Phonograph, Shorthand, Typewriter: High Performance Technologies in Bram Stoker's Dracula

Issue: Vol 3, No 2: Winter 2011
Pages: 95-113
Author(s): Leanne Page (English and Film Studies, University of Alberta)
Citation: http://victoriannetwork.org/index.php/vn/article/view/27

Abstract

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 techno-performance 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.



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