Ian "Marvin" Graye's Reviews > Super-Cannes

Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard
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it was amazing
bookshelves: ballard, re-read, read-2016, reviews, reviews-5-stars


"Super-Cannes" seems to be a reboot of Ballard's previous novel, "Cocaine Nights".

When I finished it, I re-read my review of "Cocaine Nights" and was surprised at how much of it could be applied equally to this work, with only minimal adjustment.

"CN" is set in an expatriate community on the Spanish coast of the Mediterranean. "S-C" is set in the Eden-Olympia high-tech business park on the French Cote d'Azur.

In "CN", the narrator, Charles, investigates crimes allegedly committed by his brother, Frank. In "S-C", the narrator, Paul, investigates ten murders (including those of seven senior executives at Eden-Olympia) allegedly committed by a boyishly handsome English doctor (David Greenwood) who has previously had an affair with Paul's girlish bodied physician wife, Jane ("she could have passed for seventeen").

Eventually, Charles takes on Frank's roles and responsibilities in the community. Paul (who is "too dull and normal for Eden-Olympia") finds out enough about the internal operations of the business park to identify with and want to finish the personal crusade started by David.

Yet again, a character becomes a passenger in the life of another, even if they've already died.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Ballard attended the Cannes Film Festival with David Cronenberg in 1996 to launch the film of "Crash". It's evident that Ballard became quite familiar with the layout of Cannes and the surrounding environs.

Like "CN", "S-C" adopts the style of a noirish crime thriller. The writing style is very matter of fact, sentences are both descriptive and economical. Every now and again, one stands out and grabs your attention. We are always looking through a glass darkly. The sinister oozes between the words and through the shattered glass of broken mirrors. Readily acknowledging his debt to Lewis Carroll, Ballard takes us down the rabbit hole and guides us chapter by chapter towards the malevolence that lurks in the world below.

"The Illusion Pays Off"

Paul introduces us to the psychiatrist, Dr Wilder Penrose, in the first paragraph of the novel:

"I realise now that a kind of waiting madness, like a state of undeclared war, haunted the office buildings of the business park. For most of us, Dr Wilder Penrose was our amiable Prospero, the psychopomp who steered our darkest dreams towards the daylight...Only when I learned to admire this flawed and dangerous man was I able to think of killing him."

Eden-Olympia is a community held together by "talent, not wealth or glamour". Penrose explains to Paul:

"Forget about crime. The important thing is that the residents of Eden-Olympia think they're policing themselves...They aren't, but the illusion pays off."

For the psychiatrist, the illusion is just as valid as reality.

"Feeling Deeply Bored"

The newly arrived Paul and Jane live in a large art-deco villa in which David Greenwood formerly resided:

"The ocean-liner windows and porthole skylights seemed to open onto the 1930's, a vanished world of Cole Porter and beach pyjamas, morphine lesbians and the swagger portraits of Tamara de Lempecka."


Detail by Tamara de Lempecka

Eden-Olympia itself is strangely clinical and antiseptic:

"Intimacy and neighbourliness were not features of everyday life at Eden-Olympia. An invisible infrastructure took the place of traditional civic virtues...The top drawer professionals no longer needed to devote a moment's thought to each other, and had dispensed with the checks and balances of community life. There were no town councils or magistrates' courts, no citizens' advice bureaus. Civility and polity were designed into Eden-Olympia...Representative democracy had been replaced by the surveillance camera and the private police force."

"By the afternoon, all this tolerance and good behaviour left me feeling deeply bored."

Freedom from Morality

Paul starts to acquire an understanding of Eden-Olympia:

"All you people do is work. It's wonderful here, but they left out reality...There's no drama and no conflict...Where are the moral compass bearings that hold everything together? Has Eden-Olympia gone beyond morality."

To which Penrose responds:

"We've achieved real freedom, the freedom from morality..."

"The rich know how to cope with the psychopathic. The squirearchy have always enjoyed freedoms denied to the tenant farmers and peasantry. De Sade’s behaviour was typical of his class. Aristocracies keep alive those endangered pleasures that repel the bourgeoisie. They may seem perverse, but they add to the possibilities of life."

"Perverse behaviours were once potentially dangerous. Societies weren't strong enough to allow them to flourish."

"The middle classes have run the world since the French Revolution, but they're now the new proletariat. It's time for another elite to set the agenda."

Sadeian Impulses

Penrose believes that sado-masochistic sex, violence, paedophilia, kiddie porn, drugs and fascist ideas are all conducive to mental health:

"These impulses exist in all of us. They're the combustible fuel the psyche runs on...We're talking about thoughts not deeds. We don't give in to every passing whim or impulse. But it's a mistake to ignore them...If you feel drawn from thought to deed, seize the hour. Pay the price. Be true to your real self, embrace all the possibilities of your life."

Psychopathy is the treatment Penrose prescribes for the inhabitants of Eden-Olympia:

"Eden-Olympia's great defect is that there's no need for personal morality. Thousands of people live and work here without making a single decision about right and wrong. The moral order is engineered into their lives along with the speed limits and the security systems...But part of the mind atrophies. A moral calculus that took thousands of years to develop starts to wither from neglect. Once you dispense with morality the important decisions become a matter of aesthetics. You've entered an adolescent world where you define yourself by the kind of trainers you wear."

"The Adolf Hitlers and Pol Pots of the future won't walk out of the desert. They'll emerge from shopping malls and corporate business parks."

"Psychopathy is Freedom, Psychopathy is Fun"

Penrose initiates his patients into therapeutic group violence, which they film on video:

"The run-down chief executives need a small dose of madness, a carefully metered measure of psychopathy. Nothing too criminal or deranged. More like an adventure-training course, or a game of touch rugby."

"Soon we had an active therapy group with a dozen senior executives. At weekends they'd start brawls in Maghrebian bars, trash any Arab cars that looked unroadworthy, rough up a Russian pimp or two."

"Meaningless violence may be the true poetry of the new millennium. Perhaps only gratuitous madness can define who we are...These criminal activities have helped them to rediscover themselves."

"The twentieth century ended with its dreams in ruins. The notion of the community as a voluntary association of enlightened citizens has died forever. We realise how suffocatingly humane we've become, dedicated to moderation and the middle way. The suburbanisation of the soul has overrun our planet like the plague...Sanity and reason are but a vast illusion, built from mirrors that lie..."

"Homo sapiens is a reformed hunter-killer of depraved appetites, which once helped him to survive. The deviant impulses coded into his central nervous system have been switched off. He can no longer harm himself or anyone else. But nature sensibly endowed him with a taste for cruelty and an intense curiosity about pain and death. Without them, he's trapped in the afternoon shopping malls of a limitless mediocrity. We need to revive him, give him back the killing eye and the dreams of death. Together they helped him to dominate this planet."

The group violence allows Penrose to experience violence vicariously, so there is a sense in which his approach is designed for his own benefit.

The Escalator of Possibility - "Part of You Believes His Lunatic Ideology"

Paul is almost tempted by Penrose's rhetoric:

"In his playful way he was egging me on, urging me to board the escalator of possibility that had begun to unroll itself at my feet."

"He can be very persuasive, setting out his Sadeian world, his do-it-yourself psychopathy kit.”

Ballard uses Penrose as an example of what he calls "normalising the psychopathic." It allows him to personalise an ideology he believes has arisen, perhaps spontaneously, perhaps inevitably, in late 20th century capitalism.

Much of Ballard's diagnosis of the psychopathic condition reminded me of the works of Don DeLillo.

Nietzsche Above the Croisette

Penrose is not advocating "an insane free-for-all. A voluntary and sensible psychopathy is the only way we can impose a shared moral order."

"Years of bourgeois conditioning had produced a Europe suffocating in work, commerce and conformity. Its people needed to break out, to invent the hatreds that could liberate them, and they found an Austrian misfit only too happy to do the job...A controlled psychopathy is a way of resocialising people and tribalising them into mutually supportive groups."

"Psychopathy is the only engine powerful enough to light our imaginations, to drive the arts, sciences and industries of the world."

"There are times when you feel the wind of history under your wings."

Paul declares himself against Penrose's ideology. In it, he detects the ultimate cause of the social problems plaguing Eden-Olympia.

"Let's Kill All the Psychiatrists"

In the end, Paul believes he has found the motive for David’s murder spree. (view spoiler)

"He wanted to kill the people who'd corrupted him."

Perhaps this is an option available when the problem has been personalised. However, it mightn't be available if the problem is inherent in capitalism, the system or society at large. In Ballard's eyes, this is the problem we faced as we entered the 21st century and still confront. All his fiction can do is warn us.
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Reading Progress

February 24, 2011 – Shelved
October 24, 2012 – Shelved as: ballard
October 8, 2016 – Started Reading
October 8, 2016 – Shelved as: re-read
October 10, 2016 –
page 38
9.69% "Intimacy and neighbourliness were not features of everyday life at Eden-Olympia. An invisible infrastructure took the place of traditional civic virtues...Representative democracy had been replaced by the surveillance camera and the private police force.\n\nBy the afternoon, all this tolerance and good behaviour left me feeling deeply bored."
October 17, 2016 –
page 391
October 17, 2016 – Shelved as: read-2016
October 17, 2016 – Shelved as: reviews
October 17, 2016 – Shelved as: reviews-5-stars
October 18, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Darwin8u I remember loving this when I read it years and years ago.

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Darwin8u wrote: "I remember loving this when I read it years and years ago."

This was my second read as well. I loved it both times. Reminded me a lot of DeLillo's world.

Charles Baudelaire better then cocaine Nights

message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Charles wrote: "better then cocaine Nights"

Not as farcical, it seems.

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