THE "ATROCITY EXHIBITION" DISCUSSIONS (from the JGB list at Yahoo Groups)

NARRATIVE STYLE & THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION


The following exchange started with a discussion of Ballard's 1966 essays Notes from Nowhere and Images of the Future, in in which he examined some of the concerns that lay behind his latest writings, which would eventually be included in The Atrocity Exhibition.


[RMcG: 31 December 2007]

JGB (from "Notes from Nowhere"): The analytic function of this new fiction should not be overlooked. Most fiction is synthetic in method -- as Freud remarked, rightly I feel, a sure sign of immaturity.

So, there's a hint: the new stuff (AE) will be non-synthetic... and therefore more mature 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 31 December 2007]

JGB (from "Images of the Future"): One is dealing not with a formal sequence of events and relationships but with a series of shifting networks of possibilities that resemble the anticipated moves of a chess game. ... Above all, then, the future presents itself to us as a series of quantified images and relationships.

I've wondered in the past exactly what JGB means by "quantified". Maybe the chess game analogy suggests that he means something like "calculated" (in the non-mathematical sense in which one calculates possible moves in a chess game), or maybe more simply "analysed". 

JGB (from "Images of the Future"): ... over the last decade or so it seems to me that more and more people have come to terms with the past, declaring a private moratorium on their own past failures and experiences, and are becoming more and more fascinated by a future that presents itself in terms of uncertainty, opportunity and the brilliant illumination of the chance encounter.

As we've mentioned before, the non-linear narrative form hardly features at all in JGB's fiction after the late '60s. Maybe this is part of the reason why - after that decade people tended to retreat from the open possibilities of the future to "safer" areas.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 31 December 2007]

MH wrote: I've wondered in the past exactly what JGB means by "quantified". Maybe the chess game analogy suggests that he means something like "calculated" (in the non-mathematical sense in which one calculates possible moves in a chess game), or maybe more simply "analysed".

I think you're right... or on the right track

"Quantified" is used three other times in this piece. In the first para:

JGB (from "Notes from Nowhere"): In "The Drowned World", "The Drought" and "The Crystal World" I tried to construct linear systems that made no use of the sequential elements of time -- basically, a handful of ontological "myths". However, in spite of my efforts, the landscapes of these novels more and more began to quantify themselves. Images and events became isolated, defining their own boundaries. Crocodiles enthroned themselves in the armour of their own tissues.

Just prior to that he's defined SF as "a prospective form of fiction, concerned with the immediate present in terms of the future rather than the past", which is then compared to "social" fiction: "the principal narrative technique of retrospective fiction, the sequential and consequential narrative, based as it is on an already established set of events and relationships, is wholly unsuited to create the images of a future that has as yet made no concessions to us." 

It appears JG is saying that he tried to make these non-linear, but the old forms die hard and those "already established" links "of events and relationships" creep back in ... 

So quantified could mean "analyzed within an historical perspective" -- what I suppose we all do, and not looking forward, where, I would guess, nothing is known... but all is possibility... 

Para #11 is simply "Quantify" ... but it comes right after the famous #10: 

JGB (from "Notes from Nowhere"): 10. Planes intersect: on one level, the world of public events ... On another level, the immediate personal environment ... On a third level, the inner world of the psyche. Where these planes intersect, images are born. With these co-ordinates, some kind of valid reality begins to clarify itself.

And in #13 the third use -- JG quotes Dali:

JGB (from "Notes from Nowhere"): 13. Dali: "After Freud's explorations within the psyche it is now the outer world of reality which will have to be quantified and eroticised." Query: at what point does the plane of intersection of two cones become sexually more stimulating than Elizabeth Taylor's cleavage?

Dali's use of the word also implies analysis... or at least a new kind of consciousness... with an emphasis on measurement -- the scientific "how much"? -- which is then eroticised -- remade by the imagination, transformed into an extension of the ego ... JG's comic question is also revealing, as he clearly demonstrates the point of dali's remark by imaginatively transforming a scientific shape into breasts ... all is symbolic in the subjective world, no? 

Hey, perhaps that's it... to quantify is to make something an objective reality by measurement & analysis, which is the step before it is eroticised -- made subjective -- which is sorta what JG seems to be saying in his 3-step formula in #10... public (outer world of reality) + private (personal perception) + psyche (imagination) = images... or something like that... regardless, these images tend to clarify reality...

Dali gives us one more clue... in his balanced statement he basically equates "explorations" with "quantified and eroticised" ... so there's an element of dealing with an unknown landscape here, as well... 

As for the "handful of ontological 'myths'" he tried to create in the 3 novels? well, isn't that what he achieved in AE?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 1 January 2008]

RMcG wrote: So quantified could mean "analyzed within an historical perspective" -- what I suppose we all do, and not looking forward ...

Mmm, not sure that's quite right.

I'm pondering that whole nexus of time, quantification, synthesis, etc that JGB throws into the Notes from Nowhere and Images of the Future essays. 

But one aspect still puzzles me ... and that's when he says "The analytic function of this new fiction should not be overlooked. Most fiction is synthetic in method -- as Freud remarked, rightly I feel, a sure sign of immaturity." Despite madly Googling away, I can't come up with anything that Freud says about synthesis and immaturity - there's some interesting hints but nothing definitive. That might be because Freud used different terminology and "synthesis" was used by later commentators.

Incidentally, here's a similar JGB quote I found on the web, from a 1969 interview in "Speculation":

JGB (from 1969 interview in "Speculation"): Freud pointed out that you have to distinguish between analytic activity, which by and large is what the sciences are, and synthetic activities which are what the arts are. The trouble with the Heinlein-Asimov type of Science Fiction is that it’s completely synthetic. Freud also said that synthetic activities are a sign of immaturity, and I think that’s where classical Science Fiction falls down.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 1 January 2008]

MH, quoting JGB: Freud pointed out that you have to distinguish between analytic activity, which by and large is what the sciences are, and synthetic activities which are what the arts are. The trouble with the Heinlein-Asimov type of Science Fiction is that it’s completely synthetic. Freud also said that synthetic activities are a sign of immaturity, and I think that’s where classical Science Fiction falls down.

Synthesis is a function of the Ego in freud.... and the ego is battlefield of Id and Superego, the place of encounters and relationships with fellow humans, home of consciousness, sensory perception, memory, the awareness and expression of affect, thinking, control of motor behaviour, language, reality testing, integration & synthesis... it is the SYNTHESIZER of demands from the Id and Superego, and also the GUIDE for people interacting with the real world... this guiding freud called the EXECUTIVE function

So... is synthetic "immature" when it is "completely synthetic"? is it then simply an extension of childhood fantasies of power and aggression? isn't that the usual knock on SF? that's it's a type of escape literature?

In that case, the Analytic must be a function of the Superego, that place of parental influences, authoritarian commands and social conventions, time programmer and control tower for the implementation of the programme... Andrew Cutrofello also adds: the superego also is a reaction-formation that marks the difference between space as a form of outer intuition and time as a form of inner intuition...

Anyway... I found this (and lots others... just google freud + "synthetic Activity"):

Stéphanie Z. Dudek and Florence Hoechstetter, abstract for "Libidinal Drive as Index of Creativity and Synthetic Ability in Artists": The goal of the present paper is to examine, within the context of psychoanalytic theory, the extent to which libidinal drive defines and enters into the artist's desire and ability to achieve synthesis, as reflected in imaginative responses to the Rorschach test. The basic Freudian postulate is that synthesis is the essential component in creative artistic activity, and that this ability depends on the ego's capacity to integrate libidinal and aggressive drive in the service of creative transformation. Integration can occur only if libidinal drives are readily available and preferably if they are present in excess of the aggressive (It is Eros that unites [Freud 1923, Silberman 1961]). There are many ways of obtaining an insight into the degree and quality of drive energy available to the functioning ego. Among these are dreams, free associations, phantasies, projective test responses, reflections, or ideation during the creative process.

Basically... what JG seems to be (perversely) saying is that we tend to get literary crap (retrospective narrative) when the ego completely synthesizes input from Id and Superego ... JG appears to want some kind of imbalance or non-synthesis to appear, which will add an analytic component to the produced creative work... I'd guess the Id over the superego... which certainly seems freudian and surreal to me 

Does that make sense?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 1 January 2008]

That's another helpful hint towards understanding Freud's comment (or supposed comment) about synthesis being a sign of immaturity. I've already found a few others, so I'll try and pull some sort of summary together tomorrow.

But it's still rather annoying not to have a direct source for what was evidently an important point for JGB. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 1 January 2008]

I think we're off base here...

JG is saying Synthetic, not Synthesis... big difference! 

To sum up, this whole thing started with JG's slamming of "retrospective narrative" in favour of "prospective fiction".... he's saying the past -- cultural history, our memories -- is no place to find "images of a future"

JG's error when he first tried to break away with his first 3 novels? "in spite of my efforts, the landscapes of these novels more and more began to quantify themselves" 

How did these landscapes "quantify themselves"? 

Elements of the story "became isolated, defining their own boundaries"... that sounds to me like he lost creative control over them... how? because he couldn't pry them out of the "sequential elements of time", meaning he couldn't get his mind out of the traditional narrative form 

JG doesn't say what's "bad" about this directly, but he tells us the "good" by opposition: ...[in the 3 AE stories] "narrative technique seems to show a tremendous gain in the density of ideas and images".... implying a lack of same in "retrospective narrative"

He continues: "The linear elements have been eliminated, the reality of the narrative is relativistic. Therefore place on the events only the perspective of a given instant, a given set of images and relationships." 

To overcome history is to destroy culture and accept the reality of death (so sez Norman O. Brown) 

Apparently, surrealism will help, "turning its writers away fron so- called realism to a more open and imaginative manner" (implying realism is closed and unimaginative...) 

JG elaborates:

JGB from the 1966 book review "The Coming of the Unconscious": surrealism is in fact the first movement ... to place "the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible." This calculated submission of the impulses and fantasies of our inner lives to the rigours of time and space, to the formal inquisition of the sciences, psychoanalysis pre-eminent among them, produces a heightened or alternate reality beyond and above those familiar to either our sight or our senses. What uniquely characterises this fusion of the outer world of reality and the inner world of the psyche (which I have termed "inner space") is its redemptive and therapeutic power. To move through these landscapes is a journey of return to one's innermost being.

For "fusion" it's easy to substitute "synthesis"... for "the formal inquisition of the sciences", you can say "quantify"... for "its redemptive and therapeutic power" you can say "eroticize" 

And again:

JGB from "The Coming of the Unconscious": This preoccupation with the analytic function of the sciences as a means of codifying and fractionating the inner experience of the senses is seen in the use surrealism made of discoveries in optics and photography -- for example, in the physiologist E. J. Marey's Chronograms, multiple-exposure photographs in which the dimension of time is perceptible, the moving figure of a man represented as a series of dune-like lumps. Its interest in the peculiar timevalues of oceanic art, in the concealed dimensions hinted at by Rorschach tests, culminated in psychoanalysis. This, with its emphasis on the irrational and perverse, on the significance of apparently free or random associations, its symbolism and whole concept of the unconscious, was a complete mythology of the psyche -- moreover, a functional mythology which could be used for the systematic exploration of the inner reality of our lives.

I'd say retrospective fiction doesn't do any of that -- it refuses to be used for "the systematic exploration of the inner reality of our lives." 

And, I suspect, neither does the work of heinlein or asimov -- they're "synthetic" in the more classic definition -- imitative and insincere 

Which leads me to think that JG means "imitative" and not "combined" 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 2 January 2008]

RMcG wrote: I think we're off base here ... JG is saying Synthetic, not Synthesis... big difference! <snip> The work of heinlein or asimov -- they're "synthetic" in the more classic definition -- imitative and insincere which leads me to think that JG means "imitative" and not "combined"

Mmm, I don't think I agree with this.

Here's where the phrase "synthetic" appears in "Notes from Nowhere" (1966): "The analytic function of this new fiction should not be overlooked. Most fiction is synthetic in method -- as Freud remarked, rightly I feel, a sure sign of immaturity."

And here's where it appears in the interview in the fanzine "Speculation" (1969): "Freud pointed out that you have to distinguish between analytic activity, which by and large is what the sciences are, and synthetic activities which are what the arts are. The trouble with the Heinlein Asimov type of Science Fiction is that it’s completely synthetic. Freud also said that synthetic activities are a sign of immaturity, and I think that’s where classical Science Fiction falls down."

In both cases, "synthetic" method or activity is contrasted with that which is analytic. And in both case Freud is invoked as saying that synthetic activities are a sign of immaturity. Further, JGB says that the arts tend to be synthetic rather than analytic.

So I'd still view JGB's use of "synthetic" as meaning something along the lines of "assimilative" or "integrative" rather than "imitative".

RMcG wrote: For "fusion" it's easy to substitute "synthesis"... for "the formal inquisition of the sciences", you can say "quantify"... for "its redemptive and therapeutic power" you can say "eroticize"

Yes - I think that's along the right lines. I'm still thinking my way through all this - or rather, my unconscious is ;) - so those comments are very helpful.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 2 January 2008]

MH wrote: In both cases, "synthetic" method or activity is contrasted with that which is analytic. And in both case Freud is invoked as saying that synthetic activities are a sign of immaturity. Further, JGB says that the arts tend to be synthetic rather than analytic.

So I'd still view JGB's use of "synthetic" as meaning something along the lines of "assimilative" or "integrative" rather than "imitative".

Yeah... that sounds good... I found this definition of synthesis: 

• the combination of ideas to form a theory or system (me: or work of art) 

Contrasting with this for analysis:

• the process of separating something into its constituent elements. 

However, note JG says synthetic "in method" -- which is not to say synthesis itself is immature, but that the novelist's technique (method) is somehow immature... 

Which I take to mean, esp with the reference to asimov and heinlein, "having or showing emotional or intellectual development appropriate to someone younger" 

I'll be generous and say JG meant "showing" -- as in, writing for hormone-challenged teenagers. Sound good?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 2 January 2008]

RMcG wrote: which I take to mean, esp with the reference to asimov and heinlein, "having or showing emotional or intellectual development appropriate to someone younger"

Well they may well have done! But then why bother invoking the authority of Freud? ;) 

I think the best I can do with JGB's contention that Freud held synthesis to be immature is the following ... 

Firstly, Austin Silber notes that in "Totem and Taboo", Freud "clearly introduces the concept of a synthetic function" of the ego. He then quotes Freud from T&T as follows:

Freud: There is an intellectual function in us which demands unity, connection and intelligibility from any material, whether of perception or thought, that comes within its grasp; and if, as a result of special circumstances, it is unable to establish a true connection, it does not hesitate to fabricate a false one. Systems constructed in this way are known to us not only from dreams, but also from phobias, from obsessive thinking and from delusions.

Then I've got this quote from Hans Loewald:

Loewald:  The original identity of ego and reality is connected, in experiential terms, with the original oneness of infant and mother. The view of reality as a hostile antagonist is connected with the emphasis on the hostile, castrating role of the father prevailing in psychoanalytic descriptions of the psychosexual development which culminates in the Oedipus situation. ... The synthetic-integrative function of the ego must derive from the original identity between ego and reality in the primary narcissistic position, when there are as yet no boundaries between the two. ... The original identity with the mother and its derivative, the libidinal relationship to the mother, remains the deepest source of the ego's synthetic activity in which it integrates with its reality. But reality is also characterized by differentiation and objectivity as it develops in the maturation process of the ego. The father is the figure who, through primary identification and through his interference with the libidinal relationship of the child with the mother, promotes the emancipatory and objectivating tendencies that lead to the organization of a reality which is distinct from the ego, a development that reaches its first phase of culmination in the Oedipus situation.

So I'd suggest the following sort of picture of the analytic and synthetic functions of the psyche ... The ego develops from an initial situation where the unborn child is integral with the mother inside the womb - i.e. where there is no difference between self and world. Out of the womb, the infant starts to differentiate and objectify an external world (i.e. objects and their relationships); this is the "analytic-differentiating" function of the psyche. But the psyche also retains a "synthetic-integrative" function that derives from the initial situation in the womb, and which helps the developing individual to relate and adapt to the external world. 

But the world outside can be felt as emotionally threatening, and there is therefore a risk that the psyche will forego some of its objectification processes, and instead revert to a more narcissistic position whereby the synthetic functions are predominant and the world outside becomes understood in terms of the interior world. This is presumably why Freud said (or so JGB claims) that synthetic activity is a sign of immaturity. Of course, the synthetic functions are necessary for the normal development of the psyche, and for artistic creation, but the *over-emphasis* of the synthetic functions of the psyche is a sign of immaturity - of retreat from a frightening reality towards the safer, undivided world of the womb. 

Which raises the issue of how all this relates to JGB's criticism of modernist literature and of the SF of Asimov and Heinlein, but this missive is long enough as it is ... so more on that later.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 3 January 2008]

Freud, quoted by MH: There is an intellectual function in us which demands unity, connection and intelligibility from any material, whether of perception or thought, that comes within its grasp; and if, as a result of special circumstances, it is unable to establish a true connection, it does not hesitate to fabricate a false one. Systems constructed in this way are known to us not only from dreams, but also from phobias, from obsessive thinking and from delusions.

Beautiful.... "where planes intersect, images are born"

Hans Loewald, quoted by MH: The original identity of ego and reality is connected, in experiential terms, with the original oneness of infant and mother. ...

When I read this I immediately flashed to the scenes in Empire where young jamie misinterprets the meaning of the footprints in the powder on the floor of his mother's bedroom... culminating in the broken mirror image, and the synthesis of young jamie's oedipal desires...

MH wrote:  But the world outside can be felt as emotionally threatening, and there is therefore a risk that the psyche will forego some of the objectification processes of the psyche ...

I think you should replace "psyche" with "ego" ... 

MH wrote: ... and instead revert to a more narcissistic position whereby the synthetic functions are predominant and the world outside becomes understood in terms of the interior world.

Yeah... that seems like it -- an inability to understand the interior world in terms of the outside world... sounds like me as a teenager... pleasure principle over reality principle every day

MH wrote: Of course, the synthetic functions are necessary for the normal development of the psyche, and for artistic creation, but the *over-emphasis* of the synthetic functions of the psyche is a sign of immaturity - of retreat from a frightening reality towards the safer, undivided world of the womb.

Again, try ego for psyche... then you can see how the ego "escapes"... hence escapist stuff, which is immature (but not infantile)

MH wrote: Which raises the issue of how all this relates to JGB's criticism of modernist literature and of the SF of Asimov and Heinlein, but this missive is long enough as it is ... so more on that later.

This started because you were curious about JG how used the word "quantify" (believe it or not)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 3 January 2008]

RMcG wrote : Beautiful. ... "where planes intersect, images are born"

Yes, but the production of a "valid reality" (as JGB puts it) in the intersection of different planes is a mix of both the analytic and synthetic functions, isn't it? You first need to discriminate and objectify the possibilities and the relationships between them (analytic), then start to integrate them into a "reality" (synthesis). Shades of Hegel/Marx here, I guess!

RMcG wrote: Again, try ego for psyche... then you can see how the ego "escapes"... hence escapist stuff, which is immature (but not infantile)

Well I actually started with "ego" but changed it to "psyche", which I felt was a more general, less technical, term! Was I wrong there?

RMcG wrote: This started because you were curious about JG how used the word "quantify" (believe it or not)

That's what the analytic function does, isn't it? Discriminates and objectifies objects, events, relationships ... or "quantify" as JGB puts it.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 3 January 2008]

I'll try and answer the question I posed yesterday: if an over-emphasis of the synthetic functions of the ego is a sign of immaturity (a retreat from a frightening reality towards the safer, undivided world of the womb), how does this relate to JGB's criticism of modernist literature and the SF of Asimov and Heinlein? (Where I've quoted JGB, it's from the 1966 essays "Notes from Nowhere" (NFN) and "Images of the Future" (IOTF).) 

I think we need to start with JGB's views on the nature of the past and the future. The past is closed, a realm of definite occurrences that is described in terms of a linear narrative, i.e. a "sequential and consequential narrative, based ... on an already established set of events and relationships" (NFN, para 1). The future, on the other hand, is seen as being far more open, as full of possibility. It is a flux of events and relationships that has "as yet made no concessions to us" (NFN, para 1). It is perceived as a "free play and rapid association of ideas and images" (IOTF. 4th para). 

So understanding the present through the past is to see the present in terms of some pre-existing schema or set of ideas that is incorporated into a particular narrative. The present is assimilated to our existing understanding, and as such this is essentially a synthetic activity. Indeed, one might argue that it is also an inherently *conservative* activity, since our understanding of the present is expressed only in the fixed terms of what has already happened. And that is one of the criticisms that JGB and Moorcock made of modernist literature and of traditional science fiction - that it is conservative (in the non-political sense) and unproductive; not for nothing did M. John Harrison once term SF a "Literature of Comfort". Indeed much SF was simply historical fiction transferred to a futuristic setting - for example, Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy being Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" transplanted to the whole Galaxy.

JGB's first approach to surmount this difficulty of the traditional narrative was to try and impose a *different* schema on the phenomena - a "mythology" or "psychological dynamic" (IOTF 8th para). But some non-linear elements will always escape such an imposed understanding; as JGB says about his early "disaster" novels, "a series of non-linear elements and images more and more began to force themselves through the texture of the narrative - the characters found themselves in situations that owed nothing or little to their place in the sequence of events" (IOTF, 8th para). In his 1963 essay Time, Memory and Inner Space, JGB was full of enthusiasm for what he saw as the "fusion" of past and present landscapes, of fantasy and reality, and of the inner and outer worlds - certainly a "synthetic" approach. But by 1966 he seems to have definitely changed his mind and turned to the "analytic" possibilities of non-linear narratives. 

So an alternative is to look at the present in terms of the open and unstructured possibilities of the future, and this is productive because "the most significant relationships and experiences of our lives are intelligible only in non-linear terms" (IOTF, 7th para). So when we consider the phenomena of the present outside the linear and causal narrative that is imposed by the past, we have to try and make sense of those phenomena *ourselves*, rather than by simply assimilating them to a particular schema or set of concepts. 

This requires us to imaginatively consider the various possibilities that are implicit in the world, trying to relate objects and events in various ways. There will be a multitude of such possibilities: "The linear elements [having] been eliminated, the reality of the narrative is relativistic. Therefore place on the events only the perspective of a given instant, a given set of images and relationships" (NFN, para 12). This activity requires analysis (i.e. the differentiation and objectification of *relationships* between phenomena) rather than synthesis (i.e. the assimilation of phenomena to our existing understanding): "Query: does the plane of intersection of the body of this woman in my room with the cleavage of Elizabeth Taylor generate a valid image of the glazed eyes of Chiang Kai Shek, an invasion plan of the offshore islands?" (NFN, para 15).

According to JGB, this approach should enable us to make more sense of our lives and of the world because we will be able to take account of those aspects that do not fit our existing schemas and explanations: "A huge portion of our lives is ignored, merely because it plays no direct part in conscious experience" (NFN, para 19). These aspects that conscious experience ignores occur in both our own psyches and the external world itself: "it seems to me that so much of what is going on, on both sides of the retina, makes nonsense unless viewed in these terms" (NFN, para 19). We see here a rationale for JGB's use of psychoanalytic concepts (manifest vs latent content, analytic vs synthetic activity, eroticisation) - both the interior and exterior worlds have aspects that escape our existing understanding and we can therefore use the same approach to comprehend the exterior world as we do to understand the interior. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 3 January 2008]

MH wrote: You first need to discriminate and objectify the possibilities and the relationships between them (analytic), then start to integrate them into a "reality" (synthesis). Shades of Hegel/Marx here, I guess!

Probably not so much Marx as Hegel, who knew more about history than Freud, but was unaware of the unconscious

Yes... it must be a mix... public/personal/imaginative = valid reality:

Norman O. Brown, from "Life Against Death": the notion of art as a mode of instinctual liberation suggests a further distinction between art on the one hand and dreams and neurosis on the other. Dreams and neurosis give expression to the repressed unconscious, but they do not liberate it.... perhaps we should say that neurosis and dreams are the determinate outcome of the unconscious, while art is its conscious articulation.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 3 January 2008]

I'm still somewhat puzzled by JGB's sudden dropping of the At Ex narrative style after '69. I mean, he was really into it, wasn't he? ... writing some pretty impenetrable essays about what he was doing, mentioning it in interviews (and there's that one with George MacBeth which is reproduced in the Doubleday At Ex) ... and then he suddenly just drops it. Maybe as well as artistic concerns (doesn't work for different subject matter) there's more personal psychological stuff in play here, as you suggest, Rick - he'd worked through whatever it was that was coming up from inside him, and playing around with that style no longer interested him.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 4 January 2008]

Amazingly fascinating time... it's like he can't wait to discuss his ideas about the form & content SF should take -- and in a few years all this excitement had passed, and he was back to writing in more traditional narrative forms

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 5 January 2008]

RMcG wrote: ... in a few years all this excitement had passed, and he was back to writing in more traditional narrative forms.

By 1973, in that unpublished interview dug out of the Merril Centre, JGB was explaining it like this:

JGB, from unpublished 1973 interview: When I was writing about the Kennedys I was writing about the world of the 1960s, a world of multiplying confusions of every conceivable kind, and I liked to use a technique appropriate -- an episodic and, if you like, non-linear technique appropriate to the sort of television landscapes that we were living in then. Now, in "Crash", my book about the motorcar - [and] my next book that I've got coming out, called "Concrete Island", about a man who's marooned on a traffic island in a rather large city - I'm using what I think is the appropriate technique, straightforward narration, simply because the ideas themselves, particularly in "Crash", are so unexpected - incomprehensible to some people, challenging, if you like. The best way of expressing them is in a straightforward way.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 5 January 2008]

MH, quoting JGB: The ideas themselves, particularly in "Crash", are so unexpected - incomprehensible to some people, challenging, if you like. The best way of expressing them is in a straightforward way.

Say, mike... might that mean that, in essence, the stories of AE are NOT "so unexpected - incomprehensible", and JG had to rely on form to render them thus? 

I found it interesting that Talbot's quasar music machine on the roof may be a 3-dimensional representation of the story: "In fact I believe that one may be able one day to represent a novel or short story, with all its images and relationships, simply as a three-dimensional geometric model." 

Then he backtracks:

JGB, from "Notes from Nowhere": For the moment it's difficult to tell where this thing will go. One problem that worries me is that a short story, or even, ultimately, a novel, may become nothing more than a three-dimensional geometric model. Nevertheless, it seems to me that so much of what is going on, on both sides of the retina, makes nonsense unless viewed in these terms. A huge portion of our lives is ignored, merely because it plays no direct part in conscious experience.

I take this to mean he's worried the form could become completely mathematical -- "scientific" -- but he's willing to accept this because the scientific approach appears to be the only way to make sense of the exterior and the interior world -- "both sides of the retina".... then JG gets freudian again, referencing the limitations of consciousness when dealing with the "huge portion" managed by the unconscious 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 5 January 2008]

RMcG wrote: Say, mike... might that mean that, in essence, the stories of AE are NOT "so unexpected - incomprehensible", and JG had to rely on form to render them thus?

Not really! I think it's more a case of the form matching the subject matter in each case. 

The narrative style of At Ex deals in fragmentation, complexity, and uncertainty, which seems well-suited to the subject matter of At Ex in two ways. 

* Firstly it matches the increasingly complex and mediatised nature of the external environment. As JGB later put it: "[T-Man] expressed the sort of dilemma of any thinking person of the 1960s faced with this huge overload of sensational mass media, or Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, the whole counter culture, drugs. The global apple cart had been completely overturned, and apples - bloody apples - were rolling in all directions" (JGB, from the commentary to Jonathan Weiss's film of "The Atrocity Exhibition"). And in "Images of the Future" (1966), he refers to the cultural milieu as characterised by "shifting networks of possibilities", "free play and rapid association of ideas and images", "rapidly changing currencies, bizarre images and apparently random or, far worse, inexplicable experiences", "the goulash of ideas, images, activities, relationships and dreams", and so on. 

* Secondly the style of At Ex fits a protagonist who is trying to make sense of his own fragmented life; T-Man's personal and work relationships are at breaking point and he is suffering a mental breakdown. 

However, after the book's completion JGB found (perhaps to his own surprise) that the style didn't work so well for other topic areas. In the period 1968 to 1970 (from "University of Death" onwards), JGB became increasingly concerned with a much more specific topic - the interplay between car crashes and eroticism that was to drive the narrative of "Crash". And here the concerns are far more tightly focussed; in fact, to be believable the narrative might need to be much more claustrophobic than the open style of At Ex, so that neither the protagonist nor the reader start to think "this is getting just too weird". In other words, you make the thing believable by excluding other logics. And doesn't "Crash" do exactly that? Maybe that's what JGB realised after he tried using the non-linear style in "Journey Across a Crater", which features car crashes and a wheelchair-bound Gabrielle, and why he felt that particular story just "didn't work".

Or ... maybe he just got bored with it?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 5 January 2008]

JGB (from 1969 interview in "Speculation"): For the first time the outside world, so-called reality, is now almost completely a fiction. It's a media landscape, if you like. It's almost completely dominated by advertising, TV, mass-merchandising, politics conducted as advertising. People's lives, even their individual private lives, are getting more and more controlled by what I call fiction. By fiction I mean anything invented for imaginative purposes.

Therefore ... given that reality is now a fiction, it's not necessary for the writer to invent the fiction. The writer's relationship with reality is completely the other way around. It's the writer's job to find the reality, to invent the reality, not to invent the fiction. The fiction is already there.

There again I was starting to look at the characters, and the events of the story, in a very abstract, almost cubist way. I was isolating aspects of character, isolating aspects of the narrative, rather like a scientific investigator taking apart a strange machine to see how it works.

Nowadays, particularly in the social, psychological sciences, the raw material of science is a fiction invented by the scientists.

The world of these stories is the nearest I can reach to the matrix of my own consciousness and experience, an expression of the completely quantified and discontinuous flux of events taking place on both sides of my retina.

Applied to AE, could it be that Tman's "madness" is precipitated by the fact his life has become overrun and controlled by mediatised fictions, including the fictions of science, and his "quest" is to recover or find the reality of life (reality principle), which might be described as the reality of the psyche, which I would take as the healthy ego, able to synthesize those tensions between the demands of the inner & outer worlds?

If all is manifest, the trick is to discover the latent...

It's like JG has given us the story in jigsaw format, and we put the pieces together...

Does his machine do that?

Public fiction [put thru] personal analytic consciousness [put thru] the imagination (that which bubbles up from the unconscious) = images of a certain reality (the latent)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 5 January 2008]

DP wrote (in a discussion about JGB's use of religious imagery): I don't doubt JGB dislikes all established churches, and regards himself as an atheist; but why does he keep coming back to those "spiritual" themes?

Here's another of JGB's disavowals of religious belief that I came across in a 1991 interview:

Science Fiction Eye, Winter 1991: Q: Do you consider yourself religious? I detect flavors of both Gnosticism and Zen in your work; the former in the belief that the world of the senses is merely a shadow of the hyperworld; the latter in a sense of mind as the ultimate reality.

JGB: No [I don't consider myself religious] but I accept that the world presented to our senses is very much an artificial construct, and that the imagination can break through the conventional picture our central nervous systems have created.

Note that the question was framed in a very wide sense - it can't be interpreted just in terms of organised religion or some form of personalised God. JGB says "No" and then he jumps to a comment about our nervous system constructing the reality perceived by our senses.

And I find that a particularly significant comment. If, like JGB, you believe that the everyday world is a "construct" then what you may well be interested in is searching for some *other* view which is more interesting, inspiring, ecstatic, useful, or whatever - particularly if you use your imagination or your obsessions. But that other view is equally a "construct", albeit one that is more attractive so far as JGB is concerned.

But those commentators on JGB who are personally inclined towards the idea that there is some sort of "real world" or "real meaning" that lies behind the everyday world (and not just other ways of seeing or living) may misperceive JGB's search for other views as a search for a transcendent reality. That certainly seems to be the case with Gregory Stephenson in his book "Out of the Night and Into the Dream". But, on my reading of JGB, it just isn't so.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 5 January 2008]

MH wrote: But those commentators on JGB who are personally inclined towards the idea that there is some sort of "real world" or "real meaning" that lies behind the everyday world (and not just other ways of seeing or living) may misperceive JGB's search for other views as a search for a transcendent reality.

And in a way it explains JG's insistence of including the objective "real world -- reality principle" as an element of the creative process -- which I take to mean a refusal to accept any of the mediated options of living a life, such as those fictions presented by religion, hollywood movies, politicians as actors, advertising of cars... they all offer us images of what we might aspire to be, but are false because they serve a different master than our true inner selves

In a way, Tman in AE is trapped or liberated in a world where the only visual vocabulary available to him is either imposed by the external media, or exposed by his internal obsessions... his genius is in the way he creatively combines these concepts into a personalized quest to re-imagine himself as an individual... the manifest made latent, much to the horror of our consciousness 

By so doing, JG can escape the "immaturity" of the story written only for the "inner child", who, as a reader, demands the slavishly correct repetition of the same bedtime story...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[RMcG: 8 January 2008]

I've re-read "beyond the pleasure principle" and have decided AE is not a fictional representation of the death instinct, regardless of how many time freud pops up... but there are freudian elements -- the repetition, the avatars, the loss of time... 

As for the narrative technique: one could also image it as a linguistic representation of tman's "time music" machine (sculpture) in the uni of death: "antennae of metal aerials holding glass faces to the sun, the slides of diseased spinal levels" 

In many ways these stories are the same: each "slide" is a "chapter/paragraph" individually connected to the centre, and each slide can be read separately from each other, in any order, to achieve the same result: "time-music of the quasars" or, as JG says later in "the persistence of memory" -- "he realized the rectilinear forms of his conscious reality were warped elements from some placid and harmonious future"... is that death? I dunno... but in either case, it's an escape from the madness they all are trapped in

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[MH: 8 January 2008]

RMcG wrote, quoting JGB: "he realized the rectilinear forms of his conscious reality were warped elements from some placid and harmonious future"... is that death? I dunno...

The way I see it, the elements that T-Man will use in his "future" are already there, but not recognised properly, or used right, or whatever. So he has imagination, but hadn't used it to confront his problems; he's rational, but his logic was presumably like the "scientific madness" shown by Nathan; he has obsessions and desires, but they have been aimless rather than creative; the mediatised reality landscape is largely our own creation, but he is mystified and perhaps frightened by it. These are the "warped elements" of his "harmonious future" - but he needs to integrate them somehow, and for that he needs to let his imagination run for a bit, get away from Mr Rationality (Nathan), and hang out with Kline, Coma, & Xero to give his unconscious some leeway.


Back to the Contents Page