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Le Salon des Internautes
home of the perpetually doubtful and those that are sure of their ground
Ethics in Literature and tv shows...and paradoxical connections 

First I posted this on my personal journal, then I thought that it might suit the Smoking Room !

When I was in highschool, I fell in love with Virgil, or rather with his Aeneid. It may sound weird but it's true. I did fall. It wasn't only the story of Aeneas, his journey, that I loved, but the way Virgil conveyed it, the words he used, the style and syntax that are The Aeneid. I loved doing Latin unseen when it came to The Aeneid.  By the way, it may explain why I love so much Purcell's Dido and Aeneas ( actually concerning Purcell's works, I prefer The Tempest but I have a soft spot for Dido and Aeneas)and why I was willing to spend more than 5 hours at the opear to see Les Troyens by Berlioz.

So today I went ecstatic when I found an essay that drew parallels between Buffy The Vampire Slayer, my favourite tv show, and The Aenid. For almost 5 years I've been making connections between BTVS and almost everything but I never thought of connected season 5 Giles to Aeneas! But someone else did on a website devoted to Buffy studies.


In order to analyze the ending of BTVS season 5, "The Gift", in terms of ethics and literary models, C.W. Marshall wrote an essay whose title was:

Aeneas the Vampire Slayer:

A Roman Model for Why Giles Kills Ben

The essay focused on the fact that Rupert Giles calmly killed an "innocent" character in "The Gift" whereas Buffy, the hero, couldn't do it. For the author, Giles actually exhibited a pre-Christian heroism that recalled Aeneas. It was an interesting essay that I recommend and I can't help quoting the last part here:

Rather than problematizing the situation as in the Aeneid, “The Gift” presents a moral dilemma apparently simplified from the one anticipated, which can be read against the principal heroic model the episode and series presents, that of Buffy the Slayer. That doesn’t make Giles’s decision unproblematic. Giles’ calm does not provide the explanation of motivation that Aeneas’ glance at Pallas’s baldric does for readers of the Aeneid. But it does remain a private act, lost in the confusion of the season-ending apocalypse, which the show and its characters are unwilling to judge. An earlier invocation of the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V (IV.iii.20-67) by Giles and Spike provides a further ironic distance between the nature of the battle they expect to fight and the one they do. The difference between Buffy and Giles resides in the presumed default morality of the situation: that is, in what ethical framework each member of the audience brings to the episode. The moral positions staked out by the characters will not correspond to that of a given audience member, in most cases. The conflict does provide an opportunity for the audience to evaluate the differences between a “Christian” decision in a post-Christian context and a “Roman” decision in a post-classical context, and this in turn echoes with a larger debate about the inherited values a culture possesses. That the killing might have been excusable if it were not completely tied up with personal emotions should make the audience less comfortable with Giles’ action and not more. The choices made by Aeneas and Giles both recognize the ambiguities of the human condition, drawing contrasts between the expression of private emotions and the public face of leadership. Virgil encourages us to be wary of any direct evaluation of another’s ethical choice. Even given the intimate details not available to us in life, uncertainty will always exist. Both “The Gift” and the Aeneid are profound human explorations of the excuses we provide under the guise of ethics.  Neither allows the audience easily to put aside the concerns of morality, but it is only in making choices that we have a chance for heroism.

I found the Roman model extremely interesting given the fact that, previously on the show, in "Halloween", Giles had been connected to Janus through his old pal, and partner in crime from his wild youth, Ethan Rayne. At the time Giles lectured Rayne who had invoked Janus to spread chaos, because what he did hurt innocent people. Ethan used magic to turn the characters into their Halloween costumes using their most inner secret desires or fears against themselves. Ethan did it for fun, but also because he worshipped Chaos. In a way he was guided by a certain ethics that had nothing to do with the Christian values and that could easily be mistaken for evil by other characters and by many viewers.

So Giles and Ethan aren't that different at the end of the day.

Of course now I want to re-read The Aeneid but I suspect that my reading might be influenced by BTVS  or rather by those years I've spent analyzing Buffy! And it would make sense if it were. 

The things we know and read nowadays colour our reading of works from the past. It's something that Borges understood so well when he said in "Kafka and his precursors" ( from Otras Inquisiciones) that  "the writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future" , or as T.S Eliot said:  "What happens when a new work of art is created is some thing that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it." ("Tradition and the Individual Talent," Point of View).

Being a "Borgesian" I've always loved to seek and drew connections between various works and every time I did it, I felt it was kind of legitimate, even though such connections probably only existed through myself, in my head. 

In "Kafka and his precursors", Borges pointed out connections between Kafka and several previous works or authors (Zeno's famous "Paradox of The Tortoise and Achilles" in Aristotle's Physics, the Chinese Han Yu on unicorns, Lowrie on Kierkegaard, Browning's Fears and Scrupules and two tales, one by Leon Bloy from Histoires Désobligeantes, and another by Lord Dunsany, Carcassonne). Here's Borges' conclusion:

"Si je ne me trompe pas, les textes disparates que je viens de rappeler ressemblent à Kafka, mais ils ne se ressemblent pas tous entre eux. Ce dernier fait est le plus significatif. Dans chacun de ces morceaux, se trouve, à quelque degré, la singularité de Kafka, mais si Kafka n'avait pas écrit, personne ne pourrait s'en apercevoir. A vrai dire, elle n'existerait pas. le poème Fears and Scruples de Robert Browning annonce l'oeuvre de Kafka, mais notre lecture de Kafka enrichit et gauchit sensiblement notre lecture du poème. Kafka ne le lisait pas come nous le lisons aujourd'hui. Le mot précurseur est indispensable au vocabulaire critique, mais il conveindrait de le purifier de toute connotation de polémique ou de rivalité. le fait est que chaque écrivain crée ses propres précurseurs. Son apport modifie notre conception du passé aussi bien que du futur. Il s'agit d'un type de relation où l'identité ou la pluralité des hommes n'importe en rien. Le premier Kafka, celui de Betrachtung, est moins précurseur du Kafka des mythes sinistres et des institutions atroces que ne furent Browning et Lord Dunsany."

What do you think of Giles' ethics vs Buffy's ethics? Is the Giles/Aeneas connection relevant?

Did you find yourself having an author in mind when reading a book that was prior to that author ? As for me I keep marvelling at the phenomenon of intertextuality.

Do you, like Borges, enjoy paradoxes ? 

Zeno's second pardox  "works" by converting distance from a continuum to an infinite series of decreasing magnitudes. As a mental construct, disconnected from sensory experiences, it's a fiction.   
I guess that Borges loved this and paradoxes in general for they were a poetical answer to the limitation of logics as a well as to his own physical limitations (he was blind). 

I leave you with one of his pieces of fiction, that I found  translated into English online.

Pierre Ménard, Author of the Quixote.
Vermeer, woman in yellow
16th-Nov-2006 07:50 pm (UTC)
I know nothing of Aeneas but of course I couldn't pass up that essay, though I didn't understand all of it.

I think it's worth pointing out however, that Buffy's ethics shifted considerably between S5 and S7. In "Lies My Mother Told Me" she admitted to Giles that she'd changed, that if it were needed now, she would sacrifice Dawn to save the world. Of course, saying isn't doing but it's a far cry from her not even willing to discuss such an alternative toward the end of S5. And as much as the deaths of various SITs bother her in S7, she's willing to sacrifice a lot for the greater good, something she wasn't able to do in S5. "The mission is what matters", she tells Wood in LMMTM, and in that aspect, she has become quite a bit like Giles.
17th-Nov-2006 02:25 pm (UTC)

I read parts of the Aeneid in school too and enjoyed it. The focus wasn't on Dido and Aeneas, but more on the political dimension of the Aeneid.

Intertextuality is one of the concepts that I love - finding connections, seeing hints and echoes of other texts.

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