Dracula, Thing Theory, and Lacan

This week, let’s think about Things. You’ll be getting a double dose of theory from two different scholars who approach the Thing from slightly different angles. Don’t worry if you don’t absorb it all in one go. Let it wash over you, and we’ll figure it out in discussion.

1. First, there’s theorist Bill Brown’s Thing Theory, which is super sexy in academic circles right now (he just published his umpteenth volume on it last year). Thing theory asks what is our relationship to things? And what happens when things stop working the way we expect them to?

If you can stand it, this horrible robot gives a decent 2 minute summary.

As Brown himself notes, philosophical discourse around things is not new. So, to put a presentist spin on it, why do we keep rehashing our thoughts about the agency of the object in the 1800s? In 1920? In 1990? Today? Why do we care about what the thing is doing when we’re not there, now, in the age of the Internet of Things, when our refrigerators and coffee-makers can call us on our phones?

2. Second, there’s this article by scholar Fiona Peters from the larger collection, Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Evil, which investigates the vampire as Thing by applying Lacan’s theory of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. She uses the term “Thing” in a slightly different way than Brown, involving more psychoanalysis and nipples than I prefer to use in my own readings.

Peters does a decent job of explaining Lacan’s theories, but this snippet is a bit easier to digest (useful to you up to 3:30).

While it’s not necessarily my [thing], I think it’s useful to consider how Peters’ version of the Thing might differ from Brown’s. Where do their ideas of the disruptive influences of an undead thing and a broken thing (and our relationships to them) overlap? And, something perhaps more interesting to think about: how does thinking about the mirror itself, instead of its use value to us in identifying Dracula, challenge Peters’ reading?

3. Finally, in addition to comparing these two articles, I want you to consider some of the things in Dracula that you may have looked through during your first reading: Mina’s typewriter, the rosary, the wolves (if we consider animals things), carriages, material journals and diaries, drapes, empty staircases — the novel is full of things. By thinking about these things as separating themselves from the white noise of the narrative, what do you see?