Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What does 'Quantum of Solace' mean?

"The Governor had presented Bond with a theory concerning love, betrayal and cruelty between marriage partners. Calling it the 'quantum of solace,' the governor believed that the amount of comfort on which love and friendship is based could be measured. Unless there is a certain degree of humanity existing between two people, he maintained, there can be no love. It was an adage Bond had accepted as a universal truth."

High Time to Kill, Raymond Benson

The other day, I received this comment on my post 'What does Quantum of Solace mean?'
"Sorry. I still don't understand, "What does Quantum of Solace mean?" Can you give a simply synonymic phrase? It's too difficult for me to translate into another language. Thanks"
The truth is, it's not exactly an easy concept to explain. Ian Fleming, who originated the phrase in a short story from 'For Your Eyes Only,' was prone to occasional philosophical musings and the 'Quantum of Solace' was both his most memorable and mysterious.

But in my arrogance, I am going to attempt to explain it.

Empathy between people is measurable. The 'quantum of solace' is the smallest measurable iota of consideration you have for another person. Unless you have that 'quantum of solace' for somebody - as in, that smallest scrap of consideration and empathy for them and their feelings - you lack the capacity to love or befriend them.

I'll give a real-life example: A girl who was in an open relationship with an older guy (by open relationship, I mean 'friends with benefits' - as in, they occasionally hung out together and might occasionally sleep together.)

She liked him; as a friend and possibly even as a lover. She would drop last minute plans to see him if he called. She'd pick him up from the bar when he was too drunk to drive home. She wrote him emails. She brought him Chinese takeout when he'd got home from work. She didn't want to be his 'boyfriend,' exactly. She just made an effort because she liked him.

He liked her, too. Maybe. If he did, at least, he never seemed to show it. He just couldn't really be bothered. He'd cancel plans with her at the last minute. He'd sleep with other people and expect her to listen to his romantic laments - even while they shared a post-coital cigarette. He was the kind of guy who'd 'forget' to pick her up at the airport, even though he'd promised to. If she broke down at midnight, he'd ignore her call, roll over and go back to sleep.

In many ways, their relationship proved another Ian Fleming maxim: "In love, there is always one partner who kisses; and another who offers the cheek."

As in, there's always one partner who makes the effort, and the other who'll let them make the effort.

He was with her merely because it was convenient. She was generous to a fault, she was easy to get along with, she was fun and non-judgmental. She was always doing kind things for him, without expecting anything in return - and when there wasn't anybody else around, she was available to go to bed with him.

Yet the mismatched balance of their relationship wasn't sustainable. Eventually, after months of feeling unappreciated and exploited, this girl decided enough was enough. She was going to end their 'friendship' because she made all the effort and received no consideration in return.

He ignored her. He took her for granted. He made her feel like she was entirely inconsequential to his existence. That 'quantum of solace' - the small part of him which acknowledged and was considerate of her feelings - no longer existed. She felt like if she walked out his life forever, he probably wouldn't even notice.

And then he did something entirely unexpected. He made her a mixtape of U2 songs - the ones they'd listened to when they'd gone to a concert together (she'd got free tickets and given them to him.)

The fact that he'd sat down for twenty minutes and made that tape for her - not for anybody else, and in remembrance of something they'd done together - was enough to rekindle their relationship and she abandoned plans on walking out of his life.

The 'friends with benefits' relationship continued. He continued being a shit to her. Their mismatched relationship continued and he never stopped making her feel unappreciated and taken for granted. But that mixtape somehow represented that tiny iota of consideration he had for her. He'd done one inconsequential act to make her feel 'special' and that was enough to sustain something unsustainable.

While I might not be able to explain exactly what the 'quantum of solace' is in a short, easy to understand way, I can give you that true-life example of the concept in action.

I've really no clearer way of explaining it: The 'quantum of solace' is nothing more than homemade mixtape of U2 songs, or some other seemingly inconsequential, almost immeasurable thing that makes the difference between indifference and affection.


Stuart Peel said...

Interesting. There aren't many people who've actually read the original QoS story, and I think you've got it down. However I think the film has a slightly different meaning, i.e. that Bond was looking for peace of mind after his loss. High Time To Kill was good too wasn't it ?

Nice blog BTW.

mre30seattle said...

Loved High Time To Kill.

Great explanation/clarification of Quantum of Solace.

Coffee Bean said...

Where are you Roland? Been missing you out here in bloggy world! I hope all is well and you are just having too much fun to blog!

Coffee Bean said...

Oh, and excellent analogy!

Quantum_Flux said...

I think I have that relationship with my sister in law, or at least her brother.

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