WHAT AGATHA KNEW
Agatha Christie’s eightieth book, Passenger to Frankfurt – published in 1970 with the subtitle ‘an extravaganza’,
one of the few of her works with no movie or TV adaptation – is a novel that ‘slides from the unlikely to the
inconceivable and finally lands up in incomprehensible muddle. Prizes should be offered to readers who can explain
the ending. Concerns the youth uproar of the ’sixties, drugs, a new Aryan superman and so on, subjects of which
Christie’s grasp was, to say the least, uncertain.’1 However, this ‘incomprehensible muddle’ is not due to Christie’s
senility: its causes are clearly political. Passenger to Frankfurt is Christie’s most personal, intimately felt and at the
same time most political novel; it expresses her personal confusion, her feeling of being totally at a loss with what
was going on in the world in the late 1960s – drugs, sexual revolution, student protests, murders, etc. It is crucial to
note that this overwhelming feeling of confusion is formulated by an author whose speciality was detective novels,
stories about crime, stories about the darkest side of human nature. The deeper reason for her despair is the feeling
that, in the chaotic world of 1970, it was no longer possible to write detective novels that still presupposed a stable
society based on law and order, momentarily disturbed by crime but restored to order by the detective. In the society
of 1970, chaos and crime were rife, so no wonder Passenger to Frankfurt is not a detective novel: there is no
murder, no logic, no deduction. Christie’s sense of the collapse of the elementary cognitive mapping, her
overwhelming fear of chaos, is rendered clearly in her Introduction to the novel:
It is what the Press brings to you every day, served up in your morning paper under the general heading of News. Collect it from the front page.
What is going on in the world today? What is everyone saying, thinking, doing? Hold up a mirror to 1970 in England.
Look at that front page every day for a month, make notes, consider and classify.
Every day there is a killing.
A girl strangled.
Elderly woman attacked and robbed of her meagre savings.
Young men or boys – attacking or attacked.
Buildings and telephone kiosks smashed and gutted.
Drug smuggling.
Robbery and assault.
Children missing and children’s murdered bodies found not far from their homes.
Can this be England? Is England really like this? One feels – no – not yet, but it could be.
Fear is awakening – fear of what may be. Not so much because of actual happenings but because of the possible causes behind them. Some
known, some unknown, but felt. And not only in our own country. There are smaller paragraphs on other pages – giving news from Europe –
from Asia – from the Americas – Worldwide News.
Hi-jacking of planes.
Kidnapping.
Violence.
Riots.
Hate.
Anarchy – all growing stronger.
All seeming to lead to worship of destruction, pleasure in cruelty.
What does it all mean?
So what does all this mean? In the novel, Christie provides an answer; here is the storyline. On a flight home from
Malaya, Sir Stafford Nye, a bored diplomat, is approached in the passenger lounge at Frankfurt airport by a woman
whose life is in danger; to help her, he agrees to lend her his passport and boarding ticket. In this way, he
unwittingly gets caught up in an international intrigue from which the only escape is to outwit the power-crazed
Countess von Waldsausen, who wants to achieve world domination by manipulating and arming the planet’s youth.
This terrible worldwide conspiracy has something to do with Richard Wagner and ‘The Young Siegfried’. We learn
that, towards the end of the Second World War, Hitler went to a mental institution, met with a group of people who
thought they were Hitler, and exchanged places with one of them, thus surviving the war. He then escaped to
Argentina, where he married and had a son who was branded with a swastika on his heel: ‘The Young Siegfried’.
Meanwhile, in the present, drugs, promiscuity and student protests are all secretly caused by Nazi agitators who
want to bring about anarchy so that they can restore Nazi domination on a global scale.
This ‘terrible worldwide conspiracy’ is, of course, ideological fantasy at its purest: a weird condensation of the
fear of extreme Right and extreme Left. The least we can say in Christie’s favour is that she locates the heart of the
conspiracy in the extreme Right (neo-Nazis), not any of the other usual suspects (Communists, Jews, Muslims). The
idea that neo-Nazis were behind the ’68 student protests and the struggle for sexual liberation, with its obvious
madness, nonetheless bears witness to the disintegration of a consistent cognitive mapping of our predicament; the
fact that Christie is compelled to take refuge in such a crazy paranoiac construct indicates the utter confusion and
panic in which she found herself. The picture of our society she paints is simply confused, out of touch with reality
(incidentally, although to a much lesser extent, the same goes for the strangest of John le Carré’s novels, A Small
Town in Germany, which is set in a similar situation). But is her vision really too crazy to be taken seriously? Is our
era, with ‘leaders’ like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, not as crazy as her vision? Are we today not all like a
bunch of passengers to Frankfurt? Our situation is messy in a way that is very similar to the one described by
Christie: we have a Rightist government enforcing workers’ rights (in Poland), a Leftist government pursuing the
strictest austerity politics (in Greece). No wonder that, in order to regain a minimal cognitive mapping, Christie
resorts to the Second World War, ‘the last good war’, retranslating our mess into its coordinates.
One should nonetheless note how the very form of Christie’s denouement (one big Nazi plot behind it all)
strangely mirrors the fascist idea of the Jewish conspiracy. Today, the extreme populist Right proposes a similar
explanation of the Muslim immigrant ‘threat’. In the anti-Semitic imagination, the ‘Jew’ is the invisible Master who
secretly pulls the strings – which is precisely why Muslim immigrants are not today’s Jews: they are all too visible,
not invisible, they are clearly not integrated into our society, and nobody claims they secretly pull any strings. If one
sees in their ‘invasion of Europe’ a secret plot, then Jews have to be behind it – as was suggested in an article that
recently appeared in one of the main Slovene Rightist weekly journals, which read: ‘George Soros is one of the most
depraved and dangerous people of our time,’ responsible for ‘the invasion of the negroid and Semitic hordes and
thereby for the twilight of the EU … as a typical talmudo-Zionist, he is a deadly enemy of Western civilization,
nation state and white, European man.’ His goal is to build a ‘rainbow coalition composed of social marginals like
faggots, feminists, Muslims and work-hating cultural Marxists’, which would then perform ‘a deconstruction of the
nation state, and transform the EU into a multicultural dystopia of the United States of Europe’. Furthermore, Soros
is inconsistent in his promotion of multiculturalism:
He promotes it exclusively in Europe and the USA, while in the case of Israel, he, in a way which is for me totally justified, agrees with its
monoculturalism, latent racism and building of a wall. In contrast to EU and USA, he also does not demand that Israel open its borders and
accept ‘refugees’. A hypocrisy proper to Talmudo-Zionism.2
Is this disgusting fantasy, which brings together anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, so different from that contrived
by Christie? Are they both not a desperate attempt to orient oneself in confused times? The extreme oscillations in
public perception of the Korean crisis are significant as such. One week we are told that we are on the brink of
nuclear war, then there is seven days’ respite, then the war threat explodes again. When I visited Seoul in August
2017, my friends there told me there was no serious threat of a war since the North Korean regime knows it could
not survive it, now that the South Korean authorities are preparing the population for a nuclear war. Not long ago
our media was reporting on the increasingly ridiculous exchange of insults between Kim Jong-un and Donald
Trump. The irony was that, in a situation where two apparently immature men are getting angry and hurling insults
at each other, our only hope is for some anonymous and invisible institutional constraint to prevent their rage from
exploding into full war. Usually we tend to complain that in today’s alienated and bureaucratized politics,
institutional pressures and constraints prevent politicians from expressing their real point of view; now we hope that
such constraints will prevent the expression of all-too-crazy personal visions. How did we reach this point?

L I K E   A   T H I E F   I N     B R O A D    D AY L I G H T, Slavoj Žižek

 

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