Saturday 21 October 2017

The Ipcress File: a textual and critical analysis

Publicity photo from this iconic film of the book The Ipcress File

I'm pleased to share with you a long, detailed and thoroughly interestingly article by retired academic Dr Robert Lance Snyder, from the University of West Georgia in the USA. I was alerted to Dr Snyder's academic interest in The Ipcress File by Jeff Quest of the Spywrite website. A big thanks to Jeff for making the connection between the Dossier and Dr Snyder.

Dr Snyder's written a new contribution (downloadable in .pdf format, if you wish) for the website Connotations: A journal for critical debate. Titled "An Unparelled Plethora of Idiocy: Len Deighton's Political Skepticism [sic] in The Ipcress File", it's a lengthy, well researched and readable article which places the book (and subsequently, the film) in the context of the Cold War political era of the time, and identifies in Deighton's approach to the text the author's animus towards both "the inanity of Western capitalism" and "the vacuous rhetoric of communist socialism." It's serious analysis, highlighting how Len Deighton, like John Le Carré and Ian Fleming and a number of other spy fiction authors have earned their place as legitimate subjects of academic discourse, because of the impact on popular culture and the literary zeitgeist of their works.

Dr Snyder makes a very telling point in describing how The Ipcress File's success is down in large part to Deighton's readiness - planned or otherwise - to depart from the conventional certainties of the spy thriller genre and replace them with ambiguity and doubt about, frankly, who the bad guys are. Written in a modern academic textual analysis style, this article is worth reading as it does provide some new perspectives on a very familiar book.

Here's a short extract looking at the famous brainwashing set-piece in the novel:
"What exactly are we to make of this climactic scene and particularly Jay’s speech in light of his equivocal views regarding brainwashing? I. dismisses the declamation as mere rigmarole and equates it to the jazz vocalist’s “unparalleled plethora of idiocy” heard on the radio, but the peroration’s illocutionary effect, as already suggested, allows Deighton to acknowledge the “licensed selfishness” of Western capitalist culture. In terms of The Ipcress File’s plot, the antagonist’s monologue is meant to draw “the English patriot” out and convince him that they can transcend the ideological divide of their age by not choosing sides, thereby avoiding interpellation as subjects. Intuitively, however, the narrator appears to recognize how specious is this pitch by a practiced opportunist. 
He also understands that Jay’s readiness to extol brainwashing, or “thought reform” (302), as “the greatest step forward of the century” aligns him with the perpetrators of what prominent Cold War psychologist Joost A. M. Meerloo, no doubt influenced by the dystopian vision of Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), termed menticide."
Do share your reactions in the comments below.