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Passing the Buck:
Spy, Dandy, Übermensch

7,098 words

Derek Marlowe
A Dandy in Aspic
London: Victor Gollancz, 1966; New York: G. P. Putnam, 1966;
New edition, with Foreword by Tom Stoppard; Silvertail Books, 2015

“In the Land of The Blind, the one eyed-man is in a circus[1]“ — Alexander Eberlin

“You’ve got no past and he’s got no future” — Emmanuel Gatiss 

The Amazon page for the Kindle version actually lists this book as “A Dandy in Aspic: The greatest of all the Cold War spy thrillers.” I don’t really know enough about the genre to argue the point,[2] but it certainly is my favorite, endlessly re-readable in a way that the Fleming and Le Carré books certainly aren’t; in fact, it’s one of my favorite books, period — or full stop, as the Brits would say.[3]

While this 50th anniversary reprinting is indeed welcome,[4] the publisher’s publicity is a bit . . . off. Here’s their blurb, with a bit of plot to start you off:

Alexander Eberlin is a small, faceless civil servant working for the Government at the height of the Cold War. As he nears middle age, he allows himself one luxury — to dress like a Dandy. His superiors send him on a mission to hunt down and destroy a cold-blooded and vicious Russian assassin named Krasnevin, who is responsible for a number of British agents’ deaths. But Eberlin has a secret — he is Krasnevin. This is the story of what happens when Eberlin is sent to destroy himself. Now back in print fifty years after it was written, The Times says A Dandy in Aspic is ‘A well groomed anecdote to today’s fast-paced thrillers with gym-buffed heroes. Eberlin is the real deal.’

Where to begin? Perhaps with that quote from The Times; did they really say ‘‘anecdote” for “antidote”? They won’t let me know unless I pay them twelve pounds, so let it stand, the bastards.[5] Why on Earth is “Dandy” capitalized?

More problematic is that “small, faceless civil servant” bit. It makes it sound as if Eberlin is one of those grey, mousey little spy-bureaucrats that Le Carré and Deighton began to produce as if to offer a more “realistic” alternative to the Bond fantasy,[6] and that he takes up his one indulgence — fancy duds — as part of some mid-life crisis.[7]

In fact, Eberlin does not “dress like a Dandy,” he is one. It permeates all aspects of his life, such as it is, and, as we’ll see, his existential problem is far more serious, and interesting, than any midlife crisis.

The publisher’s blurb is presumably a botched version of this key passage:

Obliged, by a quirk of fate long since regretted, to play out his role, he blundered on into the dawn of middle age, a hermetic dandy, surrounding himself only with the fetish of himself — predominantly his clothes, which he chose with exquisite and envied care, his books, his three double-barreled fowling pieces by Manton, and his collection of old Sèvres porcelain locked in a vault in the V and A — and an utter lack of envy for his fellow man. He had that noble selflessness of a man who cares for no one but himself. Brummell, a man he admired unashamedly, had that. Until he went mad. (Italics mine).

A hermetic dandy, then, not a metrosexual clotheshorse. And what is a hermetic dandy? Marlowe tells us elsewhere, in an essay published around the time of his first — only — taste of best-sellerdom:

Dandyism . . . is a state of mind as well as a state of dress. . . . The dandy strives, above all, for self-discipline, and a discipline that denies friends, sex and ostentation; his goal is to achieve the super-ego via a rigid set of rules based on utmost restraint, naturalness, and simplicity.[8]

This, I think, is the reason behind the almost over-the-top praise for the novel and author —

“Graceful and brilliant” — Sir Tom Stoppard

“Derek Marlowe writes like John Le Carré at the top of his form” — Yorkshire Post

As well as accounting for both being almost entirely forgotten today.[9] At least one of the publisher’s blurbs gets it:

“A classic of the cold war spy stories — one of the earliest and one of the best. Marlowe’s Eberlin/Krasnevin is on the run from himself on different levels and in different places: the evocations of London and Berlin in the 1960s are superb.” — Piers Paul Read

In this essay, I intend to explore those different levels and different places. But to do so presents some perhaps unique challenges — and opportunities for paranoiac-critical fun.[10]

Apart from the usual postmodern folderol about fragmenting master narratives and the capitalistic ego, etc., it’s often a situation calling for what Kaspar Gutman would call “the most delicate judgment”[11] to keep distinct such topoi as the novel versus the film, and the actor versus the role.

Take Touch of Evil: Is that Orson Welles we remember onscreen or Welles’ brilliant portrayal of the character Hank Quinlan? How relevant is anything we know (if we do know) from the forgotten book it’s based on?[12] I myself have been known to blithely amalgamate (not confuse!) actors and roles, books and films.

But there’s nothing like A Dandy in Aspic. We are more than familiar with the re-writing of Ian Fleming’s Bond books, including films that use only the title (A View to a Kill, The Spy Who Loved Me). What is unique is that not only does the film[13] differ from the book, it appears that Marlowe not only wrote the original screenplay (which in turn was drastically modified by events, as we’ll see) but re-wrote the book itself for American publication.

It exists in two print versions by Marlowe, one the UK original and the other, US version, apparently reflecting changes Marlowe made while writing the screenplay for the film. The film, of course, is itself a new version, and to make matters worse — or, for our purposes, more interesting — as IMDB says, it’s

More accurate than usual to discuss this film as by Laurence Harvey/Derek Marlowe since this was Anthony Mann’s final film; he died before it was finished and actor Laurence Harvey completed the film including the ending. Despite the credits, the film was not directed by Anthony Mann[14] but by . . . Laurence Harvey . . . Mann died of heart attack in Berlin on 29 April 1967 after directing only a few location shots. Harvey gallantly picked up the reins, finished the German scenes and then did all the British location and studio shots, accounting for at least 99% of the film, which premiered in April, 1968, almost a year after Mann’s death.

Though others reverse the proportions:

The film’s ending was directed by the Laurence Harvey[15] who also directed some scenes shot in Berlin. Anthony Mann directed all of the scenes in Surrey and London as well as some of the Berlin scenes.

In any event, Marlowe was not happy:

“The director, Anthony Mann died during the filming (a superb man and great director[16]) and it was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin. He directed his own mis-talent, changed it and the script — which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up the portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.”[17]

So here we are with an unprecedented number of versions, media and authors (auteurs would seem to be singularly inapplicable here). And so, again, where to begin?

Perhaps it’s best to begin at the beginning — or rather, how the book begins in 2015! — with Sir Tom’s Foreword, which begins with Tom, his future wife, Piers Paul Read and Marlowe all sharing a flat in London, 1965. As we read elsewhere,

One day, as they watched Mick Jagger on Top of the Pops, the three wagered a bet on who would make a million first. It was decided Stoppard would, but Marlowe pipped him to it, with his first novel, A Dandy in Aspic.

In light of their subsequent careers, be careful what you wish for! Any, back to Tom:

We were skeptical. Surely that bandwagon had passed by? The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had been published years ago.[18] What I do remember is that when Derek told me the basic premise for his novel (a spy with two identities who is ordered to kill his other self) I thought: now, that is an absolutely brilliant idea.

Indeed. Those are what Read in his blurb above spells out as “different levels and places.” Though simple to state, it certainly raises the level of the novel above the usual pulp fare. Legendary sci/fi, Perhaps?

Harvey, as bitter and hostile to our sympathies as he was in The Manchurian Candidate, plays Eberlin, a British agent entrusted with the job of killing Krasnevin, a Russian spy planted somewhere inside the British secret service who’s been killing off high-ranking state employees. The trouble is, Eberlin is Krasnevin.

The plot hook smacks of Philip K. Dick and A Scanner Darkly, and indeed the film has a paranoid twitch balanced on the knife-edge of a bad trip. It’s commendable that overt psychedelia is avoided, considering when the film was made.[19]

Well, there are a lot of drugs in Dick’s work, true, and both are products of the Cold War, but I think the wider significance would be better expressed as: hermetic. Eberlin is on a hermetic quest.[20]

So, back to the beginning, or rather, before the beginning. I suggest that the key to understanding this work (to use a blanket term for all the versions, and of course suggesting the “hermetic work”) is that Eberlin does not just sally forth to meet his death — he is already dead before the book/film starts.[21]

It’s not such a crazy idea. After all, [SPOILER ALERT!] the climax of the narrative, the revelation to Eberlin/Krasnevin, the Russians, and the reader/viewer, that the British had already known his identity from the start, means he’s already dead anyway; it’s announced in with a triad of deaths:

His countryman answered, his voice cold and final:

“You’re dead, Krasnevin. You’re dead.” The phone went dead.

This theme, however, can be found from the beginning.

I think the best way of handling the three versions, and keeping both the reader and myself sane, is to start with the original UK text — the Ur-Dandy, as it were — a go through it, noting along the way differences of content or context as they crop up.

Talk about the author as hermetic dandy — Dandy UK opens with a rather long Prologue (10 pages out of about 150) which moves in a slow and stately manner, as befits its subject: a funeral. It’s a bit of a slog for the reader, who knows nothing of these people, including the dead man.[22] Here we perhaps see further damage done by Walter Pater’s dictum that “all art aspires to the condition of music,” in which the modernist or post-modernist author tries to “compose” a sort of “overture” rather than just write the beginning of a tale.

It does have some points, though. It is the only time we get to spend time — stuck in a luxury motor car — with Brogue, Eberlin’s superior, and get a backstory for him.[23] Brogue — named Lucius-Pericles Brogue by his mother after a fortune-teller predicts he will be “a man of distinction”[24] — is quite interesting. He is, above all else, a Negro, as the pre-PC book tells us quite bluntly and frequently.[25]

Brogue was the head of some East African security service “until Kenyatta fired him for being for being pro-British.” That the British would want his services is understandable, but “the toleration of the Negro by the top ranks constantly surprised him[26] . . . He had reached his present status mostly through his own efforts, finding that as he progressed higher in the scale that his colour was more of a help than a hindrance,” although he does receive “daily letters from anonymous fellow-Negroes who addressed him as ‘Uncle Tom.’”

Coming right at the start of the “civil rights movement” this raises, surprisingly, many more recent issues, but nothing is made of it beyond that paragraph.

We also learn Brogue is a man of “strict, regular habits” and “shuns all social involvements, both public and private” for 46 weeks of the year; for the rest, he vacations in East Africa — back to the Motherland! — under an assumed name, where he drinks Bondian quantities of alcohol and has “three secret affairs with three carefully chosen Ethiopian boys who were preferably above the age of puberty and below the age of consent.”

Again, rather close to today’s issues.[27]

I think this is the key to Brogue’s role as a kind of anti-Eberlin. He is not merely Eberlin’s boss — and hence the man who will order his death if Eberlin’s secret is revealed — but a competitor in the Dandy sweepstakes. Eberlin is a “hermetic dandy” who eschews all social involvements, public and private,” full stop; a kind of “purity” of purpose Brogue falls short of with his secret life of occasional indulgence.[28]

Eberlin’s sexlessness is essential to his dandified self-control as well as an asset to his undercover (as it were) role.[29] I’m suggesting as well that he functions as literally an ascetic, an anchorite, if you will. Of course, Eberlin’s real secret life will soon be revealed, and the first step is his decision to actually attend a direly “swinging” drinks party in Bloomsbury.

All this, as I say, is dropped from Dandy US and the movie;[30] what remains is a later scene where Brogue attempts to one-up Eberlin with the purchase of a snuff box supposedly given to Beau Brummel by Prince George, which claim Eberlin smoothly and arrogantly eviscerates.[31]

In the movie, as a reviewer notes,

Many things remain unspoken, and yet come through in the pauses, in tone of voice, in body language (such as the apparent racism of Eberlin towards a black colleague).

But it’s not really “racism” but Brogue and Eberlin seeing each other as opposites; hence, Brogues unusual blackness.[32]

The Prologue UK ends with a quick flash forward to the installation of the “plain, unfancy, rectangular headstone,” inscribed with the name of the deceased and “nothing else but the two words carved underneath: CIVIL SERVANT.”

Apart from giving a thunderously morbid END to the prologue, and reminding us of the funereal theme, I can’t help but be reminded of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s summation of the Path of Enlightenment:

Blessed is the man on whose tomb can be written Hic jacet nemo.[33]

This “avowed intention to be nothing,” this very “self-willed effacement,”[34] is the key to Eberlin’s transcendental identity. The clue that the UK Prologue is giving us is, Eberlin is already dead, though he has yet to effect his final exit from the material world.[35]

Perhaps it would be good to sketch out the difference in the arrangement of the texts of UK and US Dandy. UK Dandy, after the Prologue (aka “Nightingale”) gives us 7 chapters, thus:

  1. Copperfield (UK colleague who may or may not be a double agent)
  2. Gatiss (UK assassin, sent along with Eberlin to kill “Krasnevin”)
  3. Pavel (Krasnevin’s Russian control in London)
  4. Dancer (Eberlin’s alias on his mission to kill “Krasnevin”)
  5. Krasnevin (aka Eberlin)
  6. Mistrale (Eberlin’s car, the significance of which will be dealt with)
  7. Endgame

US Dandy abandons this structure entirely. It starts with a long quote from Alice in Wonderland[36] rather than the Prologue, and has two sections, APOGEE and PERIGEE,[37] with 16 chapters, some sharing names with UK (“Pavel,” “Gatiss”) the rest rather pretentiously opaque (“Friedrichstrasse Nein,” “Amontillado Caroline,” etc.) although the latter pretension is somewhat redeemed by the last, “The Passing of the Buck,” which will attract our attention soon. Each chapter is now headed by one or more epigraphs, either supposedly from Eberlin, illustrating some kind of Wildean wit, I suppose, or from Nietzsche, Voltaire and the like, no doubt drawn from his dandified reading.

As I said, I’m going through the UK novel, noting interesting variants that provide us with clues. So, Chapter One, “Copperfield,” give us Eberlin at last; indeed, a veritable day in the life of Eberlin; although the phrase is not used, it seems we are to take this as a specimen day.[38]

The most likely literary connection here is Huysmans’ Against Nature, whose Prologue and first chapter also give us an account of the origins and daily life of the self-sufficient dandy at home in his “snug little ark, his refined Thebaid.”[39]

It’s all summed up in that passage quoted above, which deserves a second look:

Obliged, by a quirk of fate long since regretted, to play out his role, he blundered on into the dawn of middle age, a hermetic dandy, surrounding himself only with the fetish of himself — predominantly his clothes, which he chose with exquisite and envied care, his books, his three double-barreled fowling pieces by Manton, and his collection of old Sèvres porcelain locked in a vault in the V and A — and an utter lack of envy for his fellow man. He had that noble selflessness of a man who cares for no one but himself. Brummell, a man he admired unashamedly, had that. Until he went mad.[40]

I’m suggesting that Eberlin doesn’t go mad, like Brummell, but achieves that rather similar state, enlightenment, which in the context of a spy novel is death.

Hermetic refers in the first instance to his isolation, partly due to his mission, but mostly due to himself (how many spies live like this?). This pedestrian sense of hermetic arises from the original and more profound sense of being on the path of the Hermetic tradition.[41]

Eberlin is a realized man, but still held back in this phenomenal world, presumably due to his karma. His mission is to kill Krasnevin — i.e., himself; to finally kill off the last of his earthly ties: here lies nobody.[42]

In “Copperfield” Eberlin is forced out of his hermitic retreat by a coded summons to a boring drinks party where he is surprised to meet fellow agent Copperfield, who either is on to him or, being a double agent, is the reason for the invitation. During their cat and mouse encounters around the party they have this key exchange.

“But you — always surprised me . . . you sticking it there. No ties or anything . . . have you?

“No.”

“No. I thought that. No ties.”

Eberlin is already bored — to death? — with his solitary life and the “infantile absurdity” of spycraft; the ambiguous meeting with Copperfield leads him to seek out contact with his Russian control, Pavel, to demand he be returned to the Soviet Union.[43]

Here we get another clue; Eberlin is insulted by the crude goons sent to escort him:

“I at least should be worth something more than a couple of zombies like you.”

They, and the author, make quite a thing of this remark:

The men laughed. Eberlin had said the world ‘zombies’ in English, which amused the men, they laughed again and repeated the word.

Get it? Zombies and repetition, repeated. “Zombie” of course strikes the contemporary note, today, but was much less common back then. If the word was even less common in Russian, I like to imagine a similar scene in Hollywood as Ayn Rand first hears the word, which will later turn up in John Galt’s speech.[44] Anyway, I suggest the laughter arises from Eberlin’s failure to realize that it is he who is the real zombie.

After taxi-ing around to evade any tails, we get another reminder: “God how he missed having a car.”

The next morning, having decided on a plan “of utter selfishness and therefore of the utmost integrity,” Eberlin is phoned by Copperfield, who relays a message from Brogue, to meet with him at 10. Still waiting for Pavel to relay his own message from Moscow, Eberlin stalls him till 11, and as he prepares for the day we meet with a truly remarkable image.

[Eberlin] showered in ice cold water, in a shower built to a design he had seen in Berlin. The bather sealed himself into a glass coffin and was impaled by bolts of water thrust at him, at infinite velocity, from every angle. After three minutes, one felt fit for anything.

Well, the coffin is pretty obvious, but the bolts of water from every angle, of infinite velocity, suggests not only the “caught” metaphor, but also, at a deeper level, the very opposite: Eberlin is the Realized Man, the Chakravartin, who has reached the Center, from which he stands upright at the meeting point of all the warp and woof of the strands of existence.[45]

The image is reinforced when we proceed to Eberlin’s meeting with Brogue, in whose office, painted green,

Eberlin could see the small square outside filled with trees and no people . . . He stood in the center of the room looking down at Brogue who was sitting, swiveling gently from side to side, in the mahogany chair and toying with a bone cigar-holder.

I’d rather stand,” replied Eberlin, “it would help you come to the point.”

Eberlin remained standing, like a fulcrum, in the centre of the room.

Brogue smiled and puffed a column of smoke on to Eberlin’s shoulder, so that it hung on the weave of the jacket then circled, dispersed and floated to the ceiling.[46]

Trees (including a mahogany chair) and green walls suggest the Garden, whose central tree is the Axis Mundi. Eberlin, like the world tree, stands upright, while his opposite, Brogue, the Negro (like Satan, the ape of God/Eberlin), sits below, swiveling around the Axis in the material world, toying, like an ape in 2001, with a bone.[47]

The whole symbolism, Eberlin’s life in the phenomenal world, his enlightened indifference and immobility, the center vs. the circling weave, is condensed in one movement:

[Brogue] picked up a red file from the desk, marked CONFIDENTIAL. EX. F3, and held it over his head like a banner.

“This is you in my hand, Eberlin. Ninety-six pages all dedicated to you. Catch!”

He suddenly pretended to throw the file across the room, but held his hand. Eberlin made no attempt whatsoever to receive it, but kept his arms to his side, and then turned to [his secretary] and said in a bored voice: “Let’s go back.”

Let’s go back will indeed be the ultimate theme. Eberlin is dead, dead to the world, but keeps coming back, and will continue to do so, until he finally can kill himself.

And so Eberlin is given a mission: to kill Krasnevin, who is himself.[48] But first, before he even knows that’s on the agenda, he is to attend a briefing on the following Monday.[49]

At this point, Chapter Two, we meet Emmanuel Gatiss, but not before the Center symbolism is driven home. Eberlin spends “the following two days of the weekend in planned despair” over the Russian refusal to repatriate him and what appears to be the British plan to, unknowingly, “promote” him to the active branch; from Q to 00, as it were.[50]

He goes to the V and A to sit alone in a vault with his Sèvres, “surrounded by the sample of his extroversion and his taste, piled high around him,” and then bolts out, telling them to sell it all.

Once he spent one hour trying on every shirt he had, until he tired and stood with the discarded shirts lying round his feet. “My failures,” he said, echoing Brummell, and left the room.[51]

So then, Selvers, some kind of country house where the spooks and secret government officials (the “Deep State,” if you will) like to hang out in these kinds of books. Here, it looks like “a small exclusive school for the rich,” which highlights the point brought out by Amis,[52] that the trope of Bond’s uncomfortable meetings with ‘M’ (at least once, at his country house, Quarterdeck) as well as his more torturous meetings with various super-villains in their lairs, all recall — to a certain sort of reader — shamefaced meetings with parents or headmasters, in well-padded but stern rooms filled with adult indulgences, such as sherry and old leather books, which you can’t really understand. The first Bond book, Casino Royale, established the trope:

“My dear boy,” Le Chiffre spoke like a father, “the game of Red Indians is over, quite over. You have stumbled by mischance into a game for grown-ups and you have already found it a painful experience. You are not equipped, my dear boy, to play games with adults and it was very foolish of your nanny in London to have sent you out here with your spade and bucket.”

The “kitchen sink” or “Angry Young Man” movement (of which Amis was a peripheral member[53]), which rose up in the midst of the early Bond phenomenon, really picked up on that element, since the public school and the country house epitomized the stuffy, stratified, dead and deadening British Establishment they loathed.[54]

Both angles suggest that there’s more than a little resemblance between the British Establishment and, say, SPECTRE than you might think, which thus plays into the next big British fad, the “all cats are grey” world of le Carré; both are typified by their shadowy meetings, here what Eberlin sneers at as a “barely visible cabal.”

Armed with Amis insight, we might then suspect that things are not as they may appear, and the real twist in the story is hiding in plain sight.

Here, the Mean Girls and public school angle appears in various childish tricks, such as apologizing for “forgetting” to offer the lunch that everyone has already eaten, or pretending not to notice that Eberlin, unlike them, hasn’t got a brandy or a cigar.[55] Like SPECTRE, they enjoy playing with their victims, although not with electrified chairs. An attendee of the lower ranks advises Eberlin:

“They always make their victims walk around for half an hour to decide. It’s part of their routine.”

There’s a Uriah Heepish character named Quince who offers obsequious advice, all “may I suggest” and “If I may, sir” as he attempts to ingratiate himself with the big boys.[56] Here, even Brogue the Negro is subdued: “He had learned how to act among his superiors.”

Speaking of cabals, and Brogue, who I suggested was Eberlin’s dandy double, we meet another double, Emmanuel Gatiss. While Brogue is a double for the desk-bound Eberlin, Gatiss is Krasnevin’s double in the field, an assassin. So, obviously, he must be sent out to accompany Eberlin on his mission to kill himself.

Like Brogue, Gatiss is an unusual character; in this case, a Jew. I really have no idea how common that would have been, in the British Secret Service (it is, after, somewhat secret) but it seems unlikely that many would be there. However, it surely would have been more common in the grotty little areas like sitting around decoding stuff, or, as here, doing the dirty field work of an assassin.[57]

Anyway, Gatiss is unusual because he’s not just a Jewish assassin but a rather crude, vulgar, in-your-face what’yer gonna do about it mate? kind of agent; he has a chip on his shoulder about being a Jew in the post-WWII world, and he doesn’t care who knows it; no worries about letters calling him an Uncle Tom for him. He’s “self-coded EPSILON/32/Y” (I’m sure we’re told at some point ‘Y’ is for Yid, although I admit I can’t find that in either UK or US Dandy at this point, so maybe I was hallucinating).

Putting his job and his attitude together, what’s remarkable is that he foreshadows both the social rise of the uncouth and proud of it Jew,[58] as well as the Jewish revenge porn of such films as Inglourious Basterds, sort of combining Brad Pitt and Eli Roth. He particularly loathes Germany, of course, despite (or because) he operates out of Munich, and at the conclusion says “Well, I hope I never have to come back to this damn country again.”

As Eberlin’s counterpart — at the briefing Gatiss sits but “straight-backed” and unmoving, like Eberlin, and the two are frequently positioned next to each other, or across a lawn — he’s a bit of a dandy himself; he disdains tie clips and cufflinks and such like,[59] but does have a gold Star of David[60] on a chain around his neck. “Strongly built,” with his “blond hair cut stylistically short,” I can’t help but imagine Daniel Craig in the role.[61] Unlike both Craig’s Bond and Eberlin, he is neither chivalrous nor ascetic, merely unbelievably crude.

“People say I only sleep with whores. That’s not true. All women are whores.”[62]

And, being a Jew, he just doesn’t “get” how “the game” is played, either socially or metaphysically:

“I think even if he had known he was only a bai and that we’d been aware of his identity for months, he’d have done just the same, don’t you?”

Gatiss laughed loudly and replied:

“You’re just as big a fool as he was.”[63]

Although he does, in his blunt way, have a sense of what’s going on:

“You’ve got no past and he’s got no future”

So Eberlin and Gatiss are not just opponents but counterparts; Eberlin embodies the true Aryan response to the material world, a haughty indifference or hauteur; Gatiss, as befits a man of his race, has a “telluric” identification with these forces, which he hopes to control or at least get some benefit from.[64]

Anyway, the Brits for some reason have decided to promote Eberlin to the field, to locate Krasnevin (who, we know, at least, is Eberlin). “So damned ironic and in such bad taste” thinks Everlin, yet a kind of reprieve.

Then they reveal who they think Krasnevin is: Pavel, Eberlin’s control and the closest thing to a friend, such as he is, that he has. Some reprieve.

We get one last clue: he’s given the perk of a chauffeur for the trip back to London, in starting which “the chauffeur turned the car smartly into the centre of the gravel square.”

Whoa Nellie, we’re only halfway through! No matter. The whole point of what follows in Berlin is sheer futility and repetition. As tulip says:

In an interesting subversion of audience expectations, the British spies who go to Eberlin for the job as mole-hunter receive numerous clues that something is fishy about him, and yet they do nothing. This is frustrating, because as it turns out, Eberlin really isn’t all that good of a spy, or at least a good field agent. Like [Gatiss] says in the film, he manages to get precisely nothing done. Without wanting to spoil the ending outright: this conundrum does get addressed. It’s just a bit questionable how well.

Boredom, repetition, and futility . . . Well, Constant Readers know I just love that kinda thing!

But it’s not quite true. The Brits are doing something: they’ve figured out Eberlin is Krasnevin (although it’s never clear exactly when — presumably after he’s killed Nightingale and before the briefing; this may be what Brogue is talking about, obliquely, at the funeral) and by sending him to Berlin I suppose they assume he’ll try to escape to the East and thus lead them to various Russian agents in the West.

Even so, it’s a pretty lazy plot, especially since they presumably don’t know that Eberlin is already desperate to be repatriated. It also leads to either a brilliant plot twist or an unfair trick by the author. Before he even leaves London Eberlin skedaddles right over to Pavel’s place to again demand repatriation; as he leaves, he sees Pavel being shoved into a big black Buick and spirited away as fast as Hillary at the 9/11 Memorial. He thinks it’s the Russians, cutting off his line of escape, but in the end realizes that it was the Brits, who therefore must have known about him all along; that triggers the “Dead . . . dead . . . dead” conversation we started with.[65]

Anyway, from the point of view of Eberlin’s official mission, he does indeed accomplish nothing; and there’s a peculiar kind of nothing or futility in the way what he actually does is hidden from him and thus largely accidental: as a “secret agent” his real secret is that he has no more agency than a puppet. And there’s the way he goes back and forth across the border, always being sent back, always trying to find some way to cross over again.

What’s really going on here, at the symbolic level, is the Eberlin is cutting his “ties,” burning his bridges in and to the phenomenal world, reaching the limit of frustration and disgust, so as to be free enough to ascend to the (or at least a) higher realm. As Neville put it:

I remember when I had so much wealth. I did not have one home, but many, each fully staffed from secretaries to gardeners. That was a life of sheer decadence. I recall walking out of it and not returning. Whether they ever found the body I do not know, but I do know I deliberately walked away. . . . So I do believe that one must completely saturate himself with the things of Caesar before he is hungry for the Word of God.[66]

Eberlin is dead, already, but until all this karma has been exhausted, he is stuck here, in endless repetitions.[67]

He could turn neither to the East nor the west now, both rejected him, and even if they didn’t, Eberlin didn’t much care.[68] Politics were over, ideologies were of no further consequence. He didn’t belong any more on any front, and in the final analysis, he was glad. It had come to this. The Eberlin Trinity [Eberlin/Krasnevin/Dancer] was on its own.[69]

So, let’s get to the end, shall we? Again, we have a few variants to choose from, like a Gospel manuscript or a video game set up.

In both versions, someone has been set-up to take the fall for Krasnevin: in UK, the Brits (they tell Eberlin) decide it’s the dead Pavel, in US, the Russians plan to offer the hapless Copperfield to get Krasnevin off the hook. The switch to Copperfield is needed because, as we’ve seen, in the US version the Brits have already got Pavel; Eberlin receives his “dead” verdict from Rotopkin, and the book just sort of peters out, in true grey, le Carré fashion.

The UK version is more interesting. As you’ll recall, the penultimate chapter is “Mistrale” and indeed the car finally makes its (re)appearance.

The Mistrale seemed just like new. Eberlin walked around it five times, prodded it, stroked it, then actually sat inside and held the wheel without starting the engine. It felt wrong but it was definitely the same car.

Indeed, the Chakravartin “holds the wheel[70] without staring the engine.”

Then, after Eberlin (thinks) he’s blown his cover by trying to save Rotopkin from Gatiss (in this version, Gatiss kills Rotopkin), he attempts to escape to “Spain or Africa” and instead drives into a wall at 80 miles an hour.

And then there’s Caroline. Now, Caroline was the hostess of the drinks party at the beginning. She doesn’t get a chapter title in UK, but remember, US has “Amontillado Caroline,” which is the code Eberlin receives to instruct him to attend the party. She claims to have met Eberlin in Tripoli (where he was to kill Nightingale, and where he cracked up the Mistrale). Later, she turns up in Berlin. Now, she’s driving the car that Eberlin hits on the way to the wall. Later still, she’ll buy Eberlin’s house and its dandified contents at the post mortem auction.[71]

Is Caroline then a spy? An assassin? If either, for whom? It seems unlikely, since she’s a kind of Twiggy/Marianne Faithfull sort of bird, an element of the contemporary “Swinging London” Marlowe was writing in. Her hysterical crying at the scene of the accident could be fake, of course.

I think she’s not a spy at all — her connection to the cocktail party is likely through her parents, undoubtedly parlour pinks of the old Bloomsbury sort.[72] She’s a perfectly ordinary person who for some reason — karma? — is constantly running into Eberlin at crisis moments. She is purely a symbol of repetition.

Only this time, the circle becomes a spiral; things are a little off. In Tripoli, Eberlin swerves to avoid a car and drove into a tree. The Ministry chaps at Selvers seem a bit obsessed with it, and interrogate him further.

“It was a question of expediency.”

“Expediency? You deny it was your own fault?”

“Not exactly, but I could not have avoided the situation. I felt at the time that I did the correct thing.”

“And now?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Do you think you did the right thing now?”

“Yes.”

And with that deterministic note, he’s sent off on his Judas Mission, in the course of which I’ve suggested that he learns finally to cut his ties with the phenomenal world. This time — I wonder, was it Caroline driving what is only described as “a car” he swerves to avoid in Tripoli? — it is her Mini that is now “decapitated” but in the process Eberlin and the Mistrale are totaled.[73]

Gatiss arrives and telegrams a cryptic message to London:

“HAVE JUST WITNESSED THE PASSING OF THE BUCK”

Though never decoded for us, it’s important enough for US Dandy, which loses all of this action, to preserve the phrase as the title of the last chapter. If Caroline was not an assassin before, she is now; Krasnevin has made her responsible for his death, and passed his karma to her, freeing himself. It’s not “fair” or “rational,” of course, but who ever said the cosmos was fair or rational?[74]

What about Movie Dandy? As already noted, the film, perhaps necessarily, drops many of the dandy elements, making the title all the more obscure; it also drops the opening funeral, mostly. What it does that’s interesting lies in the beginning and end.

The opening credits play over a dancing puppet. Now, the very mobile puppet is at first glance the very opposite of the stuck in aspic metaphor,[75] but then you realize that being controlled by various strings in essentially the same. And then you remember that Eberlin’s new alias is Dancer, and it all fits beautifully; dandy becomes dancer, stuckness becomes illusory self-control.[76] It’s a nice way to make a literary image “cinematic.”[77] But ironically — or not, as all Traditional symbols resonate with what appears to be their opposites on the phenomenal plane — the dancing puppet is also the Dancer, Krishna.[78]

There follows an abbreviated version of the funeral, this time with Eberlin in attendance, for no particular reason. Eberlin’s metaphorical duel with Brogue is set in a basement firing range at London HQ, which again is a nice transposition from page to screen.

The only reference to Eberlin as a dandy occurs when Pavel admires his suit, which is odd since it’s mostly hidden under his overcoat at that point; moreover, we’ve just come from the briefing scene, where Eberlin wears a ghastly light brown suit, presumably to highlight his “not being one of” his well-dressed superiors. He also gets a chance to use some of those “witty” epigrams that decorate the chapter titles in US Dandy (“What do I do? I collect noses off statues”). Otherwise, bit players are assigned to tell us “he’s a snob” and “he’s completely sexless” (the latter seems account for Caroline following him around as some kind of challenge).

We’re left with Eberlin’s stated motivation as “I’d give it all up for an identity, just to belong somewhere,” which sounds a little too much like a bow to ’60s clichés about alienation etc. But basically, as noted, Lawrence Harvey just plays his usual bored prick.

Other changes are not so welcome: Gatiss loses all trace of Jewishness, aside perhaps from Tom Courtney’s dark hair, which misses the point — he isn’t dark-haired Eberlin’s double, he’s his counterpart;[79] Eberlin’s Moneypenny, Miss Vogler, is now Eberlin’s casual bedmate, not one of Gatiss’ castoffs; Caroline’s role is expanded, as played by Mia Farrow, but not further explained.[80]

Worst of all is Lionel Stander as Sobakevitch. While it’s always fun to have Stander’s side of brisket face and Merchant Marine growl, he plays the Russian operative like a “comical” taxi driver from his hometown, the Bronx.[81]

Now, finally, about that ending. As noted, US Dandy, the basis of the screenplay, just gives us the downbeat ending of Eberlin being hustled onto the plane to London, having just learned that the Brits have known the truth all along. But again, this is a motion picture, and even something as dreary as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold ends with a big shoot ‘em up.

As also noted, Lawrence Harvey himself seems to have been responsible for not just directing but writing, or at least dreaming up, the final sequence. Now, at the end of his Berlin stay Eberlin does get his car back, but since nothing has been made of it until now, it seems rather pointless. Nor is it a racing car, just some kind of American muscle car with a garish Chinese red paintjob. He drives it around frantically for a while and I think we’re supposed to think he’s going to race through a checkpoint but nothing doing; this seems to be all that remains of the death/crash motif.

Instead, on the tarmac, Eberlin notices Gatiss in a car at some distance. Is Gatiss (who, we are casually told just now, was the only Brit who didn’t know Eberlin was Krasnevin until the end) supposed to sneak up at 60 miles an hour and run him over?[82]

In any event, Eberlin/Krasnevin breaks away and runs toward the car, while Gatiss starts up (was he waiting for Eberlin to make the first move, so as to make running him down “self-defense”?) and bears down on him. Eberlin fires his pistol (which for some reason the Brits still let him carry) point-blank[83] at the windshield . . . and freeze-frame on Eberlin’s face as he turns away, or perhaps is hit aside by the car; who knows? Cut to puppet tangled up in strings and lifted up out of sight.

Marlowe may have hated the ending, but at least someone sensed there needed to finally be some kind of climactic action (which the UK novel, ironically, does have), and remembered that Eberlin and Gatiss were supposed to be opposing forces of some kind. But since all that has been dropped, and we are simply told that Eberlin is “such a snob” and that Gatiss “Hates you, hates me, hates everybody,” one has no sense of a metaphysical resolution, one only wishes to see the last of these two jerkasses.

In any event, we have reached the end of our epic traversal of three versions of the passing of the buck, which I have suggested many a time is one of, if not the most basic, metaphysical theme of film and fiction.

It’s good to have at least the US version of the novel back in print, and the movie is a nice way to spend a couple hours of time (there’s a DVD which is so bare-bones it not only has no “special features” it doesn’t even have chapter stops!), but you really should get on the intertubes and find a second-hand copy of the UK original.[84]

As for myself, time for a break from all this reading and view. That coffin-shower thing sounds like just the ticket . . .

Notes

[1] The Circus, of course, is British Intelligence (MI6) in John le Carré’s George Smiley novels. This, by the way, is one of the “dandyish” epigrams that decorate the chapter titles in the US version of the novel, as we shall see.

[2] The Guardian called it one of the ten best first novels of all time and add that “It’s baffling that a writer of Marlowe’s quality, his style and sensibility setting him apart from all competition, has been out of print for so long.” “Nicholas Royle’s top 10 first novels,” 27 February 2013, here. FWIW, I’ve never heard of any of the other nine authors or books.

[3] We’ll soon see that the experience of the book will differ from one side of the pond to the other.

[4] Long out of print, it’s been reasonably available on the second-hand market; I’ve acquired, in my obsessive fashion, the original US and UK hardcovers for about a dollar each, and a British move tie-in paperback. The film is available on DVD.

[5] “Classic read: A Dandy in Aspic by Derek Marlowe” by Fiona Wilson; April 25, 2015, here.

[6] Thus missing the whole point of the Bond appeal. It’s the kind of “grey is real” miserablism that the Left usually traffics in, preferring “folk” ditty about mining disasters to pop hits, or, in the UK context, creating the dismal East Enders series to counter the popular Coronation Street (guess which one is on PBS in the States). The Right, in its Beautiful Losers mode, indulges in it too; see my “Hard Men vs. Wild Boys,” reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012). Kingsley Amis has a better understanding of Bond in his invaluable The James Bond Dossier (London: Cape, 1965), finding the appeal of Bond to be precisely his ordinariness; one feels one could do the same, if only one had the time and money. (In American terms, Batman rather than Superman). Amis points out that Bond, though a “secret agent,” is in fact no grander than any of le Carré’s grey men; he’s not a spy, but though more accurate, a title like The Middle-level Civil Servant Who Loved Me lacks the right amount of pizazz. In typically Judaic fashion, Bond co-producer Harry [Herschel] Salzman optioned Len Deighton’s Ipcress File for film to create an anti-Bond franchise, covering the markets for both snobs and slobs.

[7] As for “gym-buffed heroes,” again, Bond, in his book and classic film mode, is fit but hardly Superman-like. Amis, in his typical fashion, simply details all the injuries and weaknesses that Fleming assigns him — even, in Thunderball, consigning him to a health sanitarium! I explore the obsession with suuper-heroic musculature in “The Ponderous Weight of the Dark Knight,” Counter-Currents, July 28, 2012, here.

[8] Derek Marlowe, in The London Observer. I have long ago lost my blurry Photostat of this fine essay on The Dandy; this is taken from “Wit and Wisdom” on Dandyism.net.

[9] “If it wasn’t for the internet, Marlowe’s genius as a writer may have been lost, as none of his novels are currently in print.” — Dangerous Minds, “A Dandy in Aspic: A Letter from Derek Marlowe,” here.

[10] I’ve discussed Dali’s invaluable paranoiac-critical method several times on Counter-Currents: here. For a more sedate precedent, consider . . .  Walter Pater. “Pater was not entirely without gumption; only he tended to hoard it for his imagination. . . . ‘Facts’ and historical accuracy are not the coin in which Pater traded. For him, history was a mine to be worked for the frisson of insight; a certain amount of poetic license only aided the process.” See the review of Walter Pater: Lover of Strange Souls, by Denis Donoghue (New York: Knopf, 1994), “Art vs. Aestheticism: the case of Walter Pater,” by Roger Kimball; The New Criterion, May 1995, online here.

[11] Kasper Gutman: “That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. ‘Cause as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.” The Maltese Falcon. Marlowe, as you might imagine, had Raymond Chandler as a favorite writer (“A Letter,” loc. cit.)

[12] See my “Breaking Badge: Touch of Evil through the Lens of Breaking Bad,” here, for the use of multiple media and a consideration of, for example, how audiences respond sympathetically to what Welles intended as a portrayal of fascist evil. Speaking of which: “Scanner Darkly and Laurence Harvey in the same story makes me have to point out that there exists an ORSON WELLES version of DEAD CALM all but completed but abandoned when Laurence Harvey died of a heart attack before the final scenes were shot. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see this with animated scenes where filmed ones do not exist à la SCANNER DARKLY?” The significance of P. K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly will soon become clear.

[13] A Dandy in Aspic (1968); directed by Anthony Mann (and, uncredited, Laurence Harvey); screenplay by Derek Marlowe; starring Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtney, Mia Farrow, Peter Cook, Harry Andrews, Calvin Lockheart.

[14] Not be confused with Michael Mann, director of our favorite and much referenced Manhunter (1986), although the latter, under that title or the novel — Red Dragon (again, ambiguity!) — has obvious parallels to Eberlin’s mission. “You want the scent? Smell yourself.”

[15] An important point, as we shall see; there are in total three distinct “endings.”

[16] Counter-Currents readers might like, if they haven’t seen it already, his 1961 El Cid, with Charlton Heston.

[17] “A Letter from Derek Marlowe,” loc. cit.

[18] Not really.

[19] “The Forgotten: Cold Warrior” by David Cairns; Notebook, 12 August 2010, here. As our protagonist is variously known as Eberlin, Krasnavin, and even George Dancer, I began to refer to him as EKD which, it occurs to me, does suggest PKD, does it not?

[20] “About the novels. All characters are close or have been observed in some element of truth. One book went too far and I was sued for libel — but I shan’t reveal which one it was. Loner and anti-hero? Loner, certainly — even though I am married with four stepchildren and one son of my own — but not anti-hero. I’m for heroes, though if not Lancelot or Tristan, heroes appear out of the mould of the time.” — Marlowe, “Letter,” loc. cit.

[21] Pater, reviewing Wilde’s Dorian Gray, refers to “the, from the first, suicidal hero.” See “A Novel by Mr. Oscar Wilde,” published in The Bookman, November 1891; quoted in Kimball, loc. cit.

[22] Further hermetic obscurity: the Table of Contents tells us this section is titled “Prologue” but the actual first page is headed “Prologue” and then “Nightingale,” giving it a title like all the other chapters, and one derived from a character’s name, in this case the dead man, as most of them are.

[23] “And I can’t help but think that the book the movie is adapted from must do a better job of explaining the twists and turns of the plot so they appear well thought out. It also likely gives the many characters who are but briefly introduced and then forgotten something worthwhile to do, like the black spy (surely an unusual sight at that time) and Eberlin’s Moneypenny stand-in.” Soliloquies under the influence of tulips, August 5, 2011, here. Cairns (op.cit.) calls him “a surprising black British spymaster.”

[24] “Gypsy woman told my momma, before I was born/You got a boy-child comin’, gonna be a son-of-a-gun.” Willie Dixon, “Hootchie Cootchie Man.”

[25] In the first chapter, Eberlin’s Russian contacts seek clarification when Eberlin mentions Brogue: “‘The Negro?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Important?’ ‘To a degree.’”

[26] It’s not clear if it’s Brogue himself who thinks of himself as “the Negro” or thinks about the problem of “the Negro” in general, or the omniscient narrator.

[27] See Aedon Cassiel, “Pizzagate,” here.

[28] We learn Eberlin has had one affair, producing both a son and a respect for the dangers of women; neither are ever seen by him again.

[29] “You let the wrong word slip/While kissing persuasive lips” from the contemporary “Secret Agent Man” (Johnny Rivers).

[30] What remains of Brogues aberrant sexuality seems to be dog-whistled by casting Calvin Lockheart in the role. There’s no evidence of homosexuality in his biography, but this early role in England would lead him to star in Joanna by Michael Sarne, who would eventually put him as the effete Irving Amadeus in Myra Breckenridge, which can’t help but color, as it were, one’s perception of his performance; starring on Dynasty doesn’t help either. Cairns, however, thinks it bleeds over into the whole film: “Maybe it’s Mann’s response to the perceived effete decadence of British culture, but in this movie it seems a long time before we meet any straight men at all. (Harry Andrews, with his weathered granite face, seems like the first hetero presence, though his auto-erotic asphyxiation death scene, while wearing a tutu, in 1972’s The Ruling Class might cast even this certainty into question.) The bizarrely variegated cast appear to have been instructed to camp it up for all they’re worth, with the ever-ambiguous Harvey a relatively mild offender. Peter Cook, a surprising presence in the first place, whose entire characterisation is based around rampant womanizing (“She’s eine klein raver!”) nevertheless flicks his hair and ponces about with the best of them. Tom Courtenay and Calvin Lockhart (a surprising black British spymaster) play their confrontations with Harvey in the hissiest way imaginable (in a shooting gallery scene, they fire at images of naked men), and there’s a strong implication that Per Oscarsson’s Swedish-accented Russian operative is or has been Harvey’s lover.” I’ll comment on some of this later, but the last point is definitely all in Cairns’ head.

[31] In the UK Prologue, Brogue dictates a letter to Sotheby’s inquiring about the provenance of the box.

[32] “Tired with LALAland, Marlowe planned to return to England to finish his tenth novel, Black and White, but he contracted leukemia and tragically died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of fifty-eight, in 1996”; here.

[33] [Here lies no one]. A. K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism, p.30.

[34] “WHO was—or what was—Ananda Coomaraswamy? The man is of no help here, as he discouraged biographical ‘curiosity’ in his avowed intention to be ‘nothing.’ And yet this very self-willed effacement affords a key to the answer. Hic Jacet Nemo was the epitaph he most desired, and ‘Here lies no one’ is already a clue to the response we are seeking.” — Whitall N. Perry, “Coomaraswamy — The Man, Myth and History,” Studies in Comparative Religion, vol. 11, no. 3 (Summer 1977), online here.

[35] Presumably, when his car cracks up in Tripoli, an event in the recent past of which people keep reminding him and us.

[36] John le Carré published The Looking Glass War the previous year, 1965. Was the quote the idea of the author or the publisher?

[37] “1. Astronomy. the point in the orbit of a heavenly body, especially the moon, or of a man-made satellite at which it is farthest from the earth. Compare perigee. 2. the highest or most distant point; climax.” Dictionary.com, here. Note the apparent inversion of the climax.

[38] One might think, perhaps, of the Lennon/McCartney “A Day in the Life” (1967), but that was in the future. More likely in the author’s mind would be One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the novel written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, first published in November 1962 in the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir (New World) and translated into English almost immediately and several times over: Ralph Parker’s translation (New York: Dutton, 1963) was the first to be published, followed by Ronald Hingley and Max Hayward’s (New York: Praeger, 1963) and Bela Von Block’s (New York: Lancer, 1963); see here.

[39] Eberlin, however, lacks Huysmans’ dandy’s palate; he is “apathetic about the acquired bigotry of wines and bouquets,” preferring wine “bought . . . cheap from the supermarket” which “came out of the decanter like sludge.” As for food, “he never pruned his taste buds, considering food nothing more than a basic necessity to be completed as painlessly and quickly as possible.” There’s also his self-admonishment in “Copperfield,” “Smoking too much, Eberlin,” a very un-Bondian note. US Dandy gives us a wonderful passage about Eberlin’s endurance of the “ceremony” of coffee preparation by some bore. Film Dandy drops all of this, leaving everything up to Lawrence Harvey’s unmatched ability to portrait a bored, supercilious prick; “as bitter and hostile to our sympathies as he was in The Manchurian Candidate” (Cairns).

[40] The next paragraph also introduces us to the Maserati Mistrale 3700, “at present disemboweled and eight fee tin the air at Cutcher’s Garage, twenty kilometres from Lyons.” I will suggest that Eberlin is already in a similar post mortem state.

[41] Dandy US describes him in the corresponding chapter as “a frivolous monk.”

[42] “One year ago he had written ‘Ex Libris’ on the flyleaf of his passport and burned his suitcase.” The former makes more sense if one recalls that British passports of the time looked more like little books than, say, US passports did.

[43] Eberlin, real name Krasnevin, was born in Russia and raised to pass for an English schoolboy, part of a program supposedly created by Stalin to implant sleeper agents with impeccable backgrounds. “On paper it looked fallible. In practice, it was without error. Eberlin himself knew of a Troy M.P. of a Northern Constituency, whose loyalties ranged much further that the Houses of Parliament [and a schoolmate] whom he knew now to be a Democrat general in the U.S. Army.” He met the latter at a White House cocktail party, which leads one to think there may be something to this Birther business after all, especially when Brogue the Negro says to Eberlin “I must admit your references are excellent.”

[44] “The purpose of man’s life, say both [the mystics of muscle and mystics of spirit], is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question.” As reprinted in For the New Intellectual, p. 171. British Film Character Actors: Great Names and Memorable Moments by Terence Pettigrew (Rowman & Littlefield, 1982) describes Laurence Harvey’s performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) as “zombie-like” but “excusable for once” given his role.

[45] For more on this Traditional image, see my essays “The Corner at the Center of the World: Traditional Metaphysics in a Late Tale of Henry James,” here and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture; ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014), “The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar: Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Part 2,” here, and with particular reference to the secret agent motif, “The Baker Street Männerbund: Some Thoughts on Holmes, Watson, Bond, & Bonding, here.

[46] The center pole of the teepee, for example, and other traditional designs where a hole is left at the top, to let smoke, and so the sprits, escape. See, for example, Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Door in the Sky (Princeton, 1997).

[47] See Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition, Chapter 1, “The Tree, The Serpent and the Titans.”

[48] Willard: “Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.” Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979; script by John Milius).

[49] We also get another hint: Nightingale had been killed “with a minimum of difficulty, apart from decapitating the Mistrale on the Route Nationale.” And a reminder as he takes the train to the meeting: “Trees really are greener in England.”

[50] Though “trained to kill the secret enemies of the Soviet Union,” “Eberlin” is a committed desk jockey, unlike Bond or, in le Carré’s Spy who comes in from the cold, both of whom are driven nearly mad by paperwork and bureaucracy. In fact, since it’s “frightfully probably that he would be asked to continue Nightingale’s operation” despite having, as Krasnevin, assassinated him, it’s rather as if one could obtain a 00 license by killing one’s predecessor. “Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you/The odds will betray you/And I will replace you.” Chris Cornell, Casino Royale main title theme.

[51] An American might recall the scene in The Great Gatsby where Daisy is overwhelmed by Gatsby’s shirt collection: “They’re such beautiful shirts, she sobbed, her face muffled in the folds. It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts.” Gatsby is another fake person, but Eberlin would no doubt consider him as another crude arriviste, like Brogue. Or, in the terms we’re discussing here, Gatsby is destroyed because he actually believes in materialism, in wealth and women as the goal of life, and hence his avarice has no end, being a futile attempt to capture the infinite in finite goods — the green light will always recede.

[52] The James Bond Dossier, op. cit.

[53] See Colin Wilson, The Angry Years: A Literary Chronicle (Avova Books, 2007), and Jonathan Bowden’s lecture “Bill Hopkins & the Angry Young Men,” online here.

[54] Lawrence Harvey’s breakout role, of course, was as Joe Lampton in the iconic AYM film, Room at the Top (1959) from John Braine’s 1957 novel. For more on Braine, see “Lovecraft in a Northern Town: John Braine’s The Vodi,” here. The ultimate expression of the “dead” theme is the ending of The Ruling Class, where the Establishment is depicted as a roomful of rotting corpses; Harry Andrews, as noted above, starts off the film with a bang, and he’s here in Movie Dandy as well.

[55] It’s a demonic version of the dandified Oxford youth of Brideshead Revisited: “… it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.”

[56] Typically, the movie adds a line crudely informing him, and us, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your promotion.”

[57] Goldfinger: Q: “It has not been perfected, out of years of patient research, ENTIRELY for that purpose, 007. And incidentally, we’d appreciate its return, along with all your other equipment, INTACT for once, when you return from the field.” James Bond: “Well, you’d be surprised the amount of wear and tear that goes on out there in the field.” Here Bond is channeling his inner Upper Class Twit; I suspect real Qs and Bonds would be more Jewy than otherwise; the brainy Jew and the grubby little operative. As commentators from Amis on have noted, Bond sits uneasily between the upper and working classes; his devotion to Queen and Country in the novels is part of a forelock-pulling obsequiousness that makes him a sucker for powerful men like Goldfinger (in the novel he becomes his secretary, along with Tillie Masterson!) and above all, Sir Hugo Drax, much to ‘M’s disgust — or jealousy.

[58] See, for instance, my collection End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2016).

[59] “Edina: “Darling, even Amanda de Cadenet would remember the word “accessories.” Absolutely Fabulous: “Magazine” (#1.6)” (1992). The Germans have a handy word for such male accessories: Schmuck. Hence, the Yiddish . . .

[60] Jew gold!

[61] Tom Courtney in the Movie, not so much, though he does establish another AYM connection through Billy Liar (1963) and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1962).

[62] Well, all shiksas, at least. Not for the first time we see that contemporary Pick Up Artist culture has only a dubious connection to Aryan culture.

[63] The Gospel is foolishness in the eyes of the world. The Jew Gatiss needs to learn the lesson of Mark 8:34ff. “The only way to attain ‘life’ — true life, the life of the age to come — . . . is by behaving in a way which seems to unredeemed man unintelligent and self-defeating: willingly accepting loss and injury in the cause of Christ and his gospel, and refusing to bend all one’s energies, as other men do, to preserving, securing, and enriching one’s life in this world.” D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark, The Pelican New Testament Commentaries (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 226.

[64] See Julius Evola, The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery According to the Earliest Buddhist Texts (Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions, 1997), pp. 76-77.

[65] This is actually the US version, which adds this layer of complexity to the plot. In the UK novel, it’s clearly the Russians: Eberlin sees and is even spoken to by the agent Rotopkin; Rotopkin is killed by a racecar at the Gran Prix as he is running from Gatiss at the end. In the US version, it’s Eberlin who thinks the Buick is “no doubt” driven by the Russians. A different Russian, Sobaevick, is killed at the Gran Prix by Gatiss (and a policeman is killed on the track, since Marlowe apparently liked the scene), and when Eberlin later calls Rotopkin, he learns the truth. The movie keeps this version, but with additional changes.

[66] A frequent story in his last lectures, here for instance: “A Lesson in Scripture,” 10/23/67, online here.

[67] The idea of needing to perform every possible action, good or bad, so as to exhaust all experience, was promoted by the Gnostic sect of Carpocrates; see my review of the work of Luis Varady, “Lords of the Visible World: A Modern Reconstruction of an Ancient Heresy, here.

[68] In Coleman Francis’ The Beast of Yucca Flats (1962), the narrator informs us that “Vacation time. People travel East. West. North. Or South,” to which MST3k’s Mike Nelson responds “Some people just burrow straight down.” (Episode 621). “Dancer” is officially on vacation, and in this case his choice is straight up the World Tree.

[69] This literal apotheosis takes place at a German Gran Prix track, a reminder of the time when Gran Prix racing was the sport of kings. Gran Prix tracks, no less than NASCAR or ancient chariot races, epitomize the motif of man vs. circular futility. See my review of a similar man and a similar movie of futility, Steve McQueen’s Le Mans (1971), “St. Steven of Le Mans: The Man Who Just Didn’t Care,” here.

[70] It’s no accident that this all takes place in Berlin, home of the Sun Wheel emblem, whose National Socialist past makes Gatiss despise it.

[71] The reappearance of Eberlin’s house and racing car surely recalls the ending of The Prisoner (1967); was there any influence here? The eponymous Prisoner is definitely an ascetic dandy in his lifestyle, especially if he is indeed the John Drake of Secret Agent/Danger Man. He’s given a new name, or at least number, and set on various tasks and mission while in the Village, all ending with his defeat or return, only to start up again next week. In the end, it is revealed (perhaps) that No. 6 and No. 1 are the same, with John Drake making an Eberlin Trilogy. And of course, the last scene has him drive up in his old racing car (a Lotus) to his old London house.

[72] I imagine her in the big house with her mother, rather like Ab/Fab’s Patsy growing up with her Isadore Duncanish mother.

[73] “A short paragraph details the anonymous ends of both, one to ‘a large burial plot north of Spandau,’ the other fetching 109 marks on the scrap market.”

[74] “The only real reason something should come into being in the course of human events is that ‘someone wishes it to be here.’ To expect that the universe should somehow ‘make sense’ in itself, as if isolation from human actions that shape our world of meaning is a false expectation — and so horror in the face of an illogical or insane universe is misplaced. The abyssal lack of an inherent and immutable order can be seen as the free space for us to make the world meaningful in one way or another.” Jason Reza Jorjani, Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016), “Being Bound for Freedom”; quoting and explicating William James. The idea is not unknown to those with considerable experience with the mysterious East: commenting on the final settlement of the Apple/Capitol/EMI litigation in 1989, George Harrison commented: “the funny thing is most of the people who were involved with the reason that lawsuit came about aren’t even in the companies nay more. So the people at Capitol and EMI had to take on the karma of their predecessors, and I’m sure that they’re relieved too.” Peter Doggett, You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup (HarperStudio, 2009; UK subtitle: The Battle for the Soul of the Beatles), p. 297.

[75] “I feel caged in” is the only way Eberlin can express his reasons for wanting out to Pavel, which really combines the stuck in a viscous solid and string/wire metaphors. During the Selvers briefing, an apology is offered for having “to have kept you hanging about for so long in the dark.”

[76] While in Berlin, “Dancer” stays at the Kleist Hotel, which surely must connect him to Heinrich von Kleist and his “Essay on the Marionette Theater,” which discusses, pessimistically, the consequences of our encounter with the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

[77] “Remember, this is a motion picture!” MST3k, Episode 603, The Dead Talk Back.

[78] As Eberlin calls himself, the Eberlin Trinity (Eberlin, Krasnevin, Dancer).

[79] He also now carries around, from his first scene on, a “sitting stick,” as an MST3k robot calls the similar Schmuck carried around by Ed Platt — later Get Smart’s “Chief” — in the late ’50s caper The Rebel Set (episode 419). In both cases, it’s a Chekov’s Gun, in Gatiss’ case literally so.

[80] She’s a swinging London photographer, here, with an actor partner named Neville, which I appreciated for obvious reasons.

[81] One has to wonder if his attempt to portray a Russian Communist spymaster as a crusty but benign father figure is a function of this being one of the films he made during a longtime exile from the USA, as a result of being one of the most obvious and obstreperous members of the Hollywood communist rat pack. Wikipedia adds that “After 15 years abroad, Stander moved back to the U.S. for the role he is now most famous for: Max, the loyal butler, cook, and chauffeur to the wealthy, amateur detectives played by Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers on the 1979–1984 television series Hart to Hart.” Indeed, his Sobakevitch definitely recalls his “Max,” whose “My boss” line and gravelly voice often crops up on MST3k, including the same Episode 419 that gave us the “sitting stick.”

[82] The same year, 1968, brought us Ted Mikels’ The Astro-Zombies, where that very scenario is played out, with equal unlikeliness. Jabootu comments: “This isn’t as exaggerated as tying Batman up in a giant popsicle-making machine, but it still seems a pointlessly exaggerated way to kack the guy. And that’s even assuming you could build up a fatal amount of speed in the at best twenty-foot distance between Sergio and where the car was parked. Perhaps Sergio actually died choking on the ketchup packet that he was apparently carrying in his mouth for some reason.” After all, Gatiss still has his sitting/shooting stick.

[83] Earlier, when Eberlin resolves to kill Pavel and returns to his apartment — Pavel having already been spirited away — “Harvey pumps his bed full of bullets, just like Lee Marvin in Point Blank the same year.” (Cairns, op. cit.).

[84] Now I admit I have been known to harbor perhaps idiosyncratic preferences for UK versions of LPs (although I have recently come to admit the US Beatles LPs are better sequenced, despite their atrocious covers), but comparing the UK and US versions of Dandy is not so much like comparing the UK and US versions of, say, Aftermath but comparing Aftermath to, say, a Bill Wyman solo album.

 

 

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One Comment

  1. London
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Be warned that the Silvertail Books re-issue, with the Tom Stoppard foreword, is the American (inferior) version. Worth hunting around for the 1966 British original. I found Marlowe’s comments on writing, copied here below from the Dangerous Minds article, refreshing and inspiring.

    “Remember books last longer than reviews and the most boring part is typing the damn thing afterwards and planning beforehand. Never think too hard about what you are going to write – just jump in. I’ve never known the end of my book, nor even the middle until after I am halfway through. And ignore anyone who says you can’t make a living out of writing. You can if you don’t limit yourself to novels in England alone and don’t want a Rolls immediately. I have never known a writer over thirty who has got the stamina to be poor. Talent doesn’t make for success. Courage does first.”
    Derek Marlowe 1938-1996

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