There may be solemn duty; and if it come we must not shrink from it…I shall be prepared. I shall get my typewriter this very hour and begin transcribing – Mina Harker, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
“Diskursmaschinegewehr,” a word from Dracula’s Legacy (DraculasVermächtnis: Technische Schriften) by Friedrich Kittler, is Kittler’s 1993 wordplay to signal the late nineteenth-century social anxiety related to modernity, machines, and media – a triumvirate of consumption generated by the ink fabric carriage return of the typewriter or Kittler’s “discourseweaponmachine.” Kittler’s critical appropriation is addressing Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel and Stoker’s object of choice, the typewriter, for his radical protagonist/stenographer, Mina Harker. Embracing the vampiric technology and her role as the New Woman, Harker totally takes down (in not a few key strokes) not only the figure of Dracula but the epistolary framework of Stoker’s narrative. Mina was, indeed, a post-Gutenberg proto-cyborg.
Harker’s ontological hybridity of machine and organism is explained, in part, by Donna Haraway in “A Cyborg Manifesto“:
Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not re-member the cosmos. They are wary of holism, but needy for connection — they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and partriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their father, after all, are inessential. (151)
The Remington typewriter (1873), developed by the company that manufactured guns for the Civil War, is, in its very infrastructure, a discursive weapon of war, and was utilized as a frontline industrialized device in the proliferation of military communications and its handmaiden: nineteenth-century media. In April 2011, Godrej and Boyce, the last typewriter factory in the world announced that it would be closing its doors but the “discourseweaponmachine” does not falter: during the nineteenth-century another data communication system, the telegraph, ran parallel to the typewriter and established the foundational apparatus for the twentieth-century world: the internet. The inter-networking systems expanded in the 1950s with cyber gateways and bridges leading to mainframes held in the United States Department of Defense and its “Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network.
I feel not unconnected to Mina Harker, as a fellow cyborg, as I enter data into the machine and wonder if the twenty-first century’s pop cult fanaticism for Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries et. al. is perhaps a continuum of the anxieties/fears/desires that were prevalent in the nineteenth-century: social, ecological, and economic cannibalism, the virtual fangs of Ebay consumerism, and the ever firing neo-engine discourse of the Military Industrial Complex? As McLuhan explains in The Gutenberg Galaxy: “That every generation poised on the edge of massive change should later seem oblivious of the issues and the imminent event would seem to be natural enough. But it is necessary to understand the power and thrust of technologies to isolate the sense and thus to hypnotize society (272).
If you’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read it again. If you have not: Read it; the film versions unfortunately do not include Harker’s cyborg intervention and also exclude significant layers of cultural, social, and economic symbolism that remain ever-present in the contemporary discourseweaponmachine. To follow: Nosferatu (1922); Dracula with Bela Lugosi (1931).