The Atrocity Exhibition, J.G. Ballard

I loved Terence Malick’s Tree of Life – its dreamy impressionism, the making of meaning from disparate fragments.  Ballard, in contrast, reads like Malick on acid.  Fragments invariably turn out to be bits of bone or smashed cars or giant body parts, stitched together in a repetitive narrative of distorted nightmares.  But the meaning is hard to extract.  A doctor at a mental hospital has a mental breakdown is what I think happens, but who knows.

The book is written in vignettes, little set pieces that overlap, with dense visual images, constructed from a singularly repetitive language.  How many times can you use the word junction in a sentence?  Answer: many, many times…  And for junction, read geometry, wound, pilot jacket, plane, pudenda.  A distinct preoccupation with cars and crashes and famous deaths (JFK, Monroe, Jackie Kennedy features heavily).  Flat characterisation overall, females especially – dummy set decorations, each one of them.  He has a male character reflect on a female character as an “elegant bitch”, intruding her sexuality, like all women, at the most inopportune times.  The irony of course being that not a single male character appears able to see women as anything other than highly sexualised fetish objects.

His notes on the fragmented chapters are for the most part the better reading.  Meditations on celebrity and media culture, memory and art.  On the whole though, the book is just too much experiment and too little substance.  One can’t but feel like a lab rat impatiently waiting for the bat-shit-crazy scientist to stop the experiment.

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