworking, or, the destruction of everyhuman trace. But death remains indeedintegral to Victorian England insofar asit is repressed. The vampire completesthe work of negativity; but in the worldof the undead, death and life onlyconstitute imaginary limits. Dracula isthe object of a privileged curse. Yet,keeping his moral purity intact byrisking everything and therebyascending toward the divine, he has aGregory D. Kershneris interim senior assistantdean of New Collegeand adjunct associateprofessor of comparativeliterature and languages atHofstra University. Dr.Kershner earned a Ph.D.with a specialization inGerman literature from theUniversity of California atDavis, and a master’sGregory D. Kershnerdegree in internationalaffairs with a specialization in international business from theSchool of Public and International Affairs at ColumbiaUniversity. He was a Fulbright Fellow at the Free University inBerlin, Germany.Prior to joining the Hofstra faculty in 2001, Dr. Kershnerworked for Smith Barney and JPMorgan Chase in treasuryservices. He also taught at Bryn Mawr College, where hewas pivotal in creating the Environmental Studies program.Earlier in his career, Dr. Kershner was a visiting professorin American literature at Johannes Gutenberg Universityin Mainz, Germany. He worked for a short time asan instructor at D-Q University, California’s only Native30HOFSTRA horizonsfall 2006profound experience of the abyss ofevil. The vampire fathoms the verydepths of evil. But he is cut off fromhumanity, and has only one occupationin his sleeplike state of the undead —that is to destroy human beingswhile enjoying the thought of theirdeath and suffering.ReferenceStoker, Bram. (2003). Dracula.London: Penguin.American college. There he also developed cross-culturalcurricula in Native American and English literature.Dr. Kershner has played a primary role in the developmentof the curriculum and recruitment at New College atHofstra University. He was also instrumental in thedevelopment of the recently approved Global Studiesprogram. He also serves as director of the InternationalOff-Campus Education program at Hofstra. Besides hisduties as interim senior assistant dean, he teaches all levelsof German language and comparative literature courses toundergraduate students. Dr. Kershner is presentlypreparing a course on psychoanalysis and the Gothicimagination in late 19th-century European literature, whichwill be offered for the first time in the fall of 2007.Dr. Kershner’s research interests center around decadentEuropean literature, pathological psychology andpsychoanalysis in the fin de siècle. He has published articleson post-war exiled German writers, and most recently anarticle about Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen,titled “Transgression and Taboo: Eros, Marriage, andIncest in Die Walküre.” He is a member of numerousprofessional organizations, including the Modern LanguageAssociation and the American Association of Teachersof German.

Dracula’s bloodthirsty desires. Mina’s encounter with Dracula exemplifies the joys, anguish and Image of a hysteric under hypnosis at Salpêtrière, France. Bram Stoker was familiar with Charcot’s studies on hysteria. One distinctive Gothic theme in Dracula is the threatening nature of evil itself.

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