By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 12, 2003 at 5:29 AM

Milwaukee's latest contribution to the world academia comes in a somewhat unexpected form. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale" is a collection of essays edited by Marquette Associate Professor of Philosophy James South.

The paperback volume is the latest installment in Open Court Publishing's series which also includes "Seinfeld and Philosophy," "The Simpsons and Philosophy" and "The Matrix and Philosophy." Similar books interpolating the works of Woody Allen and "The Lord of the Rings" into basic concepts and ideas in philosophy are forthcoming.

We caught up with South to ask him about the book, its genesis and its intent.

OMC: Was this unusual project your idea?

JS: Yes. I've been watching Buffy since its first season. In 2001 the Philosophy graduate students at Marquette put on a conference and I gave a paper there -- that was subsequently published -- on Buffy, Shakespeare and the Philosophy of Technology. The paper was well received, and that was the first time I sensed that a collection of philosophical essays on Buffy would be something that other people might find interesting.

OMC: The book is the fourth volume in a series that already has explored the relationship of philosophy with The Simpsons, Seinfeld and The Matrix. How did you come to be involved in that?

JS: I knew of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series published by Open Court, and had enjoyed the Seinfeld and Simpsons volumes. In May 2001, I contacted the editor of the series, William Irwin, and asked if they had any plans for a Buffy and Philosophy volume. He invited me to submit a proposal -- this book is the result.

OMC: What is the aim of the book? Is it a way of making philosophical thought more "palatable" to a new generation?

JS: As I explain in the introduction to the volume, there's a two-fold aim. First, there's the goal of attracting people to philosophy and its unique pleasures. All good teachers know that you can't teach in a vacuum -- examples have to come from somewhere, and popular culture provides a wealth of examples. However, the second goal of the book is to show that there are lessons that Buffy can teach philosophers. In recent years, many philosophers have rediscovered that finely detailed and highly contextualized works of literature can be a spur for the philosophical imagination. I think that several essays in the book show that Buffy, too, can be an aid to philosophers' imaginations.

OMC: Certainly, some old school voices in the world philosophy will argue that the book is an example of the dumbing down of scholarship. What would you say to those critics?

JS: First, I'd ask them to read the essays and then try to justify their argument. None of the essays in the book dumb down philosophical issues at all. That said, I do believe the book helps make philosophy accessible, and my primary worry as editor was keeping philosophical jargon to a minimum. Like any academic discipline, philosophers like to use technical terms, but there's no reason to use such terms just for the sake of using them. If the same point can be made in user-friendly language, that isn't a matter of making concessions, but caring about the ideas and wanting to communicate them well.

OMC: Is yours the first book on philosophy to cite -- and footnote that citation -- an article from The Onion?

JS: I hadn't thought of that, but it's certainly possible. And hey, if you use a source, you have to cite it -- basic academic integrity is at issue there.

OMC: How have your students and colleagues at Marquette reacted to the project?

JS: I've had some great conversations with students. Several colleagues know the show and watch it. Those that don't give me slightly quizzical looks sometimes, but they're always supportive. It helps that one of my most well respected and well-published colleagues had a book published by the same press -- Open Court -- one of the most respected publishers of Philosophy titles in the United States.

OMC: Are you working on a new book? Perhaps a book about Tom Crean and philosophy?

JS: Well, I don't know that much about basketball, so I'll let someone else do that one. I'm currently working on a book on the 16th century Spanish philosopher Francisco Suárez, and am mulling over ideas for another volume in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series.

OMC: What about Milwaukee? What gets your philosophical juices flowing here?

JS: Being at an intellectually stimulating university, for starters. Having a very supportive wife, Kelly, who is excellent at detecting cliches and forcing me to be clear. As a transplanted southerner, I'll confess to still finding snow fascinating. Also: the view from our living room window of the lake and the Calatrava addition to the Art Museum; the vegetarian chili at Beans and Barley; WYMS; and the Apple Store at Mayfair Mall.

James South will discuss his book at Schwartz Bookshop, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Wed., May 14, at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.