Romancing the vampire: the lives and loves of two vampire slayers – Anita and Buffy – Ingrid Hofman-Howley

The representation of the sexually autonomous woman tends to either construct the woman as deviant or transgressive or the object of her desire as transgressive. This paper explores the literary and visual construction of two vampire slayers: Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake[1] and Joss Whedon’s Buffy Sommers [Sarah Michelle Gellar][2] from their respective vampire slayer series[3]. These texts combine the idea of the woman being transgressive in her partially non human form of vampire slayer and her object of desire as transgressive. These characters share a similar narrative trajectory dealing with questions of identity, purpose, desire, ethical limits, love, and uniquely in this genre, whether they have become monsters or are still human. While both series achieve this through two key narrative devices that of fighting and loving the external and internal demons, they each reach different narrative conclusions. The respective series construct them as castrating and threatening phallic subjects. However, their own subjectivity is also threatened, especially in their romantic attachments to transgressive erotic object choices, reflecting narcissistic tendencies. From a psychoanalytic point of view, both Anita and Buffy engage in particular forms of repetition compulsion encoded within both the fights and the romances throughout the series. The paper maps the transformation of these characters through their respective series with reference to their relationships – with themselves, their lovers and their communities and investigates the way their relationships with the men they love are highly significant in their character development.

Training and castration

Psychoanalytically, the Oedipal complex is the psychic battlefield upon which questions of identity, desire and competency are determined. Both Buffy and Anita develop significant relationships with a father figure with whom this battle is played out. Partly this occurs in their respective training in order to improve and control their powers and skills and abilities to be successful warriors.  Both slayers develop important relationships with other mentors who variously work with them to battle with their external and internal demons.

Since the slayers generally operate as phallic and castrating female characters, an exploration of castration is warranted. Freud argued that the castration complex plays a different role in the psychosexual development of children concerning their gender. Freud theorised that for boys the castration complex marks a point of exit from the Oedipus complex while for girls it marks its entry. Specifically he contends that

Whereas in boys the Oedipus complex is destroyed by the castration complex, in girls it is made possible and led up to by the castration complex. The contradiction is cleared up if we reflect that the castration complex always operates in the sense implied in its subject-matter; it inhibits and limits masculinity and encourages femininity.[4].

Freud argues that the castration complex is a point of exit for the boy because it signifies the moment when he accepts the possibility of castration. He is thereby narcissistically motivated to save his penis. To achieve this he must repress his desire for his mother and his hostile feelings toward his father as the main rival for his mother’s love. Identifying with his father, he defers his desire for his mother to a future substitute in the form of a wife, the effects of all this inhibits and limits his masculinity. For the girl the castration complex is a point of entry because for her there is no narcissistic motivation to save her penis from castration to move her away from desiring the mother. It is only when she recognises that she is already castrated as is her mother that she begins to separate from the mother and transfer her allegiance to her father. At this point she also is moving out of the phallic stage, realising she has no phallus after all and can only hope for a phallus later in life in the form of a child, particularly a male child. These are descriptions of heterosexual development and Freud remained adamant that human sexuality is more diverse and varied than that and that it is really the final identification that situates the subject in the masculine or feminine position. Therefore, if the child completes the Oedipal complex aligned with the father, this is considered a masculine position, and similarly if the subject ends up identified with the mother this is considered a feminine position[5]. In ‘The infantile genital organisation: an interpolation into the theory of sexuality’ [1923][6] Freud revisits his theory of sexuality and argues that it is not so much the primacy of the genital organs as the primacy of the phallus. On this Lacan agrees with Freud and then extends his work to try to eliminate even more the importance of anatomical difference to sexuality.

While Lacan concurs with Freud that the castration complex is the point on which the Oedipus complex revolves[7], he does not agree with Freud’s early assertion that it is different for boys and girls. He contends rather that the castration complex marks the exit point for both sexes, because in his theory the anatomical differences between boys and girls is not as important as it is for Freud’s theory. Lacan goes further to argue that it is also not as Freud contends the identification with the mother or father that determines the sexual position but rather the subject’s relation to the phallus. That is to say having or not having the phallus. The masculine position seems to have the phallus and the feminine position does not. Of course, since this is a symbolic relationship, sexual difference can only ever really be understood on the symbolic plane [8]. Lacan eventually rejects the Oedipus myth as problematic and begins to discuss castration and the development of subjectivity via non mythological forms especially in terms of the mirror stage and his writings on sexuation in Encore.

Lacan proposes three levels of castration[9]. The first level occurs when the child wants to become the mother’s imaginary phallus. The child notices that the mother’s desire is not completely satisfied and the child tries to work out what the mother really wants and then to provide her with this. This is the phase of frustration. The second level occurs in relation to the paternal function.  The imaginary father is thought to deprive her of this phallus through the promolgation of the incest taboo. Here the child realises the mother does not have the phallus. However, Lacan distinguishes this from castration calling it privation.  Finally, the third level occurs where the paternal function is sufficiently phallic for the child to relinquish their desire to be the phallus for the mother[10].  Both series constructs Buffy and Anita as aligned on the left hand of Lacan’s sexuation formula, that is the side designated as masculine, they retain their phallus and they carry them around with them. Freud points out in his essay ‘Medusa’s Head’ that a proliferation of phallic symbols indicates castration[11]. More particularly he asserts that the numerous snakes standing in for Medusa’s hair, while appearing frightening are in fact mitigating horror, since the absence of the penis is the real horror and they replace it. Buffy and Anita are constituted as phallic women; they both own and carry a large number of weapons that act as replacements for the missing penis in Freudian terms and the phallus in Lacanian terms, using them to kill and decapitate, that is to castrate. If they occupy the masculine position, does this mean they unconsciously fear castration while also rejecting the possibility? Phallic women are often allowed access to the full range of their phallic powers in relation to sex and power in order that order be restored usually via their symbolic castration. There are a number of narrative solutions involving either punishment via incarceration or death or recuperation of the woman into her socially appropriate place, where at the end of the narrative the phallic woman finally accepts castration and settles down in a marriage like relationship[12].

Neither Anita nor Buffy are contained in these ways. They continue to be phallic throughout the series. Therefore, these subjects transcend the need for castration and so does the narrative, at least in relation to these two characters. Nevertheless, both narratives continue to represent the possibility of castration via its constant displacement onto the slayers killing and maiming numerous demons, vampires, zombies, and lycanthropes usually with penetrative weaponry. In Lacanian terms the slayers are perverse subjects who disavow castration and continually brandish their fetish objects; guns, swords, stakes, axes, knives and so on as a means of maintaining the relationship to the phallus, while at the same time operating as castrating agents themselves.

By the 1950s Lacan began to discuss castration in terms of three forms of lack of object, the others being privation and frustration. He distinguishes between these three lacks in the following way. Frustration is understood as an imaginary lack of a real object, privation is understood as a real lack of a symbolic object and finally castration is then understood as a symbolic lack of an imaginary object[13]. Within this model castration does not relate to the actual penis, but to the imaginary phallus. This elevates Lacan’s theory of the castration complex out of biological dimensions and emphasises its psychic dimensions.

Lacan refers to two forms of castration, that of the mother and that of the subject. In the first time of the Oedipus complex, both sexes believe the mother possesses the phallus[14], but during the second time, the imaginary father is believed to deprive the mother of the imaginary phallus. While Lacan argues that this is more properly, privation than castration, he does also refer to the privation of the mother and to her castration. Castration occurs more in relation to the subject, understood as a symbolic act bearing on an imaginary object. While privation/castration of the mother occurs at the second time and results in an understanding that the mother does not have the phallus, the subject must give up his/her desire to be the phallus for the mother at the third time. By giving this position up the subject gives up a certain jouissance that can never be regained.

It is significant in that Anita kills and castrates the mother in her embodiment as the monstrous feminine specifically as the devouring maternal figure, that is Nicholaus, and Seraphina both Master Vampires, and Dominga Salvador the Vaudun priestess. All three try to lure her into believing that she can once again be the object of her dead mother’s desire, by embodying and evoking Anita’s mother. Seraphina is even able to reproduce Anita’s mother’s voice and the scent of her perfume. They are all persuasive but in each case Anita must finally detach from her and her substitutes. In these narratives it is not a paternal function who castrates the mother but Anita herself, she stands in for the phallic function in relation to these maternal monsters. For Buffy,  her mother is castrated right from the beginning of the series on the level of knowledge, she is not aware of Buffy’s prowess as slayer and soon after she does she dies, leaving Buffy with no choice about giving up any residual desire to be the object of her mother’s desire.

As Lacan says, ‘castration means that jouissance must be refused so that it can be reached on the inverted ladder (l’échelle renversée) of the Law of desire’[15]. Lacan makes it clear that this relationship to the phallus is ‘established without regard to the anatomical difference of the sexes’[16]. However, he goes on to say that this makes interpreting the relation women have to the phallus particularly difficult[17].

Both Freud and Lacan offer the possibility that sexual identity is not prescribed or over determined by anatomical differences. They also do not support the idea that sexual identity is a mere cultural or discursive construction. Despite the radicality that these propositions imply Freud and Lacan nevertheless continue to speak of men and women as social subjects within their writings as well as masculine and feminine subjects. This makes it at times difficult to fully appreciate the impossibility that both ascribe to a positive sexual identity. Joan Copjec points out that Lacan, in his famous and controversial article, ‘God and Woman’s jouissance[18] exposes ‘the fraudulence at the heart of every claim to positive sexual identity. And he has done this equally for men and for women’.[19] As Copjec notes Lacan has not conceived of sexual identities as complements of each other and he has also not conceived of them in symmetrical terms. In Lacan’s theory of sexual difference, one category does not complete the other and this is why he can make the provocative assertion that sexual relation is impossible. This does not mean that there can be no sexual relationships between social subjects but rather that between the signifiers of Man and Woman there is no relation. He exposes the impossibility of this through the logic he proposes in his seminar Encore, where through mathemes he exposes as an illegitimate proposition the heterosexist assumption that men love women and women love men. He does this by contesting the idea that within his mathemes the universal quantifier all applies equally to both men and women. Since he argues the universe of women is simply impossible, a universe of men is limited by prohibition. Lacan does not define the universe of men as a complement to the universe of women, rather he defines the universe of men ‘as the prohibition against constructing a universe and the woman as the impossibility of doing so’[20]. This results in the sexual relation failing on two counts; it is impossible and prohibited. These two failures do not logically equate a whole. They are not two complementary negatives equalling a positive. They are two entirely differently conceived failures. Hence in Lacanian terms the impossibility of sexual relation.

Castration can refer not just to an intervention by the imaginary father but also to a state of maternal lack pre-existing the subject’s birth. This lack is evidenced in the mother’s desire perceived by the subject as a desire for the imaginary phallus. At an early age, the subject perceives the lack of completeness and self-sufficiency in the mother. The child perceives that she is also not fully satisfied with the child and seems to yearn for something else. This process registers the subject’s first perception of the Other as not complete but lacking.

Both the castration of the subject and the privation/castration of the mother require a choice from the subject to either accept or deny castration. The subject can only achieve psychic normality if they accept castration. At the root of all psychopathological structures lies the refusal of castration. Even though it is difficult to accept castration fully, some attempt must be made. The neurotic structure approximates the closest position vis à vis castration. Even in this structure the subject protects themselves from the lack of the Other by repressing awareness of castration. Since ‘it is the assumption of castration that creates the lack upon which desire is instituted[21]’ the repression of the awareness of castration in the neurotic prevents them from fully assuming their desire. Disavowal is a more radical defence against castration than repression and is at the root of the perverse structure. The pyschotic’s defence is the most radical of all. The psychotic repudiates castration, as if it never existed however what is refused in the Symbolic re-emerges in the Real[22], sometimes in the form of hallucinations of dismemberment or even self mutilation of the actual genital organs. In the case of a fantasy based narrative such as these two vampire slayer series, the possibility of castration that Anita and Buffy refuse for themselves constantly re-emerge through the excessive mutilations of demons that both slayers engage in on a daily basis. Its very excess implies a return of the repressed.

To summarise then, psychopathological conditions arise out of the refusal of castration. The neurotic defends themselves from the idea of lack of the Other by repressing the awareness of castration, the pervert disavows its possibility and the psychotic forecloses it, that is they completely repudiate its possibility. Since both Anita and Buffy also operate as subjects both having the phallus and being the phallus in Lacanian terms; that is of being subjects and objects of desire then this is significant to foreground in the continuing discussion.

Oedipal relations with mentors

The paternal function operates differently in Anita and Buffy’s narratives in relation to both fighting and loving.  Anita rejects training for most of the series and then only reluctantly accepts it from a woman; Buffy is under the training of her Watcher, Giles. She resists his training at times but undergoes it anyway. It is part of her bid for independence that she must eventually break away from him. Her teenage status in the narrative sets up the possibility for her having this father figure. As the figure occupying the locus of the paternal functions in her life, his main relationship is in the role of mentor shaping her training and assisting her to develop her independence as a warrior. When she achieves competency she must make the break from him to assert her own independence and competence. Strangely, even though Giles signifies the paternal function, the series constructs him as a largely castrated figure providing limited psychosexual development for Buffy. He seems to plays a limited part in constructing or containing her desire. There are occasional hints of a darker and more intense phallic nature, but these qualities remain for the most part safely contained in a past that has little contact with the narrative present.

Psychoanalytically, Giles as the Watcher operates as her external paternal figure observing and commenting on her training that becomes introjected as her superego develops. As this happens, Giles’ function as external paternal figure decreases. Eventually she severs relations with him and the Watcher council. When she does invite him back their relationship is changed; she is now in charge. After she discovers he is trying to kill Spike, she removes any remaining privilege he has with her. In the final battle he fights alongside her as a member of the Scooby Gang, but with no authority over her at all. This occurs simultaneously with her sacrificing her desire for Spike – a sign of a strongly functioning superego.

Anita, on the other hand, begins the series as an adult with no obvious relationship of training to parallel Buffy’s. She continually resists her boss’s attempts to assert his authority with her. Even though she develops most of her power, strength and confidence via her intimate relationships with various men; it is through relationships of equivalence rather than the hierarchical nature evidenced in the early relationship between Buffy and Giles. Nevertheless, there is an interesting figure in Anita’s life called Edward, who functions variously as a mentor, a foe and at times a friend. Psychoanalytically, there is a suggestion of an Oedipal relationship between Edward, the father, and Anita, the son. While there is no female figure for them to be rivals over, they are rivals in terms of competency around killing. Edward has taught her many things, provided her with superior weapons and, at times, they have worked with and against each other. Edward is known as Death in this series, in the same way that she is known as the Executioner. The use of these additional signifiers for these two characters establishes a syntagmatic relationship between them. Sharing nick names alluding to killing and its result indicates the axis of their identification – an appropriate outcome of Oedipal relations. Paradigmatically, using Death as an additional signifier for Edward psychoanalytically reinforces his role as father and the representative of the Law that threatens castration; the ultimate form of which is death. In Lacanian terms, they share the same relation to the phallus that is of seeming to have the phallus.

In Obsidian Butterfly Edward and Anita join forces and fight together, marking a pivotal change in the dynamics of their relationship that becomes vital for Anita’s developing sexual autonomy. In The Killing Dance they join forces again, this time to protect Anita from an assassination attempt. They share a perfect understanding in relation to killing and weaponry. They also respect each other’s prowess and neither is confident they could beat the other. While they might operate as a metaphorical father and son in relation to fighting, they conversely operate as father and daughter around issues of desire. There is a psychosexual element to their relationship, in his disapproval of her choice of lovers since they are either vampires or lycanthropes. He represents the Law in terms of appropriate object choices for her desire. While she may not have to literally kill him, she does have to metaphorically in order to release her own desires. Initially her desire is bound up in the appropriate choices of Oedipal desires and he, as the metaphorical father, plays a vital function in containing her desire.

In this series it is significant that Anita detaches her desire from the limitations inherent within Oedipal circuits of desire. Anita begins in the masculine position seeming to have the phallus, and as the series develops, she simultaneously begins to occupy the feminine position of being the phallus. She is castrating as a Vampire Slayer and yet she is not herself castrated and she seems to reject its possibility. Yet she does not appear to exhibit psychotic behaviours that refusal of the possibility of castration can lead to. Perhaps because she does seem to occupy both sides of the sexuation formula – having and being the phallus she is able to move increasingly from a phallic jouissance limited and confined by the phallic function to a jouissance of the body no longer submitted to the phallic function[23].

Post Oedipal relations

There is another father figure, called Dolf Storr, who operates in a similar way throughout the series. While Edward represents the father figure who is to be feared, Dolf represents the father figure to be respected. Dolf and Anita fight together and through working on crime scenes together she earns his respect, in this way like the son of the Oedipal relations she comes to identify with him, in the same way she does with Edward. Similarly, Dolf increasingly disapproves of her choice in lovers and eventually they part ways. In this way, both father figures operate to try to contain her desire through threats of castration, in this case through lack of contact. However, Anita resists such psychosexual containment and so they come to operate as signs of the failure of the paternal metaphor, in their inability to ensure Oedipal relations are established and maintained.

Once Anita transcends the need for the approval of any of the father figures, that is once she rejects the possibility of castration as a threat embodied by these functionaries of the Law, she increasingly explores her own desires outside the confines of Oedipal desire. Her remaining limits are internal in terms of strongly functioning superego in relation to matters of desire, but interestingly less so in matters of death. Again, it is through the men who love her that she is able to move beyond even these barriers. At this point, the character moves from Oedipal subjectivity to post Oedipal subjectivity where desire is replaced by drive[24] and jouissance, but a jouissance of the body, not a phallic jouissance. In this series, drive and jouissance of the body operate through the ardeur that Anita acquired from Jean Claude as a consequence of the third vampire mark. The ardeur operates as an irresistible libidinal drive for power through sex and lust as nourishment arising out of irresistible bodily sensations providing the catalyst for the character of Anita to finally break free from the limitations of Oedipal desire, to transgress societal norms. The ardeur, operating as a libidinal drive, has the quality of jouissance in the sense of it being pleasure to the point of pain[25]. She initially tries to resist the demands of the ardeur through using her mind and will to subdue it. However, the series constructs the ardeur as a bodily sensation and demand that overrides the mind and will. As Anita becomes comfortable with the ardeur she is forced to face her own desires even those not considered acceptable by Middle American standards. She concludes that if her sexual actions are consensual and do not permanently wound, kill or disable another, then it is acceptable for her[26]. Such a leap of understanding allows her to be less judgemental of other people’s sexual practices. This represents a significant development in a character that in the first few novels had insisted on chastity before marriage. It is psychoanalytically significant that this shift is only possible after the character has severed relations with her father substitutes and representatives of the Law, Edward and Storr.

While psychoanalytically, the Oedipal complex provides a framework within which to develop gendered subjectivity along with appropriate boundaries for desire, in the case of Buffy and Anita, there is an additional layer to their subjectivity to negotiate.  Not only do they struggle with deep metaphysical questions of who they are, and why they are here, but also whether they have become monsters or are still human. The monsters function as much as narrative figures as vessels onto which the heroines project their repressed monstrosity. This means that in both series, the constant fighting with a variety of monsters continually re-poses for the slayers their specific dilemma relating to their remaining level of humanity. They must utilise their supernatural strengths and powers to defeat monsters that often possess quite similar powers. Anita is constantly wondering how different she is from the monsters she kills. Buffy is less concerned with this problem until she is raised from the dead and begins to notice differences about herself as a result. Buffy and Anita need their supernatural strength and their powers to defend their communities, but these qualities also set them apart from other humans. As their stories unfold, these powers and strengths function to signify their increasing separation from humanity. Both series position Anita and Buffy within the narrative to fight against accepting their status as different from other humans, despite their respective powers as a necromancer and vampire slayer. Both series represent their powers as innate, destined, and so integrally part of their lives that they are unable to not utilise these powers without serious consequences. Such narrative constructions serve to separate them from other human characters. Both narratives provide a loophole. Through fighting for humans, or for the ‘good’ monsters, against the other monsters their pretence that they are not like the monsters they are fighting can be maintained.

As both series continue both slayers become increasingly marked with difference: sometimes by choice and sometimes not. Since they are both women, one could ask whether part of their resistance to such difference might also represent a resistance to, while still seeking to use the powers of the monster within. These texts position the slayers to both recognise and reject the powers that come from being the monstrous feminine subject theorised by Barbara Creed[27]. Through inner supernatural powers and physical competencies, Anita and Buffy both embody the monstrous feminine representing a threat to masculinity through their ability to castrate. Their constant use of penetrating weapons, such as stakes, swords, knives, and in the case of Anita guns as well, constructs and reinforces their phallic and castrating nature. 

While it is possible to argue that these slayers castrating actions threaten masculinity, it is not a straightforward transaction because it is also within their relationships with men that their own subjectivity is most threatened offering the greatest stimulation for growth in these characters. Their ambivalence toward their supernatural powers leads to problems throughout both series. Since neither slayer accepts her liminality in terms of the human/monster divide, they both engage in forms of repressed projective identification with their transgressive objects of desire. They both desire particular vampires while slaying many others. Their transgressive choices of objects of desire allow them to project their repressed monstrosity onto these objects in order to both identify with and reject that monstrosity while simultaneously rejecting their own repressed monstrosity. Such a strategy operates as a defence mechanism protecting them from the complexity of their own subjectivity and that which is repressed into the unconscious.

Generally, the slayers’ battles with a plethora of vampires, monsters, demons, werewolves, zombies and so on can be read as displaced metaphors of their internal struggle for identity and power. What the slayers repress; the monsters express. They project what they unconsciously perceive as their own monstrosity onto the monsters and then kill them, further repressing the monstrosity and provoking a return of yet more waves of monsters, metaphors of repression, to arise and be vanquished. Freud theorised that the repressed returns through the mechanism of the repetition compulsion in order for the possibility of healing to take place through the mechanism of transference[28]. This is why these women’s choices of love objects are so significant. They both choose lovers from among the population they are usually slaying; namely vampires and in the case of Anita also lycanthropes. In the case of their objects of desire, they do not want to kill them and through their relationships with them, they have the opportunity to deal with those elements of their repressed selves the lovers represent. To varying degrees, this is and is not accomplished. Here is the tension but also the possible salvation of the two vampire slayers. Both series provide different solutions, one conservative, and one more radically transgressive from the point of view of the representation of female desire, power and subjectivity.

Narcissistic identification and love

Freud theorised that individuals have access to the choice of love objects according to two types; the narcissistic type or the anaclitic type. He makes it plain that while both types are accessible to any individual that they may show a preference[29]. Bearing this in mind, Freud explains that when love is primarily of a narcissistic nature peoples’ love choices are inclusive of four types. They will love someone who is just like them (or literally themselves), someone who is like they were, someone who embodies the qualities they aspire to (their ego ideal) or finally someone who was once a part of themselves, (their children).  If their love is more in the nature of attachment (anaclitic), the love choices are inclusive of two types. They will love people who either feed or protect them. Initially this will be their parents but will then also be those parent substitutes they encounter throughout their lives[30] and then to those in their community that they feel they need to feed or protect.

Freud argues that both are available to the individual. He even makes it clear that women can choose their love objects according to the masculine type[31]. Nevertheless, he then goes on to describe differences between the love-objects of men and women, based on his clinical observations. He noticed that men are more likely to choose according to the anaclitic type, that women are more likely to choose according to the narcissistic type, and that particularly beautiful women are more likely to narcissistically choose themselves as their love objects or their children, or children substitutes[32]. Obviously, these are tendencies Freud noted and are not intended to be understood as prescriptions for appropriate gendered behaviour in this regard, but rather are descriptions derived from clinical practice. It is important to remember that Freud made these clinical observations at a time when the relative social positions of women and men were not as fluid as they are now.

Therefore, it is not surprising to find characters in contemporary texts, such as Buffy and Anita, exercising their choices across both the narcissistic and anaclitic models[33]. In terms of their erotic love choices, they both display narcissistic tendencies in terms of whom they choose to love, and it explains how and why these choices are made. Significantly, in terms of their erotic love object choices they also choose according to the anaclitic type. In terms of more filial love objects, they both tend to operate more in the anaclitic model.  However, Buffy does include an important filial love object choice according to the narcissistic type. Therefore, it appears that the texts construct them to transcend gender boundaries in terms of Freud’s observations about the operations of narcissism and love object choice.

It is quite clear that Anita loves according to both types and is loved by both types. In her erotic love choices of Jean-Claude and Richard, she chooses according to the narcissistic type. Jean-Claude represents what she is.  Physically they share a similarity in colouring; dark hair with light skin. Psychically they share similar attitudes; they are extremely powerful, ruthless and practical in relation to violence. In addition, he represents her ego ideal in unconscious terms. He is beautiful, powerful, seductive, sexual, and comfortable with all this.

These are qualities she both unconsciously desires and resists. Jean-Claude represents all that she consciously desires, and all that she represses and yet desires. Since his greatest source of attraction to her operates on the unconscious level he feels dangerous and yet exciting to her. Richard represents a safer fantasy of what she would like to believe she was, and could have had if only her life had not changed so much. He represents a fantasy of what she would like to believe she was; living comfortably within the confines of middle class Christian American discourses of appropriate relationships with self and others. Initially she can imagine, and so can he, a life together as a happily married couple with children and the picket fence. Unconsciously, Richard represents her inability to feel completely comfortable with her supernatural powers. Via the process of projection she judges Richard for not embracing her beast rather than facing her own vulnerability in relation to this. She is always wondering how much of her is human and how much is not. She vacillates between accepting all her supernatural powers and wanting to just control them. In her choices of Jean-Claude and Richard, she is narcissistically choosing according to that aspect in them that reflects different aspects of her. These men are not simple reflective surfaces of narcissism for her. Jean-Claude and Richard operate as two sides of her ego ideal and thus they both attract and repel her, thrill and terrify her, amuse and infuriate her. They function within the narrative as the grist to the mill of this character’s development.

Buffy’s erotic love objects operate in a slightly different way. In relation to Angel, he seems to fall into the narcissistic type, because there are some similarities between them on the level of both slaying vampires and being able to protect themselves and others. Angel also operates as an anaclitic love object choice in that he protects her. It is not important that she does not need his protection but rather that he tries to and, at times, does protect her. Nevertheless, Buffy also protects and at times feeds him to save him

Interestingly, Dawn more clearly represents her love object choice according to the narcissistic type; in the sense of once being part of Buffy. Dawn was made from Buffy’s blood. She is not Buffy’s true child but she functions much like a child and this relationship is further strengthened once Buffy’s mother dies and she becomes Dawn’s guardian. Therefore, her choice of Angel as love object conforms more to Freud’s description of men largely choosing according to this anaclitic type. Nevertheless, in relation to Dawn she does conform to his description particularly of beautiful women choosing their children, in this case child substitute as their primary love object. In these two examples she is showing her ability to exercise choice across the spectrum Freud described.

In relation to Spike, she is resisting any kind of love for him. Partly this is because if she loves him according to the narcissistic type she would have to admit to some similarity between them that she resists strongly.  This would mean accepting her non human status that she is also repressing. She does allow him to be her champion in the end and sacrifice himself to protect not only her but also the rest of the world thereby including all the others she loves. Nevertheless, she resists any overtures of love from him. Another important psychoanalytic reason she is unable to love Spike, or even Riley in an erotic way is that after Angel no relationship compares favourably. She remains the eternal melancholic in the field of erotic love. She mourns the loss of her love object, Angel. Though she tries to love others, such as Riley, she is unable to make the connection because she has not sufficiently withdrawn her libidinal investments from Angel, no new ones can form. As Freud points out it is only when the work of mourning has been completed that the ego is free and uninhibited again[34] and can make new connections. Clearly, Buffy has not completed this process in relation to Angel and this remains unresolved for the rest of the series, something that Spike knows and comments on and about which she is in a state of denial.

In contrast to their erotic love object choices, both Anita and Buffy’s filial love object choices tend to all fall largely within the anaclitic model where they protect them. However once again it is not a straightforward transaction because for Anita, her growing entourage, and for Buffy, the Scooby gang, also protect and feed the slayers. As already mentioned Dawn is one of Buffy’s filial love objects but according to the narcissistic type. Significantly, in the case of Anita, her filial love choices function as substitutes for her lost mother; they feed and teach her to feed herself. Since she is so detached from her own nurturing qualities she is often completely unaware of her own needs and the men she lives with and loves teach her about such basic adult behaviours as making sure she eats regularly and gets enough sleep. Unlike Buffy, Anita has vacated her libidinal cathexes to her mother. In psychoanalytic terms, this makes her free to make these connections again.

Of course Anita has to feed not only on food, but also on power through sex[35]. So this means her erotic love objects while primarily narcissistic in nature are also anaclitic in terms of protecting and feeding her. In relation to both Jean Claude and Richard she protects them at various times and feeds them in terms of her blood with Jean-Claude and power with Richard. Many of those who were initially filial love objects, later become erotic love objects and so in both cases, Anita seems to be operating across the full spectrum that Freud theorised.

Both Anita and Buffy share this movement across the two types of love that Freud proposes. However, contrary to Freud’s contention that the individual, while being able to choose from either type, will tend to incline toward a particular preference. Anita and Buffy do not comply with this assertion. Instead they choose according to both types, and sometimes simultaneously for the same object. Unlike some male superheroes, the slayers’ relationships, both erotic and filial are significant to the development of the character as an individual and as a heroic figure and they are able to relate to their loved objects openly.

Lacan argues that love is deceptive since it is based on a specular mirage [36]. Part of the deception lies in the process of giving the other what one does not have – that is the phallus[37]. This is because love is directed not so much at what the love object possesses as to what they lack, the object is valued in so far as it comes to occupy the site of lack. In this regard, Lacan is updating the understanding of the way in which Freud proposed that the ego ideal functions in relation to narcissism and to love object choices.
She protects both Jean-Claude and Richard and at various times feeds them – her blood and power with Jean-Claude and power with Richard. Angel is loved because he occupies the site of her lack in terms of her desire for a protective lover operating as a father substitute. Angel has a soul. Now as a vampire having a soul operates on one level as a surplus but it also signifies a lack, in so far as vampires in this series require a lack of a soul to function as vampires. She has a soul and so does he. When they have sex for the first and only time, she occupies his site of lack by vacating his soul. Anita’s love of Jean-Claude functions because Jean-Claude occupies her site of lack in relation to her unconscious desires to be seductive, more feminine and more comfortable with a fuller range of desire and sexual expression.  Richard as her love object occupies her site of lack in relation to her lost fantasies about a ‘normal’ life of marriage, children and a home. She occupies Richard’s site of lack in terms of his repressed violence and aggression. She occupies Jean-Claude’s lack in terms of coarseness, bluntness and naked aggression. Lacan’s model of understanding love does not revolve around two types of love but rather locates the common feature of love that both Freud’s models share and that is the idea of lack. In this way, it is an update of Freud’s theory of narcissism as a way of understanding the choices of love objects made by individuals.

Loving and fighting inner and outer demons

Generally, superheroes are concerned primarily with fighting the demons on the outside often without confronting the ones on the inside. In relation to protecting their communities, this division is appropriate. However, if we accept the idea that the demons are external projections of the internal demons then one wonders whether having faced and vanquished these external projections of internally repressed demons – whether they will be able to turn within and face them. What makes these vampire slayer series interesting and significant is that both slayers, to differing degrees, take up this challenge.

In the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the demons stay mainly on the outside. When Buffy is challenged on an internal level, she tends to gravitate toward conservative solutions. So when her demons manifest as internal conflicts, especially in her relationship with Spike, she rejects her own desires, saying it is wrong. She remains attached to discourses of sex only in combination with love. She might desire Spike sexually but she remains ultimately unable to love Spike. To do so necessitates recognition of their similarity in terms of their non human status. She is unwilling to do so. While she might be willing to love one redeemed vampire, it seems not possible with the second. In Lacanian terms he cannot give her what he does not have, he cannot occupy her site of lack.

The first slayer tells her ‘Risk your pain; It’s your nature. Love will bring you your gift’. However, ultimately she is not as brave with her inner demons as with those on the outside[38]. She is able to follow the first slayer’s advice about love when it comes to the filial love she needs to protect her community such as sacrificing herself to save Dawn and the rest of the world but in terms or erotic love, she takes fewer risks.

Anita’s character undergoes greater development throughout the series. In the early books, Anita is constructed as straight laced sexually and a feminist in the second wave sense of the term. By the twelfth book, she is much more sexually liberated than anyone could have predicted at the beginning of the series. She understands that power does not reside in simplistic questions of who opens the door for whom.  This series constructs personal power as coming from a central core of emotional strength resulting from honesty about who you really are, what you want, and what you will and will not do. In the field of love and desire in the twelfth book Anita faces the greatest demon of all – her own fears, shame and culturally limiting conditioning – she faces it and moves beyond it to a place of power. She is able then to surrender to love and to embrace all her own desires without having to have someone or something else to blame or use as an excuse for releasing those desires. She is also able to face and meet the greatest challenge of all to surrender to the full force of love and not feel as though she will disappear. While she may have appeared strong in the early stages – mostly it was masquerade. Her inability to allow herself to really be who she was and to feel a fuller range of emotions – was her greatest weakness, hiding behind all the guns and the bravado. Buffy also faces this same challenge but ultimately fails to meet it.

The series maps the way the character of Anita progresses from being contained within the paternal laws governing Oedipal desires to a world where shame, guilt and embarrassment are no longer an issue in terms of controlling her desires or her behaviour. According to Kristeva[39], the movement through the realm of maternal authority to that of the paternal law involves a move from the body/subject being comfortable with abjection to one that is not and “where embarrassment, shame, guilt, desire etc come into play – the order of the phallus”[40]. Perhaps Anita’s development could be understood as regressive moving from the Law of the Father back to a state prior even to the maternal authority. If she were truly monstrous this would apply, but she occupies a position of ambiguity because she is both abject and appealing. Her ability to assume the full power of the body and its orifices without shame and guilt is thrilling for some readers. Through the character of Anita, the series offers the possibility of a different subject position outside both the constraints of the maternal and paternal authority. She transcends them both and tries to help Richard make the same journey. Jean-Claude, the figure of abjection that fascinates her desire the most, has been waiting patiently for her to join him. In this way, he operates like her psychoanalyst trying to assist her healing through the process of transference, accounting for her compulsion to repeatedly seek him out and reject him.


While Buffy the vampire slayer, as a television series, self-consciously breaks the conventions of gothic narratives, in so far as the young blonde girl is transformed from victim into heroic conqueror with supernatural powers, it is not as unconventional in terms of heterosexual relations. Overall, it mobilises conservative discourses about sex, love, and femininity. Specifically, that the only real recourse to sex available to a young woman must be through love, if not danger will follow. Laurell K Hamilton in her Anita the Vampire Slayer series offers different subject positions of identification for her female readers. Anita, at first vacillates between her two lovers, but then ultimately comes up with the more transgressive choice of insisting on both and then on numerous lovers. [41]  So far in the series the more Anita insists on her sexual autonomy the more powerful she becomes. Through the series she is, however, not ultimately punished, she becomes more powerful, more sexual, and more successful. Usually female subjects in narratives that are allowed to be fully phallic are ultimately castrated.   Not only does this not happen to Anita but most of her lovers encourage her to push these boundaries even further. This fantasy allows, especially female readers, the possibilities of exploring identificatory subject positions of power, desire and success as well as sexual autonomy outside Oedipal circuits of desire and conventional discourses of female desire.

While the character of Buffy may not be constructed as sexually progressive as Anita, the series does provide the character with the opportunity to change the patriarchal rules of her world. Buffy chooses to share the potential of the one slayer with all potential slayers, a great feminist gesture that Anita to date has not managed. Anita shares her power with men but not with women.

Anita learns the power of interdependence, as Buffy does, but they choose to do it in different fields and in different ways. Once Buffy truly shares her power with all the other potential vampire slayers she withdraws from her quest.[42] Whereas the more power Anita shares the more she puts herself in the line of battle. As the focus of that power, distributing it only partially. Buffy on the other hand, distributes the power fully to the other slayers no longer wanting to be the only focus of the power.
While Creed argues that the monstrous feminine challenges Freudian theories of why men fear women and sexual difference theories – it still leaves these female subjects in the category of evil or monstrous. The significance of female characters like Anita and Buffy is that they do not remain entirely contained within categories of the evil or the monstrous, even though they fight monsters that embody the monstrous feminine. Both Anita and Buffy operate as having the phallus, literally in terms of the variety of penetrating weapons they are competent at using and also in being the phallus, in terms of their being objects of desire for the males within their respective series.  In this way, they seem to lack lack. They are castrating figures that are nevertheless appealing and desirable.

Their difference goes beyond gender.  Perhaps the construction of Anita arises out of a desire to explore the fear of female sexuality but from a female point of view.
The construction and development of the character of Anita operates as the fantasy subject that moves from phallic jouissance to a jouissance of the body no longer submitted to the phallic function – a fantasy suggested in Lacan’s sexuation formula. Her power is linked increasingly to unbridled sexual autonomy and pleasure. They both pose the literal threat of castration to their enemies through penetrative acts of violence. Anita especially also operates as an object and subject of desire offering greater potency through union with her which seems to challenge the either/or notion that men fear women because there are castrated or castrating. The men in the series variously fear her castrating potential or admire it, because she is accepted as one of them; or they desire to join with her to draw on her power and become more powerfully potent. In the case of the men she fights alongside, this potency is in relation to fighting only. In relation to the men who are her lovers, there is the potential for an increase in potency in relation to fighting and sex. In Buffy the vampire slayer, Buffy might fight alongside men, but she does not share her slayer power with them. She does however, share power with all the other potential slayers thereby breaking down an old and patriarchally controlled system of slayers, watchers and council. She breaks these patriarchal rules by breaking with men and saves the world. Anita breaks the patriarchal rules by joining with men and saves the world.



[1]Laurell K Hamilton, Guilty Pleasures, Orbit Press: London, 2000; Ace Edition:1993. ____The Laughing Corpse, Jove Books: New York, 2002; Ace Edition,1994. ____Circus of the Damned, Jove Books: New York, 2002; Ace Edition, 1995. ___The Lunatic Café,  Orbit Press: London, 2000; Ace Edition, 1996. ___Bloody Bones, Jove Books: New York, 2002 Ace Edition, 1996. ____The Killing Dance, Jove Books: New York, 2002; Ace Edition, 1997. ____ Burnt Offerings, Jove Books: New York, 2002; Ace Edition, 1998. ­­­____ Blue Moon, Jove Books: New York, 2002; Ace Edition, 1998. ____ Obsidian Butterfly, Orbit Books: London, 2001. ____ Narcissus in Chains, Jove Books: New York, 2002. _____ Cerulean Sins, Orbit Books: London, 2003. ____ Incubus Dreams, Orbit Books: London, 2004. These serial novels although taking a conventional novel format include within the narratives representations of transgressive sexualities. It is a feminist reworking of the vampire hunter genre where Anita has roles in the human world that extends beyond vampire slaying to include working as; a member of the police preternatural crime fighting unit, a Federal Marshall and as a Legal Vampire Executioner.

[2] Buffy the vampire slayer, Joss Whedon, director, 1994-2003, television series.
[3] Strictly speaking Anita Blake is the character within a collection of books each of which Laurell K Hamilton calls An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel, but for the purpose of this paper I will refer to both Anita and Buffy as Vampire Slayers. The character Anita variously refers to herself as a vampire slayer, a vampire executioner and a vampire hunter.
[4] Freud, Sigmund, ‘Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes.’ [1925] in Beyond the pleasure principle, group psychology and other works. SE Vol XVIII, 1920-1922. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1955: 241-58.
[5] Even so, these positions still do no determine the final sexual orientation. Anita occupies a masculine position and yet she is strongly heterosexual at least in her choice of sexual partners. The fact that a number of these men are bisexual could imply a repressed latent homosexuality in herself that she is projecting and that is determining her choice of love objects.
[6] In The ego and the id and other works, 1923-1925, SE Vol XIX, Translated by James Strachey. Vintage The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 2001: 141-148.
[7] Lacan, Jacques, La relation d’objet, seminaire IV, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1994: 216
[8] Jacques Lacan, La relation d’objet, Seminar IV, 1956-7, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1994, p153.
[9] Lacan, Jacques, Les formations de l’inconscient, Seminaire V, 1957-8, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1998.
[10] Lacan, Jacques, La relation d’objet, seminaire IV, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1994: 208-9, 227.
[11] Freud, Sigmund, in Beyond the pleasure principle, group psychology and other works. SE Vol XVIII, 1920-1922. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1955: 273-274.
[12] Kaplan, E Ann (Ed.) Women in film noir. BFI Publishing: London, 1980.
[13] Lacan, Jacques, La relation d’objet, seminaire IV, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1994: 219.
[14] Jacques Lacan, Écrits: a selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan, London: Tavistock, 1977: 282.
[15] Écrits, 324.
[16] Écrits, 282.
[17] Écrits, 282.
[18] Lacan, Jacques, in Encore: on feminine sexuality, the limits of love and knowledge, 1972-1973, Seminar XX. Translated by Bruce Fink, Norton: London, 1998. In this article, Lacan, in the original French, put a line through the definite article La in front of Femme. In French La Femme has the meaning of woman in the sense of a universal category, whereas in English the same concept is rendered with no definite article, simply as woman. English translators have variously solved the problem by either crossing out the word Woman [Bruce Fink] or the W at the beginning of the word [Jacqueline Rose]. The fact is that neither solution is as elegant as the original French. In the rest of the lecture, therefore he is usually referring to the La crossed through which is what signifies the universality and not the word femme/Woman and so for a French reader this reinforces a quite different and more subtle relation to the idea than for the English reader.
[19] Copjec, Joan, Read my desire: Lacan against the historicists, MIT Press: Cambridge Mass. & London, 1994: 234.
[20]  Copjec, Joan, Read my desire: Lacan against the historicists, MIT Press: Cambridge Mass. & London, 1994: 235.
[21] Jacques Lacan, Écrits. Seuil: Paris. 1966:852.
[22] Jacques Lacan, The Psychoses 1955-1956, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, book III. Translated by Russell Grigg, WW Norton, London and New York, 1993: 13.
[23] This is taken up by Lacan in his seminar XX Encore especially in chapters 6 and 7.
[24] For a fuller account of the operations of the shift from Oedipal to post Oedipal subjectivities in narrative see my paper Oedipal and post Oedipal Subjectivities in American Beauty and Damage, presented at the Symposium called ‘Masculinities: Gender, Art and Popular Culture’ published on line
[25] Mellard, J M, “Lacan and the new Lacanians: Josephine Hart’s Damage, Lacanian tragedy and the ethics of jouissance”. PMLA 113(3): 395-407.
[26] Incubus Dreams, p 463.
[27] The idea of the monstrous feminine in horror films is theorised by Barbara Creed in her book, The monstrous feminine: film, feminism, psychoanalysis. Routledge: London, 1993.
[28] Freud, Sigmund, ‘Beyond the pleasure principle, (1920), pp 7-64, in   in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  Volume XVIII (1920-22) Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1955.

[29] Freud, Sigmund, ‘On Narcissism: an introduction’ (1914), pp67-102, in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  Volume XIV (1914-16) On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1957: 88.
[30] Freud, Sigmund, ‘On Narcissism: an introduction’ (1914), pp67-102, in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  Volume XIV (1914-16) On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1957: 90.
[31] Freud, Sigmund, ‘On Narcissism: an introduction’ (1914), pp67-102, in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  Volume XIV (1914-16) On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1957 : 89.
[32] Freud, Sigmund, ‘On Narcissism: an introduction’ (1914), pp67-102, in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  Volume XIV (1914-16) On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1957: 88.
[33] The same  can be said for their lovers.
[34] Freud, Sigmund, ‘Mourning and melancholia’ [1914]. In SE volume XIV  On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis: London, 1957: 245.
[35] This is one of the effects of the ardeur, she must have sex when it arises or she becomes weak, in this way it is viewed as a form of feeding and can be understood as a libidinal drive cathected to the drive for self preservation.
[36] Lacan, Jacques, The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, Seminar 11. Translated by Alan Sheridan. Norton: London: 268.
[37] Lacan, Jacques,Le séminaire, Livre VIII, Le transfert, 1960-61. Paris: Seuil, 1991: 147.
[38] Part of the problem of course with a television series relying on an actual actor means that if the actor does not want to continue to act then the series has to stop. If Sarah Michelle Gellar had been willing to continue in her role we may have finally seen such a character development but this has not happened and so we are left only with the text as it is. In addition the kinds of censorship issues faced by the developers of television series are much more restrictive than those faced by authors of printed fiction. Laurell K Hamilton does not have such limitations to her character development and so can continue to write as long as she wishes to. Even so, we see a development of character in Anita that we do not see with Buffy.
[39]  Kristeva,Julia, Powers of horror: an essay on abjection. Translated by Louis S Roudiez.  Columbia University Press: New York, 1982: 70-75.
[40] Kristeva,Julia, Powers of horror: an essay on abjection. Translated by Louis S Roudiez.  Columbia University Press: New York, 1982: 74.
[41] This is an idea that Laurell K Hamilton takes much further in her series about Merry Gentry where the heroïne has numerous simultaneous lovers. Laurell K Hamilton, A kiss of shadows, Bantam Books: London, 2000. ____ A caress of twilight, Bantam Books: London, 2002. ­­­­____ Seduced by moonlight, Bantam Books: London, 2004.

[42] Partly this has to do with the limitations faced by televisions series in relation to keeping actors in series mentioned earlier.

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