Blue sky. The air is calm and cool. Early signs of autumn. Went cycling along the Cardiff Bay barrage and feel better for the effort. Just thirty minutes of exercise resonates for the entire day. After breakfast Jennifer and I headed to our shared office at Cardiff University; we have just over a week remaining on our contracts, so are gradually moving our few belongings back to our apartment. Since we do not own a car, we do it in piecemeal fashion, a few objects at a time.

Currently reading

William Faulkner, Novels 1926-1929 (Library of America)
William Faulkner, Novels 1926-1929 (The Library of America)

On my bedside table is the first volume of the collected novels of William Faulkner, published by The Library of America. Since giving away over two thirds of my book collection, I decided that I would keep only those volumes of lasting value and durability. Since Faulkner has been of interest to me for a long time, I thought I would begin at the beginning and work my way steadily through his entire works. (I have similar plans for Flannery O’Connor, but I will write about that some other day.) One of the benefits of the LOA editions is that they are printed to last a lifetime, and each book includes several novels. I have recently begun Soldiers’ Pay, an energetic debut novel with a clear debt to Joyce, and aim to proceed through Mosquitoes (a satire of 1920s bohemia), Flags in the Dust (a novel that originally appeared in a heavily edited edition under the title Sartoris in 1929), and, wait for it, The Sound and the Fury, which crowns the first volume.

William Faulkner’s Novels 1926-1929 is available from The Library of America.

Other reading

  • Frida Kahlo‘s personal letter to Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Praising David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs‘ Naked Lunch on its 25th anniversary
  • Asymptote publishes excerpts from Walking with Robert Walser

Will Self rates the film as an adaptation of Ballard’s vision
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Promotional poster for Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise

Of the film adaptations that had been made of his work during his lifetime, JG Ballard vouchsafed to me that he liked Jonathan Weiss’s version of The Atrocity Exhibition the best. It was hardly a surprising verdict; the movie, released in 2000, eschews any of the easy certainties of narrative for a furious collage of extreme images – urban wastelands, nuclear explosions, penises rhythmically pumping in and out of vaginas – all to the accompaniment of a voice-over comprising near-verbatim passages from the quasi-novel. And as the book is a furious collage of extreme images, the film is of the highest fidelity imaginable.

Ballard also liked Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Empire of the Sun, although more, one suspects, because of the opportunity he got to be an extra in a party scene that was set in a simulacrum of his parents’ interwar home in Shanghai. So tickled was he by this Möbius-looping of reality and the imagined that Ballard wrote about the episode in another roman-à-clef, The Kindness of Women. When it was announced in the early 1990s that David Cronenberg was to adapt Ballard’s apocalyptic tale of autogeddon, Crash, and moreover set it in Toronto, I was so exercised that I phoned the writer. “You can’t let him do that, Jim,” I protested (or words to that effect). “Crash is one of the great London novels. The city demands that it be set right here!” He was having none of it and gently talked me down: the point of the novel was to describe a global phenomenon, one Ballard termed “the death of affect”. It was quite irrelevant which city the film was set in – the important point was that Cronenberg’s affectless vision and planar cinematography, all lit at operating-theatre strength, strongly resonated with Ballard. (more…)

Mark Kermode (The Observer) interviews the film’s director, Ben Wheatley
Ben-Wheatley-director-filmmaker
Ben Wheatley

Set in a brutalist 70s “luxury” apartment block that becomes a twisted microcosm of society, High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston as Dr Robert Laing, a smooth, slippery antihero who moves in just as the cracks of anarchy start to appear. While Jeremy Irons’s architect Anthony Royal lords it up in the penthouse, below him dog-eating chaos begins to reign, rising up in feral fashion, floor by floor. Despite their vast differences, there’s a connection between Zardoz and High-Rise, both of which are home-grown, sci-fi-tinged works rooted in the mid-70s. Ballard’s novel was published in 1975, the year after John Boorman’s dystopian epic provoked gales of laughter with scenes of Sean Connery climbing into a flying head to break into the plush world of “the Vortex”, wearing only a bright red posing pouch. Both depict a future in which a class-segregated society is teetering on the brink of collapse; both imagine lavish idylls and increasingly hellish environs existing side by side.

[…]

“I read High-Rise when I was about 17,” he says, “along with all the usual counterculture stuff: Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The thing about Ballard was that you could feel his radiation. He seemed scary, and dangerous, and that was why you had to read his books. I read Crash around the same time, and I remember thinking it had a turn of phrase that didn’t feel like anybody else. A way of looking at the modern world and making it alien. I read Hello America and The Drowned World and so on, all in a lump. But High-Rise kept returning…” (more…)

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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