A very uneven though not without merit academic anthology,
This review is from: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale (Paperback)
This latest volume in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series is, like most anthologies, very uneven. Nearly every collection of essays contains some good, some average, and some disappointing essays. As a former Ph.D. student in philosophy and a huge fan of Buffy and all things pertaining to the Buffyverse, this seemed to be a book not merely down my alley, but on the street where I live. Unfortunately, overall, I found this to be a very disappointing collection.
There have been two major academic anthologies before this one: Roz Kaveny's READING THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery's FIGHTING THE FORCES. Both of these far surpass this newer volume, despite having the disadvantage of having been written at the end of Season Five of Buffy, while some of the essays in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AND PHILOSOPHY seem to have some knowledge of the first episode of Season Seven, and most reflect the revelation at the end of Season Six that Spike has gained a soul.
One of the reasons these other two anthologies are so much more successful is the fact that most of the writers in those two volumes were cultural critics rather than philosophers. As enormously witty, intelligent, and deep as the scripts for Buffy were, they were not deeply conversant with Western philosophy. In fact, philosophically, the Buffyverse essentially embraces a naive Cartesian dualism (a fact curiously unnoted by all the contributors to this volume), or at most a Christian tripartite conception of the person as Mind, Body, and Soul. Descartes attempted to resurrect Augustinian theology (based on Platonism) in opposition to the thought of Aquinas (based on Aristotelianism), and in doing so posited a radical gap between Mind and Body. 20th century English philosopher Gilbert Ryle would call this the myth of "the ghost in the machine" (a phrase later reappropriated by Arthur Koestler and the Police). Angel has a body, and a soul that keeps getting detached. Philosophically, this is both dubious and almost completely unthought out. In other words, the TV shows BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL are enormously unconversant with philosophy, despite interacting vigorously with modern life and culture.
Another major problem here is that the writers fairly consistently seem to be attempting to graft two separate concerns upon one another. Someone profoundly interested in Kant tries to meld this with Buffy. Someone working on Aristotle brings his thought on friendship in line with relationships in Buffy (far more successfully than attempts with Kant). Some of the attempts are painfully strained. Some are just sad. Only a few are truly enlightening either of philosophy or Buffy. One of the more fascinating aspects of the anthology is the enormously varying ways that Buffy is conceived. One sees the show as liberal, another socialist, another fascist. In fact, the one great value of the book is that it shows that what Buffy is at heart is a vast mirror: look into Buffy and you will find your own beliefs and attitudes somehow reflected.
My recommendation for any Buffy fan is to read either of the other two anthologies first, then perhaps look at the array of essays available on the [...] website, and then, if not yet sated, turn to this collection.