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Millenium People
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2019 Book Discussions > Millennium People: Chs. 1-14 (spoilers ok thru ch 14) (Apr 2019)

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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments I'm splitting our discussion arbitrarily in half just to give us a chance to discuss the book chapter by chapter.

Who has begun the book, and where are you in reading it? What do you think so far?


Clarke Owens | 73 comments I have read it, and I'm interested in the opinions of others on the question of the nature of David's involvement with Gould's group. I understand that he is primarily interested in investigating Laura's death, and that he is in some way undercover for "the police," but then he seems to get mixed up with the group in some way that extends into the moral realm, if I'm reading it correctly.
Also, I'd be interested in the views of others on what exactly you think Ballard's views are of (1) the middle class; and (2) the nihilistic philosophy of Gould toward violence; specifically, to what extent is the view condemnatory, and to what extent sympathetic?


Mark | 266 comments His motivations at the beginning are completely in the moral realm. He doesn't know that he is "bait" for the terrorists. This is obscured by the givaway of the entire plot at the beginning.

If you read Empire of the Sun, you'll see that Gould is very close to Ballard's authurial persona, while David is more like the human Ballard.


message 4: by lark (last edited Apr 15, 2019 08:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Clarke and Mark, I have even more basic questions about David, as in: what is he feeling, exactly, throughout this novel? Does he love his ex-wife? Does he love his current wife? Why does he feel compelled to go to the hospital? What drives him?

The voice is a little formal and condescending (like most Ballard narrators, I've discovered) and it makes it hard for me to judge David's inner motivations as a character...as well as Ballard's intentions.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
Read the first six chapters last night and so far David is not engaging my sympathy but the ideas are interesting. I have never read Ballard before so I can't comment on how typical it is...


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Lark wrote: "Clarke and Mark, I have even more basic questions about David, as in: what is he feeling, exactly, throughout this novel? Does he love his ex-wife? Does he love his current wife? Why does he feel c..."
Yeah, I know what you mean about Ballard's voice. This is the 3rd novel I've read by him (although I have not read Empire of the Sun, and it sounds like I should), and he strikes me with a certain obliquity, although he also has the capacity for evocation and (in some cases) poetic force.
He obviously loves Sally, his current wife. He says so often. It's Sally who tells him he has to pursue the Laura investigation, not because he still loves Laura, but because he doesn't, or something like that. The wife-trading scenes clearly show that these relationships are complex. With Laura, it's like an exorcism. I think this is often how we feel about exes. It's not so simple as love/not love. What I still have trouble with is his involvement with Gould and Kay. What do we do with that?


lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Clarke wrote: "What do we do with that? ..."

A good question. I'm especially interested in David's relationships with women here in the beginning...In these first pages I'm confronted with a man who has a wife who is disabled, and an ex-wife who dies before she gets to be a character at all, and a 'lover,' Kay, who is introduced from the beginning as a "shared lover" between David and Gould. Busy guy.


lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Also: How are people defining the tonal register of Ballard's writing here?

Some of us here in 21st Century Fiction know that I'm doing a binge read of Ballard books this month so this is actually my 7th or so for the month...and in -every- case the dilemma I have is how seriously to take his writing. How I decide to classify the tone in the beginning shapes how I read & evaluate the novel.

Take for instance this sentence on the first page--is the tone here 'noir detective', or Ballard's style of serious literary writing, or campy satire--what is it exactly?--

Even I, David Markham, a trained psychologist infiltrated into Chelsea marina as a police spy--a deception I was the last to discover--failed to see what was going on.


Marc (monkeelino) | 2567 comments Mod
It's been a bit since I read this one, so I probably will mostly lurk in this discussion, but I do recall there being a kind of noir detective-campy satire feel to the voice in this book. Clearly, Ballard is good at keeping readers from getting too comfortable... Is this horrible? Is it funny? Is it horribly funny?!!


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
I can see where you put the break where you did - chapter 15 does rather change the tone. Having read about two thirds of the book, I am quite impressed by the consistency of Ballard's vision, though it is easy enough to pick holes in his logic. For such a group of extremists, there seems to be a curious lack of conventional political motivation...


message 11: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Consistency of vision, and consistency of language, too...his use of adjectival phrases for instance...it's a style that feels straight out of the mid-20th century.

Also the word choice is somehow perfectly antiquated...I say "perfectly" because it fits the mood. It's hard to imagine anyone today writing about Sally the way Ballard's narrator David does...he watches her with "husbandly pride," and says "I secretly enjoyed the perverse thrill of having a handicapped wife," for instance.

And references to a lost age on so many pages--for instance: "Kay's raffish cul-de-sac...had been home to a convicted antiques dealer, two lesbian marriages and an alcoholic Concorde pilot..."


message 12: by lark (last edited Apr 17, 2019 08:39AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Hugh wrote: "For such a group of extremists, there seems to be a curious lack of conventional political motivation......"

Yes, I one theory about 'motivation' I have is meta-motivation--that Ballard himself felt that middle class life. with its preoccupations with nice cars and nice books in the living room etc., is pointless and empty, and so Ballard the author gives his characters a kind of liberation from their own pointlessness.

The other theory is that it's a political statement by Ballard, about how middle class resistance is typically a solipsistic and self-serving exercise, even when middle class people are trying to be relevant and liberal in their views...which is true in real life as well. This theory is also kind of meta though, vs. being a motive for the people inside the story to behave the way they do.


message 13: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2567 comments Mod
Isn't that where the satire comes in? They don't have conventional
political motivations so much as ennui.


message 14: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Marc wrote: "Isn't that where the satire comes in? They don't have conventional
political motivations so much as ennui."


What/Who do you think is Ballard's target for his satire?


message 15: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2567 comments Mod
Lark wrote: "What/Who do you think is Ballard's target for his satire?"

Materialism. The Middle Class. Capitalism. I don't know that I would distill it down more than (IMO). It's almost like a combination of your two theories posted in message 12.

You've read more Ballard than me, but he has always come across to me as willing to skewer a demographic or a character while still leaving interpretation open to the reader, and never offering an alternative or what one might call a "solution." Is that a fair take?


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Lark wrote: "Hugh wrote: "For such a group of extremists, there seems to be a curious lack of conventional political motivation......"

Yes, I one theory about 'motivation' I have is meta-motivation--that Balla..."

"Meta-motivation" is a great term. Did you coin that?
With regard to the other comments about satire, here's a line that I liked: "The Day of Judgement was being planned by neurotic young women with badly bitten nails, and put into effect by out-of-breath psychologists with guilt complexes and dying mothers." (141).


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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Marc wrote: "You've read more Ballard than me, but he has always come across to me as willing to skewer a demographic or a character while still leaving interpretation open to the reader, and never offering an alternative or what one might call a "solution." Is that a fair take? ..."

Yes, that sounds exactly right! And it's very helpful to think of the "open to the reader" part, and to embrace it.

I mean, so many of Ballard's novels, including this one, have such a high-camp feeling to me, and also, a feeling that he is deliberately goading me, with his lack of any interest in veracity or good taste.

But then I see so many reviews that take him 100% seriously. And the back of my paperback has such serious blurbs--"Compelling, disturbing, and eerily prophetic".... and so on.

Although now that I've read the whole of the blurbs I do agree with this one, from the LA Times: "He moves between humor and an inquiry into the insignificance of contemporary society."


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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Clarke wrote: ""Meta-motivation" is a great term. Did you coin that? ..."

I'm just glad you know what I meant!

As I read the novel I do have a sense that the author Ballard is interfering with the natural flow of the story, where he is entering into his own story like the Hand of God now and then to make a philosophical point rather than a fictional point.


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Marc (monkeelino) | 2567 comments Mod
Lark wrote: "a feeling that he is deliberately goading me, with his lack of any interest in veracity or good taste."
"Absurdist" is the word that came to mind when I read this book. I also read it very close to reading White Noise and seemed to find a number of parallels between the two, with Ballard tending to be a little more darker and serious.


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
I am also interested in how all of this relates to more recent conflicts, particularly in Britain. One of the beliefs that seems to drive Brexit is the idea (delusion?) that Britain is a great independent nation that will thrive as soon as it is freed from its shackles. Ballard's view of Britain and its ruling classes seems to perpetuate this.


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Marc wrote: "Lark wrote: "a feeling that he is deliberately goading me, with his lack of any interest in veracity or good taste."
"Absurdist" is the word that came to mind when I read this book. I also read it ..."


It seems pretty clearly absurd in its plot. People being attacked at cat shows, etc. Gould's idea that meaning is achieved through meaningless violence is an absurd idea, the same one Camus used in "The Stranger," or pretty close to it. Lark's idea of "meta-motivation" goes to the idea that we know these people would never really do these things. The motivation is the author's, to send up the middle class, who lead trivial and meaningless lives.


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
I thought about saying a lot more in my last comment but I didn't want to get overtly political. The book is set at a time when the differences between Britain's two main parties were much narrower than they are now!


message 23: by James E. (new)

James E. Martin | 76 comments Yeah, absurdist seems to fit. It's a very funny book and I have had plenty of laughs. I'm about half way through. Reading the headlines in recent days of current climate change protests makes the book come alive.


message 24: by Lia (last edited Apr 19, 2019 07:38AM) (new) - added it

Lia The comparison to Delillo seems apt. There's something silly or irreverent about this, the narrator (or the author?) really doesn't want you to think he wants to be taken seriously.

When I think absurdist, I tend to think Camus, I think about someone who tries really hard to question what makes life meaningful, in a world that is clearly set up to be meaningless. What's absurd isn't the randomness of what happens to these characters; the absurd is the gap between the meaningless universe and the meaning-seeking agent.

I'm only at Ch 7, so far I don't get that existentialist kind of absurdist angst; it seems nothing really matters, and nobody cares, and there's a second-degree lukewarm concern for this complete lack of anxiety over the meaninglessness.

I agree with the obvious theme of ennui, but everybody is aware and then blasé about it.

Even their “rebellion” is bloodless, like they're only really imitating rebels. It’s more like a performance or a ritual than actual conflict:

Thinking fondly about Kay, I reached out to straighten the portrait of her daughter. A shard of glass slipped from the frame and cut my palm, lightly severing the life-line. As I stared at the bright smear and searched for my handkerchief, I realized that this was the only blood I had shed in Chelsea Marina during the entire rebellion.



It’s true that there is meaningless and interrupting violence

No one was safe from the motiveless psychopath who roamed the car parks and baggage carousels of our everyday lives. A vicious boredom ruled the world, for the first time in human history, interrupted by meaningless acts of violence.


No one is “safe from” something so random, and yet, what seems so suffocating is this inescapable safety and security:

For years she had nagged me to leave the Adler and set up in practice on my own, claiming that my loyalty to the Institute concealed a refusal to grow up. During our last years together, I needed the security that the Adler offered, and when she resigned to set up a consultancy of her own I knew that our marriage was over.

But then security was not something that Laura ever pretended to offer. I remembered her sharp humour and the depressions that showed a warmer and more interesting side, and the sudden enthusiasms that made everything seem possible. Sadly, I was far too stable and cautious for her. Once she deliberately provoked me into slamming a door in her face. A torrent of blood sprang from her strong nose, about which she had always been sensitive. Strangely, it was the blood on the face of the injured woman by the baggage carousel that had first made me think of Laura.



The one who didn’t wrap her life around safety or security was the one who got away … by being dead. And yet she was the cloest thing to having once lived, having been warm and interesting and human.


Speaking of current events: it does remind me of the lukewarm extinction rebellion protests, or the animal liberation protests etc. I think they are legitimate issues, but I also get the feeling that participants are extremely deliberate or concerned about curating their self-image, about defending their righteousness in inconveniencing someone. Like it pains them to break rules.

Strangely, I thought about this book when I saw the philosophy "adjunct prof" who got arrested with cans of gasoline at a cathedral on the news
https://heavy.com/news/2019/04/marc-l...

Gasoline and a history of asking people if he's ugly online. This combination of overthinking and ennui and narcissistic self-consciousness that cries out to be soothed by some random act of "rebellion" sounds a lot like what this book is depicting.


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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Lia wrote: "Speaking of current events: it does remind me of the lukewarm extinction rebellion protests, or the animal liberation protests etc. I think they are legitimate issues, but I also get the feeling that participants are extremely deliberate or concerned about curating their self-image, about defending their righteousness in inconveniencing someone. Like it pains them to break rules...."

Thanks for these comments Lia. So interesting.

I'm just getting to Ch. 5--the cat show, and in addition to being a definitively "absurd" chapter, erasing my uncertainty about what kind of book this is, it also has what amounts to a thesis statement about what the book is about:

Protest movements, sane and insane, sensible and absurd, touched almost every aspect of life in London, a vest web of demonstrations that tapped a desperate need for a more meaningful world...I sensed that a primitive religion was being born, a faith in search of a god to worship.


message 26: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments I keep being taken aback by the sentences Ballard writes. Speaking of "absurd," the feeling goes all the way down to sentence- and word-choice-level.

Here are some:

I resented the presence of this thuggish policeman, sitting in his slaughterman's coat as my wife's body dispersed into the sky.

Using her sticks again, she moved around the house with the same wristy determination she had shown in the physiotherapy unit at St. Mary's where I had first courted her.

An elderly couple in front of me stumbled into a pyramid of jewelled flea collars, throwing it to the floor in a gaudy sprawl.

But really almost every sentence as I read through his books is startling, plus a tinge of ridiculous. I'm delighted by them.

Also I'm delighted with the diction/register he chooses. It swoops around but usually it's very formal. He would never write: "smell of cat piss," it's "potent stench of feline urine."

I've taught creative writing in colleges and one weird twist in my brain as I read is that Ballard's writing is so close to what might be considered "overwritten" or even "bad" by contemporary tastes in fiction style.


message 27: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Lark wrote: "Ballard's writing is so close to what might be considered "overwritten" or even "bad" by contemporary tastes in fiction style..."

Are you insinuating that he's inconveniencing readers by breaking "rules" or violating what's conventionally considered to be "good taste?"


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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Lia wrote: "Are you insinuating that he's inconveniencing readers by breaking "rules" or violating what's conventionally considered to be "good taste?" ..."

I'm not insinuating anything. I'm saying that this style is very out of style. This is my seventh Ballard novel and I pretty much love his style btw but the way Ballard writes feels closer to Poe than it feels to most contemporary fiction writers. Lots of clauses of all kinds; lots of adjectives and adverbs and other modifiers; an elevated diction; a formal distance in the narrative voice. I'm slightly embarrassed to realize that if a student of mine came in with something written like this, particularly if it had problems with pacing, I would probably recommend adjusting to a more direct and active style of writing.


message 29: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Sorry Lark! I meant that as a joke, or as some kind of irony that Ballard is (maybe) performing what he's satirizing: extremely polite rule-breaking.

(I usually browse GR from my phone and I would have augmented #27 with emoji, but I'm on a computer for a change with no emoji keyboard, so that came out extremely aggressive and accusing. I apologize!)


message 30: by lark (last edited Apr 19, 2019 08:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Lia wrote: "Sorry Lark! I meant that as a joke, or as some kind of irony that Ballard is (maybe) performing what he's satirizing: extremely polite rule-breaking..."

oh, ok! thanks for explaining. I'm glad I took time anyway to write more about my feeling, because it made me think about how I'm loving this language so much, while at the same time feeling like young new writers who wrote this way would probably have a tough time getting their work published.


message 31: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Lark wrote: "it's worth thinking about how I'm loving this language so much, while at the same time feeling like young new writers who wrote this way would probably have a tough time getting their work published..."

Do you think Ballard is sincere? Or is he deliberately "over-writing" it to match form with content, i.e. characters trying too hard and coming out paradoxically too earnest while not caring at all?

I love how you randomly brought up Poe as well, my first mental "category" for Poe is, again, biting irony or satire using overwrought language... which seems kind of apt.


Clarke Owens | 73 comments I'm surprised to see Ballard's prose style compared to Poe's.


message 33: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments It’s a vague feeling Clarke, maybe just that the writing in both is elaborate and unusually descriptive. On another vector entirely I am reminded Paul Theroux, for the distancing feeling I get between narrator and reader, and also both authors are enthusiastically mean to their characters, in a way.


Kathleen | 254 comments Lark wrote: "Also: How are people defining the tonal register of Ballard's writing here? ..."

I got my copy yesterday and am on Chapter 5. This is my first Ballard (tho I have seen the films Empire of the Sun and Crash).

I definitely get a little noir feel, but what comes across the strongest for me is gallows humor.

So far I'm not sure if he's targeting any particular group. It sounds more to me like the general sarcasm and disgust and sometimes a little get-off-my-lawn anger that can come with getting older (or so I'm finding!).

I completely agree about the sentences.
"Congregations roamed the streets, hungry for a charismatic figure who would emerge sooner or later from the wilderness of a suburban shopping mall and scent a promising wind of passion and credulity."
Extraordinary choice of words here! I especially like scent as a verb.

Anyway, loving this so far.


message 35: by lark (last edited Apr 21, 2019 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments speaking of scents, Kathleen, right about the same place in the novel I started noticing a lot of them--

The protest had ended and the last cordite vapour from the thunderflashes drifted under the ceiling lights.

I realized that a second odour had replaced the tang of cordite. As the thunder-flashes exploded, a thousand terrified creatures had joined in a collective act of panic, and the exhibition hall was filled with the potent stench of feline urine.

A less bracing scent, the odour of the guilty and the unwashed, hung over the magistrates' court in Hammersmith Grove.

Resting against her hip, I could smell a heady perfume and woollen suiting, overlaid by perspiration brought on by sheer indignation, an unsettling aura that made me look up at her.

She sniffed the air, clearly unsure whether she liked her own body scent, and beckoned me to follow her.

She nodded approvingly as I inhaled the heady vapour...


and on and on. once I noticed there were smells everywhere, on every page.


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Can anyone shed light on Ballard's politics? There are lots of things to object to about middle class life, but since the middle class people are doing the objecting, and since they are given to pointless violence, it doesn't seem as if they are given any credit for objecting. And who is the intended audience for their objection? I guess it's just a total send-up of all things middle class. I wonder also about Hugh's comment that politics are different now than they were in 2003, because it makes me think about reasons to take to the streets. And then I wonder if Ballard would take the view that that very idea is somehow a bourgeois fallacy. This is really just a question, because I don't know the answer.


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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Clarke here is an interview w. Ballard that touches on these subjects:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...

He seems fairly guarded to me even when he's supposedly talking about himself freely.


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Lark wrote: "Clarke here is an interview w. Ballard that touches on these subjects:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...

He seems fairly guarded to me even wh..."


Thank you, Lark. This interview is very enlightening. It confirms that Markham is indeed drawn to Gould, in sympathy with his movement to some extent. JGB's interest in pictorial art was instructive for me, particularly because (especially in The Drought, was that the name of it?) the images are so powerfully drawn. His prescience is emphasized in the prologue, and in his comment about the future becoming a "Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies." The comments on humor were also helpful. I do think one reads MP with tongue firmly in cheek.


message 39: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments I'm still taken aback almost on a sentence by sentence by Ballard's prose choices. Here is another:

A less agreeable odour than engine oil or Cathay Pacific toothpaste hung around the stained sleeves of his suit, a hint of unwashed bodies of Down's children.

It's hard to imagine how anyone could write this sentence.


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Lark wrote: "I'm still taken aback almost on a sentence by sentence by Ballard's prose choices. Here is another:

A less agreeable odour than engine oil or Cathay Pacific toothpaste hung around the stained sle..."


I could direct you to some equally tasteless sentences by Joyce.


message 41: by lark (last edited Apr 29, 2019 07:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Clarke wrote: "I could direct you to some equally tasteless sentences by Joyce.
..."


I get you mean this jokingly but here is some thought about this anyway...

I always feel like Joyce is tapping into his own true erotic sense of the world, or maybe his characters' erotic sense of the world.

When I read these Ballard sentences, though, I think he's trying to be deliberately provocative, author-to-reader. I don't think he really thinks Downs children have a certain smell, or that the smell would somehow transfer to someone's shirt sleeves. I don't think the character thinks that either. So I don't read it as tasteless (probably good for my enjoyment of Ballard). I read it as an extreme (and extremely condensed) social comment...that this novel exists in a world where Downs Syndrome children are neglected and unwashed. Or possibly that the real world is such a place, to Ballard.

I know it's just one sentence but there are so many sentences here that have the same effect, of packing themselves full of meaning, and usually that meaning is a harsh critique of humanity.


Clarke Owens | 73 comments Lark wrote: "Clarke wrote: "I could direct you to some equally tasteless sentences by Joyce.
..."

I get you mean this jokingly but here is some thought about this anyway...

I always feel like Joyce is tappin..."


So when you say "It's hard to imagine how anyone could write this sentence" you mean this as praise? What about the claim that the sentences seem outdated?


message 43: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Clarke wrote: "So when you say "It's hard to imagine how anyone could write this sentence" you mean this as praise? What about the claim that the sentences seem outdated? ..."

I start with the assumption that Ballard the author is NOT a bigot, and is also, that he is not insensitive to the disabled, or a racist, or a misogynist, etc., even though he writes sentences in all the novels I've read that appear to commit all these offenses and more.

I think I do mean it as praise. Because even though these words and phrases frequently feel like a gut-punch, they are also always very beautifully expressed. It's like listening to the most erudite and elegant and intellectual shock jock possible. Or like he is taking the vocabulary of hate speech and rendering it ridiculously sublime and therefore powerless.

Did I say "outdated?" Well I guess in some ways it is. That would get back to the feeling I expressed in another thread though about the dialog feeling like characters are straw men for various political points of view...it seems like characters in books used to speak this way more frequently in earlier eras.


message 44: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 266 comments Lark, "the most erudite and elegant and intellectual shock jock possible." That sums Ballard's fearlessness up. Sometimes he's on the poetic side of shock jock - "Cloud Sculptors of Coral D" - sometimes he's using that willingness to shock to make a story more vivid, as with his image of the smell of the Downs children - not their disability, but the lackadaisical care they lived through.
He's not afraid to paint with black as well as white.

Similarly, in translating The Arabian Nights, Galland (and Lane) stayed away from the darkest elements of the originals. The result is a hazy, prettified Arab world. Burton's 1001 Nights shows the black in the originals, leaving a truer view of that distant world.


message 45: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia I think Joyce’s colorful language is a little different. He’s playing with an Odyssey of styles, and there was a time when explicit, grotesque or comedic depiction of body functions and farts and sex were extremely common in literature. It’s also a movement towards the union of the appetitive and rational(izing) souls, so the carnal is present but moves towards synthesis with another side of human subjective experience or capability.

I’m “provoked” by Ballard’s language, not because the wordings are crass or offensive; I’m provoked by this suffocating self-control in writing about shock jokes (i.e. rebels, protestors, random violence perpetrators, state violence) with dead, academic manner of speaking. Like he (narrator) really wants to make sure you notice he is really, fundamentally, honestly a respectable, educated, harmless, considerate middle class:

(view spoiler) ← quote from last page of the book , don’t click if you hate spoilers!

The author’s choice of passionless language in depicting these sensational experiences is like a performance of what he’s saying.


message 46: by lark (last edited Apr 29, 2019 06:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Lia wrote: "I’m provoked by this suffocating self-control in writing about shock jokes (i.e. rebels, protestors, random violence perpetrators, state violence) with dead, academic manner of speaking. Like he (narrator) really wants to make sure you notice he is really, fundamentally, honestly a respectable, educated, harmless, considerate middle class..."

Exactly my feeling!

Maybe this feeling we're having about Ballard's prose explains in part why the essays I discovered that seemed to be most enlightening and insightful about Ballard's novels were written by Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens.


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lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments I posted the essays in the general/no spoilers thread but here they are again:

"From outer space to inner space" by Martin Amis (The Guardian, 2009):
https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...

"The Catastrophist" by Cristopher Hitchens (The Atlantic, 2010):
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/...


message 48: by lark (last edited Apr 29, 2019 06:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments sorry to be posting haphazardly and in sound bites--I'm making dinner and it's just hit me that all three of these writers coming from a similar perspective in that they are all immensely confident, and immensely sure of themselves and of their intellectual points of view. I'm not sure if Ballard is like that in his non-fiction or his 'true voice' but his narrative voice in fiction is very much that way so it makes sense that Hitchens and Amis would respond to it.


message 49: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Thanks for the links, Lark. I prefer short sound bites, as they are easier for my twitter-corrupted brain to process. 😳

This is my first Ballard, I haven’t even seen Empire of the Sun yet, so it’s hard for me to process the comments or context. But that *just* made me notice for the first time that this is a wildcard pick. I’m so bad at telling genre from literary!

Everything about this book — from critiques of consumer society to the weird subculture language and even conspiracy and random violence and provocative comments on 9/11– reminded me of DeLillo. And I tend to think of DeLillo as “literary” (even though many of the subject matters he wrote about are typically seen as genre, hmmm), so that’s probably why it took me so long to figure out this one is by an author known for SF!


message 50: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 130 comments Lia I think Ballard is hard to classify. I guess if he were writing today he might be classified as "speculative fiction" which is something like a lot of literary writers write these days--Atwood, Murakami, Ishiguro, Whitehead, Emily St. John Mandel...I was thoughtful about nominating this novel as a wild card and thought I'd let the mods decide after I nominated it. I'm even more wondering about its genre-ness now that I've read it, and have delved deeper into the way the prose works here...how this story is told is at least as important as the story itself, which is my vague definition of what makes something 'literary.'


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