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January 12, 2003

Count Virtula and the Simulacrum of Doom.

I have a task. And the task is to show how Dracula is a virtual being, an consequently how the character of the Count, and the novel Dracula represents virtuality such that it is worthy of inclusion in our handbook on virtual learning environments. It is a challenge that I've been given, and accepted. But it is daunting to say the least. I KNOW I am right, but how do you get around to saying it? The problem is to step outside of the normal notions of VR as a post-gibsonian term for a computer generated consentual hallucination. And even farther beyond the notion of VR as a simulated environment. Hmmm... Perhaps not that far from that latter notion we got there. When I think of Plato's cave, or Swift's lands that Gulliver travels through, or the gothic topologies of Beckford's Vathek, I know that I'm engaged in a psychological landscape that has less to do with dirt than it has to with the visual manifestation of a concept. Likewise, Dracula is no less a conceptual being, and much less a dude in an opera cape. He is desire, fear and all the strong emotions made apprehensible; a psychological event. Moreover he is a cultural and political manifestation of white, male, colonial european unease; the virtual embodiment of that which has been supressed in their own individual, cultural psychies, and suppressed in the colonalized. The Virtual is a term that exists in opposition to the 'real' or the 'natural'. That which is not real/natural is variously noted as surreal, unreal, fictional, unnatural, and virtual. Virtual is opposed to actual. But it also partakes of the real. According to the Shorter Oxford, virtual is ""Possessed of certain physical virtues or poewers; effective in respect of inherent qualities; capable of exerting influence by means of such qualities."" And specifically ""Not physically existing but made... to appear to do so from the point of view... of the [reader]."" (Edited to remove computer references.) Dracula is the arch represenation of the virtual being, both the constructed fiction and the simulacra, the 'other' who does not (being undead) and cannot (because of the logical impossibility) exist. He is the created thing, created to fill the void of signified that requires a signifier. That is, there is 'something' unknown out there. And this 'something' is the unknown and the non-human, extra-cultural, 'the other'. How can you define this unknown. How do you attribute meaning to it, how do you confront it? You create something, this simulacrum, and forge a relationship between this signifier and the 'unknowns' which are now the signified. Dracula is now the signifier. He is a construction that stands in the place of the unknown. He signifes and embodies the unknown. Dracula is about the unseen: the other-worldly, the cryptic, the haunted. But he's also about the world that is just now being seen under the lense of science: blood and water born pathogens, anthropology, sociology, and of course the psychology of madness. All these conceptual landscapes were then, and are now, virtual spaces, not real or physical. You could call them imaginary or fantastical, and these designations may be true, but as with imaginary and fantastical landscapes, they are not merely locations without meaning, but rather they are constructed so that they might reflect the real and precipitate a greater understanding of the real through the engagement with the virtual. And of all the virtual characters that have found their way into English literature and culture, it is Stoker's figure of Count Dracula who has not only the greatest sway over our hearts and souls, but speaks as the representative embodiment of the virtual 'other' itself. Thoughts? This will be on the final exam..."

Posted by jason at January 12, 2003 08:21 PM