Vampires, Viruses and Verbalisation: Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a genealogical window into fin-de-siècle science

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.

On the Drive-like Status of Knowledge

The first part of this paper investigates the status of knowledge. Starting from the general question of whether knowledge can prevent Evil, it is argued that in the particular case of Martin Heidegger reason was powerless against hatred. Next, the question posed by Einstein to Freud in 1932 (whether or not psychoanalysis is capable of diffusing hatred), is addressed. This historical correspondence leads the author to characterise knowledge as having a drive-like status: Not only is the epistemological drive a substitute for infantile sexual curiosity, it is first and foremost a drive to overpower (Bemächtigungstrieb). Finally, Foucault’s Il faut défendre la société (1997) teaches that the ideal of “The” science attributes the status of power to knowledge, an ideal that also holds for psychoanalysis, notwithstanding that the latter does not meet scientific criteria. In the second part of the paper, the way in which the relation between knowledge and power can manifest itself in the psychoanalytical cure is illustrated with the case of Guillaume.