During the 1980s the United States was the main factor in blocking two major international peace processes, one in Central America and one in the Middle East. But just try to find that simple, obvious fact stated anywhere in mainstream media. You can’t. And you can’t because it’s a logical contradiction- you don’t even have to do any grubby work with the data and the documents to prove it, it’s just proven by the meaning of the words themselves. It’s like finding a married bachelor or something- you don’t have to do any research to show there aren’t any. You can’t have the United States opposing the peace process, because the peace process is what the United States is doing, by definition. And if anybody is opposing the United States, then they’re opposing the peace process. That’s the way it works, and it’s very convenient, you get nice conclusions.
– Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power

As posited by linguist Noam Chomsky, the U.S.A or the West is seen as a liberal space where utopian factors like ‘free will’, ‘personal liberty’ and ‘peace’ exist in a sharp contrast to the Middle East or Non-West which is a habitat for the not-so-dignified racial others. The world has been divided into two general camps – the “good” and the “bad” – an idea explained by Manichean ideology. Anything that the “good” person does is always right, and in the best interest of humanity as a whole. Whereas, the so called “bad” people always have malicious intentions that could ultimately lead to the destruction and de-humanization of society.

The dominant nations of the West have only an interest in establishing and maintaining their superiority. Any other nation belonging to the Non-West that tries to dismantle this Western supremacy is, according to Manichean ideology, an evil threat which needs to be extinguished. A primary example of this is the legal attack by U.S.A. on Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks – an online forum that published the U.S. government’s secret documents, such as the footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq. Assange had to seek political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to shield himself from the attacks and imprisonment after being labeled as “a threat to national security.” This goes on to show that the West is obsessed with putting themselves forward as the idyllic paradise.

This Manichean worldview is also incorporated into Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, as explained by critic Umberto Eco in his essay, The Narrative Structure in Fleming. There is a constant clash between the West (Britain) and Non-West (USSR), symbolizing the conflict between good and evil. In this assignment, I will attempt to bring out the Manichean worldview in Fleming’s novel From Russia With Love (1957) with reference to Umberto Eco’s essay.

Eco explains that there is also a clash of personal luxury versus discomfort when it comes to distinguishing Britain or the Free World with the USSR. In the first chapter of From Russia With Love, the villain Red Grant is shown to be living in a villa that has no bathroom. This is a remark on the backwardness of the Soviets. While the world has moved onto modern ways of living, the Soviets still have no luxuries or amenities. Tatiana Romanova, a corporal in Soviet Army Intelligence, is also later depicted to be living in a tiny apartment building described as “square boxes with a telephone, hot and cold water, a single electric light and a share of the central bathrooms and lavatories.” James Bond, a British spy and the hero of the story, is however described to be living on King’s Road in London with a Scottish housekeeper, in a “comfortable flat” with a “long big-windowed sitting room” and a “big white-tiled bathroom with a glass shower cabinet”. The Westerners are hence shown to be more ‘civilised’ in their lifestyles.

Eco also says that Fleming’s novels always have an archetypal portrayal of villains. They are always depicted as ugly half-breeds (Anglo-Saxons), are either asexual or homosexual, or at any rate not sexually normal and are associated with physical and moral perversion. In From Russia With Love, Red Grant is “short, with sandy-coloured eyelashes, colourless and opaque blue eyes, a small cruel mouth, innumerable freckles on his milk-white skin, and deep white pores. He is also an asexual who only gets a thrill out of killing humans and does not “interfere” with women otherwise. Colonel Grubozaboyschikov has a “narrow and sharp face, flabby pouches, a broad and grim mouth and a shaven skull. They are described this way so that Bond, in contrast, emerges as the potent, masculine energy. Rosa Klebb is also depicted with having a “humid pallid lip stained with nicotine” and a “raucous voice, flat and devoid of emotion”. She is five feet four, no curves, dumpy arms, short neck, too sturdy ankles, grey hairs gathered in an “obscene” bun, yellow-brown eyes and a sharp nose. To put it simply, she is an inversion of the way dignified women from the Free World are described.

Fleming also seems to follow the ideology of the knight in shining armour (Bond) saving the damsel in distress (Bond’s heroine). Eco says that Fleming’s woman, dominated by the villain, has already been previously conditioned to domination, life for her having assumed the role of the villain. The general scheme is as follows – the girl is beautiful and good; has been made frigid and unhappy by severe trials suffered in adolescence; this has conditioned her to the service of the villain; through meeting Bond she appreciates human nature in all its richness; Bond possesses her but in the end loses her. He says that this curriculum is common to all of Bond’s heroines. Tatiana Romanova, in From Russia With Love, falls into a similar scheme of events. She is first recruited by the Soviets to spy on Bond, but ultimately falls in love with him and is able to escape from the clutches of the USSR.

The work ethic of the British and the Soviets is also widely contrasted. SMERSH, the official murder organization of the Soviet government described in From Russia With Love is a rigid faculty where the employees have no interpersonal connections. Every conversation in the SMERSH office is recorded – again a comment on the Non-West’s lack of personal space. They simply call on their employees (the Soviet spies and killers) and give them the relevant orders. On the other hand, the British Intelligence office is a lot more liberal in their treatment of co-workers. The committee is headed by M. who assigns Bond to his missions. Bond and M. speak to each other casually, on a first-name basis, and before sending Bond off on a mission, M. always asks him if he’d like to take it up. This is because of the concept of fraternity that exists only in the West – one can disagree with one’s superiors and also offer one’s own opinions. Grant is given no such liberties in the SMERSH office. M. also inquires about Bond’s love affairs but makes it clear that he needn’t answer if he considers it inappropriate. M. never coerces Bond and definitely never puts him under surveillance the way Soviet spies are.

In setting apart the various characters in Fleming’s novels, Eco says, “M is the King and Bond the Cavalier entrusted with a mission; Bond is the Cavalier and the Villain is the Dragon; the Lady and Villain stand for Beauty and the Beast; Bond restores the Lady to the fullness of spirit and to her senses, he is the Prince who rescues Sleeping Beauty; between the Free World and the Soviet Union, England and the non-Anglo-Saxon represent the primitive epic relationship between the Chosen Race and the Lower Race, between Black and White, Good and Bad. This is all governed by Manichean ideology.

Finally, Eco says that such a representation of plot, characters and ideology is intentional on the part of Fleming. Fleming himself is not governed by the ideologies that surround him. Rather, he is aware and conscious of these ideologies, and portrays them in his novels as a mark of satire and cynicism. In From Russia With Love, his Soviet men are so monstrous, so improbably evil that it seems impossible to take them seriously. Bond on the other hand, is too good to be true – handsome, intelligent, rich, alluring. According to Eco, he pleases the sophisticated readers who here distinguish, with a feeling of aesthetic pleasure, the purity of the primitive epic impudently and maliciously translated into current terms; and applaud in Fleming the cultured man, whom they recognize as one of themselves, naturally the most clever and broadminded.

If Fleming is reactionary at all, it is not because he identifies the figure of ‘evil’ with a Russian. He is reactionary because he makes use of stock figures. His work is ironic because he constructs all his characters according to ideology. However, all his novels are open to interpretation and criticism, which he is subtly inviting. It may seem like he is trying to advocate Manichean ideology. But in reality, he is far from it.

Advertisements