Junk Bond

19 Jul

“Consider vodka, the distilled beverage that characterizes the peculiar tastes of the filmic Bond, if less famously (and less consistently) those of his novelistic prototype. Colorless, flavorless, and odorless, distilled from a variety of starches, Russia’s quintessential little water produced throughout the world, vodka is the most common liquor in cocktails, whether sweet or dry, high-class or common, sipped slowly or taken in gulps. Vodka, then, as a thing in itself, is a kind of ontological blank, which, according to Mr. Boston, ‘will graciously assume the characteristics of whatever it is mixed with’ (p. 129). In these signature cocktails, vodka, it appears, performs primarily secret service. But, unlike blended scotches or whiskeys, vodka’s versatility comes from its simplicity and consistency. The blankness that constitutes it is not just nothing, but a placeholder for the something—the anything—vodka is capable of becoming. To formulate an identity theory of vodka, then: it is nothing, and that nothingness constitutes its thingness.

“The garnishes and mixers it merges with in the martini, greyhound, gibson, gimlet, screwdriver, cosmo, bloody mary, Russians (black and white), collinses and the v and t, seem to disguise it, making vodka the bartender’s analogue to the many villains Bond himself encounters: Le Chiffre, the cipher, without character but for his idiosyncratic and overdetermined consumption of art nouveau furniture alongside antique credenzas and a servile cane carpet-beater; Dr. No, mixed and without origin, his name, like Le Chiffre’s, suggesting a blank at the center of his identity; Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the mind behind the omnipresent, mercenary, ghostly SPECTRE, apparently capable of physical shape-shifting and vocal transmutations that make him adaptable to every criminal situation he encounters, though he his incapable of tracing his lineage beyond his paternal great-grandfather’s generation. Like vodka, these spectral villains do not travel under their own names; indeed, they are known less by name and more by a series of effects they are capable of producing.”

— Craig N. Owens, “The Bond Market”, in Edward P. Comentale, Stephen Watt and Skip Willman (eds), Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005), pp. 107-8.

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