Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is an “epochal novel.” It announces the inception of a new epoch at a decisive historical moment: on March 15, 1954, US National Security Council Directive 5412 came into force. NSC 5412 more or less coincided with the onset of the Cold War and made a political imperative of the absolute deniability of covert actions. It thereby ushered in a specifically modern form of innocence. Greene’s novel is about an early version of that innocence. Modern innocence conceals the “principle of implosion” according to which ferocious opposites reverse into one another. Greene gives us his own version of implosion, the collapse of any private moral space putatively valorizable apart from global antagonisms. Modern innocence might seem principally identifiable with the Cold War era. However, Orwell’s analysis of doublethink gives the concept larger scope, as do Le Carré’s masterful analyses of its persistence in post-1997 British culture.
“ALL PROPAGATED WITH THE BEST Intentions”: Greene, THE Us, AND INDOCHINA 1951–1955
ANDREW GIBSON IS RESEARCH PROFESSOR OF MODERN LITERATURE AND THEORY AT ROYAL HOLLOWAY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, AND SEGAL PROFESSOR OF IRISH LITERATURE AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY (2008). HIS BOOKS INCLUDE JOYCE’S REVENGE (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2002), JAMES JOYCE (REAKTION, 2006), AND BECKETT AND BADIOU (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2006). CURRENT PROJECTS INCLUDE INTERMITTENCY: AN ANTI-SCHEMATICS OF HISTORICAL REASON (EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS).