(English and Film Studies, University of Alberta)
The theoretical concept of technological performance has emerged only recently with the publication of Jon McKenzie's Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance in 2001.
McKenzie develops a general theory of performance based around the development of three performance paradigms: cultural performance, organizational performance (or performance management), and technological performance. In his examination of the techno-performance paradigm, he focuses primarily on late twentieth and early twenty-first century 'high performance' technologies such as computers, guided missiles and space shuttles. While he acknowledges that the concept of performance does not apply only to technologies in this period, his analysis implicitly suggests that high performance technologies are a unique invention of the modern age. This essay confronts McKenzie's restriction of technoperformance to the post-WWII period by demonstrating how technologies performed and were seen to perform in the late nineteenth century through a techno-performance reading of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). The late Victorian period saw startling innovations in information and communication technology (such as the overseas telegraph, the typewriter, and the gramophone), which were marketed as high performance technologies, though not in those words. To contextualise my reading of Dracula, I examine contemporary Victorian advertisements for communication technologies to demonstrate how such technologies were viewed as high performance products by Victorian advertisers and consumers.
Technology in Dracula has usually been read as a metaphor. I employ McKenzie's concept of techno performance to examine the performative functions of technology in Dracula that have not yet been explored by Victorianist scholarship. McKenzie notes two challenges posed by techno-performance: first, the challenge posed by a developer to his/her technological product, to perform or be classified as obsolete; and, second, the challenge posed by technology to its user to perform or be regarded as outmoded. I argue that Stoker's Dracula takes up both of these challenges. Emergent technologies sometimes perform in unexpected and potentially disruptive ways, much like the space shuttle Challenger cited by McKenzie; at the same time, such technologies oblige their users to perform in unexpected and disruptive ways. This essay examines emergent technologies in Dracula to highlight the relationship between individual and technological performance in the late nineteenth century.
When we reflect on performance in the Victorian period, we are unlikely to consider the model of technological performance. Technological performance itself is not a particularly well known concept: it has only recently emerged with the publication of Jon McKenzie's Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance in 2001.
McKenzie develops a general theory of performance based around the development of three performance paradigms: cultural performance, organizational performance (or performance management) and technological performance (or technoLeanne Page Victorian Network Volume 3, Number 2 (Winter 2011)
performance). This essay will confront McKenzie's restriction of techno-performance to the post-WWII period by demonstrating how communication technologies performed and were seen to perform in the late nineteenth century through a technoperformance reading of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Technology in Dracula has usually been read as a metaphor, but I will employ McKenzie's concept of technoperformance
to examine the performative functions of technology in Dracula that have not yet been explored by Victorianist scholarship. I will begin with a critique of McKenzie's concept of techno-performance. Through an examination of depictions of communication technologies in late Victorian print media, I will demonstrate that the technologies we see in Dracula were conceived of by the late Victorians as high performance technologies. I will then use my expanded version of technoperformance to conduct a techno-performative reading of Dracula, and to examine emergent technologies to highlight the relationship between individual and
technological performance and performative failures in the late nineteenth century.1
In his examination of the technological performance or techno-performance
paradigm, McKenzie focuses primarily on late twentieth and early twenty-first
century high performance technologies such as computers, guided missiles, and space
shuttles. For McKenzie, 'high performance' technologies explore the limits of what is
technically possible (particularly in terms of speed, capacity, and efficiency), so that
what is high performance at the time of an object's production will no longer satisfy
the requirements of high performance years later. While he acknowledges that the
concept of high performance does not apply only to technologies in this period, his
analysis implicitly suggests that high performance technologies are a unique
invention of the modern age, particularly with the development of what he refers to as
the 'military-industrial-academic complex'.2 Consequently, McKenzie examines the
'sense of performance used by engineers, technicians, and computer scientists' rather
than the sense of performance employed by consumers and users of technology, and
is mostly concerned with 'computer, electronics, and telecommunication industries'.3
I would argue, however, that high performance technologies existed long before the
invention of the digital computer, the smart phone, or the smart bomb. As Friedrich
A. Kittler suggests, late nineteenth-century communication technologies such as the
phonograph or the typewriter 'ushered in a technologizing of information that, in
retrospect, paved the way for today's self-recursive stream of numbers'.4
Stoker's novel depicts some of the startling innovations in information and
1 Scholars such as Carol A. Senf have examined how modern science and technology fail Dracula's
protagonists so that they have to make use of older methods to stop Dracula; however, these studies
do not consider the performative failures of technology in Dracula.
2 Jon McKenzie, Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance (New York: Routledge, 2001),
3 McKenzie, p. 10; p. 11.
4 Friedrich A Kittler,, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and
Michael Wutz (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. xl.
communication technology, such as the typewriter, the gramophone, long-distance
telephone lines, and undersea telegraph cables, that emerged in the late Victorian
period. Herbert Sussman argues that 'the Victorians loved machinery' and that they
regarded the advances of new technology with 'pride, admiration, [and] awe'.5 The
Victorians had a conflicted attitude towards emergent technology, however: many
Victorians regarded the advance of increasingly 'high performance' technology with
apprehension, even predicting futures in which the earth would be controlled or
devastated by sophisticated machines, as in H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds
(1898) or in the chapter titled 'Shadows of the Coming Race' in George Eliot's
Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879). In particular, the Victorians were
concerned about the development of machines that could perform if not humanity
then something like it: as Sussman suggests, the Victorians 'were preoccupied with
the mechanical/organic problematic raised by the unprecedented self-acting machines
of the textile mills as well as the Babbage Engines, which transformed the meaning of
'computer' from a human being who calculated to a machine that thinks'.6 In addition
to the industrial technology Sussman describes, the late nineteenth century saw
advancements in communication and information technologies that resulted in the
dissemination of mass produced commodities that were also high performance
This essay will focus on the three high performance technologies featured most
prominently in Dracula and will provide a degree of historical context for each:
shorthand, which Mina and Harker use to write their journals and letters to each
other; the phonograph, which Dr. Steward uses in his medical practice and the
typewriter, which Mina uses to compile various documents into a coherent narrative.
Carol A. Senf suggests that Stoker was an enthusiastic proponent of technological
advance, and that all but one of his literary works represent optimistic views of
science and technology. 7 In Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula, Robert Eighteen-
Bisand and Elizabeth Miller document that Stoker integrated current communication
technologies such as the phonograph and the typewriter from the start of the novel's
composition.8 Although the author of an unsigned review in The Spectator included
stenographic handwriting or shorthand as an example of the 'up-to-dateness' of
Dracula, shorthand was actually an ancient method of transcribing speech
phonetically, with early forms dating back to Greek, Roman and European
Renaissance history.9 While shorthand had existed in earlier periods, it became much
5 Herbert Sussman, 'Machine Dreams: The Culture of Technology', Victorian Literature and
Culture 28.1 (2000), 197-204 (p. 197).
6 Sussman, p. 202.
7 Carol A Senf,'Dracula and The Lair of the White Worm: Bram Stoker's Commentary on Victorian
Science', Gothic Studies 2.2 (2000), 218-31.
8 Robert Eighteen-Bisand and Elizabeth Miller, Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile
Edition (London: McFarland, 2008), p. 35.
9 Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897), ed. by Maurice Hindle (London, UK: Penguin, 2003), p. 483;
more prominent in the nineteenth century, which E. H. Butler describes as being 'the
most prolific [century] ever known in shorthand invention'.10 Certainly, shorthand is
represented as a nineteenth century technology in Dracula: Harker describes the act
of 'writing in my diary in shorthand' as evidence that 'It is nineteenth century up-todate
with a vengeance'(p. 43).
The second 'up-to-date' technology incorporated into Dracula's self-reflexive
narrative is Edison's phonograph, which both recorded and reproduced sound – unlike
Berliner's later invention, the gramophone, which could only reproduce sound
recordings.11 Edison indicated that the phonograph could be used for taking dictation,
recording legal testimony, teaching languages and recording correspondence and
even military orders.12 It seems likely that Stoker first encountered phonographic
recordings while visiting Tennyson with Henry Irving in 1890, and later incorporated
the technology into his novel.13 There are two phonographs in Dracula: the first
belongs to Dr. Steward and is used for making clinical records; the second belongs to
Lucy Westenra, presumably used for social and entertainment purposes, which Dr.
Steward also employs. Jennifer Wicke suggests that Dr. Stewart's phonographic diary
is 'a technologized zone of the novel, inserted at a historical point where phonography
was not widespread'; however, Edison had invented the original tin foil phonograph
in 1877 and the more recent wax cylinder model described by Stoker in Dracula was
invented in 1888.14 According to Eighteen-Bisang and Miller, the practice of using
the phonograph to record clinical notations had become common at the time Stoker
started to write the novel, and Kittler describes Dr. Steward's phonograph as
belonging to a category of 'recently mass produced' technology.15
Like the phonograph, the typewriter was a nineteenth-century invention. In the
later nineteenth century, companies in England, France, Germany, and the United
States competed to produce the best, most efficient, most affordable and most
versatile machines. Mina's typewriter in Dracula represents the results of such
intense competition, and its portability is represented as a recent innovation: in her
journal, Mina writes 'I feel so grateful to the man who invented the "Traveller's"
typewriter [...]. I should have felt quite astray doing the work if I had to write with a
pen' (p. 372). At the time Dracula was written, the Hall typewriter proclaimed itself
to be the only portable typewriter available [FIGURE 1]. Many typewriters in the late
nineteenth century made similar claims, however: for instance, an 1897
Steven Roger Fischer, A History of Writing (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), p. 310. Subsequent
references are to this edition, incorporated in the body of the text.
10 E. H. Butler, The Story of British Shorthand (London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1951), p. 100.
11 Kittler, p. 3.
12 Ibid, p. 78.
13 Picker, John M, Victorian Soundscapes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 125.
14 Wicke, Jennifer, 'Vampiric Typewriting: Dracula and its Media', English Literary History, 59
(1992), 467-93 (p. 470).
15 Eighteen-Bisang & Miller, p. 79; Kittler, p. 87.
advertisement for the Hammond Typewriter describes its product as 'Strong and
Portable for Travellers' [FIGURE 2]. Mina's typewriter is not only portable; it is also
capable of making multiple copies. Mina uses the 'manifold' function of her
typewriter to make three copies at once (p. 239). Manifold paper was available in the
late nineteenth century; according to Steven Fischer, carbon paper had been invented
before 1880. 16 Although it was originally intended for making handwritten
duplicates, manifold paper was also used to make typewritten copies. Mina's
typewriter thus performs multiple functions: it enables the rapid production of printed
text, it produces multiple copies at once, and it is portable for added convenience.
An advertisement for the 'Hall' Typewriter in the Illustrated London
(Reprinted in Whalley, Writing Implements)
16 Fischer, p. 282.
An advertisement for the Hammond Typewriter in Strand Magazine,
(British Periodicals Database)
More than simply precursors to modern high performance technology,
phonographs, stenography, and typewriters themselves functioned as high
performance technologies and were marketed as such in the late Victorian periodical
press. Late nineteenth-century typewriter advertisements are a case in point.
McKenzie defines 'high performance' as the edge of what is technically possible; he
describes high performance technologies as 'high-speed' and 'high-capacity'.17 Late
Victorian typewriter advertisements emphasised these same attributes. For instance,
advertisements for the Hall and Hammond typewriters pictured in Figures 1 and 2
styled their products as cutting-edge technology by emphasising their portability.
Similarly, an 1896 advertisement for the Williams typewriter in The Review of
Reviews indicates that their typewriter has a 'capability for speed unequalled' in
comparison with similar products (it is 'high-speed'), and notes that the machine
'Makes more and clearer carbon copies' than its competitors (it is also 'high-capacity')
[FIGURE 3]. As Christopher Keep notes in his article on the typewriter in the late
nineteenth century, the typewriter was 'primarily an instrument of speed' – an
argument that is supported by the occurrence of typewriting speed trials in the
17 McKenzie, p. 98.
18 Christopher Keep, 'Blinded by the Type: Gender and Information Technology at the Turn of the
Century', Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23 (2001), 149-73 (p. 150).
An advertisement for the Williams Typewriter in Review of Reviews, 1896.
(British Periodicals Database)
McKenzie also argues that techno-performance is based on 'effectiveness',
which is measured 'in terms of executability, the technical "carrying-out" of
prescribed tasks, successful or not'.19 Evaluation of techno-performance is based on
performance standards, or 'evaluative criteria agreed upon and recognized by
members of a particular community and designed to be applicable across a wide
variety of contexts'. 20 In the late nineteenth century, the agreed upon evaluative
criteria of typewriter performance included portability (as demonstrated by the Hall
and Hammond typewriter advertisements), speed, durability, low cost and the ability
to make copies. For example, while the 1896 Blickensderfer typewriter was styled as
'an entirely new departure in Typewriter mechanism', the advertisement nevertheless
participates in the standard evaluative criteria by arguing that the Blickensderfer
typewriter is 'portable, [...] speedy, durable, and cheap' [FIGURE 4]. As technologies
developed and innovations were made, according to McKenzie, there was a feedback
process involving the 'ongoing comparison of predictions and performance'.21 An
1890 advertisement for the Hall typewriter indicates that the machine has been
'remodelled and improved' and is now 'practically perfect' [FIGURE 5]; similarly, an
1896 advertisement for the Densmore typewriter challenges other manufacturers to
match its own technological advances by asking potential customers if they 'want an
up-to-date typewriter that challenges the world to produce its equal in modern
improvements and conveniences' [FIGURE 6]. These examples suggest that late-
19 McKenzie, p. 97.
20 Ibid, p. 108.
21 McKenzie, p.107.
Victorian typewriter advertisements participated in the ongoing comparison process
of techno-performance. Finally, McKenzie repeatedly observes performance must be
balanced with other factors including 'cost, safety, and ease of maintenance'.22 Many
late Victorian typewriter advertisements demonstrate that the manufacturers have
taken into account all these factors: the 1890 Hall typewriter is described as 'Cheap,
Portable, [...] Easiest to learn, and Rapid as any' [FIGURE 5], whereas the 1896
Williams typewriter is considered to be 'compact, portable, [and] durable' [FIGURE 3].
While the word performance does not actually appear in these late nineteenth-century
typewriter advertisements, it is nevertheless clear that the typewriter was marketed as
a high performance technology.
An advertisement for the Blickensderfer Typewriter in Review of Reviews, 1896
(British Periodicals Database)
22 Ibid., p.115.
An advertisement for the Hall Typewriter in Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine, 1890.
(British Periodicals Database)
An advertisement for the Densmore Typewriter in Ludgate, 1896.
(British Periodicals Database)
Frayling suggests that 'Late Victorian readers seem to have read [Dracula] as
an early piece of techno-fiction'.23 Given the numerous emergent technologies found
in the novel, this is hardly surprising, and yet modern scholarly accounts of
technology in Dracula tend to regard it as a metaphor for something else rather than
seeing it as something that serves a function in and of itself. Wicke reads technology
in Dracula as a representation of mass media, where mass consumption (of texts)
parallels vampiric consumption. David Punter's essay on 'Tradition, Technology,
[and] Modernity' in Dracula only briefly touches on the topic of technology, despite
its title.24 For Punter, technology in Dracula represents the scientific rationality of
modernity, in contrast with the unknowable and uncanny future.25 Similarly, Menke
and Kittler examine technology only in terms of how it is used to defeat Dracula and
the monstrous past he represents. 26 I would argue that technology in Dracula
represents not one but both sides of Punter's paradox of modernity: technology
epitomises the scientific and rational in terms of its capacity for high performance,
but it is also disruptive and uncanny, as exemplified by the numerous failed
performances of technology in the novel.
Reading technology as merely a symptom of modernity relegates the function
of technology in the novel to the status of setting. In contrast, a techno-performative
reading of technology recognises the greater role technology plays in the novel. A
techno-performative reading allows us to foreground the role of technology in
literature, shifting its function from that of background object to central character. In
some ways, techno-performance is an anthropomorphisation of technology: as
McKenzie argues, 'In studying the effects of technologies, engineers and other
applied scientists discuss performance in terms of behaviours [and] sensitivities [...]
which the technologies exhibit in a given context'.27 The anthropomorphisation of
technology is not unique to the twenty-first century: as Sussman argues, 'The sense
that machines were somehow alive grew through the nineteenth century, strengthened
by innovations in automatic machinery, especially the development of feedback
mechanisms'.28 Although the communication technologies I examine in this paper
does not fall into Sussman's category of 'nineteenth century [...] machines that could
23 Christopher Frayling, Preface, in Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: a Facsimile Edition,
annotated and translated by Robert Eighteen-Bisand and Elizabeth Miller (London: McFarland,
2008), pp. vii-xii (p. viii).
24 David Punter, 'Bram Stoker's Dracula: Tradition, Technology, Modernity', Post/modern
Dracula: From Victorian Themes to Postmodern Praxis, ed. by John S. Bak (Newcastle: Cambridge
Scholars, 2007), pp. 31-41.
25 Ibid, p. 35.
26 See Richard Menke, Telegraphic Realism: Victorian Fiction and Other Information Systems
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), p. 10 and Kittler, pp. 86-87.
27 McKenzie, p. 113.
28 Herbert L. Sussman, Victorian Technology: Invention, Innovation, and the Rise of the Machine
(Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009), p. 39.
act independently, regulate themselves, calculate, and even, it seemed, think' because
they had to be operated by humans (typists, dictating voices, or shorthand writers),
these technologies nevertheless performed in some uncannily anthropomorphic
A consideration of the challenges posed by the techno-performative paradigm
demonstrates the central roles played by technology in late nineteenth-century
examples of 'techno-fiction' such as Dracula. McKenzie notes two challenges posed
by techno-performance: first, the challenge posed by a developer to his/her
technological product, 'Perform – or else you're obsolete, liable to be defunded, junk
piled, or dumped on foreign markets'; and second, the challenge posed by technology
to its user, 'Perform – or else you're outmoded, undereducated, [...] a dummy'.30 An
1897 advertisement for the Empire Typewriter makes this second challenge clear by
stating emphatically, 'If you with to be with the times, use a typewriter. If you wish to
lead the times, use an Empire' [FIGURE 7]. Readers of this advertisement who do not
use a typewriter are thus styled as behind the times. Stoker's Dracula takes up both
the techno-performative challenges outlined by McKenzie. Emergent technologies
sometimes perform in unexpected and potentially disruptive ways, much like the
space shuttle Challenger cited by McKenzie: on 28th January 1986, what was
intended to be a display of the triumph of high performance technology with the
launch of the Challenger space shuttle became a 'high performance disaster' caused
by 'the failure of a "high performance field joint" on the right Solid Rocket Booster'.31
At the same time, high performance technologies oblige their users to perform in
similarly unexpected and disruptive ways. A twenty-first century example of this
phenomenon is the way in which Apple computers force former PC users to adjust
their computing behaviours (for instance, by resisting the urge to click on the right
mouse button, which does not exist on Apple mice). In Dracula, characters are often
forced to shift from using one technology with which they are comfortable to using
another technology that obliges them to alter their performances of research and
29 Sussman, p.49.
30 McKenzie, p. 12.
31 Ibid., p. 141.
An advertisement for the Empire Typewriter in Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and
(British Periodicals Database)
The challenge to technology to perform involves the evaluation of that
technology according to socially or culturally agreed upon standards. In Dracula,
techno-performance is evaluated according to four criteria: accuracy, efficiency,
preservation and authenticity. I will discuss the first three criteria here, and I will
return to the fourth – authenticity – later in this essay. Characters in Stoker's novel
exhibit an obsession with accuracy throughout the novel: Harker describes the action
of 'entering accurately' his experiences in a diary as soothing, and Mina attempts to
record her interview with Dr. Van Helsing 'verbatim' (p. 44, p. 194)32 Harker and
Mina's association with shorthand techniques in the novel implicitly suggests that
emergent nineteenth-century communication technologies allow for greater accuracy.
The phonograph is also seen as an instrument that enables precision: in the first entry
of his phonographic diary, Dr. Steward notes that if, in the future, he should want to
trace his patient's progress 'accurately,' he should incorporate his medical notes into
his phonographic journal (p. 69).33 In the preface to Chapter One, the reader is
informed that 'There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may
err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints
and within the range of knowledge of those who made them' (p. 6). In Dracula,
technology makes the compilation of an infallibly accurate document possible.
The efficiency of transcription and preservation of transcribed materials is also
a key evaluative criterion for the technologies that appear in Dracula. Both shorthand
and phonography are presented as efficient methods of recording information:
shorthand is compared favourably to cursive writing, which is described as
'cumbrous' and 'old,' and Mina suggests that Dr. Steward's phonograph 'beats even
shorthand', assumedly because it is an even more efficient and accurate method of
recording one's thoughts (p. 386, p. 235). In addition to recording information quickly
and efficiently, shorthand prevents the unsanctioned transmission of information
because it limits access, given that most characters in the novel cannot read
32 Italics in original.
33 Italics in original.
shorthand; however, it does not prevent the destruction of the information that has
been transcribed. Early in the novel, Harker realizes that his diary 'would have been a
mystery to [Dracula] that he would not have brooked. He would have taken or
destroyed it' (p. 48). When Dracula sees the 'strange symbols' of stenography in a
letter Harker had intended for Mina, he confirms Harker's earlier prediction and burns
the letter immediately (p. 50). Dr. Steward's phonograph is also intended to preserve
information: in this case, his observations concerning his patient Mr. Renfield, and
later his more wide ranging journal entries; however, Dracula burns the phonographic
cylinders, leaving only a copy of the typed manuscript behind. It is only the
proliferation of copies, enabled by the manifold function of Mina's typewriter, that
saves information from total erasure.
To answer the second challenge of techno-performance, the call to performance
posed by technology to its users, Dracula's characters must work to keep pace with
the continual technological advancement of the late Victorian period. New
technology requires practice, as Mina demonstrates: in addition to developing her
typewriting skills, Mina practices shorthand 'very assiduously' (p. 62). She and
Harker write letters to each other in shorthand, and Harker keeps a travel journal in
shorthand to share with Mina when he returns home. Characters that do not practise
appear 'outmoded', as McKenzie's model of techno-performance suggests. Senf notes
that both Van Helsing and Dracula are 'handicapped' by their unfamiliarity with
technology, despite the fact that the former is a prominent scientist and the latter has
attempted to familiarise himself with English social life and customs. 34 Dr. Van
Helsing is not able to perform in the way the phonograph asks, and dictates a letter as
if he were writing it on paper rather than speaking into a phonograph: he begins with
a salutation 'This is to Jonathan Harker,' proceeds with only grammatically complete
and correct sentences, and ends by verbally signing his name 'Van Helsing' (pp. 335-
6).When Harker later relays this message to Mina, he 'reads' it rather than playing it
for her (p. 336). This odd word choice could simply be an error on Stoker's part,
suggesting that he was conditioned by the communication technology he used to
write the novel to perform in a certain way; or, it could be an acknowledgement that
the characters in the novel have difficulty keeping up with the advance of technology.
Even when characters appear to be familiar with technological innovations,
emergent technologies often demand that their users perform in a manner different
from what would otherwise be customary. Dr. Steward's phonograph diary often
contains sentence fragments and ellipses: for example, when describing Mr.
Renfield's condition he states, 'Sanguine temperament; great physical strength;
morbidly excitable; periods of gloom ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make
out' (p. 69). Because the phonograph records spoken rather than written language, it
inevitably asks its users to perform the act of recording a journal or diary differently
from how one would compose a written record. A similar linguistic shift is evident in
34 Carol A.Senf, Dracula: Between Tradition and Modernism (New York: Twayne, 1998), p. 91.
the use of telegrams. Like our twenty-first century text messaging technology, the
telegraph puts the price of single words at a premium, so users are asked to transmit
their messages in as few words as possible. In the case of twenty-first century text
messaging, the user would be required to reword a simple statement such as 'I have to
go to the store to pick up some groceries, but I will be right back' into something
much more concise such as 'Have 2 go 2 store. BRB'. Similarly, in Dracula,
characters reformulate their telegraphed messages in the interest of brevity: for
instance, in a telegraph to Dr. Steward, Arthur Holmwood writes 'Am summoned to
see my father, who is worse. Am writing. Write me fully by tonight's post to Ring.
Wire me if necessary' (p. 120). Emergent technologies, whether they are the products
of the nineteenth century or the twenty-first century, ask their users to perform
As technologies condition their users to perform in a certain manner, the users
become dependent on these new technologies. When Dr. Steward is treating Lucy
Westenra at her home, he uses her phonograph to record his journal entry, rather than
simply writing it down. Interestingly, he speaks of his phonographic diary as if it
were a written document. Part way through the novel, he ends his diary, stating, 'If I
ever open this again, it will be to deal with different people and different themes' (p.
188). The verb 'opening' suggests the opening of a book rather than a phonograph.
At the end of this entry, he states, 'I say sadly and without hope, FINIS' (p. 188).This
'finis' is as much a visual marker as it is a linguistic marker, so it is interesting that
Stoker has Dr. Steward insert it at the end of his phonographic journal, which is
recorded in a non-visual medium. Once characters are conditioned to perform in the
manner demanded by a particular technology, they have difficulty reverting to an
older form of communication. When travelling, Dr. Stewart is unable to bring his
phonograph with him, and must use pen and paper instead: he complains, 'How I miss
my phonograph! To write diary with a pen is irksome to me' (p. 357). When he does
use the older technology of pen and paper, traces of the oral style of communication
demanded by the phonograph (marked by ellipses and incomplete sentences) remain
in Dr. Steward's written diary: several of his written diary entries begin with sentence
In addition to outlining the challenges posed to technology and its users by the
techno-performance paradigm, McKenzie identifies certain high performance
technologies as metatechnologies. He provides a twofold definition of
metatechnology: first, it is 'a technology used to design, manufacture, and evaluate
other technologies'; and second, it is a technology that 'not only performs [but also]
helps produce performances of other products and materials and thereby greatly
extends the domain of technological performance'. 35 McKenzie's example of a
metatechnology is the modern computer: in addition to performing its own tasks, it is
used to 'design, manufacture, and evaluate other technologies'; computer technology
35 McKenzie, p. 11.
has also been incorporated into a plethora of other technologies, from telephones to
automobiles. I would argue that earlier technologies functioned in ways similar to
twenty-first century metatechnologies. While the typewriter is not used to design or
manufacture other emergent communication technologies in Dracula, it certainly
assists in the production of the performances of other technologies. The typewriter
functions as what McKenzie describes as a 'hypermediating media': the typewriter is
the technology through which all other technologies in the novel (stenography,
phonographic records, and telegraphed messages) are produced and made accessible
to the characters and to the reader.36 As only two of the novel's characters are able to
read shorthand, all the shorthand documents mentioned in the novel must be
processed by the typewriter to make them accessible to a broader audience. This
transcription process supposedly saves time: as Mina notes, 'I am so glad I have typewritten
out my own journal, so that in case [Dr. Van Helsing] asks about Lucy, I can
hand it to him; it will save much questioning' (p. 193). Surely it would take as much
time to speak with Dr. Van Helsing as it would to type out her journal; however, Mina
sees emergent technology as inherently efficient, even when it might not be. The
typewriter is also used to process Dr. Steward's phonographic recordings. A failing of
the phonograph is identified when Dr. Steward realizes he does not know how to
locate any particular entry in his diary, despite the fact that he has been recording on
it for several months. Like stenographic records, phonographic records must be
transcribed by typewriter to make them readily accessible in the most efficient
manner. Another failing of the phonograph is noted after Mina listens to Dr. Steward's
recordings: as Mina informs him,
That is a wonderful machine, but it is cruelly true. It told me, in its very tones,
the anguish of your heart. [...] No one must ever hear them spoken again! See, I
have [...] copied out the words on my typewriter, and none other need now hear
your heart beat, as I did. (p. 237)
Here, the typewriter performs the act of removing the speaker's 'soul' from the
recorded information, a process that prepares the text for wider dissemination.
As these passages suggest, Dracula contains many examples of technoperformative
failures, in which communication technologies fail to perform as asked
by their users. Considering that the performances of emergent technology are
continually evaluated and fed back into the production process, McKenzie's
observation that technology can only be perfect on paper or in one's imagination rings
true for technology in the nineteenth century as well as technology in the twentieth
and twenty-first centuries. 37 The high performance technologies of the Victorian
period emerged from a larger context of widespread technological invention and
36 McKenzie, p. 22.
37 Ibid., p. 122.
innovation. As Sussman points out, Victorian technology 'did not exist in a fixed
form, but evolved rapidly within a culture that supported innovation'. 38 Because
Dracula emerges within a cultural milieu in which new technologies were not only
expected to advance but also to fail occasionally in that advancement, technoperformative
failures, both partial and total, inevitably occur. In the case of the
phonograph, the technology available in the late nineteenth century could only
'recor[d] indiscriminately what was within the range of microphones [...] thereby
shift[ing] the boundaries that distinguished noise from meaningful sounds'.39 As we
see in Dracula, the phonograph recorded sounds and meanings that were never
intended to be recorded, such as the sounds of Dr. Stewart's anguished heart. In
'Memory and Phonograph' (1880), Jean-Marie Guyau argued that 'the phonograph is
incapable of reproducing the human voice in all its strength and warmth. The voice of
the apparatus will remain shrill and cold; it has something perfect and abstract that
sets it apart'.40 In this example, the phonograph's performance fails because the sound
it produces is not as 'human' as desired; in Dracula, however, the phonograph fails
because it performs a voice that is all too human.
Other techno-performative failures occur when, as McKenzie suggests, certain
evaluative criteria have to be sacrificed in favour of others. In Dracula, the kinds of
accessibility and legibility made possible by the typewriter exist at the expense of
authenticity. On the last page of the novel, Harker observes that 'in all the mass of
material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document;
nothing but a mass of type-writing' (p. 402). Punter argues that the narrative is
'validated by typewriter,' but the opposite is true: because the typewriter is unable to
perform the bodily traces of older technologies, it cannot assert its own authenticity
or authority.41 Kittler argues that 'For mechanized writing to be optimized, one can no
longer dream of writing as the expression of individuals or the trace of bodies. The
very forms, differences, and frequencies of its letters have to be reduced to
formulas'.42 If we apply Kittler's notion of bodily traces to the novel, we see that
handwriting, shorthand, and phonography retain traces of the author's body, but these
traces are either illegible or, in the case of the phonograph, too legible. While the
typewriter's performance is 'high' in terms of legibility, efficiency, and preservation, it
is incapable of performing authenticity.
In some ways then, Dracula is story of failed techno-performances: stenography fails
38 Sussman, p. 5.
39 Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Michal Wutz, 'Translator's Introduction: Friedrich Kittler and
Media Discourse Analysis', in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
and Michael Wutz (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999), pp. xi-xxxviii (p. xxvi).
40 Jean-Marie Guyau, 'Memory and Phonograph', in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. by
Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 30-33
(first publ.in Revue philosophique de la France et de l'étranger 5 (1880), 319-22) (p. 32).
41 Punter, p. 40.
42 Kittler, p. 16.
because it is inaccessible to readers (although this is also a positive attribute because
it keeps information safe from Dracula); the phonograph fails because it reproduces
not only the words of the speaker but also his undisguised emotions; and the
typewriter fails because it cannot reproduce the bodily traces which certify the
authenticity of the documents produced. In performing according to creator's
specifications and users' demands, emergent technologies also fail to perform because
they are still participating in the feedback loop of invention and innovation. At the
same time, emergent technologies invite performative failures from users who are
unaccustomed to the newness of technological machines and procedures. Using
McKenzie's concept of techno-performance to examine the roles and functions of
technology in Victorian literature enables us to move away from seeing technology as
merely background objects or symptoms of modernity. Techno-performance allows
us to see that the emergent technologies of the Victorian era were caught in the same
performative bind as our modern digital technologies, and were posed with the same
performative challenge, to 'perform – or else'.
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