Rachele Dini discusses how the work of J.G. Ballard, Don DeLillo, and Samuel Beckett engages with one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)

What motivated you to write Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction?

Well, I’ve been attracted to remnants of different kinds since I was very little, and was obsessed with cutting up magazines as a teenager—but intellectually, the turning point for me was during my MA at King’s College London. I noticed almost immediately that the texts on the modules I was taking were unusually concerned with fragments and fragmentation. Dickens, Zola, Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Ballard, Calvino, and of course Walter Benjamin and Adorno: physical and metaphorical waste proliferates in all of these authors’ work. In hindsight, this was to be expected since the course focused on the seismic effects of capitalist modernity, and waste is certainly one of these. But that focus on residual matter reproaching you for throwing it away, or on things not working and stuff falling apart, especially compelled me at the time, since it was the opposite in every way from the focus of my day job in market research. Market research is an industry essentially devoted to promoting the very things that leftist theory denounces: its modus operandi is to find ways of selling more. So the first spark for the PhD project that ultimately turned into this book was the conflict between the rhetoric of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ (to quote Daft Punk) I was accustomed to in my working life, and all of the countercultural—or simply denunciatory—writing I discovered through my studies, which called that rhetoric into question. (more…)

“Though his work is not as widely known as some of his contemporaries — J.G. Ballard, for example, or Anthony Burgess — D.G. Compton’s speculative fiction is just as attuned to the relation between technology and death.”

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“Ballard was rather vocal about his provocative vision of the future during his lifetime, thanks to his interest in media and technology. The author envisioned a reality that has eerily manifested in many ways already, which we capture in these 20 quotes about Ballard’s vision for the future.”

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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…)

From Ballard’s 1990 annotations to his experimental 1970 novel, The Atrocity Exhibition

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All over the world major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or ancient Egypt, is reassimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonize the past and future. The same trend can be seen in personal relationships, in the way people are expected to package themselves, their emotions and sexuality in attractive and instantly appealing forms.

From an 1984 interview with British novelist J. G. Ballard, relating his admiration for Beat writer William S. Burroughs

I have met Burroughs quite a few times over the last fifteen years, and he always strikes me as an upper-class Midwesterner, with an inherent superior attitude towards blacks, policemen, doctors, and small-town politicians, the same superior attitude that Swift had to their equivalents in his own day, the same scatological obsessions and brooding contempt for middle-class values, thrift, hard work, parenthood, et cetera, which are just excuses for petit-bourgeois greed and exploitation. But I admire Burroughs more than any other living writer, and most of those who are dead. [Read more]

From the British writer’s memoir, Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton
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Francis Bacon, Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953)

In 1955 there was a modest retrospective of Francis Bacon’s paintings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, followed in 1962 by a far larger retrospective at the Tate Gallery, which was a revelation to me. I still think of Bacon as the greatest painter of the post-war world. […]

Bacon’s paintings were screams from the abattoir, cries from the execution pits of World War II. His deranged executives and his princes of death in their pontiffs’ robes lacked all pity and remorse. His popes screamed because they knew there was no God. Bacon went even further than the surrealists, assuming our complicity in the mid-century’s horrors. It was we who sat in those claustrophobic rooms, like TV hospitality suites in need of a coat of paint, under a naked light bulb that might signal the arrival of the dead, the only witnesses at our last interview. (more…)

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

An incredibly relevant and perceptive article on the psychopathology of fascism
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J. G. Ballard

The psychopath never dates.

Hitler’s contemporaries – Baldwin, Chamberlain, Herbert Hoover – seem pathetically fusty figures, with their frock coats and wing collars, closer to the world of Edison, Carnegie and the hansom cab than to the first fully evolved modern societies over which they presided, areas of national consciousness formed by mass-produced newspapers and consumer goods, advertising and tele-communications. By comparison Hitler is completely up-to-date, and would be equally at home in the sixties (and probably even more so in the seventies) as in the twenties. The whole apparatus of the Nazi super-state, its nightmare uniforms and propaganda, seems weirdly turned-on, providing just that element of manifest insanity to which we all respond in the H-Bomb or Viet Nam – perhaps one reason why the American and Russian space programmes have failed to catch our imaginations is that this quality of explicit psychopathology is missing. (more…)

4th Estate releases beautiful contemporary editions of Ballard’s novels and short stories

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4th Estate have collaborated with the artist Stanley Donwood, known for his work with the rock group Radiohead, to produce a series of luminous, beautiful, surreal, and contemporary designs for 21 of J.G. Ballard’s works. Donwood is known for the way he playfully manipulates the signs and symbols of modern life, in colour and collage, and his signature style is ideally suited to Ballard’s aesthetic. The new editions, which come complete with a series of illuminating introductions, will welcome a whole new generation of readers to Ballard’s fantastical and prophetic worlds. Extremely impressive.

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Nick Papadimitriou
Tim Dee (The Guardian) reviews ‘deep topographer’ Nick Papadimitriou’s debut work, Scarp

A mostly crap scrap of the neither-here-nor-there London exurbia is the subject of Nick Papadimitriou’s wonder Scarp. Through decades of walks from his council flat just inside the hellish ring of the north circular, he has fallen deeply for the low bumps of the 17-mile north Middlesex/south Hertfordshire escarpment. Here he is almost on common ground and up against the capital’s modern saints of dystopic psychogeography: the master of the meaningful roundabout JG Ballard (Concrete Island), and the leggy pair of Will Self (Walking to Hollywood) and Iain Sinclair (whose M25 – in London Orbital – is the unspoken tarmac hedge to Papadimitriou’s ambition and stride to the north of his scarp). There are a host of others too – a proper ministry of silly walks – but Papadimitriou is his own man.

His methodology might be bonkers but it is very engaging. Years of study and dreaming in the spare bedroom of his flat have given birth to a series of fantastic journeys – trips, more like – through the ages of the scarp and into and out of its living and its dead, its creatures and plants, its buildings and routeways, its residents and its passers-by. The whole shebang is channelled into what Papadimitriou calls “deep topography”. But the loopy incredibility of all this is redeemed by his indomitable playfulness. That he is relaxed about taking his own character along with him on his walks also helps a lot. He is good fun. [Read More]