James Bond: Notes Toward an Argument

I need to step away from Tutuola for a moment—I have 2-3 more posts planned, one on his use of similes—so I thought I’d look at the most protean figure emerging from post-imperial Britain, James Bond. Ian Fleming published the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1953 and the first film, Dr. No, was released in 1962. Translated into Kenyan time, the first novel is published shortly after the emergency is declared in 1952 and the first film released right before independence in 1963 (India 1947, Ghana 1957).

Framing Bond’s emergence and dissemination within Kenyan histories permits us to ask about its historical function in relation to Britain’s imperial decline. Given Kenya’s not great literacy rates at independence (I have no real numbers, but it seems safe to assume it wasn’t great), the Bond films would have reached wider audiences than the books. In fact, Bond’s flashy gizmo, intrigue-filled world thrills whether or not one understands the actual words spoken by characters. This is key.

James Bond is one of the most ubiquitous figures across the commonwealth (to use an old, useless designation). Unlike empire, Bond never dies. And his persistence speaks to a fantasy that the imperial masculinity he embodies never dies. Moreover, as a protean, phoenix-like figure, a model of impossible masculinity, Bond represents an unattainable fantasy that affirms every single claim about the superiority of imperial masculinity.

To understand Bond in this way is to approach a fantasy of post-imperial masculinity as an imperial residue.

In the non-note version of this reflection, to be pursued one day, I am interested in how the figure of Bond mediates the relationship between Britain and its former colonies while also helping to forge bonds among those former colonies.

4 thoughts on “James Bond: Notes Toward an Argument

  1. Have you seen Pepetela’s newish novel “Jaime Bunda”? I haven’t yet figured out what’s going on with it, but its definitely an interesting read so far (apparently the title means “fatass” in portuguese, so the Pepetela version of James Bond is a sort of comic and repugnant figure. I think; I got distracted and haven’t finished it. Story of my life. Also long parentheses that go on and on).

    But imperial masculinity, the new Casino Royale movie might be an interesting place to take that argument, given its barely veiled homoeroticism and the dissonance between the Brosnan and Craig versions. I’m struck mostly by how “American” it feels to me, whereas the previous few Bond films felt like Hollywood was trying to mimic a “higher” class of imperialism, using nostalgia for the British empire to mask the usual narratives in Brosnan’s urbanity and sophistication. But Craig is so much more of a dumb brute (even playing Texas hold-em instead of Baccarat), with the re-booting of the franchise during the war on terror putting his narrative arc safely within a post-cold war period of (presumed) American hegemony.

  2. Thanks for the reference, will look out for it. Had I the choice, my entire dissertation would have consisted of asides and parentheses. (I’m still not sure it isn’t.)

    I’m yet to see the new Bond, well, most recent Bond movies. I catch what I can on AMC, but rely mostly on memory. This post actually comes from a long-going conversation with a good friend from India, when we were trying to understand the cultural references we shared and why. I am fascinated by mid-century (1950-1970) narratives of cultural nationalism and internationalism.

    What I find fascinating about the US-based hegemony you rightly point to is how it maps onto an ongoing project to revision British imperialism as a good–the language is the same, the imperatives the same, the civilization mission all the same. US empire (I can’t use “American,” that’s been cured out of me) implicitly needs British imperialism to be not only good but, more importantly, incomplete. Craig is shaped like a U.S. star (being buff is not a traditional Bond attribute), and acts like a “dumb brute” in a way that, like Tarzan, critiques what might have seemed effete about other Bonds in other ages (this is an argument about history). Much much more to say on this. And I have yet to tap the rich vein of writing on Bond.

  3. Oh. with the buzz-killing. On this one I choose to just enjoy Jamo in the tailored tux. Keeping all the baggage outside the theatre. Will don the ‘victimized’ mantle when I exit theatre. Or so I’d like to believe.

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