Thursday, February 20, 2014

"The Atrocity Exhibition" by J.G. Ballard



First I have to make clear that this is not the ReSearch annotated edition, but a mass market book from a British publisher Thiad Panther, and issued in 1970.  Nevertheless this is a very stimulating book.  J.G. Ballard is probably one of the great visionary writers regarding culture as it is now.  I want to say he predict what will happen, but I think it was happening when he wrote his series of classic novels, but most of us were not aware of that 'Ballard' world that was and is clearly out there and here and everywhere.

"The Atrocity Exhibition" is a series of very brief narratives that deal with the John F. Kennedy assassination as the ground zero of anxiety, dread and fear.  For Americans at the moment, it's 9/11, but for my generation, the Kennedy assassination opened up an inner world of demons, secrets, and disappearing identities on a landscape one couldn't trust being there or being altered in some fashion.   I think Ballard is commenting on the role we all play, but especially the powers-to-be, whoever they may be, in planting a world that is not of our choosing, but one that we just have to deal with.  Which includes sexual desire when confronting death, shock, and machinery.  Ido not know if his novel "Crash" came before or after "The Atrocity Exhibition, but the book does deal with the same issues of the erotic pull of car accidents and iconic personalities.   Ballard gets extra points for including Ralph Nader among the celebrities that get maimed or killed by the automobile.  Now mostly remembered for his political viewpoints as well as running for President, he at the time of this novel was famous for going after the automobile industry for not making cars more safer with respect to seat belts, etc.  What we get here is a college effect of names, who at the time were still alive, being sacrificed to the automobile death culture as well as interesting commentary on the readers obsession with famous people and how they are placed in our world as entertainment, but also masking secret desires that are not fully exposed to the public.

Ballard mixes the agony of death, of losing someone, and how culture eats up the anxiety of the 20th century (and now the 21st...) and spits out in a diseased form, which can be this piece of literature.   A great book, whose sister is Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" and a cousin to classic Surrealist painters.


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