Locke, Freud, Tinker, Tailor

Norman O. Brown opens his Love’s Body (1966) talking of liberty: “Liberty means equality among the brothers (sons)….” One problem immediately apparent to Brown is that if the sons rebel against the father, overthrowing the absolute monarch, because there are many sons, but there can be only one monarch, and who would assume the throne must either cultivate the father’s wishes or dump the brothers, both options against liberty, then there is no father, and “without a father there can be no sons or brothers.” Locke, for Brown, solves the problem in Two Treatises of Civil Government by disallowing earthly fathers: “Thus the defense of sonship turns into the discovery of another father, the ‘real’ father; and the real question in politics is Jesus’ question, Who is my father?”

For no matter what the sons do, everything still belongs to the father: “As fraternal organization covertly assumes a father, ego-organization covertly assumes a super-ego.” Enter the double-agent, whose genesis is the inability to solve the mystery of the father, as John Le Carre explains in his 1991 introduction to his 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which might have been sub-titled The Brothers: “But what very few people managed to understand,” Le Carre says, “was the pushme-pullyou nature of the double-agent’s trade.” The plot-solving question involves what is good for the double-agent, who must give something of value to both fathers.

What’s the motive for the mole’s behavior? Social class structure and father conflicts, Le Carre gives us. The double-agent Haydon’s motive is alienation attributed to class conflict and a difficult father. As an explanation, this seems inadequate. But there it is, the schoolboy vocabulary and antics of boys’ clubs being worked out in the adult world, where already, in 1991, Le Carre is saying “It is odd, in these altered days, to discover that Tinker Tailor’s already an historical novel….” Yes, but, what has been solved, after the mystery is solved, if the solution is recursive, a recirculation?

“We were new boys together,” Bill Roach (nickname Jumbo) overhears Jim Prideaux (nickname Rhino) explaining the nickname to the on-site parents. But the gun was not a dream of Jumbo’s, and Tinker and the others are nicknames for adults working out their childhood issues in an adult plot of boys’ club conflicts. And the novel ends on Jumbo getting a new father, an old spy.