by Hub Zwart | Vol 35 (4) 2017
This paper analyses Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula as a literary document which reflects important scientific and technological developments of the fin-the-siècle era, ranging from blood transfusion and virology via psychotherapy and psychoanalysis up to brain research and communication technology. These developments not only herald a new style of scientific thinking, but also foreshadow a number of developments still relevant for contemporary culture. In other words, I read Dracula as a window into biomedical and bio-political challenges surfacing in the 1890s, but evolving into major research areas. Rather than seeing science and literature as separate cultures, moreover, Dracula as a case study reveals how techno-scientific and literary developments mutually challenge and mirror one another, so that we may use Stoker’s novel to deepen our understanding of contemporary science-related developments and vice versa. Dracula provides a window into fin-de-siècle research practices, collating various disciplines (haematology, virology, psychotherapy, neurology) into a genealogic Gesamtbild. Thus, Stoker’s novel elucidates the techno-scientific and socio-cultural constellation into which psychoanalysis was born. The common epistemic profile of this maieutic backdrop, I will argue, is that both psychoanalysis and Dracula reflect a triumph of the symbolic over the imaginary as a techno-scientific strategy for coming to terms with the threatening real.
by Hub Zwart | Vol 32 (4) 2014
This article reads Dan Brown’s best-selling novel Inferno (2013) not as a cinematic techno-thriller, but as a “science novel”: a literary document that allows us to discern some of the tensions, paradoxes and inner dynamics of virology as a contemporary (“hyper-scientific”) biomedical research field. It will be argued that Inferno can help us to “assess the present” by pointing out what we find so intriguing and uncanny about virology and its model organism of choice: the potentially lethal virus. To highlight its cultural relevance, I will approach the novel from a Lacanian perspective. Specifically, I will use Lacan’s “four discourses” to assess the various roles and positions that determine its basic structure. On the one hand, the novel’s key characters function as experts (representing expertise in academic research fields such as molecular life sciences, global health policy and cultural studies), giving voice to what Lacan refers to as “university discourse”. On the other hand, they are tormented individuals, suffering from a range of pathologies and symptoms which allegedly have become endemic in contemporary society (“hysterical discourse”). But the novel also gives the floor to the “Master discourse”: the authoritative voice which apparently knows the truth about the current human condition, articulating a vision of the future, encasing its prophetic messages in intriguing bio-art gadgets. In Inferno, these discourses are challenged/ subverted/altered by “analytical” discourse, putting the key characters on the track of their “object a”, the cause of their desire. Thus, a Lacanian reading allows us to discern how Inferno reflects, in a condensed and emblematic way, the public discontent in contemporary “hyperscience”, under the sway of the potentially lethal virus as its fascinating and commanding “object a”.