“These,” he pointed around, “are my other guns. The parallel is exact!” — Sherlock Holmes, “The Empty House.”
Having devoted considerable time and attention to the genres of weird fiction and science fiction, it is perhaps long overdue that I should spend some time considering the remaining one of the Three Disreputable Genres, detective fiction.
The transition is made easier by the fact that the inventor of the detective tale, by most accounts, is that master of the weird tale, Edgar A. Poe, who in turn Lovecraft considered his own master.
I suspect that, as with weird fiction and science fiction, the persistent popularity of this looked down upon genre — one might even say, obsession — lies in its ability to present Traditional metaphysical themes no longer countenanced by mainstream fiction, or culture in general. Let’s see!
In dealing with detective fiction, one must, of course, deal with the epoch-making figure of Sherlock Holmes.
The first thing writers on Sherlock Holmes feel the need to tackle is the question of the overwhelming cultural impact of these tales of a late Victorian/early Edwardian private (or “consulting”) detective. The only rival, though still subject to far less fan obsession, is that other British chap, James Bond, secret agent, of whom more anon.
As usual, Colin Wilson has an interesting and useful theory about this. He attributes the overwhelming and continued fascination with Holmes to Doyle having, quite inadvertently, solved an important problem in spiritual evolution.
Holmes was more than a fictional character: he was a response to a deep-rooted psychological need of the late Victorians, a need for reassurance, for belief in the efficacy of reason and for man’s power to over come the chaos produced by this new disease of alienation.
The rise of literacy among the populace led to an obsession with the realistic novel (itself an innovation of Cervantes, Richardson, Defoe and others).
You would have to imagine that Sir Walter Raleigh brought back marijuana from the New World, and all Europe became pot smokers. This taste for escaping into worlds of fantasy swept across Europe, and literature gained an important that it had never possessed in any previous age.
A point often missed, especially by literary critics of the Realist camp, is that this involves more than the accumulation of precise detail, important though that is. Among realists, Dumas would always be more popular than Balzac, and even within with Dickens, Pickwick Paters would be more popular than “better” novels like Hard Times. “They are too ‘real,’ and they lack the element of the wish-fulfillment fantasy.”
The point is, to get the two together, in the right proportion: the wish-fulfillment fantasy, with enough realistic detail to assure us that this, unlike a fairy-tale, is real.
But then, around the turn of the 19th century, a problem developed; people began to live too much, perhaps entirely, in their imaginations. Enter the literary figure of the aesthete — Axel, Dorian Gray, and most notably Des Esseintes, the protagonist of Huysman’s À rebours (Against the Grain) — all living apart from, and hostile to, the outside world, constructing their own, superior counter-world at home. Unfortunately, as Wilson points out, the world always wins; Des Esseintes ultimately sickens and must return to the hated Paris for treatment.
Holmes was at first a similar figure, holed up in his rooms at 221b Baker Street, taking cocaine and coffee, gesturing “languidly.” As Wilson notes, Doyle was commissioned to write the second Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four, by the same publisher, at the same dinner party, that produced The Picture of Dorian Gray, just two years after À rebours.
But unlike either character, Holmes evolves a solution to the problem: crime; or rather, the solution of crimes, the pursuit of justice: “He has not turned his back on the world; on the contrary, he regards himself as a last court of appeal.”
Quite unconsciously, certainly unaware of what he was doing, Conan Doyle had solved the problem that had tormented and frustrated the novelist since Richardson. He had created a romantic hero, a man whose life is entirely the life of the mind (“I cannot live without brainwork), yet succeeded in steering him out of the cul-de-sac of despair and defeat tat destroyed so many of the best minds of the fin-de-siecle period.
This has a sound basis in Tradition. From Plato (The Myth of the Cave) to Emericus Durden, the path of the Realized Man involves not only rising to the heights but also a return to live among us.  As Krishna explains his role as avatar:
“Whenever there is a decline of righteousness,
and the rise of unrighteousness,
then I re-incarnate myself
to teach dharma.”
Indeed, soon an even more fascinating development occurred. Fired by his interests in detection, Holmes acquires more and more knowledge and skill, until, no longer a languid aesthete who claimed to not know, or have an interest in, whether the Earth revolved around the Sun or vice versa, to a polymath, a universal genius — a superman, or, as Wilson add, “a true magician.” He becomes that figure we have frequently cited, the Chakravartin, the Unmoved Mover turning things from the Center of the World; as Wilson quotes Watson on Holmes:
“He loved to lie in the very center of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumor or suspicion of unsolved crime.”
Wilson thinks Doyle’s writer’s instinct was right to try to kill off Holmes, because he was unable to find a way to develop the character further. He sounds a bit like a Liberal Goodthinker when he suggests that “a man like Holmes” should have naturally become interested in the causes of crimes, not just solving them, which did not interest Doyle.
What interested Doyle was spiritualism, séances, and such like, and “it’s hard to imagine Holmes at a séance.” True, but I find it hard to imagine Holmes campaigning for slum clearance, hot school lunches, or midnight basketball, either.
The real problem is that Doyle’s interests were not in real Tradition but in the modern, deviant areas of “spiritualism” or what Guénon disparaged as “Spiritism,” an interest Wilson shares  and to which we will be returning.
Wilson gives us a compelling portrait of Holmes and the reasons for the Holmes phenomenon. Still, it might be useful to see what the “professional” literary critics have to say about it.
There are, of course, gazillions of editions of the Holmes novels and tales, ranging from expensive “limited edition” volumes to pricy, vastly annotated slipcovered editions to free Kindle versions from Amazon sellers. The Oxford volume I employ, whose second edition recently appeared, collects most of the famous tales as well as the short, early novel The Sign of the Four, all gently annotated, and with a useful introduction by Barry McCrea. Prof. McCrea reminds me of what my mentor, Plotinus scholar Dr. John N. Deck, once said about Walter Kaufmann and his attempts to popularize Nietzsche and Hegel: he’s seldom wrong but never profound. As such, he provides a useful framework which we can, as Dr. Deck would also say, aprofondise with our own expansions of his comments.
McCrea and Wilson agree, and it is good that they agree, that “There is simply no other fictional character who comes close to having the cultural influence of Holmes,” and that he is “clearly a product of his times.” However, since Doyle fails to give Holmes any PC speeches about racism, sexism, etc., Prof. McCrea has to exercise a bit of academic legerdemain to get his quota of goodthinking in:
The mechanism of the stories is to focus our attention entirely on the mystery while imperceptibly exposing us to social, economic, psychological and historical realities.
Ah yes, love that “imperceptibly”; it’s there, but you can’t see it until the critic comes along. Double points!
McCrea’s still got something on the ball, though; in his own PC way, he does manage to notice many of the points we and Wilson have been hammering away on. Holmes’ stories manage to insinuate the plight of women under patriarchy, the toiling of the oppressed workers, the ruthless exploitation of the colored masses, etc., because Holmes exercises the superhuman powers of the Charkravartin:
Holmes sees almost everything and he understands everything he sees, often immediately.
Holmes’ work . . . reveal[s] the connections that remain otherwise hidden, or unspeakable.
Holmes is an appealing figure in an overcrowded world and a bewildering global economic system because reveals unseen or disavowed connections.
Holmes reveals new, unexpected connections and conjunctions generated from the new circumstances of metropolitan living.
McCrea, of course, does not attribute this to any mystical, superhuman achievements. Rather, he brings it back to another of our themes; Holmes’ method of deduction depends on the same patient, exhaustive, perhaps neurotic and suffocating, accumulation of details that we have identified as the literary method of weird fiction. In “The Red-Headed League,”
Holmes sees something invisible to the police, to the characters who are victims of the scam, and, of course to the eternally astonished Watson: — namely, that “the line of fine shops and stately business premises . . . really abutted on the other side upon the faded and stagnant square.” The fact that the two neighborhoods are physically next to each other is invisible to Watson because socially and imaginatively they are so far apart.
Like Poe, Lovecraft, and other writers of weird fiction (as well as such Traditionalists as Guénon and Evola),
Strangeness is hidden somewhere within ordinary life. For the mystery to be solved or the criminal identified, commonplace doings and commonplace people, not usually worthy of enquiry, must be scrutinized.
Holmes is able to see or make these connections due to his social isolation.
He is not of the world he investigates. The only ones who see the world the way Holmes does are the criminals and family outsiders.
McCrea also agrees with Wilson in seeing Holmes as a fin de siècle figure, a withdrawn dandy, but fails to notice any development of the sort Wilson descries. Instead, he takes the idea in a different and equally intriguing direction: “Holmes is a bohemian bachelor who abhors family life.”
Yet Holmes himself is a confirmed bachelor who lives, on and off, with a male companion. Watson, just as he intermediates between Holmes and the reader, is never fully part of either realm, the bohemian bachelor life he shares with Holmes or the heterosexual family world which he ostensibly joins when he marries. . . . Watson shuttles anxiously back and forth between them, supposedly living at home with Mary, but moving back to Baker Street whenever there is a crime to solve. . . . From the point of view of the reader, he is married to Holmes.
What seems to engrave itself more than anything else on our reading memories is the domestic life of 221b Baker Street. Holmes and Watson sitting in their rooms, reading he newspapers, discussing Mrs. Hudson’s cooking, or waiting for the door bell to ring and a stranger to arrive with a new mystery to solve.
Refreshingly, McCrea dismisses any concern over the question “Is Holmes gay?” one way or another. Instead, he picks a different thread to unravel:
What we can say for sure is that Holmes stands emblematically outside of the economy of marriage and reproduction.
Holmes is most often called in to help where the family is failing or under threat.
Here we see Holmes and Watson taking on the role we’ve called attention to before: the Männerbund, the “band apart,” outside of but not hostile to the family unit; indeed, by its very isolation, able to come to its defense in desperate times.
This cultural role parallels the (paradoxical, to some) biological role of homosexuality in enabling large groups of mammals to survive, by allowing some members to be always available to defense, food gathering, etc.
221b Baker Street is inhabited by a “couple” whose partnership cannot bear biological fruit, a household which will not leave a genetic legacy. By the same token, Holmes’s professional eye is resolutely turned away from thoughts of the future. . . .
Where we find clarity and solace is not in the comfort of family life, the marriage and fertility that offers comfort in so many other kinds of narrative, but in the unconventional homestead of 221v Baker Street, a queer source of order from which the strangeness of the world, and how it came to be as it is, is visible with a unique kind of clarity.
This raises another, subtle point (though I doubt McCrean notices). The homosexual is often the homophobic Right’s favorite straw man for “those with no concern for future generations.” And yet isn’t the Right — the non-libertarian, at least — concerned above all with the past, and the preservation thereof? In a word, archeofuturism?
The gaze of the stories is fixed firmly on the past, on how things turned out as they did, not on what they will or might become. The mysteries, even when solved, leave us with a sense that underneath ordinary daily life there might always lie something old and dark and violent that will return in an unpredictable form.
McCrea also make an important point about the use of Watson:
There is something in the stories’ form as opposed to content, that has nothing to do with historical context but which draws us in wholly and inexplicably. . . . Watson is our way into the stories. . . . because his blindness and puzzlement in the face of these facts mirror our own experience of reading the story. The sense that Watson incarnates of missing the big picture, of not “getting” how everything rally fits together, is part of our experience of life itself.
It is one of the sources of fellowship between ourselves and Watson that we never master Holmes’ skill, and it is part of the stories’ compulsive hold on our attention that we keep feeling we might.
This is an essential component to the wish-fulfilment aspect that Wilson emphasized. Kingsley Amis made the same point in his invaluable study of the Bond phenomenon: Bond, like all wish-fulfilment figures, must be enough like us to plausibly suggest that “I could do that if given half the chance.” He’s a good shot, not the best; he needs to train, to read up on card tricks, etc. He’s Batman, not Superman.
In tune with the times, Bond, unlike Holmes, is presented as a relentless womanizer, and even (in the books) make occasional homophobic observations, usually in the context of bemoaning feminism and other aspects of modernity. Amis, however, is at pains to point out, in that carefully cataloging way of his, that Bond seldom beds more than one or two ladies per book, a rather modest count, well within the “I could do that” mode of successful wish fulfilment.
More importantly, Don Juanism is easily seen as a cover for latent homosexuality; Bond’s marriage is quickly erased by Blofeld, who then replaces Tracy as the object of Bond’s obsessions. Once Blofeld too is dispatched, the energy of the series — perhaps also due to Fleming’s physical decline — drops off dramatically, and it really just peters out.
Amis is correct to suggest that both M and the various super-villains function as surrogate fathers for Bond, who is intimidated by their worldly sophistication and punished for his transgressions and inadequacies; M and the villains both do so with snide comments and other displays of superiority, the villains ultimately inflicting corporately punishment as well.
All this is echoed in the recent (supposed) Internet surge to have Gillian Anderson take over the role of Bond. Although popular with a certain generation of post-humanist nerds, a number of problems seem obvious.
First, the whole “Jane Bond” idea has already been exploited by the porn industry. More importantly, a female Bond completely ruins the ratio of detailed realism vs. wish fulfillment; as alt-Rightist frequently point out, real world women just can’t do that stuff, and it’s even dangerous — to them — to pretend otherwise.
As Tim Stanley notes:
Here’s what I’m not saying: that women can’t play men’s parts. They can, they have and it can be illuminating. The problem is that the switch is almost always highly self-conscious — it’s done to make an artistic point.
When a woman plays Hamlet, the audience is in on the conceit and feminising the role adds new depths to it. When Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There it was to make the point that Dylan’s constant search for meaning, and his ready identity with outlaws, meant that he could just as easily be played a woman as by Marcus Carl Franklin, a black adolescent, or Richard Gere, an ageing Billy the Kid.
By contrast, the desire to see a woman play Bond is purely so that a woman can play Bond — and with the absurd proviso that we’d all have to act like we hadn’t noticed. The idea is both dumb and dishonest.
Sure, make a film about an ass-kicking female spy who beds everyone she meets and drives a Lotus underwater. But don’t call her Bond.
The Bond world as a whole, then, is a Männerbund, or rather, a sort of world-wide public school in which Bond is trained for membership. The dynamic is all two-way, Bond/M or Bond/Villain, with the villain trying to win Bond over to “the dark side” like Emperor Palpatine. The famous “Bond Girl” can at most take the place of Watson, with generally unsatisfactory results.
I suspect that the lack of a Watson figure accounts for the relatively lower level of personal obsession with Bond, whatever his world-wide fame; for all his solitude and singularity, Holmes needs a Watson, not a Bond Girl, for the reader’s interest to crystalize around.
1. “I wonder that my very simple stratagem could deceive so old a SHIKARI,” said Holmes. “It must be very familiar to you. Have you not tethered a young kid under a tree, lain above it with your rifle, and waited for the bait to bring up your tiger? This empty house is my tree, and you are my tiger. You have possibly had other guns in reserve in case there should be several tigers, or in the unlikely supposition of your own aim failing you. These,” he pointed around, “are my other guns. The parallel is exact.”
2. See the essays mostly collected in The Eldritch Evola…& Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014) and my latest collection Green Nazis in Space! (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).
3. The ascension of first, Chandler and Hammett, and then Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick, to the Library of America indicates a bit of a sea change, though accompanied by the usual grumbling from contemporary Edmund Wilsons who value bourgeois status quo rather than Tradition.
4. The Eldritch Evola contains “Mike Hammer, Occult Dick: Kiss Me Deadly as a Lovecraftian Tale,” which considers the parallels between the overly-inquisitive protagonists of detective fiction and Lovecraft’s weird fiction.
5. The Books in My Life (Hampton Roads, 1998); see Chapter 5, “Sherlock Holmes, the Flawed Superman.”
6.Symptomatic of which illness is the other new character type, the anti-Holmes, the master criminal such as Prof. Moriarty, or fiend, such as Jack the Ripper.
7. I don’t really agree with Wilson that this was some kind of evolutionary leap, “the most decisive steps in the evolution of man since the invention of the wheel”; but certainly, after centuries of Christian cretinizing, it was a distinct improvement.
8. As well as ideologues like Tom Wolfe; see his polemical articles on the New Journalists as The New Realists reprinted as the introduction to The New Journalism (Johnson, E. W.; Wolfe, Tom; New York: Harper & Row, 1973). “Believe me, there is no new journalism. It is a gimmick to say there is … Story telling is older than the alphabet and that is what it is all about.” – Jimmy Breslin, quoted in Philip M. Howard. Jr., “The New Journalism: A Nonfiction Concept of Writing,” unpublished master’s thesis, University of Utah, August, 1971; quoted on Wikipedia, op. cit.
9. I discuss the maniacal accumulation of detail as a key method in writers as different as Lovecraft, Henry James and Baron Evola in “The Eldritch Evola” and elsewhere in The Eldritch Evola, op. cit.
10. Even crusty F. R. Leavis had to include Hard Times in his survey of The Great Tradition (1948).
11. In pursuing the Tooth Fairy, FBI “manhunter” Will Graham knows that he can’t be caught unless Graham can figure out what his fantasy is: he kills “to fuel his fantasy.” By the end, “The psychological paths of Graham and Dollarhyde finally converge. Graham tells Crawford how he understands the Tooth Fairy. ‘He dreams about being wanted and desired. So he changes people into beings who will want and desire him . . . Killing and arranging the people to imitate it . . . You put it together, you get, if our boy imitates being wanted and desired enough times, he believes he will become one who is wanted and desired and accepted. It will all come true.’” There is an uneasy confluence in the modern mode of fiction, one of fantasy/reality, child/adult: “Are you sympathizing with this guy, Will?” Crawford asks offscreen. Mann keeps the camera on Graham’s face. “Absolutely,” he answers. “My heart bleeds for him as a child. . . . As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks. Do you think that’s a contradiction, Jack? Does this kind of understanding make you uncomfortable?” See the remarkable analysis of Taxi Driver and Manhunter, “God’s Lonely Men: Cinema Psychopaths” at The Niles Files, here. Here’s a sample: “More interestingly, they both have the same cinematographer, Dante Spinotti. But whereas Red Dragon briskly moves along with its plot and suspense thriller tropes in terms of how it uses lighting, music, editing, and sound, every element in Manhunter is able to be savored again and again: the compositions, the colors of window blinds behind a character, Mel Bourne’s amazing production design, the moody synthesizer music, the highly experimental editing and sound. All this could at first be perceived as a flaw of over-stylization; indeed, whereas The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon come off as gothic horror, Manhunter feels like a cousin to the New German Cinema of the 1970s. But this criticism is off-set by two things: Mann is totally invested in his characters and his meticulous research reveals itself in the slightest nuances of his performers; (even the fantastic Fiennes feels trivial and shallow when compared to Noonan’s Dollarhyde; and Ed Norton’s Graham seems to have no struggle whatsoever); and secondly, the aestheticism of the film is integral to the substance, being that Francis Dollarhyde, one of cinema’s great creepy gazers, looks and then elevates or perverts everything that he sees. Like Mark Lewis, he is a filmic cyborg and what we see in Manhunter is filtered through a lens of complete aestheticism.” For more on the intense re-view-ability of Manhunter, see my “Essential Films … & Others,” here.
12. Here again, Poe was first; his detective, Dupin, already lives shut away from the Paris noise, preferring to live by night. Other than the aesthetic veneer, on might compare such creatures to today’s basement-dwelling video-gamers.
13. Wilson later devotes a chapter to “Huysmans: The Ultimate Decadent.”
14. See my review of his Aiming Higher Than Mere Civilization: How Skeptical Nihilism Will Remind Humanity of Its Long Forgotten Purpose (Emericus Durden Philosophy Series Book 1), here.
15. In The Hermetic Tradition, Evola discusses how the Realized Man rebuilds for himself a new, glorified body (the Body of Light in various traditions); see Chapter 32, “The Red Work: Return to Earth.” In his autobiography, The Path of Cinnabar, Evola explains his interest in Guenon and Tradition as arising from the idea that the Absolute Ego that he had arrived at in his studies in philosophical Idealism needed to be “grounded” in history, and this he identified with the historical founders of the various Traditions, such as Manu, Solon, or the Yellow Emperor.
16. Bhagavad Gita, 4.7. I discuss this avataric role in “The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar: Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Part 2,” here, as well as its relevance to the Männerbund theme in “‘God, I’m with a heathen’: The Rebirth of the Männerbund in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables,” here and reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).
17. “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box,” in the last collection, His Last Bow.
18. As I have frequently emphasized, unlike “moral” fiction, in genre fiction the death of a character — especially a Big Bad who, as Trevor Lynch notes, is usually the only spokesman allowed for Traditional, or non-PC, views — results only superficially from “just retribution” (the cover story) but simply because there is nothing else to be done with him. “When you get the message you hang up the phone,” as Alan Watts liked to say. Tura Satana’s character in Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill is herself killed at the end not because the wimpy girlfriend triumphs but because the film has to end at some point.
19. See The Spiritist Fallacy (Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2003) and Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001).
20. A somewhat hostile critic calls Wilson “somewhat innocent and over-trusting, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Both Conan Doyle and Wilson gave credence to the Cottingley fairies, for example.” For his part, Wilson said that “Like Joe Cooper, I am willing to believe the girls were telling the truth. Both had had many psychic experiences, which Joe records (and which anyone who wants to explore further can find summarised in my son Damon’s article on fairies in our joint book Unsolved Mysteries Past and Present). Joe’s book The Case of the Cottingley Fairies received little publicity and is still not widely known. This has given me the opportunity to speak of my own attitude to these things, and to explain why, like Joyce [Collin Smith], I accept the reality of these ‘elementals’, as did the poet W. B. Yeats and his friend Lady Gregory, and as did the writer and researcher Evans Wentz in his classic book on the subject, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.”
21. Before publishing the more modest New Annotated Lovecraft we reviewed here, Leslie S. Klinger prepared The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, described by Wikipedia as “a series of three annotated books edited by Leslie S. Klinger, collecting all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories and novels about Sherlock Holmes. The books were originally published by W. W. Norton in oversized slipcased hardcover editions. The first two volumes containing the short stories were published on November 17, 2004, with the third volume containing the novels following a year later on November 17, 2005. Each volume was subsequently published separately on November 5, 2007 without a slipcase. This publication of the Sherlock Holmes canon has been called “definitive.”
22. Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories (Oxford Worlds Classics) 2nd ed., 2014.
23. Of course, this also reminds us of Jim Garrison’s method of “guilt by geography,” where, for example, a “connection” is established between Lee Oswald and Guy Bannister by noting they had offices in the same building; see Patricia Lambert’s False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison’s Investigation and Oliver Stone’s Film JFK (Evans & Co., 2000).
24. Whether McCrea intends it or not, that word always recalls to my mind F. R. Leavis’ journal, Scrutiny.
25. The Ur-text is “‘God, I’m with a heathen’: The Rebirth of the Männerbund in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables,” in The Homo and the Negro. As the future M, Judi Dench, intones at the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick: “In normal times, evil would be fought with good. But in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.”
26. See James Neill, The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies and my review-essay thereon, available as an Amazon Kindle here. Needless to say, this is all subverted by the “gay” identity manufactured by the Left, in which marriage and family are “redefined” so as to merge the happy homosexual in the mix: he’s just like us! As Ann Sterzinger puts it, “can you imagine William Burroughs writing about the Wild Boys with an adopted baby strapped to his chest and a yuppie husband yapping in his ear about Glee?”
27. Is it not the Jew, with his “family values,” that gifted us with capitalism and its obsessive concern with the new and the future? A concern shared by the Marxist, with his “New Soviet Man” and the total destruction of the old order. The ethnic outsider tears down and “develops” — like Caddyshack’s Al Czervik — while the homosexual reclaims and gentrifies the old.
28. Keynes is often “explained” this way: “Well, he said ‘in the long run we are all dead’ because he was queer, you know?”
29. Amis, Kingsley, The James Bond Dossier (London: Jonathan Cape, 1965), which I’ve called the very model of genre criticism
30. Unlike Batman, of course, he’s not a vigilante (except, notably, when pursuing Blofeld), but, as Amis emphasizes, a loyal, old-fashioned King and Empire Brit, a mere “civil servant” and certainly not a grubby little spy. This makes him even more like Green Lantern, as opposed to both Bats and Supe, as I noted in the title essay of Green Nazis. Trevor Lynch has noted the same essential opposition when reviewing the new Batman vs. Superman movie: “In any matchup between Batman and Superman, I side with Batman. I’ve never liked the character of Superman, because he is not a man at all. He’s basically a god. He’s not a human being who has raised himself to the pinnacles of human excellence. He’s an alien who is simply endowed with superior abilities. There is nothing heroic about Superman, because he is almost invulnerable. He faces no risks. There’s nothing he must struggle to overcome.
Batman, however, is a true Nietzschean superman, a man who has made himself more than a man, a man who faces injury, death, and imprisonment night after night in order to fight evil. I don’t want to live in a godless universe, but frankly I would prefer that we make ourselves into gods rather than find them readymade.”
31. In Goldfinger, Tilly Masterson is “one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and ‘‘sex equality.’’ As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. . . . He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them.” (162-63) Sounds like something right out of today’s man-o-sphere. Right-wing types who might cheer Bond/Fleming’s homophobia should note that Fleming associates sexual deviance with “furriners” including the US. For the film version, Tilly was ret-conned as straight, and Pussy Galore became a fantasy lipstick Lesbian who would succumb to Bond’s charms. In the book, however, Pussy’s backstory is: ‘‘I come from the South. You know the definition of a virgin down there? Well, it’s a girl who can run faster than her brother. In my case, I couldn’t run as fast as my uncle. I was twelve. That’s not so good James. You ought to be able to guess that’’ (191). As Tricia Jenkins points out, “Here, Fleming specifically implies that Pussy’s lesbianism emerges from the familial and cultural dysfunction of the American South, and given the Bond formula, this deviancy can only reflect the degeneracy of the United States.” See her invaluable essay “James Bond’s ‘Pussy’ and Anglo-American Cold War Sexuality,” here. While American “conservatives” laud down-home Southern family values and sneer about the British queers, Fleming sees “degeneracy” right there in the Flannery O’Connor heartland, not from “cultural Marxism” but from the primitive conditions of the family-obsessed conservatives of the colonial world; real men are the bachelor products of public schools, like Bond.
32. Bond is really rather a rather crusty old reactionary — part of his “Queen and country” mentality that explains his perverse championing of the British, who haven’t mattered since the days of Bulldog Drummond. The American Bond phenom’ really ran on the coat-tails (a two button, soft shouldered suit, of course) of the Camelot mystique, when JFK, supposed champion of “youth,” averred to having a Fleming novel at his bedside. One wonders who was fooling whom; after all, how much time did JFK really spend in the White House bedroom per se? “My bedroom! Where my wife sleeps! Where my children play with their toys!” — Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part II.
33. By contrast, Bond spoofs like the Flint or Matt Helm series have their heroes surrounded by veritable harems, the typical exaggeration of satire. I suspect any adult woman would be immune to, and able to easy handle, or break free from, Helm’s boozy “charm.” Austin Powers’ comically frustrated satyriasis is fully in line with Fleming’s creation. On Matt Helm see Jef Costello’s “‘The Flash in the Pan’: Fascism & Fascist Insignia in the Spy Spoofs of the 1960s,” here; and his forthcoming collection The Importance of James Bond (Counter-Currents, 2016).
34. Bond kills Blofeld in the book You Only Live Twice with his own hands, an intensely up-close, personal, one might almost say sadistically homosexual way; typically, movie Bond, having become Roger Moore, picks up the wheelchair bound Blofeld with a helicopter and dumps him into a factory smokestack (sexual inversion?) as he pleads “I’ll buy you a delicatessen — in stainless steel!” Perhaps that curious line is meant as a taunt about Bond’s Judaic, middle class mindset?
35. “Dear Agent Scully; Did not appreciate your lawyer’s tone . . .” Mystery Science Theater, Episode 1010, The Final Sacrifice.
36. Jane Bond Meets Thunderballs (Jack Remy, 1986), and various sequels.
37. Unless, of course, we go full video-game, or virtual reality. And indeed, this isn’t the first time Anderson has been to this rodeo. Season 7 of The X-Files brought us “First Person Shooter” by none other than William Gibson himself, where Scully ultimately needs to enter the virtual world of a video game to save Mulder from a rogue female warrior. Interestingly, critics regard this episode as “legendarily bad,” while it “became one of Gillian Anderson’s favorite episodes, despite ‘its reliance on big guns and raging testosterone.’ Anderson explained that she enjoyed the opportunity ‘to show Scully wearing heavy metal and firing oversized weapons.’” Wikipedia, here. This doesn’t bode well for an Anderson Bond.
38. Jef Costello made similar points about the ultimate unsuitability of a female M in his review of Skyfall.
39. Skyfall is the Bond manor, I suppose.
40. As the film series was “modernized” M of course became a mother figure (The Avengers had already given us the wheelchair confined Mother), and Bond ultimately the Judaic Daniel Craig. Book Bond is almost embarrassingly enthused about Sir Hugo Drax at the start of Moonraker; Dr. No hosts Bond to dinner because he thinks he’s smart enough to appreciate his status, but dismisses him as “only a stupid policeman.” Goldfinger absurdly carries Bond to Kentucky (New York in the book) to witness Operation Grand Slam. As always, the question is: why don’t you just kill him? Because, of course, Bond is the potential apprentice; “there are always two.”
41. In the Goldfinger book, Bond is not captured but instead is shanghaied, along with Tilly Masterton, as Goldfinger’s “secretary,” which emphasizes their equivalence as protégés of the master. Male secretaries were still common in Britain, a point leading to some comic interaction on Mad Men between the ladies of Sterling Cooper and Lane Pryce’s male secretary when PPL takes over. In Dr. No, the book makes much of Honeychile’s muscles and “boyish behind,” leading Cyril Connelly to ask “What on Earth was he thinking?” The Spy Who Loved Me is the only book narrated by the Bond Girl, with results universally regarded as dire (she even gets his title wrong; as noted above, he’s a secret agent, not a “spy”).
42. Felix Leiter hardly counts; although he might be thought of as an attempt to give Bond an American partner for the bigger US market, he is, in accord with is CIA background, a cipher; his numerous beatings and dismemberments suggest not so much a stand-in for Bond as a sadistic figure of fun, a Judy to Bond’s Punch; the movies have fun having him played by a different actor each time, in line with his nonentity.
43. As always, your mileage may differ: “I’ve learned a whole lot about life from James Bond, and I will continue to defend Bond and continue seeing these films from now till my dying breath . . . unless they make Bond black.” Jef Costello, “The Importance of James Bond,” here.