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A question of soul...

And so we get right back to the beginning and the basics...what does the soul mean in the Jossverse, and could Spike have achieved redemption without one?

When I first started to look for discussion groups and message boards for people with an interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer a year and a half ago (already? blimey!), this was the first discussion I became embroiled in. And it looks as if I now may have to dive into it again, as my name has been put forward for participation in a panel that addresses that particular question at MR in June.

Problem is, I'm like a vampire: I like to talk big -- or maybe it's just that I like to talk. I don't feel particularly qualified to make any pronouncements on the subject, but that's hardly enough to stop me from trying to formulate an opinion. So, I've more or less agreed to do it.

Which means that yesterday, going home on the train, I was suddenly inspired to jot down a few thoughts on the question of souls, morality and how the notion of Theory of Mind might tie in with it. Haven't thought much about redemption yet, haven't even defined what it means (is it simply to be rescued from sin and its penalties, or is it something much more exalted?), but if I had to decide if Spike was being redeemed without his soul right now, my answer would be a resounding yes!yes!yes! If I was looking for an argument to support that theory, I would say that in 'Hellbound', it was clearly stated that the soul on its own wasn't enough, because if it had been, Spike would never have been seen fading in and out of the Underworld. Same with Angel: he's still had to spend his time eating rats for 90-odd years and 'helping the helpless' for at least 5 since acquiring his soul -- and IMO, his redemption is still a long way off. Actually, I would think Spike had a headstart on him there, because he gave his all to regain his soul, and seems to have adjusted so much better than Angel has in a 100-plus years of enforced soulfulness. Of course, I fully expect the writers to change that point of view around at the end of the show, because it is after all, Angel's show -- and I'll have to deal with it when it comes.

But now that I'm pondering the question of soul and redemption, a related one (in my mind) pops up as well: what is evil, what does it mean in the Jossverse? We've seen the First Evil to be a big, ineffectual wuss, and we've seen all kinds of characters, ensouled or not, running amok...

If I'm going with the definition of 'evil' as 'morally bad', then I've seen plenty of examples where ensouled creatures meet the criterium with ease, e.g. the stupid frat boys who in their quest for power and riches feel no compunction about offering their dates up for sacrifice to a snake demon. Unless they had sold their souls to the demon before they started feeding him girls?

Because if I go with the definition of 'evil' as 'morally bad', and of the soul as the divine spark that connects us to God/ultimate good, then severing that connection by selling or losing the soul would result in a disconnection from a sense of what's morally right. And by that reasoning, a vampire having lost his soul, would be evil. And then in that strict sense, it would follow that Spike is evil while he goes around soulless.

But in the eyes of the beholder (this beholder?), his actions during at least part of that time seem to belie that theory, so there must be more to the notion or perception of a creature being evil than it simply being cut off from or having trouble with the concept of morality.

When the Scoobies discuss Angel going evil, they mention his past penchant for nailing puppies to doors -- so that would imply that their notion of evil is not just morally bad, but morally bad with cruelty mixed in. His evil nature comes to the fore not only in the killing of innocent little puppies as well as men, women and children; but perhaps even more so in the apparent pleasure he takes in what he calls his 'art', of torturing his prey/victims.

Some people argue that vampires are like animals, predators, without a sense of right and wrong, only the sense of an empty stomach. For which reason they attack other animals, kill and eat them. Yet we don't think of predatory animals as inherently evil. We excuse them on the grounds of them not possessing Theory of Mind: they know not what they do, i.e. have no sense of the pain and anguish they're putting their victim through because they have no sense of self and cannot empathise.

That seems to be the case as well for most of the Sunnydale vamps, esp. the fledglings that we see. All they seem to think about, if they can be said to think at all, is their stomach. As a result, they're far too stupid and careless to pose much of a threat to the Slayer. But of course, these vamps were once human, and humans -and quite possibly certain species of apes- do possess Theory of Mind; is this ability then erased in the process of becoming a vampire?

But both Angel and Spike, pre-soul, seem to have retained it; and Holden Webster, even if he was newly risen, seemed to have all his intact as well. So once again, if I take evil to mean 'morally bad and cruel', then I can only conclude that Joss is right and Spike is evil. But maybe I can qualify that by adding: 'only for as long as he has no need to question his purpose and place in the food chain.' Because I do believe that he shows signs of improvement way before the soul was added to the mix.

I'm going round in circles and I can't make head or tail of it...but it's almost 5 o'clock now and my yoga class awaits, so for today at least, I'll think no more. But I can see that I'm a long way from cobbling together a bloody brilliant hypothesis to support the idea that Spike could have been redeemed without his soul, if I'm going to take part in this debate!



( 18 Speak Like A Child — Shout To The Top )
Jan. 15th, 2004 10:32 am (UTC)
I'm writing a fic that's looking at just that (as well as what it means to be part of a 'family'.) I don't think that my exploration will help your paper, but I'd be more than willing to talk about it with you. It's a theme that has fascinated me for a long time. Just what is< JW using soul as metaphor for? I came across an interview where he talks about it and copies a few quotes from it for the fic, so i'll root it out if you like.
Jan. 16th, 2004 12:32 am (UTC)
so I'll root it out if you like

Oh yes please! I think I need to be informed of as many different viewpoints as possible if I'm going to have to put together a cogent argument that doesn't get holes shot it in within the first 2 minutes/sentences!
Jan. 16th, 2004 04:46 am (UTC)
Found it, and more
But my mailbox is refusing to acknowledge that I exist so I can't send it as an attachment. I can do the Joss interview thingy here though.

I've also found some very good stuff in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy Ed. James B. South. Have you got a copy? There's a lot on morality, the nature of evil, little bits on souls etc.

As for points when Spike was selflessly good without a soul and the qualities his actions reveal; here's some to think on
* The Glory torture (no one to see, told only what he thought was the Bot.)self-sacrifice for another without thought of reward
*anonymous flowers for Joyce- compassion
*staying to look after Dawn and fight with the Scoobies, after 'the gift' - this is the most powerful one because Buffy is dead so he's not doing it to impress. - keeping promises, loyalty.
*not telling the others that B. was in Heaven because she'd asked him to. ditto above?

Next comment will be the Joss interview.
Jan. 16th, 2004 05:16 am (UTC)
Re: Found it, and more
But my mailbox is refusing to acknowledge that I exist

Annoying, innit? Mine's done that a couple of times as well, driving me round the bend. Hope yours gets itself sorted soon.

Have you got a copy?

Erm...no. Actually, I haven't read up on the subject much at all yet. I know, I know, I'm going at this half-cocked, aren't I? But I've got a few months still, and I'm always at my best when there's a deadline looming...

Last night, during yoga class, I kept thinking about the link between 'the soul' (as a philosophical concept) and morality. No soul may equal morally bad, but it's clear from both the show and from real life cases of serial killers, e.g, that having a soul does not equate to being morally sound. The most that can be said for Angel when he has a soul, is that he's morally ambiguous -- witness the scene where he locks several people in a room with two vicious vampiresses, and walks away. Whatever his gripe with these people doesn't help justify his action.
Jan. 16th, 2004 05:50 am (UTC)
Re: Found it, and more
I don't think that soul being a moral compass works for me either. Perhaps it should be looked at in terms of how Buffy views it - very black and white No soul=evil, soul=not evil. (Spike summed it up when he said he was aware that things were not as simple as they were before he fell in love with B. Not black and white any more. "Vampire-Slayer, Vampire kills Slayer, picks his teeth with her bones."

For Spike, having a soul does not change him, he is still Spike, he does not become a different person, unlike Angel. He feels remorse for what he did as a soulless vampire (something that has never made sense to me since, without a soul, he wasn't responsible for those actions, they were his nature of the vampire, instinctive, necessary for survival.)

For Angel, the soul is less complicated; it is the difference between good and evil Angelus and Angel. With the soul, he may be grey, but then Angelus is still there, under control. Without the soul, there is no Angel.
Jan. 17th, 2004 05:31 am (UTC)
Re: Found it, and more
He feels remorse for what he did as a soulless vampire (something that has never made sense to me since, without a soul, he wasn't responsible for those actions, they were his nature of the vampire, instinctive, necessary for survival.)

Ah, but were they? Or rather, is that all that can be said of them? Instinctive: yes; necassary for survival: certainly -- but as a vampire he's preying on the very creature he once was himself. And Theory of Mind is a crucial part of being human.

The question is: when the demon ousts the soul and the animus takes over, is Theory of Mind another casualty of the change? The rational, to a certain extent even empathic behaviour of the newly risen Holden Webster, as well as Angel(us)'s mind games, seem to indicate that it isn't. At least, not always.

The Turok Han though, they can be said to have handled instinctively, as predators...didn't the First introduce them to Spike as 'real vampire(s)'? They were probably a much purer form of demon than the vampires of Spike's ilk.
Jan. 16th, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Found it, and more
ooh, ooh, G, I have a copy! I have to get cracking myself on reading through the articles in there about the soul. I love the stuff you and Cass have been writing about this subject, along with headevil's resources, too.
Jan. 17th, 2004 05:32 am (UTC)
Re: Found it, and more
So you'll be jumping in with both feet too, then?
Jan. 16th, 2004 04:51 am (UTC)
Joss interview
Q. 5. I would like to get a more in-depth, coherent explanation of your concept of the soul. It seems to be the crucial thing that separates good and evil in the Buffyverse, yet at times it is treated like a commodity -- if you survive torture or know the right kind of magic you, too, can get a soul. Is it one particular soul per customer, as the white fog in the glass jar, identified as "Angel's soul" would indicate? Or is the soul merely the conscience? Why was Spike able to be "good" even without a soul?

A. I would love to give you a more in-depth coherent explanation of my view of the soul, and if I had one I would. The soul and my concept of it are as ephemeral as anybody’s, and possibly more so. And in terms of the show, it is something that exists to meet the needs of convenience; the truth is sometimes you can trap it in a jar; the truth is sometimes someone without one seems more interesting than someone with one. I don’t think Clem has a soul, but he’s certainly a sweet guy. Spike was definitely kind of a soulful character before he had a soul, but we made it clear that there was a level on which he could not operate. Although Spike could feel love, it was the possessive and selfish kind of love that most people feel. (hesadevil says "Hey- Joss, you've just given him a very human characteristic without a soul. Humans have souls and most of them have this type of love according to you. The altruistic kind therefore isn't dependent on a soul.")
The concept of real altruism didn’t exist for him. And although he did love Buffy and was moved by her emotionally, ultimately his desire to possess her led him to try and rape her because he couldn’t make the connection —- the difference between their dominance games and actual rape.
Jan. 16th, 2004 05:21 am (UTC)
Re: Joss interview
The soul and my concept of it are as ephemeral as anybody’s, and possibly more so. And in terms of the show, it is something that exists to meet the needs of convenience

Oh well then, there you have it: no need to discuss it all then! That'll please the punters at MR!;-)
Jan. 16th, 2004 05:40 am (UTC)
Re: Joss interview
Yup! Sums it up really doesn't it. Perhaps you might start your paper with this quote. That way, you can prove just about anything you want.
Jan. 16th, 2004 04:57 am (UTC)
Final bit of Joss' answer to question 5
With a soul comes a more adult understanding. That is again, a little vague, but… can I say that I believe in the soul? I don’t know that I can. It’s a beautiful concept, as is resurrection and a lot of other things we have on the show that I’m not really sure I can explain and I certainly don’t believe in. It does fall prey to convenience, but at the same time it has consistently marked the real difference between somebody with a complex moral structure and someone who may be affable and even likable, but ultimately eats kittens.

hesadevil says - So Joss is confused about Spike's soul. No wonder the other writers can't cope with it. On the one hand he says soulless Spike has the qualities of souled humans; on the other hand he says he doesn't have the mature human being's sense of morality - like say - oh, Warren for example? What he seems to be saying about Spike is that it's not that he can't be good without a soul, he's just immature. Would you put eating kittens on a par with what Warren did?
Jan. 16th, 2004 05:25 am (UTC)
Re: Final bit of Joss' answer to question 5
Would you put eating kittens on a par with what Warren did?

'Course not!

But as to Spike being guilty of eating kittens: that is a vicious slander! It was never proven! It was Clem who stated they were delicious! Spike only used them as currency, as far as I'm concerned ::eyes closed, fingers in her ears, going lalalalala::
Jan. 16th, 2004 05:39 am (UTC)
eating kittens is wrong
I think Joss was referring to Clem there, trying to prove that, though he's affable and likeable, he's still 'evil' 'cos he eats kittens.

You can get a copy of the Philosophy book from Amazon btw. There are a lot of relevant chapters in it. If there were less, I'd scan them in as Word docs and mail them to you.
Jan. 17th, 2004 05:16 am (UTC)
Re: eating kittens is wrong
Oh no - thanks for the offer, but I'm alright. I've just sent off for a copy on your recommendation!
Jan. 16th, 2004 09:22 pm (UTC)
This post immediately made me think of the excellent fanfic saga by Nan Dibble -- "Old Blood," "Enemy of my Enemy" and "The Blood is the Life." Her stories are extremely rich and go into depth on the question of the soul and the "monster" aspect and how and why they affect Spike and Angel differently ... and why some vamps are stupid and some are smart.

Since evidently Joss doesn't know and it's up to the viewers to fanwank some coherent sense into the issue -- I think Nan Dibble did an amazing and pretty thorough job in her stories. Check them out!
Jan. 17th, 2004 05:14 am (UTC)
I think Nan Dibble did an amazing and pretty thorough job in her stories

Oh yes, her stories are absolutely fantastic, and many a pleasurable hour has been spent perusing and savouring them.

At the moment though, I'm reading Barb Cumming's series: A Raising in the Sun, Necessary Evils, and what's that last one she's still working on called again?, that also address the morals or lack thereof of a certain vampire of our acquaintance. Have you read those? They're pretty thought-provoking, too.
Jan. 20th, 2004 08:07 am (UTC)
Barb's current story is "A Parliament of Monsters", G. I have yet to read through the whole series of stories - I had downloaded them all, but they are on the bloody hard drive that failed. So they will have to wait until I get my computer back up, and then I'll see if I can salvage anything form teh old drive. *Teach me not to back up my fanfic folder, among other things lol*

Hope that Nan continues the whole series she started too - I do enjoy her mythology about vamps, and the whole hierarchical structure she uses.
( 18 Speak Like A Child — Shout To The Top )
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