SPECTRE by Laurence A. Rickels

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Laurence A. Rickels, The Man With The Golden Pun, has turned his cryptic genius on the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming, specifically the occult, neurotic currents flowing beneath those works where 007 battles SPECTRE, headed—baldly—by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. By interrogating Fleming/Bond, pursuing them through anxiety, sexuality, suicides, girlfriends, Tyrolean kitsch, and lycanthropy, Rickels exhumes (to quote Vincent Price at his least funky) “the evil of the thriller.”

SPECTRE stands for Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. Where the SPECTRE acronym “doesn’t quite add up,” and the initialization of James Bond has passed into subsequent remodels in other J.B.s, like Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer, Rickels has thrown in his signifying lot—baldly—behind Blofeld. This can be seen in the author photo at the back of the book where he appears as Blofeld. This kind of (un)ironic identification has become a strategy for Rickels: I Think I Am Philip K. Dick (2010) is similarly coupled, for example. In that case, it was the strange cryogenic Ubik-uity of what appeared to be Dick’s thought within his own that pushed Rickels to the Ouija board of posthumous psychoanalysis to get in touch with science fiction’s preeminent hot mess.

I’ll admit that I shrugged off the Bond/Blofeld contest decades ago, setting it aside with other childish things, but the prospect of Rickels applying his lens to it, bringing his voodoo thesis of unmourning, of the improperly or half-buried, of the undead, is irresistible. Live And Let Die; You Only Live Twice, those titles at the axis of life and death, where Bond’s struggles with the grand zombie, kamikaze suicide, and his middle-agedness provide rich bones for Rickels-Blofeld to pick. Add to this exquisite corpse his analysis of Ian Fleming and “Germanicity,” the friendly ghost of Fleming’s suicidal son Caspar, and the kind of luminous coincidence that Rickels, at his best, picks out as casually (and causally) as most writers pick out wallpaper and you have a serious dose of death drive, or the death drive with gadgets. In SPECTRE, Bond becomes the Bond, and the footnotes are mordantly hilarious:

When producer of the franchise, Cubby Broccoli, returned to Hollywood after WWII service, he became an agent (the other kind) instead of again taking up his former livelihood as a coffin salesman. The actor destined to carry the Bond forward in the film medium, Sean Connery, polished coffins to make a living before his breakthrough selection as the Scottish representative at the “Mr. Universe” contest of 1952.

Laurence A. Rickels

Laurence A. Rickels

SPECTRE almost alternates chapters, discussing Freudian and post-Freudian analysis, notably the work of Melanie Klein, her patients and case histories, then applies these to the Bond/Blofeld canon. Bond is reset between the dilemmas of Hamlet and Faust, with Blofeld as his suggestive, spectral nemesis. The existential threat to both the agent and the villain, and indeed to Fleming the author, is accidie: “the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes,” or a “certain lassitude of mind.” This accidie means that Blofeld has, of late—but wherefore he knows not—lost all his mirth. Fleming began writing Bond after retiring from his Navy Intelligence career and settling, not without anxiety, into married life, motivated at least in part by impending fatherhood. He became preoccupied with the Seven Deadly Sins, and he reserved special contempt for that which threatened him most urgently: “Of all of the seven, only Sloth in its extreme form of accidia, which is a form of spiritual suicide and a refusal of joy… has my wholehearted condemnation, perhaps because in moments of despair I have seen its face.” Fleming determined to combat this by writing himself into the Bond novels beginning in 1952, just as Bond’s future embodiment, Connery, was at his physical peak. The villain Blofeld embodies this Hamletian crisis and gloom:

There has developed in me a certain mental lameness, a disinterest in humanity and its future, an utter boredom with the affairs of mankind.

No, nor woman neither. Bond, caught in the Bond with Blofeld suffers this, also. We see it in his casual chauvinism, the suicidal and murdered wife in Thunderball, and the dead or abandoned girlfriends elsewhere. SPECTRE contains wonderful work on the “castration” of Felix Leiter, Bond’s sometime other half in Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger, and the queer aspects (often rendered camp) of the novels, and the notion of Bond as a heterosexual healer of homosexuality. Shudder…

In Fleming’s fiction, the special executive of SPECTRE exists in an ambivalent, anachronistic and absurd position, parallel to the threats of Nazism and the Cold War, just as Rickels’ runs parallel to the auspices of the academy and the pop culture and genre sophistication he revels in. Blofeld’s SPECTRE plots, in their silliness, are demonic camp; so much so that Bond can barely believe that such an organization exists. Just as Rickels couples with Blofeld, so he couples his postmodern riffs on psychoanalysis to SPECTRE. Therefore, this brief new book can be read precisely as one of Blofeld’s moves against Bond: as Special Executive, Rickels gives us Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. Psychoanalysis is spectral. James Bond is caught, not dangling over a shark tank, but regressing on the couch. “Cast out,” as he puts it, “of U.S. academic publishing like an older no-longer-cute pet” and too delightfully devious for Hollywood, Laurence Arthur Rickels now comes to us from a fantastic secret lair. For this, much credit must go to Anti-Oedipus Press in bringing—to mix my thrillers—one of our foremost spies in from the cold.

James Reich is author of Mistah Kurtz! A Prelude to Heart of Darkness (Anti-Oedipus Press, March 2016), Bombshell: A Novel (Soft Skull Press, April 2013) and I, Judas: A Novel (Soft Skull Press, Oct. 2011). His work has been published by The Rumpus, Salon.com, Sensitive Skin, International Times, The Nervous Breakdown, and others. www.jamesreichbooks.com More from this author →