the imaginative conservative logo

dracula philosophy of the vampireHere I am, sitting at a little oak table where in old times possibly some fair lady sat to pen, with much thought and many blushes, her ill-spelt love letter, and writing in my diary in shorthand all that has happened since I closed it last. It is the nineteenth century up-to-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill.—Dracula, by Bram Stoker

I. Dracula, a Narrative History

The rapid journey of Jonathan Harker, protagonist of Dracula, east “among the traditions of Turkish rule” spoils Modernity’s conquest of distance rather than time and space. There is, between the two, literally a world of difference. He journeys to another epoch, a qualitatively different time and place. The time that makes an epoch grow as a culture is far richer than the abstraction of the physicists.

They say that people who are near death die generally at the change to dawn or at the turn of the tide. Anyone who has when tired, and tied as it were to his post, experienced this change in the atmosphere can well believe it. All at once we heard the crow of the cock coming up with preternatural shrillness through the clear morning air.—Jonathan Harker

Harker enters a world where natural events have purpose. Evil waxes and wanes with changes of the sun and tides. Biotic rhythms have sacramental potency. Actions have final purpose. Thus Dracula contains no accidents. The vampire hunt arises from a culture of friendships; thus its narrative is a written account of these things that grew together and is properly called an ecology.

The friendship of Lucy and Mina binds the Harker family to the friends of John Seward and is the keystone relationship of the novel. Love, including friendship, grows out of the particulars. Dracula’s machinations are general; that is, they follow from general or rather generative principles. He seeks to enter England through a solicitor, taking the place as of the more senior, gouty Mr. Harker.

Jonathan Harker’s qualities of discretion and silence serve him well in his imprisonment. His is the novel’s foundational act of bravery.

Harker’s utility to Dracula is categorical. He is a solicitor licensed to handle the business transaction and, as a man, is appetizing to female vampires. The danger he poses is particular. It is through his journal that the richest source of information about Count Dracula is provided to the reader.

Dracula’s predation of Lucy is opportunistic. He is drawn to the grave of the suicide, a spot Lucy enjoys for its beautiful view. The meeting of Dracula and Lucy at such a crossroads is fitting, for the vampire hunts at the intersection of beauty and ugliness. Vampiric love is consumptive in nature:

The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him. “You yourself never loved. You never love!” On this the other women joined, and such a mirthless, hard, soulless laughter rang through the room that it almost made me faint to hear. It seemed like the pleasure of fiends. Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper, “Yes, I too can love. You yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so? Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will. — Excerpt from Harker’s journal

Vampiric Love is not mere lust. It has a malevolent awareness of Love’s spiritual dimensions.

In a sort of sleep-waking, vague, unconscious way she opened her eyes, which were now dull and hard at once, and said in a soft, voluptuous voice, such as I had never heard from her lips, “Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!”— John Seward

Though the Count’s predation of Lucy was opportunistic, she poses her own particular danger to him, ultimately becoming a martyr for the cause of his defeat. Her utility to Dracula and the danger she poses to men and children are categorical. Here, a pattern emerges. Diabolical forces make use of generalities to repurpose good things for evil; such as rendering a woman a predator rather than a nurturer of children. The vampire captures souls through the corruption of its aspects; the Angelic draws on a soul’s full particularity, an act requiring love. Dracula’s initial victory over Lucy is a necessary condition of his eventual defeat. Further, Lucy seals her own Fate through an act of love.

The maids shrieked, and then went in a body to the dining room, and I laid what flowers I had on my dear mother’s breast. When they were there I remembered what Dr. Van Helsing had told me, but I didn’t like to remove them, and besides, I would have some of the servants to sit up with me now. —Lucy’s Diary

Lucy understands, before the end, if only subconsciously, that extraordinary forces beset her and that this battle will continue after she is gone:

The air seems full of specks, floating and circling in the draught from the window, and the lights burn blue and dim. What am I to do? God shield me from harm this night! I shall hide this paper in my breast, where they shall find it when they come to lay me out. My dear mother gone! It is time that I go too. Goodbye, dear Arthur, if I should not survive this night. God keep you, dear, and God help me! — Lucy’s diary

Lucy’s death is a tragic necessity. It is assembles the vampire hunters and confirms Van Helsing’s diagnosis. Additionally, Van Helsing’s examination of Lucy’s correspondence leads him to Mina, whose intuition rivals and complements Van Helsing’s intellect as is evident from the very beginning of their correspondence. Count Dracula’s categorical malice soon becomes particular. The men who hunt him make the decision to exclude Mina from their work. This serious but necessary blunder leaves Mina vulnerable.

Feeding on Mina is not Count Dracula’s primary purpose. Instead he intends his crooked sacrament, a corruption of marriage and baptism, as revenge on those who have thwarted him, most especially Jonathan Harker. This desire for a malicious act is his ultimate undoing. Having forced some of his essence into Mina, that allows her insight into his own mind and he is thus at the mercy of her acute but unassuming perception. He also makes the struggle more personal for Mina’s very soul hangs in the balance. Count Dracula’s thirst for Mina, unlike his thirst for Lucy, is particular; targeted against Mina and those who love her. As his general malevolence turns to particular hate, his victims pose him ever more danger. Had he fled without attacking Mina, he would have been impossible to track.

Now, the Count’s “child brain” is exhibited to Mina’s mature perception. She withdraws herself from discussions, knowing Dracula sees through her and she requests that Van Helsing hypnotize her, sensing that she would be able to see through the vampire. Finally, when the trail goes cold, it is she who puts the final piece of the puzzle in place.

Count Dracula’s choosing Mina destroys him, and his revenge is met in more than kind, for Mr. Harker lands one of the killing blows. His error was intellectual as much as tactical. Dracula erred in believing the modern account of London, or rather, believing that the powers of the “Old Centuries” could not be turned against him. This reveals an important aspect of the vampire. His intellect is human, at least initially, but as Van Helsing implies in the remarks concerning the Count’s “Child Brain,” the vampire does not yet fully understand his Vampiric faculties. His machinations partake of the diabolical only insofar as human machinations can. Dracula forms a Narrative History of how particularities undermined the vampire’s scheme and when evil powers of bygone centuries invaded the matter-of-fact modern period, the Age of Heroes rose out of hiding to meet them.

Thus, Dracula takes his place in a world where the particular has its own proper power and atomism is finally irrelevant. In order to understand the metaphysics of Dracula, we must first understand those of Dracula. To understand the creature, we must understand what he understood and more fundamentally what he misunderstood. The novel takes place in Modernity’s blind spots; from the dark corners we may observe the error of this thoroughly modern vampire.

Modernity is an epoch with characteristic intents and modes of thought; a reaction to the old centuries which “have a power of their own” apparently extending to the present. We shall find the anatomy of modern thought is the key to the philosophy of the vampire.

II. Modernity

The term “modern” is Latin for “just now.” The evanescent defines the epoch. Confidence in inexorable progress, which pervades modern thought, resolves this paradox. Modernity as an actuality depends logically on the present’s anticipation of the future. Each successive “now” best characterizes modernity. Modern history is a history of the future.

This description requires some elucidation. Past eras also held notions of a progressive history. The distinguishing feature of the modern notion of progress is its instrumental conception of it. Modern progress is the systematic and purposive improvement of instruments by instruments. The systematic use of instruments is itself an instrument. We call these instrumental systems “Technology.” Moderns instinctively understand that to cease to innovate is to cease to exist. Our awareness of this dependence habituates us to self-consciously systematization.

“System” is a term of abstraction. Abstraction draws patterns from things observed or intuited, classes them together based on commonalities and defines the class as all things possessing these commonalities. The abstraction is posterior to that from which it is abstracted. This systematic abstraction is useful as a shortcut for repetitive reasoning but it is technological rather than metaphysical. It fashions the habits of one’s mind.

This systematic mode of thinking manifests itself in the scientific interpretation of nature. Oddly, to understand natural science, we must first consider mathematics, the most paradigmatic and least typical science. Mathematics is an iterative process like modernity itself. Mathematicians study specific examples of mathematical objects in order to draw-forth general properties. The elements of a mathematical class are so, exclusively by virtue of their possession of its definitional properties. All further properties proper to that class must be deduced from these.

This class-based deductive generalization is insufficient. Mathematics, considered purely, is governed solely by non-contradiction and has no relationship to the external world. Form is its meaning. All other sciences refer to the external world for their meaning and must also establish a correspondence between classes of phenomena and abstract categories. This correspondence is the testable hypothesis; and the link between pure and empirical reason. Given the definitional properties of some class, certain consequences obtain deductively. The correctness of the theory is the consistency of the relationship between the logical and phenomenal classes.

This consistency cannot be absolutely established because experience cannot cover every element of the phenomenal class. Science has a structural difficulty in dealing with rarities. The corroborated hypothesis is a relationship between the logical and the observed, rather than the observable. Thus, the scientific concept of Nature is the observed though it aspires to the observable.

For technological purposes, the value of study of these consistent and therefore predictable consequences can scarcely be denied. Indeed, insofar as Naturalism is a hypothesis of science, it is empirically sound. It is logically impossible, however, to construe naturalism more broadly while maintaining empirical success as a demonstration of its correctness. Naturalism is ultimately a closure assumption and only as such, may be validated.

III. Science and Symbol

A. The Artifice of Symbolism

A symbol is a redirection point for the soul; it must have a referent and is defined thereby. An obvious example of a symbol is a letter in a phonetic alphabet, referring to a class of phonemes. This symbol’s referent is clearly ascribed and thus it is artificial. As a psychological matter, the mind deals with categories symbolically. The symbol refers to the commonalities among the elements of the category.

The ability to separate the formal and empirical aspects of science implies that the symbol is conventional. Within the formal system, the symbol is self-referential; within the empirical structure, it refers to something observed or hypothesized. In either case, its redirection of the mind results from either explicit relation of the symbol to its referent or the deductive results thereof. Science reduces to a collection of symbols much smaller than the logical consequences of the same. These symbols are the logical atoms and they gain their name because they have no content of their own though they may have a functional relationship to various parameters.

The logical structure of science requires the existence of content-less atoms. If any symbolic laws involve a non-artificial symbol, that is, it refers the uninitiated mind to something else, this referent is either simpler, violating atomism or outside the formal system, violating closure. Science seeks logical closure and explains its absence as the first sort of reference. The possibility of natural symbolism is generally ignored.

Logically following this is an attempt to define a law of nature. A law of nature is a symbolic relation amongst logical atoms that demonstrates a logical transformation on these atoms consistent with phenomena and applicable universally to some predefined class. A law of nature is closed and does not refer to nature. The logical atoms are without content but refer to some phenomenon, gaining another logical relation referring to a different phenomenon through a deductive process. This stable relationship between the internal logic of the scientific system and the measurable relations of phenomena is the testable hypothesis. Its composition is symbolic and its content is its form.

B. The Human Sciences

Scientific reasoning is similar in the human sciences. Human sciences, or scientific anthropology, often assume some variant of materialism but this does not always factor into their analysis. Anthropologists must settle for another logical atom, accepting the possibility of reduction as a matter of principle. Commonly they settle on an abstract individual. This individual approximates particularity through parameters. Thus, this individual is an element of a class rather than a fully particular being.

This reductionist anthropology can neither be confirmed nor denied within its own assumptions rather, its limitations present a difficulty. Since no model can account for all parameters, the conclusions of social scientific models only specify classes; that is, scientific anthropology cannot in practice or in principle account for particularity.

The manifestation of this limitation in scientific history is directly relevant. A person’s morality is particular for free choice is meaningful only when endogenous. Scientific history cannot be moral history and cannot explain what categorical reason cannot foresee.

IV. Symbol and the Soul

Is it then possible to demonstrate natural symbolism? Any formal demonstration of natural symbolism involves an artificial symbol referring the mind to the natural symbol as such. Defining a natural symbol as something that refers the soul to something else spontaneously such that the relationship is neither ascribed nor deduced, we cannot formally demonstrate their existence since associating the class of natural symbols into some symbolic grammar renders the symbolism artificial. Rather, experience must suffice. The natural symbol follows from the fact of psychical association. Association cannot be random if thinking is to be meaningful. Truly free association is psychosis.

The critical difference between the natural and artificial symbol is the fact that a natural symbol depends on the particular perceiving soul. Conversely, the artificial symbol depends on class-generating criteria. Thus, if there exists something that can refer any given soul to some concept outside of itself, that is an example of a natural symbol.

Critically, both examples depend on the particular perceiver. In the case of artificial symbolism, the specific follows from the general, in the case of natural symbolism, the general arises from the particular. A fable provides a convenient example of a natural symbol yielding general moral precepts. The natural symbol points outward, not inward; it does not admit of closure.

Love, then, is a double coincidence of natural symbols. Each refers the soul of the one to the particularity of the other, and each natural symbol depends on both particularities. Love is the means by which natural symbolism leads one to awareness of another as an end in himself. The natural symbol can link two souls. Perhaps this is why communication is possible. If so, artificial symbolism is derivative of natural symbolism and natural symbols are a means to accomplish it.

Artificial symbols may be linked together into systems. Is there an analogous concept for natural symbolism? Since natural symbolism is natural, a natural term is required. Thus, natural symbols may be combined together, or rather, grow together in a culture.[1] A culture of natural symbolism has meaning and must have an ecology. Only narrative can capture particularity in logos. Thus, the narrative is the analogue to and generalization of the formal system.

The ecological properties of natural symbol shed light on the anthropology of ritual. Rituals take place at a particular time and place. Thus a ritual, and a ritual culture are ecologies of natural symbols.

The question of natural symbol manifests whenever philosophy encounters narrative. Philosophies of myth and history cannot ignore it. Then, scientific history, defined rather than guided by methods, reduces the ecology in order to anatomize it. The historian must first be a poet. His narrative is correct insofar as its ecology corresponds to the symbolic reality of human beings.

V. The Philosophy of the Vampire

A. The Error of the Vampire

As I learned from the researches of my friend Arminius of Buda-Pesth, he was in life a most wonderful man. Soldier, statesman, and alchemist— in which the latter was the highest development of the science knowledge of his time. He had a mighty brain, a learning beyond compare, and a heart that knew no fear and no remorse. He dared even to attend the Scholomance, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay. — Van Helsing

The failure of the vampire’s philosophy is his failure to grasp the philosophy of the vampire. His “child brain” contains a powerful intellect that is beguiled by power. As Van Helsing implies, he does not yet fully understand his power or its metaphysical consequences. To understand these is the task of this essay.

It is nonsense to speak of a natural science of the vampire, for Count Dracula is not of nature. Van Helsing states: “He who is not of nature has yet to obey some of nature’s laws, why we know not.” No unnatural being falls within Nature’s science. Natural science describes only beings that follow all laws of nature. For instance, again from Van Helsing’s Speech:

He become so small, we ourselves saw Miss Lucy, ere she was at peace, slip through a hairbreadth space at the tomb door. He can, when once he find his way, come out from anything or into anything, no matter how close it be bound or even fused up with fire, solder you call it. He can see in the dark, no small power this, in a world which is one half shut from the light.

Though not all natural laws bind Dracula, some supernatural laws do:

His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day. Only at certain times can he have limited freedom. If he be not at the place whither he is bound, he can only change himself at noon or at exact sunrise or sunset. These things we are told, and in this record of ours we have proof by inference. Thus, whereas he can do as he will within his limit, when he have his earth-home, his coffin-home, his hell-home, the place unhallowed, as we saw when he went to the grave of the suicide at Whitby, still at other time he can only change when the time come…We have seen it with our eyes. Thus when we find the habitation of this man-that-was, we can confine him to his coffin and destroy him, if we obey what we know. — Mina’s Journal

The host renders his earth boxes uninhabitable and so sacramental laws bind him. Yet, as mentioned, he requires sacred ground for rest. Any science of the vampire must comprehend all parts of natural science that follow from those laws of nature that bind him, all supernatural laws that bind him, and further comprehend the natural meaning of those natural laws which he does obey.

B. The Animal and Demonic Aspects of the Vampire

The predation of rational beings by rational beings brings forth an instinctive disgust, implying that rationality too has instincts proper to it. If we define rationality as the ability to understand meaning, perhaps even the ability to grasp it spontaneously, we begin to see the source of this disgust. The animal and demonic aspects of the vampire cannot be separated because both the demon and the vampire are predators of rational beings. A rational being cannot be understood as an artificial symbol. Rational beings instinctively understand other rational beings to have moral status and thus to be ends rather than means. The apparent exceptions of slavery and warfare prove the rule since in slavery and the warfare of primitive peoples as well as democracies both are confronted with the necessity of dehumanizing their targets—of denying their rationality. Thus, when a rational being preys on another rational being, in full and honest comprehension of that being’s rationality, its activity is diabolical.

The rational human must also engage in animal activities, most notably eating and reproduction, Though animals engage in these activities instinctively, humans cloak these activities in ritual, or rather, and without modern prejudice, humans understand these things to have more than natural meaning and thus the rituals of marriage and the banquet, both have sacramental aspects. The vampire preys, perverts, and conflates these ceremonies. He too reproduces sexually by the crossing of bloodlines. He pollutes sacraments by mixing them. He nourishes himself not by destroying a beast or a plant, but by interfering with the salvation of another soul. The human sanctifies his animal actions through ceremony, acknowledging that his rationality allows him to understand their meaning. The vampire too is rational but he inverts the same sacraments and infuses them with diabolical intentions. Thus, there is no zoology of the vampire for his is just as much a demonology.

The primal malevolence of the vampire precludes the possibility of a scientific understanding of his nature in either the materialist or theological sense. The vampire comprehends and rejects the good. Its comprehension of the good precludes the possibility of a materialistic natural science of the vampire insofar as such a science cannot account for the existence of primal evil. Since evil is unnatural, in the theological sense, there can be no theological science of the vampire either. The vampire has no logical closure. His perversion of natural sacraments is nihilistic in the sense that it perverts and corrupts their natural meaning. There is no science of the vampire precisely because he cannot be understood except within the logic of the meaning that he works to undo.

C. The Metaphysical Consequences of the Vampire

Paradoxically, the only sort of universe in which the vampire can exist is a universe where meaning is natural and primal. He demonstrates natural law by defying the parameters it places upon him. The vampire further demonstrates that there is meaning inherent in natural things. In short, the possibility of the perversion of a natural symbol implies the existence of such natural symbols. The violence the vampiric ecology does to the broader ecology on which it preys, requires the existence of both ecologies.

Mankind, provincial and finite by nature, has only very limited capacity to distinguish the accidental from the natural and understand the relationship of these to the eternal. For an epoch to become self-aware is to see this distinction but not necessarily to understand it. The paradox of modernism is that for all its awareness of the distinction between nature and art, for the sake of exerting art on nature, it worked nature into symbolism and thus into an artifice identifying the frontier of the natural with the artificial limitations. The mere act of attempting to disentangle nature from art forces us to construe nature simultaneously too widely and too narrowly. Widely in the sense that nature, understood as those parts of the world that remain unchanged by human artifice, is thought to provide the logical basis for that artifice itself, and thus, the study of that artifice, proper to anthropology, is considered a sub-discipline of the natural sciences. Narrowly in the sense that only those aspects of reality most amenable to the methods of natural science are considered parts of it. The self-awareness of the modern era descends from its awareness of its unique capacity for artifice that exerts power over nature. Thus, its self-awareness literally means it understands its own ability to depart from the natural. Then, a fundamental prejudice of modernism and thus one of its accidental and epochal qualities is to misunderstand its own epochal quality. System has faded so much into habit that it has grown into a culture. It has understood itself as the epoch that recognizes the divide between nature and art but it has misunderstood the divide.

Conclusion

The failure of the vampire to understand his own implications illustrates how centuries and epochs may “have a power of their own” both as the present and the past. The old centuries exert power over the soul through their symbolic cultures and ecologies. The power of the old centuries does not grow merely because they are past, but rather because of modernity’s self-awareness. Precisely because modernism understands its own power in technological and instrumental terms, the old centuries, full of natural symbolism exert great power over it, most obviously whenever moderns dare to travel, as Jonathan Harker did, to places where the pre-modern still reigns. When Dracula travelled into modernism’s dominion, he brought the power of the old centuries with him even as he intended to turn modernism against itself.

It is unwise to leave the old centuries alone, where and when they are. They carry with them older cultures that our science ignores. It must dismiss them as accidental but accidents ought not to cohere. These cultures arise on their own and always are growing through the cracks of modernism. In Dracula, the rich culture overpowered the poor culture. Heroes rose from apparently ordinary matter-of-fact moderns to resist a vampire’s very scientific machinations.

Scientism most precisely is a culture that claims completeness. If science, properly abhorrent of premature conclusions, remains infected by scientism, it may pass into myth as the formal systems spawn their own ecologies. Whether scientism can alter its habits so as to become a complete myth, ultimately depends on the unanswered questions of human nature. If symbolic culture and ecology run deeper than habit in the human soul then the old centuries will rise again. The question of the ultimate fate of scientism is, in no small part, a question of the history, and perhaps, eschatology of myth; a question of narratives outside the boundaries of known science. Ultimately then, the awareness of the nature-art distinction combined with its problematic explication is potentially the undoing of the one epoch that, etymologically at least, disallows the very possibility of its own end.

Notes:

[1] The term “culture” is a compromise. It is meant analogously with growth though not necessarily conscious cultivation.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Print Friendly
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
1 reply to this post
  1. I believe that there is something brilliant here, however, for the life of me I cannot decipher it. Mr. Schuler, in the few paragraphs where I faintly understand your idiosyncratic style I’m assured that what you are saying needs to be said.

    Please, in normal english, what is your central point?

Please leave a thoughtful, civil, and constructive comment: