Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.
Men often pit science against God but rarely pit it against evil. Van Helsing's thinking dulled the nails which feather my bed. I felt like rising from my seat and cheering uncontrollably as when one's favorite team crushes one out of the ballpark or when a general bellows an inspirational speech invoking the idealistic nobility buried under the soldier's fear. And yet, when this subjective felicity wanes, I begin again to think through the concept. I noted how people often use Van Helsing's arguments to defend faith in God but rarely faith in general - an open-mindedness to the unnatural. One must pause and see how Van Helsing does not flippantly partner the unnatural with good or evil. A different factor shades these unnatural occurrences with a moral hue. After the excitement of discovering something inexplicable, and counter to every scientific truth in which he believes, Van Helsing wages his war against a being which he describes as evil only because it brings an unnatural death. He and his group fight to defeat this unnatural experience, not its existence. Or do they?
And what an experience! Stoker must have realized how his epistolary form would suspend his reader's disbelief in a character who we take for granted today. I bet Dracula would devour Edward Cullin just to regurgitate him. But the Stoker's structure also transforms the story's inducing fear from an emotion to something lived. When we embark through the pass in the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania with Jonathan Harker we shutter at the wolves, stare wide-eyed at the blue flames, clench our fists as the driver grips our arm and hope our very gaze will provide the light needed to see his face. However, this literary form, with limitless transparency into the writer's mind, has an equally powerful limitation. When executed well, it prevents the reader from gaining the same insights into other characters. Perhaps this limitation sparked the ensuing obsession with Dracula and the legend of his followers. I desperately want to read the story all over again except from Dracula's diary! When the posse begins their hunt back to Castle Dracula, they do not privilege the reader to any words, actions or reasons on behalf of Dracula other than what they can reasonably deduce. All the anxiety and fear springs from the chase of something, for all intents and purposes, inanimate! I want to know more about the being who holds immense power but remains mostly absent from the documents compiled in this book. The reader learns of his characteristics, again from the deductions of the writers, but little of him, his person, his being. Unfortunately, since Stoker chose to maintain the integrity of the epistolary form, he cannot afford to grant us this wish.
I wonder, though, if Stoker meant to tell the story of Dracula at all - to grant us this wish. I wonder if he meant for the title character to play more of a catalytic role for the real important themes in the novel. Perhaps he would call our yearning for Dracula's character irrelevant and encourage us to focus on what Dracula's existence inspired in a group of ordinary people who chose to resist him. Dracula broadens their worldly perspective beyond the confines of the scientific method. He scares them into a rally around love, selflessness, honor and courage. And, if we believe Van Helsing's reasoning, he inspires them through fear to set him free from an Un-Dead life.
More than any of the writers in this book, I enjoyed Dr. Seward's journal entries. I felt that, like him, I struggled to understand and solve the horrible occurrences in this story - but mostly to understand. I appreciated his discussions on zoophagous, a microcosmic symbol foreshadowing Dracula's intentions, his conversations with Van Helsing about not letting "a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth" and his ability to use scientific rhetoric to describe concepts of the human condition.
I also found his occupation, as a doctor for the clinically insane, worth noting. Any group of people charged with murdering a vampire, the father of the Un-Dead, would endure the scrutinizing eye of the sane. Yet before devoting his days to an "insane" mission, Dr. Seward cares for the insane himself. The very distinction between these two states dissolves away in a dank mist. One might argue that Seward, and all others horse-blinded by science (or by faith in their own reasoning prowess), suffer from insanity while Renfield, who, like Jonathan Harker, has witnessed the power of Dracula, should indulge their sanity. Consider how Jonathan felt cured when hearing Van Helsing's reassurance that he really did experience the things he wrote of in his journal. The rational explanations of brain fever, etc. imprisoned him, caused him to doubt his senses, his very self, but after believing in the reality of his experience, he feels better, more courageous, and prepared to live!
Oh, but insanity, the shroud of science, the cop-out of rational excuses, anything to help men turn from the belief which cured Jonathan - can Dracula perform anything more fearful? Is the experience of disbelief, doubting ourselves, somber in pity and self-inflicted scolding, not a lower existence than the Un-Dead? wandering about missing the joys and monstrosities of life because we cannot explain them rationally? Dracula hides behind science and the rationalism of the enlightened era, depends on its shroud, though not for his security - after all, what can a powerful dead man have to fear from men? - but to promote our demise into self-inflicted madness and misery. Dracula's existence, juxtaposed to men's beliefs in sensory evaluations and logic, causes us to question every security and trust we have in ourselves and the world. Once again we live like babies who cannot make sense of anything in the world, our place in it or who we are. But these shameful doubts and fearful anxieties wash away when we, like Jonathan, believe in the reality of the mystery.
I love how Stoker chose scientists rather than priests and mystics to battle against Dracula. Van Helsing, the soldier angel, Mina, the holy mother of the group, and all the companions held occupations outside of religion. For me, I found this collaboration refreshing, that a writer would reconcile science and the enlightened period with the remaining mysteries of the world by allowing them to face off.
Most importantly, these two sides influence each other. The human mind, the scientific group, has to concede the existence of the unnatural, or at least concede, as to science, their partial ignorance of the world's full nature. And the unnatural, the evil and mystical, the impossible, realizes how it can no longer move about in the world as it will without meeting resistance, a resistance which exponentially shrinks any space remaining in the world for inexplicable or mystical existences.
Yet no matter the outcome of this conflict, all mankind suffers from the result. We either bruise our pride or squash the mysticism which might let us live courageously should we choose to acknowledge them as true.(less)
So often a first impression is of exaggerated consequence. With Joyce, mine was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I can honestly say that Dubliners has resurrected Joyce for me and encourages me to attack his other works in the same way that Portrait had discouraged me.
However, knowing about Joyce was indispensable to this second first impression. Whatever edition you read, make sure it has a good introduction. I will vouch for the edition used here. Brenda Maddox portrays a man discontented with his homeland and with the general hypocrisies and paralysis of its people; a man hardened against censorship, devoted to a single woman though vehemently at odds with the Catholic Church and the institution of marriage, a man who loved his country so much that he thought it pertinent to put a mirror in front of their existence. Appreciating Dubliners begins with knowing Joyce.
His style is gripping, though sacrifices nothing of detail or subtle forms of symbolism. His use of perspective, in particular cases, seemed to push the very limits of narrative device. In "The Boarding House", for example, a simple third-person narrative fluidly sympathizes with two opposing characters streamlined one right after the other.
I have come across few characters in any literature as rightly determined as Mrs. Kearney in "A Mother". As a matter of fact, Joyce's presentation of women can be considered strongly sympathetic to any feminist analysis. Yet Joyce's sketches of female characters seemed so natural, not simple pandering to a morale or idea, that I wondered if societies have been dooped all along and men were the ones kidnapping feminine qualities and guising them as masculine. Or, if the feminine battle for realized justice, in whatever arena, is something non-gender specific, or, to say the least, does not belong solely to the world of masculinity as oftentimes barbarity, brutishness, sloth and emotional and violent outbursts do.
If Joyce intended to hold a mirror up to Ireland, I think he failed. The mirror is turned on ALL of us. I related to more people in these stories than I have in most other works I've read. I wondered if I had hung out with Joyce in another life because of his story, "A Little Cloud". And despite the stories with sympathetic antagonists suddenly turned selfishly pathetic degenerates and subtle symbolism to an institutionalized Irish culture of control and civil paralysis, I didn't find that the conflicts were anything specific to Ireland but applied to all nations. To all societies.
Enjoy your second chance with me, Mr. Joyce.(less)
This play is not only hilarious, but commendably crafted. If the characters intertwining and their Shakespearean guises aren't dizzying enough for yo...more This play is not only hilarious, but commendably crafted. If the characters intertwining and their Shakespearean guises aren't dizzying enough for you, indulge yourself in their nonsensical social beliefs and assertions. Oscar Wilde makes no hesitations in writing these absurdities and I imagine him in a playhouse corner laughing at the actors saying these things. The play is entirely entertaining. I seriously doubt Wilde intended too much, if any, truth to be gathered from it on any serious level - except that we should not take ourselves too seriously, or we'll miss out on a great time. It's wonderful to see him express this both in the story and in his style. I laugh at both the story and the man writing it, which I'm sure would please him.