So I want to start a new series of book recommendations, based on titles that I think complement each other. Putting Sigmund Freud with James Bond might seem like an odd choice, but Fleming tells us directly to read Bond with Freud in mind in The Man with the Golden Gun.
I wrote about queering James Bond several years ago, and I still stand by my thinking in that post. As for my copy of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality , it got a pretty thorough workout during my university years, and while it’s definitely problematic, it’s also a great place to start understanding how our view of sexual behaviour morphed from focusing on acts into identities.
Today most of us have a pretty good idea what we think Freud’s philosophy was. Oedipus, absent mothers, and phalluses everywhere. But the Three Essays are interesting in part because Freud wasn’t set on his theories when he wrote them. He revised the first (1905) edition four times over the next two decades. It wasn’t until the later editions that terms like “castration complex” and “penis envy” even appeared. The work itself shows the development of sexology as a science, and our growing understanding of psychology as it relates to both innate and learned behaviour.
Fleming was certainly familiar with Freud by the time his final Bond novel was written in the early 1960s. Indeed as readers we’re instructed to view Scaramanga, the villain of The Man with the Golden Gun, through a very Freudian lens from the off. Scaramanga is described in terms of fetish and phallic obsession centred around his gun, and of being fussy and effete in his habits.
These comparisons are made more striking by the fact Scaramanga could be Bond. The two characters have similar habits and mannerisms, the same attachment to particular weapons (Scaramanga’s ostentatious golden weapon, Bond’s beloved Beretta, which M eventually forces him to surrender), and similar oral fixations.
As well as writing about sexuality, Freud dabbled in literary criticism with an essay on The Uncanny. Starting as an analysis of The Sandman by E. T. A. Hoffmann, which deals with childhood trauma, blindness, and automatons (and is itself heavily influenced by Freudian thinking), Freud concludes that true otherness begins with ourselves: that what we find uncanny in life is a reflection of what we have already lost.
For Freud, it’s repetition that is truly uncanny. Repetition “forces upon us the idea of something fateful and unescapable where otherwise we should have spoken of ‘chance’ only,” and one such repetitive harbinger of fate is the doppelgänger.
I love doppelgänger theory. In Victorian literature they were shorthand harbingers of death (such as in the erotic novel Teleny), and the concept of an evil twin or identical stranger has long roots in folklore and fiction.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, it’s hard to escape the fact that Scaramanga is Bond’s doppelgänger. Throughout Fleming’s canon Bond has wrestled with his conscience, and in Scaramanga he finds the man he fears he might become: an unrepentant killer. He is simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by Scaramanga, and finds himself at several moments with the opportunity, but not the will, to kill him.
Bond’s fixation with his soul is a recurring theme in Fleming’s novels, as he struggles to reconcile making a living through murder with being a good person. He believes himself dehumanised, a weapon or tool wielded by other men for their own ends. In Bond’s mind, he is the automaton, the uncanny, Scaramanga’s doppelgänger. It’s fitting that at the end of the novel, he fulfils his role as harbinger of death.
Bond doesn’t escape unscathed from the encounter. Scaramanga almost kills him in return, and it is during his recovery that he concludes he’ll never marry again. For Bond, marriage has been tied up in his idea of his own humanity, his ability to love and give himself freely. In concluding the series, was Fleming hinting at a deeper truth about Bond’s attachment to the charismatic hitman he was sent to kill, or confirming his greatest fear, that he is less than human?
Reading the Bond books through the lens of Freudian thinking opens up an interesting array of questions, from insights into Bond’s psyche and sexuality, to the most fundamental nature of who (or what) he is. I don’t know that there are any definitive answers to be found, but I do enjoy the puzzle. Hopefully you will too!