Thursday, November 17, 2016

Vampire Disjunction

I've kept up with the TV series THE VAMPIRE DIARIES despite the heroine's disappearance from the show. (The character was magically consigned to suspended animation.) At present Damon, one of the co-starring vampire brothers, has "switched off his humanity," not for the first time. Under compulsion from this season's villain, an ancient, powerful Siren, he's had to perform terrible acts. To escape the guilt and pain, he "flipped" his "humanity switch" so that he feels no emotions and therefore can't suffer. Apparently all vampires have this capability, since others in the series have done the same thing. With their humanity voluntarily turned off—apparently requiring only a simple act of will—they have intellect, sensation, and appetite but no feelings, positive or negative. They simply don't care. While suppressing one's humanity is easy, reawakening it requires an agonizing intervention by some other person, especially since no vampire who has undergone this change wants it reversed.

The dichotomy between vampires with and without souls on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER functions similarly. According to that show's mythos, the creation of a vampire displaces the victim's soul, leaving the body possessed by a demon. As Buffy tells a character in an early episode, "That's not your friend, it's the thing that killed him." This "demon-animated corpse" thesis becomes problematic with the introduction of Spike, whose personality and behavior seem to have definite continuity with his human life, and he's certainly capable of loving in his own way. Nevertheless, it's established that "normal" vampires don't have souls. Angel appears to be unique in that respect until Spike also becomes re-souled late in the series. As far as we can tell, "soul" seems equivalent to "conscience." Unlike in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, where suppression of humanity turns off emotions, soulless vampires in the BUFFY universe have a wide range of emotions, often violently passionate even if usually negative.

Both of these plot devices remind me of the junct-disjunct contrast in the Sime-Gen series. A vampire deprived of soul or humanity (which seem to entail much the same thing, allowing for differences between the series' vampire mythos) is analogous to a junct Sime. In these vampire universes, regaining a soul or embracing one's remaining traces of humanity resembles disjunction. Remaining or becoming junct represents the easy way, while disjuncting is usually terribly difficult and painful, just as accepting the return of soul or humanity can subject a vampire to great suffering. One big difference is that junct Simes are still human, and many of them want to disjunct. No vampire who has turned off his or her humanity wants it switched on, and BUFFY vampires hardly ever wish for souls. (Angel finds his a source of torment, since its return awakens his conscience and therefore makes him suffer guilt for the evil he has done.) Spike, the notable exception, seeks the restoration of his soul out of devotion to Buffy. In MAHOGANY TRINROSE, it's discovered that a drug made from the trinrose can ease the disjunction process, so that one of the characters fears Simes might begin to think going junct is no big deal, because "I can always disjunct again." Similarly, Damon on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES has had his humanity switched on and off a couple of times, and Angel regained his soul, lost it, and got it back again. In both cases, we have to wonder how much guilt the re-souled or humanity-embracing vampire should legitimately bear for acts he performed when devoid of soul or humanity. At those times, was he "not himself"?

Neither of these programs explicitly defines what humanity or a soul actually is. In the BUFFY universe, a soul is referred to as almost a thing, a concrete entity that can be removed and replaced like a physical object. When a vampire lacks a soul, has that part of him or her been sent to the "Heaven" where Buffy thought she was between her death and her restoration to life? Does the vampire's disembodied soul have any trace of consciousness, wherever it is? We're never told. In THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, "humanity" seems to be more a state of being than an entity. The "flipping a switch" imagery likens it to an electric current. While it would be more satisfying if these series defined their terms with some precision, at least they do foreground existential and ontological questions in interesting ways.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. I have lost track of VAMPIRE DIARIES, but yes there is an odd sort of similarity. The human soul's grip on the body can be overwhelmed by the pure animal nature of the body. If either nature, spirit or body, utterly dominates - the result is disaster. We don't seem able to maintain a balance point, so apparently the optimum for a human is a kind of dynamic equilibrium or harmonic motion.