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The Philosophy of the Vampire by John S. Schuler

The Philosophy of the Vampire

draculaby John S. Schuler


Here 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” is a spoil of 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 is a growth, a culture; 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 which grew together and is properly called an ecology.

The friendship of Lucy and Mina binds the Harkers 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. Perhaps he preferred one more senior:

I must regret that an attack of gout, from which malady I am a constant sufferer, forbids absolutely any travelling on my part for some time to come. But I am happy to say I can send a sufficient substitute, one in whom I have every possible confidence. He is a young man, full of energy and talent in his own way, and of a very faithful disposition. He is discreet and silent, and has grown into manhood in my service. He shall be ready to attend on you when you will during his stay, and shall take your instructions in all matters.— Letter from Mr. Hawkins to the Count, given by Jonathan Harker

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 he is a man and thus appetizing to the female vampires. The danger he poses is particular. His journal provides richest source of information about Count Dracula.

Dracula’s predation of Lucy is opportunistic. He is drawn to the grave of the suicide, a spot Lucy enjoys for its beautiful view. Thus the vampire hunts at the intersection of beauty and ugliness. The Vampiric analogue to 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!”— Seward

Though the Count’s predation of Lucy was opportunistic, she poses her own particular danger to him. She becomes a martyr for the cause of his defeat. Her utility to Dracula and the danger she poses to men and children are categorical. Thus emerges a pattern. 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 aspects. The Angelic draws on a soul’s full particularity, an act requiring love. Dracula’s initial victory is a necessary condition of his eventual defeat. An act intended for Lucy’s health does her harm.

“Well, I was anxious about the dear child in the night, and went into her room. She was sleeping soundly, so soundly that even my coming did not wake her. But the room was awfully stuffy. There were a lot of those horrible, strong-smelling flowers about everywhere, and she had actually a bunch of them round her neck. I feared that the heavy odour would be too much for the dear child in her weak state, so I took them all away and opened a bit of the window to let in a little fresh air. You will be pleased with her, I am sure.”— Lucy’s mother, speaking of the garlic in place to protect Lucy

Then he raised his arms again, as though appealing to the whole universe. “God! God! God!” he said. “What have we done, what has this poor thing done, that we are so sore beset? Is there fate amongst us still, send down from the pagan world of old, that such things must be, and in such way? This poor mother, all unknowing, and all for the best as she think, does such thing as lose her daughter body and soul, and we must not tell her, we must not even warn her, or she die, then both die. Oh, how we are beset! How are all the powers of the devils against us!”

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 she is beset by extraordinary forces and 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:

I cannot help feeling terribly excited as the time draws near for the visit of Dr. Van Helsing, for somehow I expect that it will throw some light upon Jonathan’s sad experience, and as he attended poor dear Lucy in her last illness, he can tell me all about her. That is the reason of his coming. It is concerning Lucy and her sleep-walking, and not about Jonathan. —Mina

By now, Count Dracula understands that Seward and Van Helsing are working against him as Renfield’s actions make clear. Count Dracula responds with a servant of his own. This time, his opportunism is more selective. Renfield’s great strength, intelligence, zoophagic madness, and interest to Seward make him an excellent servant.

“Good evening, Mr. Renfield,” said she. “You see, I know you, for Dr. Seward has told me of you.” He made no immediate reply, but eyed her all over intently with a set frown on his face. This look gave way to one of wonder, which merged in doubt, then to my intense astonishment he said, “You’re not the girl the doctor wanted to marry, are you? You can’t be, you know, for she’s dead.”— as told by Seward

Count Dracula’s categorical malice becomes particular. Shortly after this conversation, the men make the decision to exclude Mina from their work. This serious but necessary blunder leaves Mina vulnerable.

Silence! If you make a sound I shall take him and dash his brains out before your very eyes.’ I was appalled and was too bewildered to do or say anything. With a mocking smile, he placed one hand upon my shoulder and, holding me tight, bared my throat with the other, saying as he did so, ‘First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions. You may as well be quiet. It is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst!’ I was bewildered, and strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is a part of the horrible curse that such is, when his touch is on his victim. And oh, my God, my God, pity me! He placed his reeking lips upon my throat!” — Seward

Feeding on Mina is not his 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. This malicious act is his undoing. Having forced some of his essence into Mina, he allows her insight into his own mind and is thus at the mercy of her acute but unassuming perception. He also makes the struggle more personal for now Mina’s 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 victimes 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 their discussions, knowing he sees through her and she requests that Van Helsing hypnotize her, sensing that she can see through him. Finally, when the trail goes cold, she puts in place the final piece of the puzzle with simple good sense.

Count Dracula’s choice of Mina destroys him and his revenge is met in more than kind for Jonathan lands one of the killing blows. His error was intellectual as much as tactical. His faith in research rivals that of a scientist:

In the library I found, to my great delight, a vast number of English books, whole shelves full of them, and bound volumes of magazines and newspapers. A table in the centre was littered with English magazines and newspapers, though none of them were of very recent date. The books were of the most varied kind, history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law, all relating to England and English life and customs and manners. There were even such books of reference as the London Directory, the “Red” and “Blue” books, Whitaker’s Almanac, the Army and Navy Lists, and it somehow gladdened my heart to see it, the Law List.— Harker’s Journal

He 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. As Van Helsing implies in the remarks concerning the Count’s “Child Brain”, he 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 of generalities and when evil powers of bygone centuries invaded the matter-of-fact modern period, the Age of Heroes rose out of hiding to meet it.

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

Modernity, far more than mere centuries, 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, pervasive in 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 too held notions of a progressive history. The distinguishing feature of the modern notion of progress is its instrumental conception of the same. 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, themselves abstractions 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 if this is its primary use, it is technological rather than metaphysical. It fashions habits of 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 attains ever greater abstraction. It 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 deduce from these.

This class-based deductive generalization is insufficient. Mathematics, considered purely, has no relationship to the external world. Non-contradiction alone governs it. 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 simply 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, corroborated as such; that is, empirically, it is 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 separability of the formal and empirical aspects of science implies that the symbol is conventional. Within the formal system, the symbol is self-referential or rather, atomic. 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. A science reduces to a collection of symbols much smaller than the logical consequences of the same. These symbols are the logical atoms and they are atomistic not only in the sense that they are basic but also 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 contentless atoms. Scientific reason aims to reduce a complex phenomenon to a set of simpler laws. If any symbolic laws involves 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 explain its absence as the first sort of reference. The possibility of natural symbolism is ignored.

We have laid sufficient groundwork now to attempt a definition of a law of nature. A law of nature is a symbolic relation among logical atoms that demonstrates a logical transformation on these atoms consistent with phenomena and applicable universally to some predefined class. Formally, a law of nature is closed and does not refer to nature. The logical atoms, formally without content but referring to some phenomenon then obtain through some deductive process another logical relation referring another phenomenon. This stable relationship between the internal logic of the scientific system and the observable and measurable relations of phenomena is the correspondence mentioned previously. Its composition is symbolic. 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 but 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 whatever 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 which refers the soul to something else spontaneously such that the relationship is neither ascribed nor deduced, we cannot formally demonstrate their existence since is 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 mentation itself is to be meaningful. Truly free association is psychosis.

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

From Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecelia’s Day”:

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood around,
And, wondering, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly, and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

The trumpet’s loud clangour
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger,
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum
Cries Hark! the foes come;
Charge, charge, ’tis too late to retreat!

Music then demonstrates the concept of natural symbolism. Its symbolism does not depend on any ascription admitting of an account. Having established this one example, it is not difficult to find others. Literary symbolism as an aspect of storytelling and rhetoric is of this sort for it is made in being expressed and therefore the reference is instantaneous.

Critically, both examples depend on the particular perceiver. Whereas 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 symbols 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. This holds true for love in all of its forms, including friendship. 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 thus must have an account, or rather, 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. In particular, we are interested in sacrament for reasons that will become clear.

The question of natural symbol manifest whenever philosophy encounters narrative. Philosophies of myth and history cannot ignore it. Then, scientific history, defined rather than guided by methods will reduce the ecology in order to anatomise 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— which 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 power much beguiles. As Van Helsing implies, he does not yet fully understand his power or its metaphysical consequences. To understand these is our task.

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 being unnatural being falls within Nature’s science. Natural science describes only beings which 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.


Even friend Jonathan, who lived with him for weeks, did never see him eat, never! He throws no shadow, he make in the mirror no reflect, as again Jonathan observe. He has the strength of many of his hand, witness again Jonathan when he shut the door against the wolves, and when he help him from the diligence too. He can transform himself to wolf, as we gather from the ship arrival in Whitby, when he tear open the dog, he can be as bat, as Madam Mina saw him on the window at Whitby, and as friend John saw him fly from this so near house, and as my friend Quincey saw him at the window of Miss Lucy.

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. It is said, too, that he can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide. Then there are things which so afflict him that he has no power, as the garlic that we know of, and as for things sacred, as this symbol, my crucifix, that was amongst us even now when we resolve, to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect. There are others, too, which I shall tell you of, lest in our seeking we may need them. The branch of wild rose on his coffin keep him that he move not from it, a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead, and as for the stake through him, we know already of its peace, or the cut off head that giveth rest. 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


There have been from the loins of this very one great men and good women, and their graves make sacred the earth where alone this foulness can dwell. For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good, in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest.— 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 precisely because both the demon and the vampire are rational 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 of which have sacramental aspects. The vampire preys perverts and conflates these ceremonies. He too reproduces sexually by the crossing of blood lines. He pollutes sacraments by conflating them. He nourishes himself not by destroying a beast or a plant, but by interfering with the salvation of another soul. Then, the human sanctifies his animal actions through ceremony, acknowledging that his rationality allows him to understand their meaning. The vampire too is rational and he inverts these sacraments and infuses them with the diabolical. Thus, there is no zoology of the vampire for his zoology is just as much a demonology.

The primal malevolence of the vampire precludes the possibility a scientific understanding of his nature in either the materialist or theological senses of that term. The vampire comprehends and rejects the good, then 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

The vampire can only exist in a universe where the good has natural meaning; that is, the vampire can only exist in an ecology where natural symbols compel the soul to the good. Good and evil are part of the universe itself and not merely parameters. Paradoxically, only the sort of universe in which the vampire can exist is a universe where meaning is natural and primal. Natural law he demonstrates in defying. The vampire further demonstrates that there is meaning inherent in natural things; that is, symbolism as a means of linking the human soul to the significance of some otherwise natural act, is itself part of nature. In short, the possibility of the perversion of a natural symbol implies the existence of such natural symbols and thus the incompleteness of any reductionist anthropology as well as purely symbolic science. The violence the vampiric ecology does to the broader ecology on which it preys requires the existence of both ecologies.

What then can be said of a natural symbol? Unlike an artificial symbol, its meaning is not explicitly ascribed. Since its purpose is to direct the soul, the meaning of the natural symbol is understood by and inherent to the experience of the directed soul. Thus, while there exist many commonalities among the natural symbols understood by different souls, the symbol itself is proper to the perceiving soul. It may even be possible to define psychosis as an affliction that misdirects the soul in its perception of natural symbol. A miracle is properly symbolic. Its improbability has no necessary relationship to its miraculous status. Since other souls affect the perceiving soul, it is clear that they can affect its natural symbolism; that is, human beings inhabit a culture through which we interact with our metaphysical environment. Then, ages and places are cultures.

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. I mean to say that the mere act of attempting to disentangle nature from art, because of the art required, 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 have misunderstood its own epochal quality. System has faded into habit such that it has grown into a culture, and here that term is meant in its full original sense, and is thus an impoverished example of the broader concept. It has understood itself as the epoch that recognizes the divide between nature and art but it has misunderstood the divide.


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 the ecologies men spin out out of these. They exerted much power as the present but their power grew as the world passed into modernity. 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 thus 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.

The paradox of the social aspect of modernism is it impoverishes the popular sense of metaphysics through the denial of natural symbolism as such; and in the only era where the ascendence of artificial symbolism made this understanding necessary.

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. Science, properly abhorrent of premature conclusions, if it remains infected by scientism may pass into myth as the formal systems spawn their own ecologies. Recall that science, at its origin, is technological more than philosophical. It interacts with and habituates perceiving souls to instrumental ends. Myth, which is symbolic ecology is the means by which humans make sense of metaphysical notions at the personal and political level. It has its own sort of verisimilitude though of a different, or perhaps more general type than used in science. We must not assume that all myth possesses this property equally, any more than we assume that all science does. Whether scientism can alter habit so as to become a complete myth ultimately depends on unanswered questions of human nature; the same sort of question as to whether one can make, for example, a “new communist man”. If symbolic culture and ecology run deeper than habit in the human soul then the old centuries will rise again, at least occasionally. 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.

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

John Schuler is an analyst at Fannie Mae and a Masters student in Statistics at American University. He graduated from St. John’s College in 2009 and did post-baccalaureate coursework in mathematics at the University of Maryland College Park. 


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

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