Graduate Colloquium with Travis Lau (English) and Gina Elia (East Asian Languages and Civilizations)

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 8:30am

Travis Lau (English)
Transfusing Public Health: Dracula and the Case of Vampirism

Using two key contemporaneous events with Dracula’s publication, the redefinition of immunity as self-defense by Élie Metchnikoff in 1881 and the invention of the rabies vaccine by Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux in 1885, this paper reads Dracula in terms of its immunological anxieties. Modulating earlier readings of Dracula as exemplary of the deeply ideological “Imperial Gothic,” a genre which constructs a fantasy of national health by ‘othering’ certain bodies through scientific and religious theories of criminality, sexuality, race, and fitness, I draw on Ed Cohen’s A Body Worth Defending to consider how Dracula conceives a social body “worth defending.” Stoker draws the eighteenth-century gothic tradition and mid-nineteenth-century sensation fiction to rewrite the drama of susceptibility in explicitly biological terms. Dracula’s supernatural ‘health’ is communicated through bodies both in miasmatic and bacteriological forms. I focus on Book X's immunological scene, where blood transfusion is used to treat Lucy’s vampirism. Not only medical treatment but a prophylactic measure, the members of the “crew of light” repeatedly transfuse their blood into Lucy to keep her vampirism at bay. Through transfusion, these men become united by what they each believe to be the curative and immunological properties of their sacrificed blood. Notably, Jack Seward is American and Van Helsing is Dutch, but their blood remains compatible with the white immunological community of the "crew of light," unlike the infectious Eastern blood of Dracula. What emerges is not only an English body, but a Western, white body “worth defending.” The crisis that befalls the "crew of light" is the preservation of not just the health of both Mina and Lucy but also that of the crew’s social body. The relentless pursuit of Dracula echoes Cohen’s image of the biopolitical body: one that affirms its boundaries by designating a microbial agent against which it must fight to the death. As opposed to a 'curative' conclusion (i.e. the removal of the vampiric condition), the novel can only conclude with the violent extermination of the invasive threat. Dracula remains ultimately ambiguous about the lingering presence of vampiric contagion in the blood now circulating amongst all the members of the “crew of light,” as well as in Jonathan and Mina’s child.

Gina Elia (East Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Mothers and Daughters: Intersections of Gender, Religion, and Modernity in Su Xuelin's Novel Thorny Heart

Chinese author and intellectual Su Xuelin’s novel Thorny Heart (棘心) (1929),  centers on a non-religious, liberal female protagonist named Xingqiu. Though she  believes in the ongoing project of Chinese intellectuals to modernize their nation ("The May 4th Movement"), she nevertheless converts to Catholicism and agrees to an arranged marriage she knows will not make her happy out of respect and love for her mother. I argue that Xingqiu is able to conceptualize Catholicism as compatible with modernity by reconfiguring her definition of freedom. Once she has justified her dual identity as both a Catholic and a modern woman, she is then able to use tools from within Catholicism to address two problems she encounters in the secular May 4th conception of modernity, namely its emphasis on self-centered action over selfless action and its negligence to provide a space for women to form close relationships with one another, particularly mothers and daughters. This paper showcases the need for contemporary academics to broaden their conceptions of "May 4th Modernity" by demonstrating that multiple conceptions of modernity existed simultaneously with the  secular, European Enlightenment-based notion of modernity which is usually thought to define this period.