‘The Fate of the World Rests in Your Hands, 007’: Where Crisis and the Symbolic Order Come In (in the Spy Genre)

Emma Haigh

By the end of Casino Royale (1953), James Bond is confronted with a crisis of identity. Increasingly his perception of the symbolic order, society’s unwritten constitution represented by the government he serves, is failing. It is no longer something he can subscribe to, yet he is unable to articulate or properly make sense of why, nor can he imagine another order to which a sense of reality can be attributed. Bond’s experience as the anxious subject struggling against the higher power of authority is compounded by his position as an agent for the British Secret Service. Throughout Ian Fleming’s fourteen-book series, the dominating plotline is not that of an all-conquering superspy set to save Western civilisation, but that of a subject seeking reconciliation with a lost identity, a repressed self attempting to redefine his body and his subjective identity in terms of his role as assassin. In this paper, I turn to Lacan’s conception of the symbolic order, to examine the crisis of identity that erupts in James Bond at the imago [1] of Bond-as-machine. Faith in the symbolic order is traditionally what holds the spy-hero together; though intangible, it is what spurs the spy to action and what allows his actions to be justified. Yet, in the James Bond series, this order is a source of conflict and appears to be the very thing that causes Bond’s breakdown. Induced by Rene Mathis, this imago is a violent disruption to Bond’s experience of himself as a living, thinking subject, causing Bond to disconnect from the symbolic order he serves. Yet the spy genre is full of anxious subjects struggling to protect a symbolic order and convince themselves that the symbolic order is worth protecting. Fleming’s portrayal of James Bond is just one in a long history of anxious subjects in the spy genre. Here I first offer an examination of the symbolic order and look at two examples of how the relationship between it and the spy-hero and symbolic order developed. 


Symbolic order to a spy

Just as society has the government as their overarching representative of the symbolic order, and unconsciously expects it to maintain the tenets of that order on its behalf, Bond has his own reified agent of the symbolic order. A professional spy, with a licence to kill, Bond is part of the infrastructure that keeps the machine of the symbolic order that governs operating seamlessly. His job, as assassin-spy, is to disengage any threats to the machine before they cause disruption. More significantly, Bond’s job is to eradicate threats before they can be seen. If the symbolic order can be read as a giant living clock, Bond is both engineer and cosmetic surgeon, keeping it running smoothly. Yet the relationship is symbiotic. The machine holds up Bond as much as it feeds off him. It requires regular maintenance by the likes of Bond to keep ticking over; Bond needs it working in order to function as part of the society it encompasses. This symbiosis makes Bond as much a cog within the machine as a product of it.

While the symbolic order’s power is reliant on the unconscious adherence of its followers, what Lacan terms the big Other [2] provides an external structure of meaning: it exists as a coherent system of authority which acts as a yardstick against which to measure oneself [3].  Symbolically, it is made visible in government buildings, ministers, law enforcers, and most importantly for Bond, it exists in the guise of M, head of the elite double-0 section [4].  However, it nonetheless remains purely symbolic, even with the presence of these tangible structures in place. They are defined by the authority attributed to them, even while that authority is assigned rather than inherent. If the big Other compels belief by insisting it is believed, existing in the dialogue between society and those in positions of power within that society, what happens when that belief itself is shaken? This is precisely what happens to Bond. Once he sees that the authority of the big Other is essentially a fiction, his own being becomes an empty signifier.

The early years of the Cold War saw a wave of cynicism towards not just the representatives of the symbolic order, but the order itself. The spy genre evolves, shifting focus to reflect the changing times and troubles of each era. Just as with the decline of the British Empire and the First World War before it, so the tumult that resulted from the Second World War and the post-war period  was reflected in the psychic disposition of the era’s fictional spies [6].  The paranoia and suspicion that built up as the Cold War intensified translated in the genre as crises of conscience, identity and even loyalty within spy-heroes themselves. These heroes race to stay one step ahead of the game, simultaneously struggling to determine just who and what they are working for and/or against. Increasingly during this period, these protagonists shift from amateur, accidental heroes to professional, trained agents working covertly for politically and financially powerful organisations. Interestingly, the professionalisation of the fictional spy was a catalyst for changing the genre’s perceptions of authority and the Order that both symbolically and literally orchestrates operations.

Bond’s experience as an anxious subject can be seen as the logical progression in a genre with a history of productive anxiety. Situated within the dissemination of social paranoia and collective fears – of invasion, attack, infiltration by some powerful unknown other – the genre seeks to validate the symbolic order by setting it up against challenges over which it will always triumph. At the same time, spy fiction places the burden of responsibility in the hands of a single hero. This hero is not a restorer of the symbolic order, rather an invisible defender, who deflects and destroys threats on behalf of an unknowing society. While this validates the order itself, it also gives substance to the activities of the subjects operating within it.

However, Bond’s experience as an anxious subject, resulting from his position as government-sanctioned killer, is part of a movement within the genre that was no longer satisfied with actively supporting the mythical infallibility of the symbolic order. Rather, as the genre developed, its focus shifted towards an investigation of the manipulation and repression of the subject by a big Other that uses collective paranoia as a bargaining chip. Bond’s consternation with his role and the crisis it provokes sets him apart from his predecessors (professional and amateur), because it is not something faith alone in the symbolic order can resolve.

Symbolic order at work

The spy thriller first made its appearance in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Early works such as Secrets of the Foreign Office (Le Queux, 1901) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (Buchan, 1914) are steeped in the lingering paradigms of a gung-ho upright Victorian morality [7].  Nonetheless, their focus on the political world stage, Britain’s declining Empire and the influx of immigrants into Britain encompass the real post-Victorian fears of international instability. However, the primary preoccupation of these foundational works, and one that was the source of deep perturbation, is the increasing impotence of the ordinary individual [8].  These concerns encouraged a false nostalgia to develop within the burgeoning genre. There emerges a constant drive to return to the international supremacy and secured borders as perceived to be enjoyed by the Britain of the past. Thus, one of the most immediate projects of these formative novels was the validation and confirmation of the symbolic order supported by the narrative, by cementing the definition of Britain and Britishness, via the hero.

Early spy fiction, especially, seeks to re-establishes the position of the individual subject within a rapidly changing world by providing reassurances that the institutions in place are justified and work towards their better interest. This can be seen in G K Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), which sets out to prove the infallibility of the symbolic order by appearing to inflict on its protagonists, a collection of British secret agents, a radical but temporary disruption to their perception of it. They discover that the elusive Sunday, the leader of the Central Council of Anarchists, is the very man who sent them in to investigate the anarchist organisation from the start.

This revelation presents a frightening interruption to their belief in the symbolic order they seek to uphold, as it momentarily suggests that it is at its heart chaotic. However, overriding this is a profound sense of relief. The true ‘identity’ of Sunday is Order itself. In posing as the anarchist chief, the man who is Sunday at once confirms the uprightness inherent within the symbolic order he represents and emphasises the need to be constantly alert to those who threaten it in order to maintain it from subversion. At the same time, the ‘real’ anarchist revolutionaries are revealed to be an ineffective, insignificant threat compared to the might of the established order. This demonstration of superiority by the big Other, represented by Sunday, thus allows the agents to return to the safety of the established order, confident it cannot be meaningfully disrupted so long as there is someone assigned to protect it. Thus, this temporary breach of the order ultimately leads to its reinforcement. This device, which will become a staple of the genre, can be seen at work in an earlier, some say first true, example of the genre.

In Erskine Childers’s Riddle of the Sands (1903), Carruthers, a minor official in the Foreign Office, finds himself invited out to a yachting holiday in the Baltic Sea, by an old school friend, Davies. When Carruthers arrives, Davies reveals that he had been nearly wrecked after being lured into a shoal in rough weather by a German fellow yachtsman, Dollmann. This, along with the appearance of German naval boats and Dollmann’s interest in British defences, lead Davies to suspect that Dollmann is involved in something sinister. Convinced Dollmann is a spy, Davies deduces that, if they are to confirm his suspicions about the Germans’ activities, they themselves must spy on Dollmann. Though initially unconvinced, after witnessing the suspicious behaviour of Dollmann and his crew first-hand Carruthers concedes they have some need for conducting a bit of ‘independent research’ [9].  To bolster their story, they make it known in the small Friesian port where Dollmann is moored that they are taking in some late-season duck-hunting, which allows them some freedom of movement. Finally, Davies and Carruthers’s investigation find their suspicions confirmed: the coastal site is headquarters to a group of agents planning an invasion of Britain. Yet before they can escape and warn the Admiralty, Davies makes a shocking discovery: Dollmann is English.

That Dollmann is a traitor makes their own spying acceptable: ‘the man is an Englishman, and if he’s in Germany he’s a traitor to us, and we as Englishmen have a right to expose him. If we can’t do it without spying we’ve a right to spy, at our own risk.’ [10]  Even in a remote corner of the Baltic Sea, the presence of the higher authority of a big Other, the moral certitude of crown and country, brings justification and reassurance to their cause, and they actively strive to uphold the tenets of that authority. Despite Dollmann’s protestations that he is in fact working for the English inside Germany as a double agent, they determine to take him back to England where he will either prove to be right or hang as a traitor. His suicide on the return journey both confirms Davies and Carruthers’s assertions that he is up to no good and validates their work on behalf of the symbolic order. Even when their faith in their ability to get out of their predicament wavers under the strain, they are ultimately protected in the belief that the symbolic order is sound.

In finding themselves safe in the security of the symbolic order, these heroes serve as examiners as well as protectors of a society that will surely collapse without its constant maintenance. Their ability to rise to the occasion is vital to the security of everything they hold true. In this respect, these novels act to reconcile individual experience with ‘an increasingly reified and incomprehensible social order’. [11] They provide a link between how the symbolic order and the ordinary subject acting within it continues to be meaningful.

However, the symbolic order is made problematic by virtue of the fact that it is essentially a fiction. It is the entire framework of belief, providing of those operating within it a point of reference by which they exist. It is the rules the subject lives by and the values they would die for; yet that essential facet of being only exists insofar as the subject believes in it and their activities that sustain it.

Symbolic order is not enough

As the first half of the twentieth century waned, the ability to sustain the symbolic order through continuous activity becomes virtually impossible, until eventually action itself seems mired. In the aftermath of the Second World War, a shift takes place that would also have a lasting impact on the genre: the spy-hero becomes increasingly aware of his own insignificance as a subject dependent on a symbolic order, of the fragility of that order’s stability due to its symbolic nature, and of being orchestrated by the whims of a higher power. This is especially apparent in Peter Cheyney’s Dark Wanton (1948), which follows the post-war Secret Service chase for two documents, which hold the names of unknown war criminals.

Woven into myriad double-cross schemes, Dark Wanton offers a remarkable examination of the performance of the professional spy as a subject within a specific symbolic order, and the experience of performing. It cynically holds up the symbolic order as an illusion, while the individual subjects operating within it appear as little more than puppets. Each character plays their role, performing as they are expected rather than reacting naturally to situations.

The duplicity of the narrative and the contrivance of how each character is manoeuvred within it, down to the Hollywood-style dialogue, betray an increasing awareness of the false front of a symbolic order. The great game of open pretence is exposed as a perpetual double double-cross:

To think of what the other man is going to do. Even to allow for his thinking that you knew what he was going to do and then, deliberately, to allow for his doing the opposite. The double double-cross used a million times in the war by ‘double agents’ – those supreme beings who worked on two sides but gave loyalty to only one side. [12]

In the end, the relationship between each character and the symbolic order is itself a variant of the double double-cross. With everything already always directed, the artifice of the story is ever exposed, leaving the characters aware that the emptiness of the symbolic order makes attributing meaning to anything virtually impossible. Far from permanently validating the symbolic order, the professionalisation of the spy exposes him to the fragility of the system within which he is working. This inexorably enables him to question the tenets of that which he is supposed to uphold. It is in this shift that questions of subjectivity and identity really come under scrutiny. Once the subject recognises that the big Other is a fiction, everything else they believe in is called into question, including their own existence.

Enter imago

Thus, by the time we get to Bond, concerns over the authority of the big Other have already begun to be raised. As an agent working within a government organisation, Bond is actively sent out on missions by the very body that represents the symbolic order. His supra-legal actions – murder, subterfuge, vandalism – are government sanctioned; his xenophobia of the unknown other of the Eastern Bloc encouraged. Yet, while he begins Casino Royale buoyed by his staunch belief in the order he works for and within, as noted above, by the end the clear horizon of the symbolic order begins to cloud. After a conversation with fellow secret agent, and head of the Deuxieme Bureau [13],  Rene Mathis, Bond’s disconnection from the symbolic order is really initiated.

Bond has just come off assignment, objective achieved. Yet the success of his mission (the death of the gambling SMERSH [14]  treasurer, Le Chiffre) is less to do with him than it has to do with a SMERSH assassin. This fellow assassin interrupts Le Chiffre’s torture of Bond and effectively terminates his employment with a single shot, a ‘third eye’ ‘phutted’ delicately into the centre of Le Chiffre’s forehead [15].  Bond is allowed to live only because the SMERSH assassin has no orders to kill anyone but the traitor to his organisation. ‘SMERSH is only merciful by chance or mistake.’ [16]  If not for this unintentional display of amnesty, Bond would certainly be dead.

To ensure he never forgets, Bond is left with Щ, the Russian letter for SCH, signifying shpionam or ‘spy’, carved into the back of his hand. This mark is meant as a public, visible announcement of what Bond is. A surgeon covers the wound over with a skin graft, but Bond nonetheless remains branded. The slight shine left by new patch of skin serves as a constant reminder of his effective rescue by a figure who is simultaneously one of his own and one of the opposition. If that wasn’t bad enough, he discovers Vesper Lynd, the girl he has decided he is going to marry, has been doubling for the Russians. Unable to reconcile her feelings for Bond with her involvement in his capture and torture, she commits suicide.

During his convalescence, Bond reflects that the easy delineations between good and bad, hero and villain no longer apply; these once-clean points of reference that enabled him to move confidently within the symbolic order have begun to muddy. He admits to feelings of uneasiness with his role:

When one is young [...] it’s easy to pick out one’s own villains and heroes and one grows up wanting to be a hero and kill the villains. [...] When the hero Le Chiffre starts to kill the villain Bond, and the villain Bond knows he isn’t a villain at all, you start to see the other side of the medal. The villains and heroes get all mixed up. [17]

Though Bond could not have stopped it (he was strapped down into a seatless cane chair at the time), he is disturbed by Le Chiffre’s death. He had gone to stop Le Chiffre, certainly, but by draining his funds, not ending his life. Nonetheless, Bond cannot deny his participation in the events that led up to Le Chiffre’s death; he is an accomplice to the SMERSH assassin. Troubled by the clarity of the other side of the medal, Bond expresses his reservations at continuing his employment with the Service. ‘I’ve been thinking about things and I’m wondering whose side I ought to be on.’ [18] Mathis’s reaction is immediate:

Everyone has the revolver of resignation in his pocket. All you’ve got to do is pull the trigger and you will have made a big hole in your country and your conscience at the same time. A murder suicide with one bullet! [19]

Mathis’s comments are symptomatic of how the big Other acts to suppress Bond’s desire to examine his own subjectivity. He dismisses Bond’s philosophising and threatens him with the consequences of his resignation. Without Bond, his country – the order he defends – would collapse. Then he juvenilises Bond’s concerns:

Now about that little problem of yours, this business of not knowing good men from bad men and villains from heroes, and so forth. It is, of course, a difficult problem in the abstract. […] when you get back to London you will find there are other Le Chiffres seeking to destroy you and your friends and your country. M will tell you about them. […] You won’t wait to argue about it. [20]

By reducing them to ‘this little problem’, ‘this business of not knowing good men from bad men’, Mathis disparages Bond’s right to question or argue. He treats his response as self-evident, thus implying by default that Bond’s doubts aren’t worthy of the effort they took to utter.

Mathis is deeply motivated by his own interests in the security of the symbolic order of the Western world. His comments impart a resolute warning that identification with the opposition is not simply dangerous, it’s fatal. Identifying with the opposition humanises them; at the same time, it dehumanises you. Killing them becomes murder, while you become worth killing. For the professional assassin-spy, identification with the enemy would indeed be suicide. ‘Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.’ [21] However, for the continuing stability of the symbolic order, Bond’s resignation would be lethal. Thus, Mathis’s final words on the matter strive to assert the need to put the symbolic order before all else:

Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles. But don’t let me down by becoming human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine. [22]

The impact of this passage is doubly profound. On the one hand, it clearly speaks to the preservation of the symbolic order. On the other, this imago of Bond-as-machine operates in direct violation of Bond’s experience of himself as a living, thinking subject. The ‘wonderful machine’ is free of emotionality and desire; it embodies the purity of drive. It is neither affected by the ‘business of not knowing’ nor concerned with the consequences of ‘difficult problems in the abstract’, it merely meticulously acts and reacts, systematically and unquestioningly, as it is programmed.

Thus Bond’s crisis of identity is instigated, by a hysteric split between the ‘non-verbal substance’ [23] of the body on the one hand and the law of the symbolic order on the other. Mathis’s insistence on Bond remaining an ‘automaton’ creates a fissure between Bond’s experience of himself (pain-feeling, corporeal, emotional) and the symbolic order that demands he feel nothing.

Bond divided

This expectation places Bond in an interesting paradox in which the mind of the assassin and the body of the automaton threaten to come into conflict. As assassin, he must realign his preconceptions of certain activities in order to justify their necessity, thus placing himself outside the normal mechanisms of society. Professionally, he understands that ‘it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon. If it happened, it happened’. [24] As automaton, he must perform unthinkingly, superseding infringing desires. Yet he is frequently placed in situations in which he is the object of pain and torture. As the automaton, he can allow the ‘thinking, feeling apparatus’ of his body to dissociate sufficiently to keep just ‘enough contact to pull the strings that work the puppet’ [25] in moments of desperation. However, as Allen Hepburn notes, ‘Pain brings the spy’s body into being at the moment that pain threatens to eradicate the body once and for all’. [26] In order to serve the symbolic order, he must know he is living; in order to know he is living, he must be able to feel pain.

Bond already sees himself as straddling the border between life and death. The criminality of the special privileges granted to him as secret agent-cum-killer acts as the crossways between the symbolic order and that which threatens its stability. [27] Bond sets out to prove as much to himself as to his superiors that he is alive, that his experience as a living subject is real. Over the course of the series that follows, in order to expel the imago of the machine, Bond keeps to a trajectory of masochistic punishment, thus allowing himself to abject the machine in order to embrace the emotional body of his true subjective self.

Attempting to reconcile the desire for meaning with the need to establish the borders of identity in the face of the imago of Bond-as-machine, Bond seeks to purge the unrecognisable machine, abjecting it and embracing himself as an emotional living subject. In each assignment he is sent out on, each villain he faces, he forces himself to confront bodily pain. ‘Scream, scream, scream!’ he tells himself. ‘It helps the pain. It tells you you’re alive.’ [28] Throughout his encounters with Rosa Klebb’s poisoned knitting needles, [29] Dr No’s assault course, [30] hand-to-hand combat with a capungo on a Mexican street, [31] Ernst Blofeld’s suicide garden, [32] Scaramanga’s golden gun, [33] Bond screams, cries, vomits, sweats and bleeds. These unconscious, automatic bulimic expressions eject the pain until pain itself is the waste product of his living self. They act to purge Bond of the pain and traumas he suffers and to subconsciously let him know he is still alive. [34]

However, the inhumanity of the automaton is equally threatening to the stability of what is essentially a symbolic order for the living. The reinstatement of his subjective experience cannot rectify the divide the imago causes between Bond and the symbolic order. As an assassin working for the collective good of a specific symbolic order, Bond’s actions nonetheless expose the ‘fragility of the law’. His role itself forces him into the space between that which ‘exists on the other side of the border that separates out the living subject from that which threatens its extinction’. [35] In ‘The Living Daylights’, the last story published in the original 007 series, Bond finds himself wearied by what he sees as hypocrisy in the Double-0 section. Here, finally, Bond forces M into the dialectics of murder:

‘Where do I come in, sir?’ [...] Perversely, Bond wanted to force M to put it in black and white. This was going to be bad news, dirty news, and he didn’t want to hear it from one of the Section officers, or even from the Chief of Staff. This was to be murder. All right. Let M bloody well say so.

‘Where do you come in. 007?’ M looked coldly across the desk. […] ‘You know where you come in. You’ve got to kill this sniper. And you’ve got to kill him before he gets 272. That’s all. Is that understood?’ [36]

Bond struggles to rationalise M’s orders from a professional perspective: either the sniper lives, or 272 does. ‘It wasn’t exactly murder. Pretty near it, though’. [37] Sent out with the trite and uncompromising Captain Sender as his Second, ‘Bond’s spirits, already low, sank another degree’. [38] Bond spends two days pitted against Sender’s own repressed hero-envy of the Double-0, until in a moment of disgust Bond takes ownership of the duty he is expected to perform: ‘Look my friend. I’ve got to commit a murder tonight. Not you. Me.’ [39] Murder is to be committed without qualification, with him as executioner. The admission exposes the Service’s rhetoric – and what his participation within it really means. Perhaps because of this Bond disobeys his orders. He shifts his aim and fires at the sniper’s gunhand. The agent lives, but it is unlikely she will ever shoot again. Sender is furious and informs Bond his insubordination will be reported. However, Bond’s action has far deeper consequences than mere disobedience:

James Bond knew he could lie, knew he could fake a dozen reasons why. Instead he took a deep pull at the strong whiskey he had poured for himself, put the glass down and looked Captain Sender straight in the eye. […] ‘With any luck it’ll cost me my Double-0 number.’ [40]

Quantum of solace

In refusing to kill, Bond is refuting his own rights to the special privileges granted by his double-0 status, as well as the Service’s right to award them. In extracting himself from the Service, he is able to protect the symbolic order not by eradicating its threats, but by upholding its tenets; in so doing, he breaks the imago of Bond-as-machine and takes back his own identity.

Herein we find the nucleus of the problem that drives the genre: as amateurs, Davies and Carruthers must bend the rules in order to preserve them from those who seek to disrupt the symbolic order; as a professional, Bond is expected to shatter them. As an automaton, Bond would be able to ignore the moral dilemma associated with being an assassin working for the representatives of the symbolic order with mechanical ambivalence. However, it is this imago of Bond-as-machine that leads Bond to see the hypocrisy inherent in a Secret Service that claims to protect the symbolic order from those supra-legal activities that threaten its continuation, by employing them itself. Bond risks losing his own identity in the face of this wilful disregard of the symbolic order, and the reconciliation of his emotional body and his subjective self can only be achieved through his abjection of the Service. Ultimately, Bond chooses the symbolic order over the Service. Bond makes the conscious decision that, rather than the opposition, it is the Service that poses the threat to the symbolic order.

For the spies that follow him, this is problematic. For a start, many of his descendents acknowledge that it is only in breaking certain tenets of the symbolic order – through murder, deception, fraud – that its preservation is attainable. Further, many disagree that it is the Service, rather than the opposition, that pose the threat to that which they all seek to uphold. However, all will agree that the opposition does not just disappear after Bond makes his decision to cease fire – far from it. Instead, there is a seemingly unceasing stream of adverse parties that threaten the sanctity and longevity of the symbolic order, even as the Service appears to engage in similar activities on behalf of it. Thus, while Bond’s subjectivity is restored, his successors in the Cold War and beyond must continue to seek ways of reconciling their selves with the Service that threatens.



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Atkins, John, The British Spy Novel: Styles in Treachery, London: John Calder, 1984
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Cheyney, Peter, Dark Wanton, London: Collins, 1974 (1948)
Chesterton, G K, The Man Who Was Thursday, London: Penguin, 2007 (1908)
Childers, Erskine, Riddle of the Sands, London: Penguin, 1978 (1903)
Coles, Manning, They Tell No Tales, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965 (1940)
Creed, Barbara, ‘Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine’, The Dread of Difference, ed. Barry Keith Grant, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996
Denning, Michael, Cover Stories: Narrative and Ideology in the British Spy Thriller, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.
Fleming, Ian, Casino Royale, London: Pan Books Ltd, 1967 (1953)
------- Dr No, London: Penguin, 2002 (1958)
------- From Russia with Love, London: Penguin, 2002 (1957)
------- Goldfinger, London: Penguin, 2002 (1959)
------- The Man with the Golden Gun, London: Pan Books Ltd, 1967 (1965)
------- Octopussy, London: Pan Books Ltd, 1968 (1966)
------- You Only Live Twice, London: Pan Books Ltd, 1967 (1964)
Hepburn, Allan, Intrigue: Espionage and Culture, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005
Household, Geoffrey, Rogue Male, London: Chatto & Windus, 2002 (1939)
Hyde, H Montgomery, The Atom Bomb Spies, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980
Kristeva, Julia, ‘From Ithaca to New York’, Polylogue, Paris: Seuil, 1977, pp.495–515
------- The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987
------- Powers of Horror, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982
Lacan, Jacques, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink, New York: W W Norton & Company, 2006
------- The Seminars of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses, trans. Alan Sheridan, London: Routledge, 1981
------- The Seminars of Jacques Lacan, Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan, New York: W W Norton & Company, 1998
------- ‘Some Reflections on the Ego’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34 (1953)
McCracken, Scott, Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998
Oliver, Kelly, Subjectivity without Subjects: The Abject Father and the Desiring Mother, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998
Page, Bruce, David Leitch and Philip Knightley, Philby: The Spy Who Betrayed a Generation, London: André Deutsch, 1968
Žižek, Slavoj, For They Know Not What They Do, London: Verso, 1991
------- ‘In His Bold Gaze My Ruin Is Writ Large’, Everything You Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock), London: Verso, 2002






[1] The ‘imago’ is a sort of re-invocation of the experience of the image of the I in the mirror stage, from which the subject eventually is able to separate in order to become a fully individualised subject. See Jacques Lacan, The Seminars of Jacques Lacan, Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W W Norton & Company, 1998), and ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function’, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W W Norton & Company, 2006).

[2] See Jacques Lacan, The Seminars of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses (London: Routledge, 1981); Slavoj Žižek offers an excellent reading of the big Other in Chapter 6 of his text For They Know Not What They Do (London: Verso, 1991).

[3] It is both the ‘asubjective’ symbolic space which ‘regulates the play of intersubjectivity’ and that which is beyond the ‘wall of language’, i.e. it both provides, monitors and reinforces the rules of interaction, interpersonally and within society at large. Slavoj Žižek, ‘In His Bold Gaze My Ruin Is Writ Large’, Everything You Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (London: Verso, 2002), p.256.

[4] The double-0 section is the only section that allows the provision of select agents the licence to kill in the Secret Service. Bond has ‘the corpses of a Japanese cipher expert in New York and a Norwegian double agent in Stockholm to thank for being a Double-0’. Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (London: Pan Books Ltd, 1968 [1953]), p.64.

[5] The relative peace of the post-war period was shaken by such cultural disasters as the outing of Allan Nunn May (1946) and the Cambridge Five (particularly the very public defections of MacClean and Burgess in 1951). See H Montgomery Hyde, The Atom Bomb Spies (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980); Bruce Page, David Leitch and Philip Knightley, Philby: The Spy Who Betrayed a Generation (London: André Deutsch, 1968); Richard J Aldridge, Espionage, Security and Intelligence in Britain 1945–1970 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).

[6] Other spy-heroes of the period include Everard Quayle (Peter Cheyney’s Dark series 1942–1950), Tommy Hambledon (Manning Coles’s Tommy Hambledon Mysteries series, 1940–1956) and Simon Templar (Leslie Charteris’s long-running The Saint series, which spanned from 1928–1983).

[7] Michael Denning, Cover Stories: Narrative and Ideology in the British Spy Thriller (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987) Denning, p.31; Scott McCracken, Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998) p.42.

[8] Michael Denning examines this more thoroughly, citing the amateur spy as a modernist reaction against the impotent, ordinary individual. See Michael Denning, Cover Stories: Narrative and Ideology in the British Spy Thriller (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987).

[9] Erskine Childers, Riddle of the Sands (London: Penguin, 1978 [1903]), p.215.

[10]  Ibid., p.108.

[11] Denning, p.14.

[12] Peter Cheyney, Dark Wanton (London: Collins, 1974 [1948]), p.151–2

[13] The French equivalent of MI6.

[14] ‘SMERSH is short for SMYERT SHPIONAM – Death to Spies.’ SMERSH is the arm of the KGB that deals exclusively with spies, double-agents, counter-spies and the execution of traitors.

[15] Casino Royale, p.129–30

[16] Ibid., p.130

[17] Ibid., p.141.

[18] Ibid., p.143.

[19] Ibid., p.146.

[20] Ibid., p.147.


[21] Ian Fleming, Goldfinger (Penguin: London, 2002 [1959]) p.407.

[22] Casino Royale, p.147.

[23] Julia Kristeva, ‘From Ithaca to New York’, Polylogue (Paris: Seuil, 1977), pp.495–515. Kristeva’s discussion of ‘non-verbal substance’ is in reference to the demands and activities of the women’s movement within the symbolic order of the mid-1970s; however, her premise that the anxious ‘insurgent’ subject must necessarily speak within the discourse of the Law of the symbolic order, even as it aims to subvert it, is applicable here.

[24] Goldfinger, p.407.

[25] Ian Fleming, Dr. No, (Penguin: London, 2002 [1958]), p.379.

[26] Allan Hepburn, Intrigue: Espionage and Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), p.9.

[27] ‘Any crime, because it draws attention to the fragility of the law, is abject, but premeditated crime, cunning murder, hypocritical revenge are even more so because they heighten the display of such fragility. He who denies morality is not abject; there can be grandeur in amorality.’ Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia University Press: 1982), p.4.

[28] Dr No, p.367.

[29] From Russia with Love (Jonathan Cape: London, 1957).

[30] Dr No, 1958.

[31] Goldfinger; ‘A capungo is a bandit who will kill for as little as forty pesos, which is about twenty-five shillings – though probably he has been paid more to attempt the killing of Bond’ (Fleming, Goldfinger, p. 407).

[32] You Only Live Twice (Jonathan Cape: London, 1964). 

[33] The Man with the Golden Gun (Jonathan Cape: London, 1965.).

[34] Kelly Oliver’s Subjectivity without Subjects: The Abject Father and the Desiring Mother (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998 – ‘Since we cannot speak of the life of our own bodies, we become hysterics whose bodies speak for themselves in the painful codes of somatic symptoms’, p.146) and Julia Kristeva’s Power of Horror (‘During that course in which ‘I’ become, I give birth to myself amid the violence of sobs and vomit’, p.3) explore the somatic reaction to pain as a measure of subjective experience.

[35] Barbara Creed, ‘Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine’, The Dread of Difference, ed. Barry Keith Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), p.58.

[36] Ian Fleming, ‘The Living Daylights’, Octopussy (London: Pan Books Ltd, 1968 [1964]), p.100–101.

[37] Ibid., p.102.

[38] Ibid., p.104.

[39] Ibid., p.119.

[40] Ibid., p.123–124.



















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