I have little to add to the arguments already cited here. Evidently there is a difference to how works of art depict their time and how we react to that depiction in our time. We can hardly expect from Fleming to be cognisant of how later generations would view his work; how could he? All we can and should ask of him, of any writer, is to paint as true a picture as he’s able to.
Our part then is to digest that work, ponder its significance - or lack of - and define our own position relative to the contents. We’re not condoning or accusing by mere reading, we do that in our reaction to the lecture. Every time we read a book we position ourselves again.
It’s of course entirely possible for a racist to read Fleming with glowing feelings of warm affection for the depiction of any number of people and nations. But people who do so come with the steadfast intention to enjoy their own snivelling complexes and hysterics justified by another voice. Fleming doesn’t invite them nor does he glorify his own. You need not agree with his or Bond’s views to enjoy the tale. Try that with a real pamphlet, anything from the current mob of racists, and you will easily see the difference.
Finally, what would not printing Live and Let Die any more achieve? Would there be one criminal in office less because of it? Or one victim less of racism? It would come down to a fairly inconsequential gesture that helps nobody and achieves nothing.
What then is the difference to, say, toppling statues? Is there a difference at all?
I think yes; though I think it may be a surprising one.
What we witness is not so much a ‘revolution’ as a reassessment. An acknowledgment that, in spite of all the huzza and glory, writing history is a process that’s not finished as such. And can sometimes take unexpected turns.
When historians come up with the thesis that Churchill was a racist that’s less of a zinger than the furious backlash from the right. Because nothing really new was presented and the verdict would perhaps not even have surprised Churchill himself - even if he wouldn’t have included it in the history books he planned to write himself. The important thing is, it still doesn’t put him on the same page as Hitler and that’s probably all Churchill would have cared about.
Immense riches were earned with the lives of millions by the slave traders and owners. The victims were treated as property, as chattel. And from there it’s only a small step to treat humans as cattle. These things do not happen isolated from everything else, they resonate with each other, reverberate to and fro in our lives. And the statues that are toppling these days, the real statues and the imaginary ones, fall because they glorify a deeply inhumane, amoral injustice.
But does that actually help a single victim today?
Maybe not today. But depending on how people proceed from there it may help preventing countless victims of racism in the future.
Here are two recently published articles that partially touch on our topic, the monuments of the past and how we react to them in our time: