Defense Date

2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Marcel Cornis-Pope

Abstract

This study is focused on a highly topical theme, which belongs to the pluralist practice of cultural studies, and aims at investigating a remarkable phenomenon of identity-shaping and cross-cultural exchange. Starting from an analysis of Dracula as the epitomized image of the Balkans (and of Romania, more specifically) abroad, this paper provides a comprehensive historical and (con)textual analysis of the myth, enlarged to incorporate it into the fictions of exile and to draw the reader's attention to the "demonic" dimension of the Balkan area in general, and the Romanian area in particular. The first chapter provides a theoretical overview meant to clarify the production of racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes, as well as to suggest a more accurate delimitation of these from the generous (and generously used notion of) cultural encounters. While most stereotypes result from common experience, generally acquired in a direct way, due to education, geographic proximity, work relations, political alliances and hostilities, colonial domination, etc. the cultural stereotypes are imposed upon us in an indirect way, by means of oral or written literature, visual arts, music, and other widely-spread recording means. The second chapter aims at exemplifying their mechanism and spreading force by analyzing probably the oldest cultural stereotype, contemporary with the appearance of Guttenberg's printing press: the South-Eastern European myth of Dracula. With this goal in mind, I begin by considering the historical origins of the myth, and then explore closely its proliferation through German, Russian, Romanian, Italian, and Byzantine channels as early as Vlad the Impaler's lifetime. Moving across centuries to Bram Stoker's Dracula, I pay special attention to the cultural environment that made possible the instant success of his novel. I also offer a brief survey of the main directions taken by the impressive interpretive corpus on Bram Stoker's novel, with a particular focus on exploring the main ideas promoted by the Hibernian school of criticism. The chapter ends with an analysis of the Gothic romance and the current vogue of vampire stories in popular culture, be it written, cinematic, or electronic. In the last chapter, I broaden the discussion by analyzing Dracula's stereotypical correlation with the Transylvanian area as a cultural phenomenon reflecting the "oxymoronic image," half Oriental and half European, represented by the Balkans in the Western perception. I discuss this as part of a more general pattern that shapes directions for minor cultures that are dramatically "different" from the successful trajectories of the major ones. The painful knowledge of their peripheral position favors a phenomenon of "cultural Bovarism," describing, according to Sorin Antohi, the intellectuals' disposition to leapfrog into a better place in order to assert themselves. In this light, I try to shift attention from Dracula's exclusive association with Romania to the exceptional generation of Romanian intellectuals who left the country at the beginning of the 20th century and who initiated some of the most radical cultural renovations in the West. Constantin Brâncuşi, a pioneer of the abstract sculpture in Paris, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Iancu, and Victor Brauner, the founders of the Dadaist movement in Zürich, Ilarie Voronca, a founder of the surrealist movement in France, and Eugène Ionesco, the most distinguished representative of the Theater of the Absurd, are all figures of global relevance that chose exile as a means of spiritual survival. Finally, a brief historical survey underlines the Romanians' presence on the American continent, changing the focus from the Western stereotypical correlation of Romania with "Dracula's land," to the Eastern-European representation of America as the "the country of all opportunities" and the "land of the free." I draw attention to the fact that stereotypes depict a movement in a double direction: not only do cultures generate their own stereotypes, but they also perpetuate the stereotypes created by the "significant Other," urging us to reconsider the "central" and "marginal" notions from a more complex perspective.

Rights

© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008

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