Sample 'A' Paper

Below is a paper written by a student in Spring 2003.

Things to note (in order of importance):

1) The student never rests at paraprase but always seeks to interpret the descriptions s/he provides. What you have here is an argument that enlightens the work not a mere rehashing of plot. The student is also offerring up a fascinating application of theoretical work by Jacques Lacan.

2) The student has used a good deal of evidence from the work s/he examines to support his/her case. S/he also provides insight into these passages and incorporates her quotations well.

3) Rather than making numerous points briefly, the student has chosen to concentrate on a specific topic so that s/he can provide an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the work at hand.

4) The paper has a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, one that is developed in different ways in each of the paragraphs of the paper.

5) The paper proceeds logically from sentence to sentence, from point to point, from paragraph to paragraph.

6) The paper has almost no grammatical and stylistic problems.


Something to Sing About

[my comments are in this color]

Throughout much of recorded human history, people have written tales of the dead returning to life, usually to trouble the living in some way. These traditional myths have progressed from ancient superstitions, to campfire ghost stories, to television shows such as Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the series, vampires are created from the dead victims of other vampires (as long as a certain rite is performed during the victim’s death). After a time they rise from their graves and immediately seek to kill and drink the blood of the living. Creatures such as these are, as Lacan [give first name when you first mention someone] describes them, “between the two deaths” and live again only to fulfill insistent, mechanical drive. This drive, often centered on killing, vengeance, or some other quest for closure, is distinct from desire in that it is not “caught up in dialectical trickery” (Zizek 21). According to Zizek [ditto], normal desires are not always what they seem, for when we desire something, we may be seeking something else entirely (21). Most of the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer fit Lacan’s profile of one [delete "one"] between the two deaths, and[comma] as one might expect, they are antagonists to the protector of the living, Buffy. However, in the musical episode “Once More, with Feeling,” Whedon explores two protagonists who are also between the two deaths, each struggling to revert back to their prior state of being, but both in a different situation. One of these characters, Spike, once fit the archetype of the vampire, but now faces difficulty as he is forced to cope with normal dialectical desire in order to exist in the civilized, symbolic world. The other, Buffy, fulfilled the death drive when she sacrificed herself, but has been unnaturally revived in order to continue performing her role in the symbolic order. Though each character is between two deaths, Whedon uses their individual situations to expand and experiment with Lacan’s basic concept.

When he first appeared early in the series, the character of Spike was ruthless, violent, and intent on killing Buffy. Eventually, he was rendered incapable of harming humans by a chip implanted in his head, and thus he could not fulfill his death drive through killing. Robbed of his motivation, he could only exist by projecting desire onto an object. By the time of “Once More, with Feeling,” Spike has long been in love with Buffy, causing him to act more like a normal man than a vampire between the two deaths. He sings to her, “I died so many years ago / You make me feel like it isn’t so.” Unfortunately, Buffy refuses to return Spike’s affection, and out of frustration he tries to suppress his desire and regress to being dominated by the death drive. This regression is manifested when he expresses to Buffy his want ["urge" would be better] to find closure by literally being left in peace in a grave: “Let me rest in peace / Let me get some sleep / Let me take my love and bury it / In a hole six-foot deep.” Spike’s obsession with being buried reminds the viewer that[comma] despite his partial humanity, he still defaults to the behavior of a creature between the two deaths. For Zizek writes that the living dead in speculative fiction return for the same reason as offered by Lacan: “because they were not properly buried” (23). [sentence fragment] For Zizek, the obsequy is key in resolving the artificial symbolic order with the real end of someone’s life. “Through it,” he writes, “the dead are inscribed in the text of symbolic tradition” (23). Spike’s resentment at not receiving a proper burial—at not receiving the symbolic closure a normal death and funeral provide—is shown when he jumps atop the casket and assaults the funeral party. He even puts on his demonic face, the mask of his undead self, and confronts the priest with his problem: “I can lay my body down / But I can’t find my sweet release.” Fortunately for Spike, by the end of “Once More, with Feeling,” Buffy opens up to him and he is able to pursue his human-like desire instead of his vampire drive for death.

Buffy’s warming up to Spike comes only after her own struggle with her being between the two deaths; however, her situation is quite different than that of Spike or any of the other vampires. Buffy’s life ended in a gesture of self-sacrifice, and[comma] though her title was Slayer, her real role in the series has always been one of protection. By giving up her own life to save her sister’s, Buffy is able to satisfy the death drive, giving symbolic meaning to her life. More closure is given to her when she is given a proper burial, and afterward her soul goes to a heavenly dimension. She has no “unpaid symbolic debt” (Zizek 23) to collect in the living world and thus does not rise from her grave. However, in a reversal of Lacan’s “between the two deaths” scenario, the living world still requires Buffy to fulfill her role in the symbolic order, and thus she is resurrected by unnatural means. In the recap of previous episodes preceding “Once More, with Feeling,” Willow is shown reviving Buffy for this purpose, even referring to her by her title instead of her name: “Here lies the warrior of the people. Let her cross over!” Thus Buffy returns from the dead, but her situation is quite the opposite of the vampires’. As the episode begins, we see the gang gathered in the magic shop relaxing. Yet Buffy has little chance to enjoy her leisure time, for Giles soon presents her with an axe, a symbol of her role, indicating that she needs to perform the duty she was revived to do. Whereas the vampires are creatures of drive only, Buffy is their opposite, being purely a tool of the symbolic order and the law (Giles). Many of the lyrics she sings in the cemetery confirm this. She herself admits that she is “Going through the motions / walking through the part.” Clearly she is conscious of her being used, and she realizes that the symbolic order is arbitrary and artificial. Thus, she believes that “Nothing here is real” and has difficulty being motivated. Finally, she sings that she is losing all her drive, which of course is what Lacanian undead live by. Thus if Buffy does not exist by the death drive, and if she is not content to merely be a tool of the law, then what does she seek? She, like Spike, needs “something to sing about,” an objet petit a, in order to revert back to her prior way of existing. She is not fooled by anything in the symbolic order, however, and thus the only suitable object of desire is something that lies apart from the symbolic order but is also not wholly dominated by the death drive—in this case, Spike.

At first glance, the Spike/Buffy segments of “Once More, with Feeling” may seem like a cursory reference of the Lacanian concept of someone being “between the two deaths.” However, with close analysis of Spike and Buffy’s individual situations, one can see that neither represents the traditional undead described by Lacan. Spike is torn between pursuing human desire and seeking the closure of death. Buffy’s position, on the contrary, is opposite to that of the vampires. She is a symbol without drive, returned from the grave not by her own discontent with her end, but by the world that still needs her to be the Slayer. Her only chance to find motivation in the world is to find a new desire. Both characters approach the same center, but from different ends of the drive-symbol spectrum. Thus, Whedon not only makes use of the Lacanian “between the two deaths” concept, but he also plays with making it dynamic (Spike) and with inverting it (Buffy). Then, at the very end of the episode, the two experiments are united in an elegant closure.

Works Cited or Referenced

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Once More, with Feeling.”

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On Desire." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date March 11, 2003. Purdue U. March 23, 2003. <>.

Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge: MIT P, 1991.

Back to Course Syllabus