NPJ Book Review: Questions Are Forever, James Bond and Philosophy, Ed. James B. South and Jacob M. Held


Questions Are Forever, James Bond and Philosophy, Ed. James B. South and Jacob M. Held (2006) Philosophical essays about James Bond. Life is not forever nor is James Bond. And life is not a James Bond movie or novel. Still the philosophical insights offered here causes the reader to pause and think about the life we live and language we use and how we have become technological beings. We have developed sufficient high technology to become  in the words of Steven Zani, “technological selves.”

On another level if I might digress, there is the technological self that leads to self-destructive behavior whereas even the wealthiest and most wicked in Bond’s world and in real life, regardless of where they escape to, die from their overindulging greed. One might also consider the past three decades and in turn the feeding of the illiterate and ignorant with dogmas that serve as the metaphorical equivalent of let them eat cake” in the 18th century. (See my review of Rousseau’s Confessions.) The greed in my estimation is also a species of the opium argument as Karl Marx suggested. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opiate of the people.” And if one wishes to pursue Marx’s thoughts on the existential edge I suggest reading Main Currents of Marxism by Leszek Kolakowski especially his view on the future of religion, page 583.

And this might be where the fictional Bond comes into play and the value of this book of essays as being more than mere entertainment. These essays are fascinating philosophical analysis of the James Bond character. Bond is a secular existentialist and a pragmatist. And it’s best to quote one of the writers, Beth Butterfield, who writes of existentialism’s focus on “being towards death,” in reference to Martin Heidegger’s work on Time and Being. The existentialist reminds us, “While, it is tempting to run away from freedom and responsibility, hiding from ourselves is not the answer.” Such attempts are transitory. Sooner or later we will be faced with our own mortality…and “it takes courage to keep ourselves from running away.” It is up to each of us individually to find meaning for our own life. We create our own values.

As James Bond lay on table in the movie Goldfinger and anxiously waits to be cut lengthwise by a laser beam he asks Goldfinger, “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldinger replies. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Bond’s existential nature and “primitive masculinity” are intertwined. He must rest control of the situation knowing that his mortality is inevitable.

In Bond’s we see a man whose values are seeking “great beauty, sensual pleasure and the personal vendetta.” Though as Butterfield points out that an existentialist like Bond experiences the darker side of the human condition, he periodically finds moments of the creative and the humorous seeking to enjoy the bright side of being alive along with appearances of an exotic and sensuous lifestyle. Reality is another matter. Knowing death is around the corner makes the existing moment more precious.

Throughout this book the various writers from the perspective of the setting and the dialogue in his movies and novels point out the very human flaws and positive attributes of the Bond character and the philosophical undertones to his existence in an engaging manner. The book is a search for meaning of that which from a cursory perspective of the surface reveals something more provocative and darker below. The final essay reveals the metamorphosis of the Bond character and the Yin and Yang of life and relationships between men and women.

Bond may appear a hero as in a Nietzschean superman sense (belief in an afterlife makes it more difficult to cope in this life) but being “half-monk and half-hitman” he knows better.  Bond lives and will die on the existential edge. He saves women from evil yet he may privately wonder about his own evil, his own ego, but perhaps only temporarily as it becomes too poignant, he has to stay in the moment to breathe and live regardless of the “brutality and joy of life.”

The essays beg further questions about how government and corporations act on behalf of their values and the people who they sell their “corporate values” to. The more recent Bond films reveal a deeper existential precipice in human relationships, though the coldness of what Bond does for a living remains. Something is amiss within Bond. Which brings me to the following.

The real life character from British Secret Intelligence or MI6, ex spy Christopher Steele, who is perhaps considered a superlative agent by British Intelligence, and one of the closest they had to a James Bond, allegedly gained access to information portraying just an aspect of the nature of the current US President and his dealings with Russia. Steele had uncovered something that had a surreal quality but he isn’t surprised by human actions. Steele is more of the enigma (cyber) type of man and not the licensed killer, as we know of the fictional James Bond. Steele understands this and more. And perhaps he will come forward. Who knows? This is just a floating fragment of what lay below the surface. trump-russia-dossier-christopher-steele-ex-spy-british-a7616326.html