I heard a fascinating interview this morning on NPR with Robert Harris, author of "Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome." You can listen to it online here. Harris talks about his new book, Imperium, which is a work of historical fiction set amidst the developing Empire in Rome. Most fascinating was the historical research that Harris discussed. Did you know that one of the key events in the fall of the Republic was a pirate attack against the Roman port of Ostia? These stateless groups had the gaul (no pun intended!) to do what no organized state could and attack Rome right at its heart. The smoke rising from the flaming port of Ostia could be seen from the hills of Rome. Roman citizens, shocked that they could be attacked right at the heart of their realm, were easy pickings for opportunistic politicians. Records suggest that one speach actually included the phrase (in the context of convincint other nations to assist in combating the threat from pirates) "either you are with us or you are our enemy." General Pompey exploited this environment of fear to ram through the Senate new laws essentially stripping the populace of many of their substantive rights and paving the way to Empire. By the time Julius Caesar gained power (asserting dictatorial powers to save the Republic for the people, despite the common assumption to the contrary), momentum was too great to reverse the slide to Empire.
Harris also talks about the historical importance of the study of the Fall of the Roman Republic from the perspective of the leadership of the British Empire at its zenith. Which brings me to something of a tangent: James Bond. Ian Flemming's famous spy was, essentially, a literary reaction to the decline of the British Empire (Query: what was the cultural/literary/spiritual reaction to the fall of the Roman Empire, or the transition from Republic to Empire?? Christianity?). James Bond was someone who's very existence countered the gathering impotence of Britania. And after the Suez Crisis, when it was blatantly clear to all that the British Empire was not merely teetering on the brink, but that it was actively spiraling downward, Flemming's plots became more and more unbelievably fantastical. Bond was no longer merely assisting Britain and confirming her equal status amidst Russia and the US (as the early plots suggested), but rather Bond was singlehandedly saving the world from megalomaniacal villains intent on world domination.
As long as I'm committed in this post to a rambling style, let's back up and I'll explain why Bond has special meaning in my life. It has nothing to do with my background in Intelligence, because Bond was, in reality, so much more than that--Bond was a walking, Wagerian leitmotif, but more on that later. Bond is important to me because most of my Summers as a child were spent with my Grandparents in Berlin. Afternoon thunderstorms, a frequent event, would leave my Grandfather smoking and playing chess in the glassed-in veranda overlooking the garden, and my brother and me laying on the floor in their living room watching old James Bond movies dubbed into German (which neither of us spoke well enough to follow the dialogue). Bond movies can effectively communicate so much about these deeper themes when you strip away the dialogue. Take, for example, the comparative role of Bond and the respective SuperVillain. Robert Anton Wilson takes the side of the supervillain, arguing that this much maligned Bond character is really trying to advance society and bring about progressive change, while Bond is only interested in maintaining an essentially Victorian world order. Take the villain from Thunderball, for example, with his private estate "Palmyra" in the Bahamas. It's worth noting that Palmyra was an ancient trading city in Syria that collapsed amid the breadown of Pax Romana, and is also the picture at the top of this blog. I think that Flemming (and perhaps more important, the Director Albert "Cubby" Broccoli in the production of the movie series) unwittingly set up Bond Villains as collapse theorists--though generally Roddenberry-esque technotopians.
There is something very Jungian at work here. Who is the real hero? How does this dynamic change now that the Bond-archetype no longer exists to address the failings of one empire with regards to other empires, but rather to address the failings of empire with regards to rhizome (Bond has always addressed non-state or quasi-state actors, but in the past this has been within a conflict of empires context, and now it is within a hierarchy vs. rhizome context of the "war on terror). Specifically, take the current Bond movie "Casino Royale." I thought it was outstanding, and I think that Daniel Craig was excellent. Bond is a Jungian Jihad seeking the resurection of the Victorian-era "Caliphate" of the British Empire. In this context, Bond is the leitmotif introducing the theme of structural struggle, and it is interesting to watch how its developmet mirrors our cultural consciousness in general.
Terrorism, Pirates, Ancient Rome, the British Empire, James Bond, Supervillains. It doesn't get much better than this. Talk amongst yourselves...