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Some comic notes on the private life

Fraud or force must win. Curiosity favors fraud. Spy stories require it. The old have no other recourse. But once you start killing, can you stop? Fraud blurs the distinction between man & woman; force sharpens it. The young man who plays cop & stands for morality is emphatically manly. His deceptious superior he kills, because she’s a woman.

The old only fight against the city, against the order imposed by the laws, when they learn that laws change as well as men. This is the tragic deception of the laws: How could the laws always be right if they change? If the laws of war are replaced by the laws of peace after victory, only the men of peace benefit from the laws.

Ironically, our illusions about spies are aroused by the suspicion that they can do whatever they want, the laws be damned. Old, retired spies may appear comic, because their lives are not quite dangerous, unlike the lives of real spies. Perhaps opposing spy to bureaucrat, an older world to a newer – suggesting that the former is the young, not the latter – comedy emphasizes that private courage is indispensible for our pursuing our happiness. Spies do not play by the rules; bureaucrats do not play to win. Life lived under rules presumably is finally unsatisfactory.

Our protagonist falls in love over the telephone – he knows not with whom. Apparently, some speeches can induce the feeling in suitable audiences. But he must know more or less with what he is in love, or else he could never recognize her. This new awareness of his needs gives meaning to his newfound private life. The woman is also something of a lover, as her sentimental education seems to have spiced common life with romance a l’americaine, with a happy end. Both spying & romance are illegal, or at least indecent, so they go together; they both fit comedy, because they speak about something at which we would blush, or at any rate, color.

The other love story takes place between spies. In their youth, she had to shoot him: She was American, it was the Cold War, he was Russian. But she did not kill him, because she loved him. Comparatively, love is now easy; certainly, harshness & murder are no longer necessary. Reunited in their old age, they become sentimental & ridiculous. He has to save her, which is very old fashioned, fierce as she is. He likes to court her; she laughs at him, but does not refuse him. He calls her ridiculous pet names, which shows both possession & tenderness. She allows him to strut & to make himself useful, rehearsing romance.