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mr loftus

What is your wilderness? I have my own.
It has no boundaries, but shifts its grey
And crumbling landscapes through my skull,
Shuffles them, while I stand, and stirs the dark
Air that I breathe.
Oh, you innocents! You nonentities,
Caught up in the illusion that to move
Your bodies to and fro is to be alive.
How have you added to the sum of things?
The brooding images
That haunt my fatuous hours have sharper focus
Than anything you see with daylight lenses.
If you could see what I see, you would find
The world too vivid, too extraordinary,
To be endured. It is not easy
To blind the brain, and pull the curtains down
Across the vision. No. It is not easy
To ignore the stories that are being told
Moment by moment by a torn sleeve,
By a tilt of the hat, or the humped shoulder,
Of the delicate suffering at one's elbow.
Oh God! The endless, generous profligacy
Of every sliding second. There's no end
The invention is so rapid, various, profluent.
Another and another, each one in the weird wake
Of something vaster.

- Mervyn Peake, 'Mr Loftus' (1950s)

Another of Peake's previously unpublished plays, 'Mr Loftus' is now available in its entirety from the invaluable Peake Studies, Vol. 14, no 1 (pdf).

Like an Oblomov in a London attic apartment, Mr Loftus, also referred to as the Earl of Mattress, spends his days in disdainful idleness. Visitors are welcomed with a warning to "Keep further off; you smell of activity." And when Loftus scolds his faithful servant for not having woken him, the servant explains: "I tried. One has to dig for you, sir. Awaking you is like some dreadful deed in a bone yard."

If this sounds like vintage Peake, 'Mr Loftus' indeed contains some delightfully weird dialogue and occasional flashes of "the ice-green light of zoneless poems". After the introduction of its eponymous hero, however, the plot is rather disappointing, especially besides his much more savage play 'The Cave'.

Both plays share the theme of the artist who places himself outside of conventional society, but where 'The Cave' put this tension to dramatic use, and in service of a philosophical search for ultimate truth, in 'Mr Loftus' the intentions of its slothful hero never really become clear. Except when it is said of him that:

He's vaster than any of us.
We do our best within a little field;
He does nothing in a great wilderness.


Made after his masterpiece 'Playtime', 'Trafic' (1971) is usually regarded as a lesser Tati. This still means classic and inimitable comedy, but besides the film is a fascinating document of the troubled (and ultimately failed) collaboration between two masters of visual comedy, Jacques Tati and Bert Haanstra.

After 'Playtime' had financially ruined Tati, his next project needed foreign partners. Tati and Haanstra already knew each other - Haanstra's 'Zoo' had been screened alongside Tati's 'Jour de Fête' - and they decided to co-produce and co-direct 'Trafic'. Not surprisingly, this case of two captains on one ship - and large-egoed ones at that - was doomed to fail, and after initial shooting Haanstra left the project.

The final film, however, still clearly shows Haanstra's contribution, creating a unique blend of Tati's dramatic and Haanstra's documentary visual humor.

Trafic - 1

'Trafic' picks up exactly where 'Playtime' left off: with automobiles. This time Monsieur Hulot is involved in transporting a camping car from Paris to an auto show at the RAI in Amsterdam. The camping car is at least as cleverly designed as the futuristic house in 'Mon Oncle', but transported on an old lorry and accompanied by M. Hulot, it will take most of the film and endless breakdowns and chaos along the way for it to reach Amsterdam.

After the increasingly abstracted world inhabited by M. Hulot, culminating in the unrecognizable glass and steel Paris of 'Playtime', 'Trafic' takes place in a much more realistic and less stylized world - probably due partly to Haanstra's influence and partly to budget restraints. Much of the story takes place on the road between Paris and Amsterdam, in garages en route and around the RAI, while in Amsterdam there are even glimpses of hippie culture.

Trafic - 2

The film is at its best satirizing the epidemic car culture which in the early '70s was already causing choked roads and chagrined drivers. Here Haanstra's contribution shows in a documentary sequence of car driver behavior - a kind of 'Zoo' in a traffic jam. Another highlight contributed by Haanstra is an early scene in the RAI, with the show's organizers walking around in the empty exhibition hall stepping over invisible wires.

For Tati, of course, making fun of cars was part of a broader critique of modern civilization, which replaced organic life with clinical, mechanical organization, or in Ellul's term, with technique. Here 'Trafic' falls somewhat short - especially compared to 'Playtime' - despite its title, which in French refers primarily not to traffic but to the exchange of goods.

Trafic - 3

Perhaps the film articulates this overarching theme best in its parody of the emerging self-importance of public relations, with a hasty, over-efficient American PR lady causing much of the havoc on the road, before letting her hair down and accepting the organic chaos of M. Hulot's world.

In Tati's ultimately melancholic conclusion of human relations becoming increasingly mechanized, this is his optimistic note: at least one PR soul has been saved.

For Dutch speakers, the Tati-Haanstra collaboration is recounted in detail in this chapter from a Haanstra biography.

And here's a great collection of 'Trafic' posters.

letters from holland

Only a few years after Aldous Huxley wrote about his travels in Holland, Czech writer Karel Čapek devoted a whole book to the country: 'Letters from Holland' ('Obrázky z Holandska', 1932), part of a series of European travel books he wrote in the 1920's and '30's.

Čapek's keen-eyed and charming observations of the Dutch landscape, people and bicycles are welcomely laidback after Huxley's Euclidean allegory, though both travelers remark on many similar Dutch features and customs. Here, for instance, is Čapek's description of this "nation on bicycles" and the effect it has on the national character - an early example of psychogeography.

Karel Čapek - Letters from Holland - 1
And then those bicycles. I have seen various things in my time, but never have I seen so many bicycles as for instance, in Amsterdam; they are no mere bicycles, but a sort of collective entity; shoals, droves, colonies of bicycles, which rather suggest the teeming of bacteria or the swarming of infusoria or the eddying of flies. The best part of it is when a policeman holds up the stream of bicycles to let pedestrians get across the street, and then magnanimously leaves the road open for more; a regular swarm of cyclists dashes forward, headed by a number of speed champions, and away they pedal, with the queer unanimity of dancing gnats.
I saw nuns on bicycles and farmers on bicycles leading cows. People eat snacks on bicycles and take their children and their dogs for rides on bicycles, and courting couples go pedalling along, arm in arm, on bicycles, towards a blissful future; a nation on bicycles, in fact. When the bicycle has become a national habit to such an extent as that, we may well consider what effect it is likely to have on the national character. Personally I should say that:
  1. A man on a bicycle gets used to looking after himself and not getting mixed up with somebody else's bicycle.
  2. He waits for his opportunity and starts pedalling away the instant he gets the tiniest ration of elbow-room.
  3. He goes dashing along without having to exert himself overmuch, and without making the least fuss about it.
  4. Even when he sometimes rides in pairs or in a crowd, a man on a bicycle is more isolated and self-centred than a pedestrian.
  5. A bicycle brings about a kind of equality and uniformity among people.
  6. It teaches them to rely on the force of inertia.
  7. And it fosters in them a sense of peace and quietness, such as is associated with cotton-wool.

(Not sure about the cotton-wool, but #5 especially would seem to be deeply engrained in the Dutch character.)

However, the real highlight of the book are Čapek's illustrations - simple, almost doodle-like sketches that manage to capture the essence of his subjects in a mildly satirical way. Note, for instance, how almost all his Dutch landscapes are symmetrical, either vertically or horizontally, or both.

Karel Čapek - Letters from Holland - 2

Karel Čapek - Letters from Holland - 3

Karel Čapek - Letters from Holland - 4

Vertically, because it struck him how "the Dutch built their towns of houses and water chiefly because in that way they could produce two towns at a single blow, so to speak: one on top and the other mirrored in the water." And horizontally - with even the omnipresent bicyclists choreographed symmetrically along the straight roads - to emphasize the tidy and ordered strips of land and water.

For one thing, these renowned polders are unusually rectilinear; when the Dutchman set about producing his land, he did so in a properly human manner, that is, with the aid of a foot rule, just as when planks are sawn up. Crooked is the history of man but rectilinear are his works.
Karel Čapek - Letters from Holland - 5

Karel Čapek - Letters from Holland - 6

The only thing Čapek doesn't sketch is the Dutch light - he apologizes for it explicitly - as "it is so pure and transparent that you can see every outline and detail to the very edge of the world". Paradoxically, his line drawings, eliminating all detail to keep only essence, work very well to convey the glass-like clarity of the Dutch landscape.

travel advice


Travel advice ('Reisadvies') at the train station...


I see an adder and, a yard away,
a butterfly being gorgeous. I switch the radio
from tortures in foreign prisons
to a sonata of Schubert (that foreigner).
I crawl from the swamp of nightmare into
a glittering rainfall, a swathing of sunlight.

Noticing you can do nothing about.
It's the balancing that shakes my mind.

What my friends don't notice
is the weight of joy in my right hand
and the weight of sadness in my left.
All they see is MacCaig being upright,
easy-oasy and jocose.

I had a difficulty in being friendly
to the Lord, who gave us these burdens,
so I returned him to other people
and totter without help
among his careless inventions.

- Norman MacCaig

John Fowles used the two pivotal lines from this poem as a motto for his essay 'The Nature of Nature'. MacCaig's poetry, with its beautiful and deceptively simple evocations of the Scottish landscape and wildlife, indeed makes for a natural ally in Fowles' argument for appreciation of nature.

But MacCaig's natural observations are never simply that - he is no naive nature poet but decidedly modern - and a central theme in his work is the act of observation itself. Many of his poems explore the problematic relationship of the conscious 'I' with the natural world surrounding it, where the 'I' might attempt to merely "notice" - impassionately, Zen-like - but inevitably consciousness intrudes - "balancing", analyzing, judging.

Another way of putting this would be that his poetry wrestles with the pathetic fallacy, which he both mocked and self-consciously employed ("being gorgeous"), but ultimately couldn't escape altogether because 'pure', objective observation doesn't exist. It always comes back to the observer, even if, as in one of his best-known poems ('A Man in My Position'), this is explicitly flagged as a problematic notion.

Hear my words carefully.
Some are spoken
not by me, but
by a man in my position.

In 'Equilibrist' (1980) observation is only the starting point for a more complex ethical balancing act, which the poet performs, crucially, without the traditional pole (to stay with the metaphor) of religion. MacCaig used to call himself a Zen Calvinist, half in jest and half, perhaps, as shorthand for the kind of crypto-atheist balancing he describes here. On the one hand rejecting a personal, emotional God in favor of meditation on an impersonal universe, while on the other still existing "among his careless inventions".

They only take up the first four lines, but already these inventions are of a bewildering variety - from adder to butterfly, from torture to sonata - and thus grouped together it's no wonder they should shake the narrator's mind.

One contrast is between the natural phenomena which exist immediately, here and now, and the human doings which arrive as sounds from far away in place and time. Should these be weighed equally, or should their distance and mediated presence somehow be taken into account? (A familiar question in our age of globalization, which forces us to constantly balance distressing facts from around the world against our immediate environment, safely behind our screens.)

Next, the radio offers the full spectrum from beastly to heavenly human activities, and again the question arises how, or if at all, such things can be weighed against each other. And then MacCaig describes their effect (or only the music's?) on him in natural terms - swamp, rainfall, sunlight - in a kind of reverse pathetic fallacy: imbuing human artifacts with natural objectivity.

And finally there is the contrast between the outer and inner equilibrist, balanced and tottering.

For more on MacCaig, the documentary 'Norman MacCaig: A Man in My Position' (1977) offers a great portrait of the poet, interviewing him both in Edinburgh and out rambling in Assynt, where you suspect he's had a wee dram.

the nature of nature

In one of his last essays, 'The Nature of Nature' (1995), John Fowles returned to the theme of 'The Tree', the importance of nature in his life and work, as well as for all humanity, to remind them of their own nature.

Fowles recommends reading this "tangled nest of memories and thoughts" in association with 'The Tree', and this indeed makes his dense, free-flowing prose easier to follow. For he covers a lot of ground here, ranging from a re-evaluation of 'The Two Cultures' debate - the hostility between science and the humanities, and between what he calls the two modes of knowing and feeling - to a discussion of the cosmic forces he sees as governing our existence: sideros, keraunos, eleutheria, or "iron necessity, lightning hazard, freedom". (Familiar concepts for readers of 'The Magus', whose working title was 'The Godgame'.)

But central, again, is his attempt to put into words the value of nature, which ultimately lies in the fact that it has no value - and hence might be regarded as a very subtle form of the pathetic fallacy.

As in 'The Tree', Fowles realizes all too well that analysis of his subject threatens to annihilate it, somewhat like the act of observation in quantum physics. Or as Virginia Woolf summed up the problem in her novel 'Orlando':

Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.

In spite of this, and defiantly so, a highlight of the essay is his description of "beingness, existingness", of the essential equivalence of nature and our own nature. It represents the culmination of a patient, wandering exploration - of nature, in letters - started in 'The Tree'. Describing a period of convalescence after a stroke, Fowles writes:

What has struck me about the acutely rich sensation of beingness is how fleeting is its apprehension. It's almost as transient, as fugitive, as some particles in atomic physics: the more you would capture it, the less likely that you will. It refuses all attempts at willed or conscious evocation, it is deaf to pure intelligence alone, it envelops you in a double or twinned feeling. One is of intense nowness, the other of realizing that you (oneself) alone, in your individuality, are infinitely fortunate to experience it, perhaps in nothing so much as its seeming to fall from something whole and unindividual on your separateness. It is being, being, being ... a perpetual miracle, so vivid and vital that ordinarily we cannot bear it; always rare enough to be a shock, no similes or metaphors can convey it; like a sudden nakedness, a knowing of oneself laid bare before a different reality.

(Note the frequency of paradox - "no similes... like", "perpetual... rare", "envelops... nakedness", "a feeling... a knowing" - which is perhaps the best defense letters can mount against being torn to pieces...)

'The Nature of Nature' can be found in the essay collection 'Wormholes'. It is also included in some editions of 'The Tree'.

the tree

...an experience whose deepest value lies in the fact that it cannot be directly described by any art... including that of words.

In his long essay 'The Tree' (1979), John Fowles attempts to describe something for which by his own admission he has no words: his experience of nature, of wilderness, and specifically of woods and trees. It is a sensory experience that can't be reduced to anything else, or reproduced in images or words. It only exists in the immediacy of the experience, always more than the sum of its perceived parts. It might be compared to the experience of art, both for the artist and the audience, though as Fowles notes, art is made, it is an artefact, while nature remakes itself continuously, fleetingly and impossible to capture in artefact.

In contrast to this kind of experience stands our modern, and in Fowles' view overly dominant habit of definition, classification and scientific explanation. Everything must have its use and purpose - while the essence of nature, and of art, lies precisely in its uselessness. Fowles takes this a step further by stating that in our modern world man, too, must have his use and purpose, even if the deepest - and most confusing - experience of being human is more akin to the "green chaos" of a wood.

It's certainly a relevant theme in an age that has made economic utility a supreme virtue, and which finds lovers of both nature and art at a loss to defend the value of the 'useless'. Fowles develops timeless arguments against this trend, making 'The Tree' a thoughtful manifesto for the intrinsic value of nature and wilderness.

Fowles is best known for his novels, including 'The Collector' (1963), 'The Magus' (1966) and 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (1969), which have been characterized as the link between Thomas Hardy and David Mitchell. But when it comes to the role of nature and landscape in his work, he seems to be closer to the 19th than 21st century English novelists. In 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', for instance, the lush jungle of the Undercliff at Lyme Regis, where Fowles long had his home, plays a crucial role as a sanctuary for tightly corseted Victorians. The stark and cruel landscape of a Greek island in 'The Magus' is equally important in evoking a mythical atmosphere for its trickster plot.

'The Tree' culminates in a description of the mysterious Wistman's Wood, hidden in a valley of the barren Dartmoor, with its strange, twisted, moss-draped dwarf oaks. These fairytalish trees also aptly symbolize 'The Tree' itself, where Fowles doesn't proceed linearly but his prose is searching, tentative and patiently exploring an environment that shrugs off interpretation. Of woods he writes:

Nowhere are the two great contemporary modes of reproducing reality, the word and the camera, more at a loss; less able to capture the sound (or soundlessness) and the scents, the temperatures and moods, the all-roundness, the different levels of being in the vertical ascent from ground to tree-top, in the range of different forms of life and the subtlety of their inter-relationships. In a way woods are like the sea, sensorially far too various and immense for anything but surfaces or glimpses to be captured. They defeat view-finder, drawing-paper, canvas, they cannot be framed; and words are as futile, hopelessly too laborious and used to capture reality.

Along the way Fowles discusses many other trees, both autobiographical - like his father's closely pruned fruit trees and the neatly classified garden of Carl Linnaeus - and cultural, drawing from the woods in English mythology and folklore and tracing the development of natural, realistic representation in painting. And he uses woods as a metaphor for the creative, meaning-producing processes that take place in our subconscious minds, and which writers and artists attempt to report on.

Anticipating his later essay 'The Nature of Nature' (1995), where he would revisit the dichotomy between science and nature, knowing and feeling, words and experience, Fowles describes what is both the experience of nature and the nature of experience.

There is something in the nature of nature, in its presentness, its seeming transience, its creative ferment and hidden potential, that corresponds very closely with the wild, or green man, in our psyches; and it is a something that disappears as soon as it is relegated to an automatic pastness, a status of merely classifiable thing, image taken then. 'Thing' and 'then' attract each other. If it is a thing, it was then; if it was then, it is a thing. We lack trust in the present, this moment, this actual seeing, because our culture tells us to trust only the reported back, the publicly framed, the edited, the thing set in the clearly artistic or the clearly scientific angle of perspective.

This notion of our "trust(ing) only the reported back" curiously fits our current age of media saturation and vicarious screen experiences. In fact, one area where this preoccupation with "the publicly framed" reveals itself is in nature, which these days tends to include signs, or screens, identifying it as nature and explaining its uniqueness. And of course many of its visitors can be seen carrying a small screen to guide their every step.

But as Fowles reminds us, this habit of reducing everything to a "merely classifiable thing" - conveniently shrunk to fit on our screens - makes us imperceptive of the unclassifiable immediacy of nature.

One of the deepest lessons we have to learn is that nature, of its nature, resists this. It waits to be seen otherwise, in its individual presentness and from our individual presentness.

loophole for all

If you ever need to do some offshoring - and as homo calculus inc. you know you'd better - 'Loophole for All' by Italian artist Paolo Cirio makes this available as a cheap, easy and pretty much legal service.

Loophole for All is a service to democratize offshore business for people who don't want to pay for their riches. It empowers everyone to evade taxes, hide money and debt, and get away with anything by stealing the identities of real offshore companies.

As in earlier projects, Cirio throws light on one of the more pernicious problems of our time by hijacking a failing system, following its globalized, neoliberal logic ad absurdum.

In this case, multinational companies paying little or no taxes by using elaborate offshore constructions (along with, say, a double Irish with a Dutch sandwich) are the root cause of many current problems, including starved governments, improbable politics and growing inequality, both in developing and developed countries. Ultimately, its unfairness - and seeming insolubility - can be viewed as a symptom of liquid modernity and the rapid evaporation of power from nation states into the global unaccountable cloud.

Anyway, here are '10 reasons we should tax corporations', some more reasons and a sensible solution. The 'Loophole for All' website also collects a wealth of info and statistics.

'Loophole for All' is part of 'The Value of Nothing' at Tent, Rotterdam.

views of holland

In 'Along the Road' (1925) a young Aldous Huxley collected 'Notes and Essays of a Tourist', which contains a rather charming description of a visit to the lowlands.

Overall, his arm's-length irony (the book's opening chapter is on 'Why Not Stay at Home?') prevented him from describing much in the way of real travel experiences, expounding instead on the art treasures he finds on his class-prescribed Italian tour. But in an unexpected detour Huxley offers his 'Views of Holland', whose sheer flatness inspires him to great metaphysical heights.

A tour in Holland is like a tour through the first books of Euclid. Over a country that is the ideal plane surface of the geometry books, the roads and the canals trace out the shortest distances between point and point. In the interminable polders, the road-topped dykes and gleaming ditches intersect one another at right angles, a criss-cross of perfect parallels. Each rectangle of juicy meadowland contained between the intersecting dykes has identically the same area. Five kilometres long, three deep -- the figures record themselves on the clock face of the cyclometer. Five by three by -- how many? The demon of calculation possesses the mind.


And all the time, as one advances the huge geometrical landscape spreads out on either side of the car like an opening fan. Along the level sky-line a score of windmills wave their arms like dancers in a geometrical ballet. Ineluctably, the laws of perspective lead away the long roads and shining waters to a misty vanishing point. Here and there -- mere real irrelevancies in the midst of this ideal plain -- a few black and white cows out of a picture by Cuyp browse indefatigably in the lush green grass or, remembering Paul Potter, mirror themselves like so many ruminating Narcissi, in the waters of a canal. Sometimes one passes a few human beings, deplorably out of place, but doing their best, generally, to make up for their ungeometrical appearance by mounting bicycles. The circular wheels suggest a variety of new theorems and a new task for the demon of calculation.


Delightful landscape! I know of no country that it is more mentally exhilarating to travel in. No wonder Descartes preferred the Dutch to any other scene. It is the rationalist's paradise. One feels as one flies along in the teeth of one's own forty-mile-an-hour wind like a Cartesian Encyclopaedist -- flushed with mental intoxication, convinced that Euclid is absolute reality, that God is a mathematician, that the universe is a simple affair that can be explained in terms of physics and mechanics, that all men are equally endowed with reason and that it is only a question of putting the right arguments before them to make them see the error of their ways and to inaugurate the reign of justice and common sense. Those were noble and touching dreams, commendable inebriations! We are soberer now. We have learnt that nothing is simple and rational except what we ourselves have invented; that God thinks neither in terms of Euclid nor of Riemann; that science has 'explained' nothing; that the more we know the more fantastic the world becomes and the profounder the surrounding darkness; that reason is unequally distributed; that instinct is the sole source of action; that prejudice is incomparably stronger than argument and that even in the twentieth century men behave as they did in the caves of Altamira and in the lake dwellings of Glastonbury. And symbolically one makes the same discoveries in Holland. For the polders are not unending, nor all the canals straight, nor every house a wedded cube and pyramid, nor even the fundamental plane surface invariably plane. That delightful 'Last Ride Together' feeling that fills one, as one rolls along the brick-topped dykes between the canals is deceptive. The present is not eternal; the 'Last Ride' through plane geometry comes to a sudden end -- in a town, in forests, in the sea coast, in a winding river or great estuary.

He goes on to trace his tour of Rotterdam, "crowded with the traffic of a metropolis", The Hague, Delft, Haarlem, Hoorn, Volendam, Amsterdam with its "enormous courtesans" and "trick cyclists", the dunes of Schoorl like miniature Alps, and what he nominates as "the grandest sight in non-geometrical Holland": Zaandam.

In the streets are men in wooden shoes, smoking. Dogs drawing carts with brass pots in them. Innumerable bicycles. It is the real and not the ideal geometrical Holland, crowded, confusing, various, odd, charming.... But I sighed as we entered the town. The 'Last Ride Together' was over; the dear paralogisms of rationalism were left behind.

(Huxley, who mentions elsewhere that he travels in a Citroën, but nowhere names his travel companion, surely doesn't intend to invoke that other interpretation of Browning's exhilirating poem.)

'Along the Road' is all but unreadable online, so best go back to an old Chatto & Windus edition with an appropriately musty highbrow air.

Update: Here's a readable version of the full chapter, 'Views of Holland' (pdf). I'm not sure this is public domain yet, so should be taken as a preview.

a most wanted man

It's no more than fitting that most reviews of 'A Most Wanted Man', Anton Corbijn's slow-burning adaptation of John le Carré's novel, have centered on Philip Seymour Hoffman's swan song performance as a dogged, whisky-fueled German spy in a world where the rules have changed, or rather been thrown out.

However, arguably the film's greatest strength, faithfully transposed from the 2008 book, is the way it delivers its scathing political message purely through its plot. It is a masterful demonstration of 'show don't tell', embodied in the film by Hoffman's role as Günther Bachmann.

A Most Wanted Man - 1

Warning: book & film spoilers ahead.

In the panicky post-9/11 spy world - especially in Hamburg, where the attacks were partly hatched - Bachmann's patient, follow-the-money efforts to infiltrate a global terrorist network are deemed old-fashioned. His German superiors, with the Americans breathing down their neck, demand quick and spectacular results, and the whole intricate story builds up to a collision between Bachmann's long view and the American need for action.

As Le Carré synopsized in retrospect:

Bachmann’s self-devised mission is to put the score straight: not by way of snatch teams, waterboards and extrajudicial killings, but by the artful penetration of spies, by espousal, by using the enemy’s own weight to bring him down, and the consequent disarming of jihadism from within.

But times have changed. When the clash comes, in an explosive final scene, its dramatic effect is as thwartingly disillusioning for Bachmann as it is for the audience - like a chess game whose every careful move we've followed, suddenly destroyed by a tantrum-throwing toddler.

A Most Wanted Man - 2

The film then ends on a prolonged stunned silence, leaving the audience to conclude that this was not how chess is played, with collateral damage clearing the entire board. (Or more melancholy, that Bachmann and his fishing game had simply become outdated, his classic tradecraft an anachronism, which would make 'A Most Wanted Man' as much Le Carré's swan song as Hoffman's.)

But Le Carré's novel carried more political punch, as damning of modern state power as his earlier 'The Constant Gardener' was of corporate power.

At the very end of the book he permitted himself a short epilogue voicing what has happened. It is the only time the political dimension is made explicit, beyond the suggestion that the American intervention was just bad tradecraft.

'Where have you taken him?' Bachmann asked.
'Abdullah? Who gives a shit? Some hole in the desert, for all I know. Justice has been rendered, man. We can all go home.'
'Rendered?' [Bachmann] repeated stupidly. 'What's rendered? What justice are you talking about?'
'American justice, asshole. Whose do you think? Justice from the fucking hip, man. No-crap justice, that kind of justice! Justice with no fucking lawyers around to pervert the course. Have you never heard of extraordinary rendition? Time you Krauts had a word for it.'

Even if the film omitted this exchange, its culture shock is there, in subtext, and in Bachmann's final outburst of furious frustration.