However silly one may think the movies are, however pedantic one may find the books about them, however unworthy of academic study either of these may be, it is undeniable that there is a lot of content to chew through. It is a difficult task and James Bond and Philosophy does an admirable job attempting it. The book does, sadly, fall short on several occasions of having an acceptable level of proficiency with the material. Despite this grievous problem, more often than not the book does make salient points regarding James Bond and approaches the wondrous world of 007 from a fascinating set of angles.
Edited by James B. South and Jacob M. Held, this is part of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series by the publisher Open Court. This volume is divided into five sections of varying themes with two to four essays per section. The topics covered are: Bond, Existentialism, and Death; The Man Behind the Number; Bond, Politics, and Law; Knowledge and Technology; and Multiculturalism, Women, and a More Sensitive Bond. All in all, it’s a pretty broad range of topics, and the essays deal with both the films and novels.
Though I cannot speak to whether the philosophic ideas and theories attributed to various people throughout history are accurate in all the pieces in the work, I can state that, on multiple occasions, the facts surrounding James Bond are not quite as spot-on as one might hope. As a primary example, the second piece in the book, “How to Live (and How to Die)”, by Mahlete-Tsigé Getachew, contains an egregious error. It is impossible to determine whether this error is intended or simply the result of sloppy research. On page 27, the writer enters into discussion of how “M alludes to his agents as numbers. James Bond is always ‘007’ and never ‘Bond.'” Getachew then goes on to quote M in Goldeneye, “‘If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man to his death, you’re wrong… I don’t have any compunction about sending him to die.’”
It’s a good quote and absolutely helps prove Getachew’s points. The problem is that in the scene she quotes, M refers to James Bond as “Bond” not once, but twice. I cannot fathom what Getachew was thinking. Did she not watch the movie? Did she not even watch the whole scene in question? Perhaps she found the quote written up somewhere else and never bothered to actually see what it is that she was writing about.
Whatever the case may be, James Bond is referred to as “Bond” by M on multiple occasions, making the initial assertion a nonsensical one. The error might be forgivable if Getachew’s point was that in this movie, or in this sort of talk between M and Bond, he was always a number and never a person. That simply isn’t the case though. The fact that Bond is referred to as such by M twice in this scene calls the validity of Getachew’s entire piece into question. And, beyond that, one would have thought that the editors of the book would have engaged in a modicum of fact-checking and caught this incredibly egregious mistake.
Moving away from Getachew and on to other pieces, I was shocked when reading Dean A. Kowalski’s piece, “The Millennium Bond and Yin-Yang Chinese Cosmology.” Kowalski writes that Brosnan’s Bond, in reaction to Paris Carver dying in Tomorrow Never Dies, appears “visibly shaken” and that such a response is “an entirely new character wrinkle” (Page 225) for Bond. Kowalski also discusses in this paragraph Lazenby’s Bond losing his wife at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, by stating that the death of Paris is the first time Bond appears “visibly shaken,” Kowalski denies the emotional response of Lazenby's Bond (OHMSS being made well before Tomorrow Never Dies).
This is foolish, as certainly Lazenby’s Bond was incredibly shaken by the event, holding his now dead wife and telling her that it was okay and that they had “all the time in the world” at the film’s end. Why Kowalski finds Lazenby's Bond undisturbed by this turn of events and yet quite disturbed by the death of Paris (after which Bond merely proceeds to get drunk in his room, alone) is unclear. It is apparent that Kowalski is aware of the events at the end of OHMSS. But his dismissal of Bond’s distress over his wife's murder on their honeymoon is unfathomable.
There are several other inexplicable occurrences such as these in James Bond and Philosophy, but enough for picking on the book. Assuming that the authors’ interpretations of the philosophy involved is more accurate than their readings of the film, they raise some interesting points. In particular, I quite enjoyed Jerold J. Abrams piece, “The Epistemology of James Bond: The Logic of Abduction.” Not only does Abrams seem to have a good handle on the theory, but his analysis provides concrete examples within the Bond universe.
Outside of one or two small, questionable interpretations of From Russia With Love, Steven Zani’s “James Bond and Q: Heidegger’s Technology” is fascinating. As are some of the other works as well.
Mulling over James Bond and Philosophy as a whole, it is clear that while there are many fascinating ideas presented, the authors are not as proficient with the material in question as seems warranted. I have only provided a few small examples of some of the book’s shortcomings in this regard, but rest assured that multiple other ones exist. Knowing these shortcomings I still found the book a good read, even if not much could be garnered from it academically. In the end it’s a case where great ideas simply needed further research and fact-checking than seems to have been devoted to the work.