As suggested in the previous entry, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent is a far more modern and relevant book than any of his others. His understanding of evil, ‘chaos theory’, terrorism, agendas, madness, and anarchy are second-to-none among the great novelists most people in our society no longer, ironically, need.
In his time, ‘blowing up’ science was the choice for the power-monger/games-players to get attention and to instill fear into society. (There had also been an unsuccessful actual attempt to blow up Greenwich Observatory in Conrad’s day.) Greenwich, in the author’s time, had also just been chosen as the primal meridian for mean time and, as such, was laden with positive, successful connotations about what modern man or science then could do or was capable of.
Today, of course, we see this kind of terrorism in cyberthugs taking down e- and Internet systems as well as corporations, stores, and banking, who have figured out that people today have placed absolute faith in online security systems and that major chaos and disruption will occur if the cyberthugs choose. The wanna-be-powerful-and-controlling (These agendas all come down to mad gaining-power-and-controlling-others types of agendas) kook who tried to “take the (Canadian) hill” two days ago anarchist demonstrates one other modern Terminator-style manifestation of Conrad’s agent provocateur.
The third type of modern secret agent is the typical Al-Qaeda/ISIS nutcase who, like the previous two modern types, believes he has the ultimate truth and religious righteousness on his side and so he will exterminate anyone else who is different from him. As Auden said in “There Shall Be No Peace”, these bigots ultimately “hate for hate’s sake”, much like the central character of The Professor in Conrad’s book, who walks the streets of late Victorian London, wearing dynamite with his hand clutching a squeeze ball to blow himself and others up to smithereens if and when he feels like it.
Running through Conrad’s book is an underlying sense of sordidness, absurdity, imminent chaos, and sheer madness about his time, modern times, human beings, and those who would disrupt and annihilate Western civilization if they could (or as in the case of the Parliament killer) if they could be king or PM.
I think maybe the best aspect of Conrad’s book is how it was and still is a relevant wake-up call as to the nature of how serious all these problems potentially are. Many of us blithely live our lives dreamily or relatively unconscious about forces that threaten the stability of society, culture, and Western civilization. We are largely unaware of the depths, range, and nature of the destructiveness embedded within our midst and world.
In a parallel way, there has always been people trying to sell others, trying to impose their will on others. You need look no further than the past century of advertising and selling to find close-to-home examples we now take for granted in our lives. Politicians, too, have long tried to gain control and power over masses of people. Most divorces, separations, and child custody fights are about the same struggle, domestically-speaking. As are lawsuits in which one party or side tries to gain control over an individual or others. In other words, the power-and-control theme or script is already well-known to all, and a common motif in our world.
In response to the Parliament killing, Canada has taken a position of uniting and standing up against the irrational, mad savages. This is, it goes without saying, a very good, rational, and necessary thing. This is war stuff after all. Us vs. them. Ironically, this is the one and only thing we can agree on and reasonably/minimally do, as individuals, against the forces of the irrational evil so presciently forecast and understood by a writer, who understood man’s potential and real heart of darkness perhaps better than any other writer since.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”–Pogo (famous newspaper comic character by Walt Kelly)
ps/William Golding, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell would be three other writers who show us the same kind of agenda-ed power-and-control stuff.