Joseph Conrad Among the Anarchists: Nineteenth Century Terrorism and The Secret Agent

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The fear of violent attacks by bomb-throwing anarchists and radicals gripped Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Clip: Plotting an act of terror. You must enable JavaScript to play content.


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    Playing favourites: How do you pick Scotland's best book? View Playing favourites: How do you pick Scotland's best book? The fiction reflects back on an era when immigration and asylum were acute public concerns, in conjunction with political extremism. Britain occupied a uniquely liberal position at the time, as the one country among international powers steadfastly upholding a near-absolute right of asylum for foreign revolutionaries — at least until the Aliens Act was passed.

    As such, the reasons for its popularity today seem clear. The political emphasis in both the novel and the series is on the diplomatic intrigue of engineering terror — a provocative suggestion that terrorism originates in high politics rather than revolutionary plots, and remains unfathomable to the public eye.

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    The Anarchists, a film that took Cannes by storm last year, takes a kinder view of anarchists. They are portrayed as romantic revolutionaries rather than threats. The film is located in Paris another anarchist hub at the time , a decade after The Secret Agent but in the same golden age of pre anarchist activism.

    It is another tale of police infiltration with disastrous consequences, albeit of the sentimental kind. Young police agent Jean infiltrates a group of illegalist anarchists — proponents of illegal acts as a form of political propaganda — whom he inevitably grows close to, before duty forces him to betray them.

    Anarchist Studies

    While the recreation of 19th century anarchism is occasionally a little formulaic, the evocation of anarchism as a timeless youthful romantic rebellion is quite convincing, underlined by the use of contemporary music. The same can be said of Nocturama , a film with a far darker diagnosis and prognosis.

    The film centres on a multi-site attack in Paris by a group of youngsters, who then go into hiding for the night in a luxurious department store. One character is seen wearing an Anonymous-style mask. The film levels its harshest critique at consumerism, as the characters wander and wallow all night amid the tantalising but meaningless fashion, food, toys and tech of the Samaritaine store.


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    • It conveys a true sense of impending disaster, backed by its prescient character — written in , it was filmed in , between the January Charlie Hebdo killings and the November mass attacks. Nocturama is naturally the most disturbing, because it is so aesthetically seductive and presents us with a society doomed to self-destruction without the retrospective distance afforded by historical drama.

      They continue a long tradition of fictionalising anarchism to refract a state of profound anxiety over international politics, terrorism, migration, left-wing activism and their root causes. Screen music and the question of originality - Miguel Mera — London, Islington.

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