Tuesday, November 18, 2008


This and this, amongst other things, I like. That's yer lot.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Lowest Whore In Creation

From the discussion in Dominic Sandbrook's Never Had It So Good of the British secret service and novels about it in the late fifties and early sixties:

In Casino Royale, Bond notes approvingly that Vesper Lynd's enigmatic, unfathomable personality means that 'the conquest of her body... would each time have the sweet tang of rape'. And in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Tracy tells him: 'Make love to me... Do anything you like [...] Be rough with me. Treat me like the lowest whore in creation. Forget everything else. No questions. Take me.'

There is, then, a startingly aggressive side to Bond's treatment of women [...] reminiscent of the violent hostility to women often present in the New Wave novels of the late 1950s. Just like Room at the Top or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Bond novels such as Casino Royale or On Her Majesty's Secret Service present their readers with a hero who treats women as disposable commodities and barely distinguishes between physical love and sadistic violence. It was surely no coincidence that all these books... were eagerly snapped up by male readers at a time when women were financially, socially and sexually more independent and assertive than ever.

Sandbrook also quotes a reviewer for the New Statesman as describing the Bond novels as worse than straight pornography. Although I understand that there is good evidence to link the consumption of pornography with the holding of various beliefs about the occurrence of the sexual practices depicted in it and women's willingness to engage in them, evidence I've not heard of being produced for the readers of Bond or New Wave novels, you have to have a degree of sympathy for the reviewer's claim. Bond novels are better written than most pornography, and call upon a potential rather toxic combination of exotica, class superiority, and nationalistic chauvinism to objectify women, whereas pornography usually lacks pretensions to any artistic merit. The attitudes they display towards gays and lesbians are unsurprisingly vile: Sandbrook notes that many of the women Bond seduces are, when he meets them, lesbians, although of course brought back to the rightful place as sexual helpmeets by the end of their involvement with this epitome of masculinity. The best of British, eh?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Me And God In Co-Production

Last night, with my mother, I saw Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes The Barley (spoilers), which is of course quite as didactic as one would expect. With Land And Freedom, I think I minded this less: I knew it was quite unsubtly manipulating me, but I didn't particularly care since it's so easy to summon a relatively uncomplicated attitude to the Spanish Civil War; for the Republicans and against everyone else, including the Soviets. Partly because I have a not-quite-fully examined hostility to Irish nationalism and particularly what seems to me the centrality of an idea of victimhood, I was much more hostile to Loach's attempts to garner sympathetic identification for rebels fighting for what they'd have probably been given anyway. Starting a civil war in which thousands died over whether or not you had to swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign head of state - which, accurate or otherwise, seemed to be the sum of the actual, practical difference between the Free Staters and the Republicans according to Loach - is, so far as I'm concerned at least, pretty reprehensible: you don't kill people just so that you can avoid breaking your word. That is a moral vanity of a pretty monstrous kind. Nor is one extra-judicial execution or reprisal much better than another. Yet Loach wants people who hold their honour so high they'll kill their comrades so they don't have to lie or to send a message to others to be the focus of our sympathetic identification in the film. It is hard to identify with someone who kills in the service of some cause they consider just, particularly some left-wing cause they consider just I think, and does not wonder whether what they are doing is just, whether what they're sacrificing is worth what they're getting, whether anything could be worth what they're sacrificing.

The best moments, then, of the film are when people do start to ask whether what they're doing is just, as when the film's hero Damien tells the story of taking a mother of an informer he executed whilst fighting the British to her son's grave to his brother, now on the other side of the civil war. Or when the brother stoically delivers the perhaps implausibly forgiving letter Damien wrote to his sweetheart, as deeply implicated as either of the brothers in the independence struggle herself, before being executed for refusing to give up his comrades. That's where the tragedy and so the drama lies, at points where one's public and private commitments start to unavoidably conflict, where forces beyond your control make sure you have to lose something that you cannot afford or fairly be asked to give up. That's when politics becomes personal, when commitments of one sort or the other have to be sacrificed, when you have to tell your brother's lover or your friend's mother that you've shot them. Part of the point of what we might call normal politics, then, seems to be to eliminate or at least mitigate the ways in which people are pushed into making those kinds of choices: a world in which we constantly find ourselves wondering how exactly it is that ought is supposed to imply can is not a very hospitable one, and only political institutions, by controlling forces beyond the power of individuals acting alone, can deliver us from such an outcome. So then, we end up returning, almost ineluctably, to an argument against G. A. Cohen. It's almost ironic.