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Catastrophic Transculturation and Gothic Modernity in Dracula and The Historian
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Language and Literature. (Postcolonial Forum: Concurrences)
2010 (English)Conference paper, (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In his 1980 novel Waiting for the Barbarians, J. M. Coetzee discusses the symbiotic relationship between the generic Empire that stands as the focal point of the novel and what may be assumed to be a form of apocalyptic, gothic narrative. Empires, it is argued, are preoccupied by one thought only: “how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.”[1] This relationship is easily be perceived through a study of the gothic novel and the imperial context within which it typically exists and communicates. One of the most often explored examples of this is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, commonly perceived as a form of “imperial gothic”, to use a phrase coined by Paul Brantlinger. [2] In this novel, the vampiric apocalypse that Dracula initiates threatens to turn London, and thereby the entire empire, into a realm of the undead through the symbolic rape and transformation of its innocent women. Furthermore, in most readings of Stoker’s colonial novel, Dracula is perceived as a representative of the Oriental other, an entity that needs to be finally dealt with through (paramilitary) violence.[3]

 

Dracula is one of the most frequently retold stories that came out of the colonial era. Countless films, television series, cartoons, graphic novels, short stories and full novels have retold Stoker’s tale (itself largely inspired by both historical texts and previous gothic tales). One of the most recent and most interesting versions is Elisabeth Kostova’s The Historian which situates Stokers novel within a culturally and historically much more dynamic world. Refusing many of the cultural, ethnic and sexual pitfalls of previous reiterations, The Historian is perhaps best described as a novel that seems to refuse the simple apocalypse that the imperial gothic insisted on retelling. In fact, Kostova’s novel takes place in a world where cultures not only collide but, in great contrast to the original text, are actually able to interact. It may even be argued that Kostova’s novel deals extensively with the process of (failed and successful) European transculturation during the 1950s and 1970s.

 

At the same time, Dracula remains a culturally diverse and ambiguous creature in Kostova’s novel. While disassociated with the Oriental evil of Stoker’s narrative, Dracula is still a monster that threatens a type of (epistemological) apocalypse that must be finally addressed through habitual gun violence. With this in mind, this paper discusses how the traditional and postcolonial gothic novel negotiates racial, ethnic and sexual barriers and how the genre in itself may perhaps be used not only to, as Teresa Goddu has suggested, “unveil the ideology of official discourse,” [4] but also to challenge the apparently rigid imperial boundaries often inherent in the Gothic. Kostova’s transhistorical and transcultural narrative may seem to break out of the boundaries established by the genre, but, as result of the generic trappings of the gothic, its “transformative power”, [5] is perhaps limited.

[1] J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980. London: Vintage, 2000), p. 140.

[2] See Paul Brantlinger, The Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988), p. 227.

[3] See, for instance, Stephen D. Arata,  “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonisation,” Victorian Studies 33.4 (1990), pp. 621–645

[4] Theresa Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History and Nation, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 2.

[5] Ibid

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010.
Keyword [en]
Transculturation postcolonial
National Category
General Literature Studies
Research subject
Humanities, Comparative literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-8553OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-8553DiVA: diva2:352329
Conference
Post/Colonial and Transcultural: Contending Modernities, Presaging Globalisation
Projects
Concurrencies
Available from: 2010-09-20 Created: 2010-09-20 Last updated: 2010-09-22Bibliographically approved

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Citation style
  • apa
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