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

4: THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION


[MH: 20 November 2006]

Some thoughts on the next section of AE:

If "You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe" was straightforward on the surface, with its complications revealed by a deeper reading, "The Atrocity Exhibition" is complex at first sight - the story positively teems with different ideas. For a start, there's a far wider range of characters - Dr. Nathan, Catherine Austin, Captain Webster, Mrs Travis, two unnamed representatives of Travis's unconscious, and a elderly neighbour dying of cancer. We also have:

* not one, but three atrocity exhibitions: the patients' paintings; the exhibition of war wounds; and the real exhibition of atrocities - 'the human organism';

* a weapons range and obscure references to World War III;

* giant billboards all over the place;

* references to a host of 20th century personalities - Freud, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Eatherly, Garbo, Jeanne Moreau, Jean Cocteau, President Johnson, Richard Burton, Max Ernst;

* autobiographical references to China, to dead Japanese soldiers, and to the reservoirs of Staines and Shepperton

* obscene photographs of Travis's wife;

* a long list of 'terminal documents', and a series of 'secret transmissions'.

And Travis is preoccupied not only with World War III, but also with the geometry of the world, with the 'lost symmetry of the blastosphere', and with the notion of extracting time from everyday objects.

Despite this complexity, the basic elements of what is happening are pretty clear. Travis is explicitly said to be a doctor undergoing a nervous breakdown, and his aim is to enact (in some obscure manner) World War III, as a means to force a resolution of his psychological difficulties. As Dr Nathan puts it "What we are concerned with now [is] the complex of ideas and events represented by World War III. Not the political and military possibility, but the inner identity of such a notion. ... for [Travis] World War III ... has become an expression of the failure of his psyche to accept the fact of its own consciousness, and of his revolt against the present continuum of time and space." So the 'inner identity' - the essential nature - of World War III is that of a total catastrophe which envelopes every aspect of Travis's existence, but on the far side of which he seeks some sort of redemption - what Dr. Nathan refers to as 'recapturing the perfect symmetry of the blastosphere'. So Travis's desire to enact the catastrophe of World War III is akin to Ballard's suggestion that "we need to explore total alienation and find what lies beyond".

But the details of how Travis actually enacts World War III are obscure. Despite Nathan's calm assurances, the War *is* undertaken in a military sense. Travis involves the two companions from his unconscious, who appear in the guise of a girl with radiation burns and a bomber pilot (one a victim, the other a perpetrator?) We see the pilot helping the young girl into the cockpit of a crashed plane whilst Travis is marking out an area of the weapons range (the victim becomes a perpetrator in turn?) However, the actual deaths take place off-stage (as was the case in both *The Assassination Weapon* and *You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe*).

But Travis's enactment also involves the obsession with geometry and codes that characterized *You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe*. A set of 'interlocking cubes and cones' is described by Travis as a fusing sequences for a doomsday weapon, and he then goes in search of further parts for his doomsday device, exploring "the geometry and volumetric time of the bedroom, and later of the curvilinear roof of the Festival Hall, the jutting balconies of the London Hilton, and lastly of the abandoned weapons range."

A third element in Travis's version of Armageddon is Elizabeth Taylor. He considers that the weapons range models the actress, and paints an enormous picture of her body onto the walls at the weapons range. Nathan opines that "these designs [of Elizabeth Taylor] were more than enormous replicas. They were equations that embodied the relationship between the identity of the film actress and the audiences who were distant reflections of her. The planes of their lives interlocked at oblique angles, fragments of personal myths fusing with the commercial cosmologies." So by locating the actress's mystique at the weapons range, Travis ensures that the different levels or planes of existence are present at his planned doomsday moment. And at the end of the story, Travis is left alone with the painted figure of the actress.

Looking at this another way, perhaps we can see Travis's targets (which include a set of mannequins of public figures and Travis's own wife) as representing two of the three intersecting levels of his existence - the cultural and personal levels. After their destruction, Travis is left with just the third level - that of the obsessions of his own mind.

How these strands - the psychic companions, the geometric doomsday weapon, and the images of Liz Taylor - fit together to produce World War III is unclear ... possibly even to Travis. But the result is the death of Nathan, Webster, Austin, and Travis's wife. The psychic companions then make their departure, leaving Travis as the only one alive: "Lying on the worn concrete of the gunnery aisles, he assumed the postures of the film actress, assuaging his past dreams and anxieties in the dune-like fragments of her body." This is rather reminiscent of the ending to *The Assassination Weapon* where Traven is left contemplating a rusty bicycle wheel.

Is this a successful re-enactment? On Travis's own terms, perhaps, but maybe there is something too empty about Travis and his 'reality' on the other side of his third world war: the two representatives of Travis's unconscious have departed, and everyone else is dead.

On the whole, I didn't think that this story worked as well as the previous two. There seems to be just too much in the way of contents thrown into the mixer. On the other hand, perhaps this itself mirrors the complexity of modern life, a complexity that is contrasted with Travis's solitude and simplicity of actions in the last paragraph. Early on in the story, Travis recognizes that he is fragmenting and is losing himself in a twilight world ... and the obscureness of the connections between the different elements in the story reflect Travis's own psychological disintegration.

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

[UR: 21 November 2006]

MH, quoting JGB:  "What we are concerned with now [is] the complex of ideas and events represented by World War III. Not the political and military possibility, but the inner identity of such a  notion. ...  for [Travis] World War III ... has become an expression of the failure of his psyche to accept the fact of its own consciousness, and of his revolt against the present continuum of time and space."

I suspect that the Canadian chapter of Kindness might shed some light on this part of the AE ...

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

[MH: 21 November 2006]

UR wrote:  I suspect that the Canadian chapter of Kindness might shed some light on this part of the AE ...

Indeed ... "David patted my shoulder as we stood outside the RAF recruitment office in Kingsway ... 'But at least you'll get a ringside seat at World War III.' Needless to say, this shrewd guess summed up my real reasons for joining the RAF."

Then 10 pages or so later, we have: "Whatever mythology I constructed for myself would have to be made from the commonplaces of my life, from the smallest affections and kindnesses, not from the nuclear bombers of the world and their dreams of planetary death. ... I would never lead the Moscow run to the Third World War. The unborn child in the Iroquois Hotel had given me my new compass bearing."

The way I look at the use of WW3 in AE is that JGB is using it as a myth (a myth that originates in feelings he had as a youth) that helps us come to terms with 'unexplainable catastrophes', whether they be personal catastrophes (Mary's death, Travis's breakdown), or social/cultural catastrophes (death of affect, mediatization of reality, Vietnam war).

So we might say that Nathan understands reality by using rationality, whereas Travis uses myth ... and as JGB says about Dr. Nathan in one of the annotations: "reason rationalizes reality for him, as it does for the rest of us, in the Freudian sense of providing a more palatable or convenient explanation, and there are so many subjects today about which we should not be reasonable."

Of course, this means we take JGB's 1991 fictional account in 'Kindness' at face value ...

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

[UR: 21 November 2006]

MH wrote: Of course, this means we take JGB's 1991 fictional account in 'Kindness' at face value ...

Nooo... it isn't a biography. But it's a symbolic confession. A mythologization of His Own Life...

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

[MH: 21 November 2006]

UR wrote: Nooo... it isn't a biography. But it's a symbolic confession. A mythologization of His Own Life...

Absolutely.

All I meant by 'taking at face value' was that I was assuming that JGB did actually have a preoccupation with WW3 when he was a youth (so that in the 60s he could use that preoccupation as a myth or a symbol for catastrophes more generally), rather than for example projecting some other preoccupation, or a later preoccupation with nuclear war, back to his fictionalised self in the 40's and early 50s. At least, I think that's what I meant ;)

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

[RMcG: 21 November 2006]

very interesting stuff, mike... I've been waiting for you to choose the next "chapter"...

as a warm-up, I thot it might be cool to go back in time & see what JG himself sez about AX to see if he gives any good clues about how he wrote it, and what we shd look for when we read it

JG being JG, of course he's left lotsa clues

here's a neat bit from an interview he did with graeme revell in 1983:

JGB: I would say that a lot of my fiction is, if you like, open-ended. I leave for the reader to decide what the moral and psychological conclusions to be drawn from my fiction should be. For example, in the case of Crash, High Rise and The Atrocity Exhibition, I offer an extreme hypothesis, for the reader to decide whether the hypothesis I advance (this extreme metaphor to deal with an extreme situation) is proven.

In a sense, I'm assembling the materials of an autopsy, and I'm treating reality - the reality we inhabit - almost as if it were a cadaver, or, let's say, the contents of a special kind of forensic inquisition. We have these objects here - what are they? The analogy is misleading in that I don't see reality as resembling a corpse! - but I'm thinking mainly of the investigative procedure.

You find in police museums strange collections of items under glass cases - washed up on a beach after a plane has crashed into a nearby sea, or a ship has sunk. If you move into a house that hasn't been properly cleaned up, you find these strange unrelated items: a pen, a hair clip, a copy of Auden's poems; and without even thinking you begin to assemble from these materials some sort of hypothesis about the nature of the life that was lived in this house, or the nature of the people who've left this debris on a beach after they've vanished in a plane crash or what have you. 

Now in many respects my books are constructed in a similar sort of way. I assemble materials and I draw from them. I treat the reality I inhabit as if it were a fiction - I treat the whole of existence as if it were a huge invention. These days we're living inside an enormous novel - I think that's probably even more true now than when I said it 10 years ago. I don't take anything at its face value - the angle between 2 walls, the perspectives that a given street or a given corridor offer to me. I regard all these as data which will play their role in whatever hypothesis I'm proposing to offer to explain the significance of mysterious and apparently unrelated objects, this huge network of ciphers, and encoded instructions perhaps - that surround us in reality. So mine is not a fiction where I the author take a moral viewpoint and sit in judgment like a magistrate on the events, passing sentence or urging some morally improving course of remedial treatment, which is the classic standpoint of the classical novelist. I don't take that view at all.

I think my fiction has a lot in common with Case Histories. I'm interested in case histories. Case histories, textbooks of psychiatry and so forth. always seemed to have an enormous mystery - a mystery not of the central event (say, the mental crisis [of a housewife] which has drawn this particular patient to the psychiatrist's attention) but the sort of surrounding world which these largely anonymous people seem to inhabit, very close to the world which I sense that I inhabit.

My fiction really is investigative, exploratory, and comes to no moral conclusions whatever. Crash is a clear case of that; so is Atrocity Exhibition.

Even though I've lived in Shepperton for 23 years, if I need an infinitely mysterious place I don't have any problems finding one. (In fact, after living here for 20 years I was able to write a book about it - The Unlimited Dream Company).

All my fiction is based on the perception of that set of mysterious ciphers which in fact constitutes reality. Our central nervous systems provide us with a conventional view of reality that most people accept simply in order to be able to cope with the day-to-day business of crossing rooms, walking up staircases, or talking to one's agent on the telephone. I mean, unless one accepted a high degree of conventionalizing, reality would be impossible. You can't start off every second by saying. "What is this white structure beside me? Uh - it's a wall'. The thing about reason is that it rationalizes reality for us - I mean in the Freudian sense of providing a convenient explanation. Perhaps too convenient. And I'm very interested in dismantling every assumption I can see, however trivial it might be. I'm making a whole sort of Christopher Columbus like discoveries about the nature of floors, windows, carpets, and the like. Because often, behind the most trivial things, lie enormous mysteries.

I was joking about taking walls too seriously, but in fact the sort of architectural spaces we inhabit are enormously important - they are powerful. If every member of the human race were to vanish, our successors from another planet could reconstitute the psychology of the people on this planet from its architecture. The architecture of modern apartments, let's say, is radically different from that of a baroque palace.

I'm interested in deciphering the whole system of codes that I see - in dismantling that whole conventionalized apparatus with which our central nervous systems cope with the business of day-to-day living - which, of course, is the greatest trap facing us all.

what I found most interesting is JG's assertion that he leaves it up to "the reader to decide what the moral and psychological conclusions to be drawn from my fiction should be."

In... "The Atrocity Exhibition, I offer an extreme hypothesis, (and it's) for the reader to decide whether the hypothesis I advance (this extreme metaphor to deal with an extreme situation) is proven."

OK... what's the hypothesis JG advances... and does he succeed?

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

[MH: 21 November 2006]

RMcG wrote: as a warm-up, I thot it might be cool to go back in time & see what JG himself sez about AX to see if he gives any good clues about how he wrote it, and what we shd look for when we read it

I sort of decided *not* to look at the commentaries on AE whilst I was actually looking at the text itself. Otherwise, there's too much risk of what might be termed an 'inscription error' - one just reads into the text what one's expecting to see there. I'd read most of that stuff in the last couple of years anyway: Brigg, Gaziorek, Re/Search 8/9, the Weiss/JGB discussion on the DVD (I even transcribed that!), but I thought I'd just let them all reside somewhere in the back of my mind and instead see what the chapters themselves had to say to me.

RMcG wrote: OK... what's the hypothesis JG advances... and does he succeed?

So I'll leave having a go at that one for the time being!

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

[RMcG: 21 November 2006]

MH wrote: I sort of decided *not* to look at the commentaries on AE whilst I was actually looking at the text itself. Otherwise, there's too much risk of what might be termed an 'inscription error' - one just reads into the text what one's expecting to see there. I'd read most of that stuff in the last couple of years anyway: Brigg, Gaziorek, Re/Search 8/9, the Weiss/JGB discussion on the DVD (I even transcribed that!), but I thought I'd just let them all reside somewhere in the back of my mind and instead see what the chapters themselves had to say to me.

yes... "the trust the tale, not the teller" approach... however, I think we're both safe... I'm starting to develop a reading of this text which leads me to believe there are no authorial "answers"... every time we get to a "good" part, don't you notice that the "answer" simply wafts away, like a dream upon awakening? smoke in a breeze? a surreal association?

trouble with this chapter by chapter bit is we lose the continuity/changes of the t-man character... perhaps I'll look at all of them and try to nail down the different "fragments" t-man assumes, and what atrocity is associated with it...

JG sez Y:C:MM finds t-man at his most abstract... geometric

what's he in this one?

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

[MH: 22 November 2006]

RMcG wrote: every time we get to a "good" part, don't you notice that the "answer" simply wafts away, like a dream upon awakening? smoke in a breeze? a surreal association?

And there's plenty of paragraphs that are difficult to understand, even if they intuitively 'feel right'.

One of the bits in the 'Atrocity Exhibition' chapter that struck me like this is the section where Travis is at home observing his dying neighbour - I found this one of the more memorable paragraphs, but what's its relationship to the rest of the story? Maybe it's that Travis is fragmenting mentally, and the neighbour is eroding physically, and this is sort of deterioration is happening right here and now in suburbia - and to all of us. But then there's nothing more to be said ... the story moves on ...

RMcG wrote: JG sez Y:C:MM finds t-man at his most abstract... geometric

what's he in this one?

A straightforward phrase doesn't come to mind. Travis certainly seems more 'human' than in Y:C:MM - despite ending up killing everyone. For example, he answers Catherine Austin quite straightforwardly when she asks what the interlocking cubes and cones are: "Fusing sequences, Catherine ..." - I can't see Tallis in Y:C:MM being so everyday about Karen, he'd probably have just measured up the changes in the lines and angles of her mouth as it made incomprehensible movements.

And Travis seems quite relaxed ... resigned, maybe ... as he tours round in the Pontiac with the two companions from his unconscious. He knows what's happening to him - he's having a mental breakdown - but he just has to get on with it and do whatever he feels has to be done ... it just happens to be that he feels he has to enact some sort of doomsday scenario. Then afterwards he's still nice and relaxed as he searches through the debris ...

So what does this make him? ... the consummate professional? ... after all, he is a doctor. I think that's a role that I can see JGB thinking is available to us and that we choose to play from time to time.

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

[RMcG: 24 November 2006]

AX chapter one... The Atrocity Exhibition

One can readily understand why Ballard chose this story as the opening exposure of his collected "Traven" stories: it sets the problem -- a psychiatrist loses his "consciousness", his sense of self -- and the solution -- he actively sets out to attempt to return to a state of perfect symmetry that isn't simply death or a psychic return to the womb... an amoral, or post-moral state? it turns out his "inner identity" of a new global conflict (WWIII) represents "the final self-destruction and imbalance of an asymmetric world"...

note the "self-destructive" aspect... let's see if travis's darkling dive into the repressed aspects of his unconscious (the asymmetry of being) will balance all out and transform our protagonist into a saner person...

In the meantime we're buried under a mountain of what seems to be a highly private symbolism: mute characters from the unconscious, cars, public figures, art, science, philosophy, literature, geometry, photography, sand dunes, and on and on...

one revealing image I've noted is JG's obsessive use of mirrors... pun aside, the story is full of mirrors: the patient's paintings mirror a theme of world cataclysm; travis watches the pilot and girl in a mirror; photography can result in a mirror image if the negative is reversed; symmetry is actually two halves that mirror each other; liz's audience was a distant "reflection" (mirror) of her; caliban vomits across a mirror....

Ballard also introduces us to his usual set of dualisms: sick normalcy and healthy deviance, passivity and action, public and private, patient and doctor, organic and inorganic, pleasure principle and death instinct, etc...

I think we're also introduced to another longstanding Ballardian theme: the necessity of defamiliarizing the everyday in order to revitalize the individual existence... shades of the stripping away of the false ego, as per the adults at Lunghua, I know... but still, travis has rejected the "normal tokens" of his prior life -- the bourgeois lifestyle of the respected professional -- in favour of fragmenting down to an exploration of his dark, unconscious being... and so we're off on that story...

and to where mike left us... I have no real arguments with his analysis, but basically I don't think it's important if the death of Nathan, Webster, Margaret and Austin at the end is a real death... basically, they're blown up by the pilot and the young woman who apparently are flying one or more of the crashed bombers lying under the trees... the whole setup reminds me of a movie theatre... they're mannequins (the already-dead symbols of the unlived life?) "fragments of personal myths", who "fuse" with the commercial cosmology of liz taylor, represented by her larger-than-life images... in this case, they fuse with a bang...

so, what does travis see when he sees "the ascension of his wife's body"... ascension comes after the resurrection... which comes after death... I'd say margaret "died" when travis went crazy and gave her up as a "token" (substitute), she was resurrected as a mannequin copy of liz taylor, and ascended when liz was exploded

....or, this is just as puzzling as the death of karen because she obscured a view of the angle between two walls...

OK, what do we know? check out "concentration city"

1. travis and his couriers from the unconscious wander onto the weapons range

2. travis has a vision, in which he's in the suburbs of hell (the subconscious?)

3. it's not lit by a pale light, but a flaring light from chemical plants

4. empty cinemas are on street corners; faded billboards facing them...

5. the white pontiac is now burnt and abandoned

6. the suburbs are deserted

7. the vision ends... travis sees there are crashed bombers lying under trees

8. the pilot helped the young woman into one of the cockpits (does the pilot get into the plane?)

9. travis starts to mark out a circle on the target area...

we then discover the tableau sculptures -- one of which is margaret -- and learn the pilot and young woman are also plastic dummies making love in a wrecked car in a traveling art exhibition...

then nathan recognizes taylor in the giant billboards, then travis, inexplicably, is in the atrocity exhibition... he ends of dreaming of caliban...wiki tells me "Caliban was originally mostly a comic figure; however, in later years, he became a symbol for the wild, natural man"... and equates this natural man, "asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit" as the human race...

that's an image I like...

in The Danger Area we're given clues... there's a "main camera bunker" on the airbase... does it project images? anyway, as webster is explaining to margaret that they took pictures to create tableau figures (to trap travis?) a searchlight comes on and lights up travis's target areas, revealing the "rigid" (I think that's important) figures of mannequins... as nathan hobbles into the scene from the hospital, the explosion goes off...

travis gives special consideration to the symbolic death of his wife, intermixed as she is with the "madonnas of the billboards" ... as liz is exploded into gigantic size by the media, so margaret has been exploded from mere person to a holy relic, a madonna suitable for travis when he explodes into the second coming of christ in You and me and the continuum...

regardless, all the "tokens" of his prior life lie dead at the end, and travis gratefully blends his "private imagination" of her with the landscape-eroticized fragments of her body...

I think it's a wonderful start, and I think it features two of the three main speeches -- death of affect being the third...


MY NOTES: (read along with the bouncing ball)


#1: apocalypse (a cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil)

featuring catherine austin and nathan

1. we begin with an art exhibition... "long-incarcerated" patients do paint therapy... theme of world cataclysm (WWIII)... as if they sensed the "seismic upheaval" in minds of their docs & nurses and are responding to it in non-verbal ways... perfect foreshadowing... do the patients foreshadow all the way thru? are they laing-like sane ones?

2. the "insane" art mixes images of famous people/places in "bizarre" ways... using public images of sex and death...

3. these images are equated to the spinal column (time)

4. they are seen as codes of insoluble dreams (they lack the information required for an analysis of their unconscious desires)... as the keys to a nightmare which consciously austin's involved in --

5. nathan sees the images as representing "war in hell" -- which means god has decided to take the fight to satan on his own turf... a concerted campaign to end something that is injurious in "hell" -- (a) any place of pain and turmoil, (b) a cause of difficulty and suffering (c) the world of the dead (d) violent and excited activity

6. basically, it appears the patients are some kind of greek chorus, reflecting the mental state of the protagonists... which, according to nathan, has recently shifted into actively engaging the dark shadow of the psyche...


#2: notes towards a mental breakdown

featuring travis and two people in a car

1. travis is sitting in his office, listening to the noise of films of people whose insanity has been "induced"... he keeps his back to the window, and has his assemblage of "terminal documents" (either the last documents he needs, or documents concerned with approaching death... like a terminal patient)...

2. the documents themselves seem logically unhelpful: a seemingly-meaningless collection of very specific facts involving the natural sciences, photography, nuclear physics, architecture, art, and geography... they do, however, make sense to travis...

3. later, he looks out the window and sees a familiar white pontiac in the parking lot... he's being watched by two people


part #3: internal landscapes

featuring travis and a bomber pilot featured in newsmagazines

1. travis is controlling a stress twitch in his left hand (the sinister one) while watching the pilot... the office is dark, light comes from the outer corridor... the pilot is thin shouldered, tall, bruised, and has trouble focussing on travis...

2. for travis, the pilot is incomplete -- "the planes of his face failed to intersect" -- as if he's partways in another dimension

3. the pilot has sought travis out... one of 30 physicians... but he won't say why... he appears to be a mannequin... his face is as rigid as a plaster mask...

4. the pilot is a media construct: for months travis has seen his image in newsreels, war films, and as a patient in a film on nystagmus -- "involuntary movements of the eyeballs; the presence or absence of nystagmus is used to diagnose a variety of neurological and visual disorders"

5. travis is "uneasily" aware their long-delayed confrontation would soon take place...

6. it would seem that the pilot in some way represents travis' madness...


#4: the weapons range

featuring travis and his car

1. JG says weapon ranges are special because 'all that destructive technology concentrated on the production of nothing' is the 'closest we can get to certain obsessional states of mind'... here, the obsession, or compulsive preoccupation, forces travis into seeing camouflaged bunkers and towers as 'half-familiar contours' which reveal a face, a pose, a thought... in this case, travis reveals it's liz taylor he's obsessive about... but his reverie is broken by a noise... more foreshadowing


#5: dissociation: who laughed at nagasaki?

featuring travis, helicopter pilot, girl in white dress

1. travis runs away from the weapons range, pursued by a helicopter.. he falls among coils of barbed wire.. the chopper leaves and travis makes it to his car, where he sees a young woman with a disfigured face in a white dress walking towards him... with tolerant, lenient eyes... he stops himself from calling to her, and vomits across his car instead...

dissociation is a state in which some integrated part of a person's life becomes separated from the rest of the personality and functions independently


#6: serial deaths

featuring travis

1. we discover travis' car is the same white pontiac (american car) he saw from his office window...

2. he's now sitting in the back seat (a passenger = passive)... preoccupied with making a list of the way he has been "separated" from the "normal tokens of life"... which turn out to be the boring filler of a conventional professional life:

a. his wife

b. his patients (resistance fighters)

c. his 'undecided' affair with catherine austin

3. for travis, the stuff of social convention has become as "fragmentary" as the faces of those publicly associated with sex (taylor, freud), as "unreal" as a war started simply for entertainment and profit... alienation 101? perhaps, altho travis deals with these icons in an interesting way

4. as travis moves deeper into his separation from "reality" (home, work, honour 'fidelity'), a process which has taken a year since he first self-diagnosed himself, he finds himself welcoming this onset of madness, this journey into "familiar land, zones of twilight"...

5. this journey is a car ride, not unsurprisingly, and the destination is not Hell (sic), but its suburbs... this must be where the people (daemons) who work in hell spend their rest time.... looks like a jungian shadowville... the hellish burbs contain oil refineries and it rains at night. it's bleak. there's no one around... but he's not alone... I'm starting to get a picture here, folks... the car ride symbolizes the imagination, which has decided to check out the action on the wrong side of the tracks... the city is hell, devils live in the suburbs, and we're in the eternal timezone...

6. now we learn that the bomber pilot and the burnt woman in white are driver and passenger in the car --- now we realize the entire landscape symbolizes travis's mind, and the pilot and woman are symbolic of aspects of travis's unconscious... as the ego-centric aspects of travis's mind slip away (bourgeois lifestyle, professional stature), we meet different "twins of the unconscious" (not kline, coma and xero)... these are (1) the bomber pilot, (2) the beautiful young woman with radiation burns. they never speak

7. their journey continues with an all-night drive thru the suburbs... fittingly, the view outside is obscured by mediatised representations of a TV war and hollywood sex symbols, once fragmented by sanity, and now re-processed into a coherent whole by travis, who blends his anxieties of sex and death and visualizes the meaningless deaths of marilyn monroe and liz taylor over the newsreel landscape of vietnam...

our journey is about to begin...


#7: casualties union

featuring travis, pilot, woman in white, a young woman, a CU group

1. this starts oddly: "at the young woman's suggestion"... who is this young woman? she's not the disfigured twin from the unconscious, because at the end of this section travis asks himself, "when would she speak to him?".... dave, mike, this is one for you guys: I think it's an editing error, do you?

2. regardless, this section is a bit of fun, with JG rewriting old exhibition guides and having a sardonic sneer: "death, by contrast, was a matter of lying prone".

3. travis now has an apartment overlooking a zoo (picked up later in high-rise) and he washes the makeup from his face... a pantomime performed to pacify his companions... why? hard to tell, but they're visible in the mirror (surreal conceit) and she's already becoming antsy, with a nervous tic on her face.

4. travis is now obsessed with her.. continuously... she won't talk, but he doesn't need her anyway... his instructions are coming from another level...

5. her inability to speak tells me she's like coma, but emotional...


#8: pirate radio

featuring travis, pilot

1. another scientific list of "secret transmissions"... no doubt the instructions from other levels... this time, biological:

a. medulla (oblongata)... lower or hindmost part of the brain; continuous with spinal cord... dunes, craters, ash... containing freud, eatherly, garbo... near time

b. thoracic ... the 12 vertebrae that support the ribs...now the rusting shells of u-boats in china, near a ruined fort "mediatised" by tourist guides ... middle time

c. sacral... relating to the sacrum: wedge-shaped bone consisting of five fused vertebrae forming the posterior part of the pelvis; and relating to sacred rites or observances... recollection of planting rice around dead japanese soldiers in paddy fields... "memories of others than himself" -- what a curious statement -- and yet again there is consolidation, as the messages moved to some kind of focus ... deep time...

2. the pilot has transformed, as well... now he's a hovering dead face... a projection (jungian?) of a mythic war... he makes travis tired..

3. interesting that travis listens, but receives images... I think when JG gets into the spine, it's his code for time... but this list doesn't seem that deep...perhaps because it's individual time, from the present with its apocalyptic vistas of dunes and craters revealing the faces of famous people deeply affected by WWII: freud wrote the death instinct, eatherly went mad with regret, and garbo never did another film -- her glamour was replaced with sex 

4. regardless, it appears the sadness of travis and others he remembers brings some kind of catharsis, and as a result the pilot transforms


#9 marey's chronograms

featuring dr nathan, margaret travis, catherine austin

1. science lesson: photographs can show the element of time; travis reverses the process and extracts the element of time... rendering all that is familiar different in meaning

2. basically, travis is discussed


#10 was my husband a doctor, or a patient?

featuring dr nathan, margaret travis, catherine austin

1.already the transformation has taken place... margaret's question is no longer valid... travis is neither doctor nor patient any more... the differences now require a different "relativity"... we learn of travis's obsession: the "inner identity" of the "complex of ideas and events represented by WWIII"

2. nathan seems to reassure all by comparing WWIII to nothing more than a "sinister pop art display", like the way we ogle pix of nuclear explosions, fascinated and yet repelled... but for travis it's the crux of his fragmentation (insanity): WWIII has become "an expression of the failure of his psyche to accept the fact of its own consciousness, and of his revolt against the present continuum of time and space".

3. isn't this the "ultra-ballardian" territory? the split man, no longer able or willing to continue the "death of the installment plan" of his boring and conventional life, embarks on an excess of libidinous and violent actions/fantasies in a transformed landscape of psychological symbols...

4. travis, according to nathan, plans to achieve his goals by starting WWIII and fighting it out with nervous systems, postures, and the way our emotional or psychological pain can be "mimetized" (mimicked or

represented in literature) as, say, the geometry of angles between two walls...


#11 zoom lens

featuring dr nathan and an unidentified woman... probably margaret travis

1. nathan in some way realizes that margaret's body, with its "landscapes of touch and feeling", was "their only defense" against travis's "all-too-plain" (little ironic humour there) intentions -- starting WW III -- in order for his psyche to accept it's own (reworked) consciousness... in other words, for travis to feel alive again...

2. nathan reveals himself as an image collector, and wonders how he can talk margaret into posing... revealing her anxieties about her body


#12: the skin area

featuring travis, catherine austin

1. travis & catherine attend an exhibition of war wounds & return to travis's apt... catherine tried to get intimate with travis, but he avoids her... in the bedroom he shows her a set of enneper's models, a classic piece of differential geometry...( "Differential geometry is the study of geometry using differential calculus (cf. integral geometry). These fields are adjacent, and have many applications in physics, notably in the theory of relativity.") which may explain why travis tells catherine they're actually "fusing devices" for a "doomsday machine"... assuming "postures" (n 1: position or arrangement of the body and its limbs; "he assumed an attitude of surrender" 3: a rationalized mental attitude) travis is able to transmute the geography of thigh and thorax into external architecture, moving from the bedroom to the roof of a festival hall, the "jutting balconies" of hotels, and finally back to the weapons range, where the targets become the breasts of the silent young disfigured woman in white...

2. re-fixated, travis & cathy spend their last "bitter hours" driving around the mediatized landscape, looking for the girl among billboards of freud and jeanne moreau


#13: neoplasm

featuring travis and a woman dying of cancer

1. after ditching catherine and the pilot (who watches him from the roof of the lion house -- lions are a jungian symbol for the animal equivalent of a dark shadow "hero" -- travis escapes to JGB's house in shepperton, accurately describes JG's crummy yard, and voyeuristically watches a neighbour woman die from cancer... her "black breasts" remind him of the pilot's eyes... her scarred stomach of the young woman's radiation burns...


#14 the lost symmetry of the blastosphere

featuring nathan

a key "paragraph", as nathan writes out his "conventional" assessment of travis in terms of space-time geometry and freud's death instinct... we learn:

1. travis is reluctant to accept the fact of his own consciousness (his convention-dominated ego)

2. he's like this because he's having "positional difficulties" in his immediate "time and space" ... as a result, he's over-stimulated with input, because everything he now sees is newly revealed, not hidden by the perceptual conventions of society

3. travis is concerned with the lost symmetry of the blastosphere ("In organisms that reproduce sexually, once a sperm fertilizes an egg cell, the result is a cell called the zygote that has all the DNA of two parents. The development of the zygote into an embryo proceeds through specific recognizable stages of blastula, gastrula, and organogenesis. The blastula stage typically features a fluid-filled cavity, the blastocoel (blastosphere), surrounded by a sphere or sheet of cells, also called blastomeres.") it is a ball, not a circle... therefore,

symmetric on all planes

4. likewise, our bodies may contain a hidden, "rudimentary" symmetry in 3 dimensions...

5. as a result, travis has become extremely sensitive to the "volumes & geometry" -- the physical appearance -- of what he sees, which he "immediately" translates into psychological (the scientific study of mental processes and behavior) terms...

6. this mania reveals travis's "belated" (??) attempt to "return to a symmetrical world" -- one that will capture the "perfect symmetry" of the freshly fertilized egg... and his acceptance of the "myth" of the "amniotic return"... does myth here mean "sacred story", or something widely believed but not true? -- while this may lead to freud's concept of the death instinct, it basically reveals a nostalgia on travis's part to return to a moment in time when he was perfect and immortal... back to being an undeveloped ball of possibilities

7. travis thinks wwIII is a symbol of "the final self-destruction and imbalance of the asymmetric world"... but we know wwIII is also travis's an expression of his psyche's failure to accept its own consciousness...

8. ergo: travis believes he can destroy the asymmetric, imperfect world by regressing to a state of nonconscious perfection, symbolized by an immortal ball of germ-cells...

9. nathan postulates that travis sees the human organism as imperfect (asymmetric), and as such is an exhibition of crimes/excesses which he does not want to look at...


#15: eurydice in a used car lot

featuring margaret travis, captain webster

1. margaret is in a theatre lobby where she sees webster, with eyes veiled...

2. marg has been thru a nightmare -- webster has been sneaking around, photographing her having sex with travis

3. webster wants to put these pix on billboards, "ostensibly to save her from travis"

4. she sees stills from cocteau's film orphee, and, pissing of webster, she sneaks out of the theatre and into a car lot where she considers dying, a la Eurydice... who was also a nymph: "Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs."


#16: the concentration city

featuring travis, pilot, young woman

1. travis follows the pilot and girl thru ruined remains of the airfield til they come to the weapons range

2. travis has another vision: they're back in the suburbs of hell; the petrochemical plants are now exuding a flaring, not pale light, and this time the "ruins of abandoned cinemas" stand at street corners, and faded billboards are across from them... in a lot of wrecked cars he finds the burnt body of the white pontiac... he wanders off thru the deserted streets

3. back at the range, crashed bombers lie under trees... the pilot helps the young girl into a cockpit

4. travis marks a circle -- makes a target -- on the range

hell in literature: "C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce (1945) borrows its title from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) and its inspiration from the Divine Comedy as the narrator is likewise guided through Hell and Heaven. Hell is portrayed here as an endless, desolate twilight city upon which night is imperceptibly sinking. The night is actually the Apocalypse, and it heralds the arrival of the demons after their judgement. Before the night comes, anyone can escape Hell if they leave behind their former selves and accept Heaven's offer, and a journey to Heaven reveals that Hell is infinitely small; it is nothing more or less than what happens to a soul that turns away from God and into itself."


#17: how garbo died

featuring captain webster, catherine austin

1. webster has found a film of "tableau sculpture" of famous married people LBJ & wife, burton & taylor... "even one of garbo dying"... and marg travis... altho webster won't say what her pose is, "you'll see why we're worried"....

2. webster also reports on seeing travis's wrecked pontiac, traveling on a truck and containing dummies of the pilot & girl..

JG refers to such sculptures made by george segal, but he might have also referred to "cynthia plastercaster", who, in the 1960s in chicago, made plaster casts of rock star's erect penises...


#18: war-zone D

featuring nathan

1. for a week the roads to the hospital have been lined with gigantic billboards, almost walling it "in" from the rest of the world...

2. the posters are huge ... a section of the skin over the iliac crest -- the upper part of the pelvic girdle -- is 200 feet long and looks like a section of sand-dune

3. only an anatomist (scientist) would recognize them

4. it would take 500 of them to make a single image of a woman


#19 the atrocity exhibition

featuring travis

1. travis enters the exhibition, and sees war sufferings "mimetized" in the 'alternate' death of liz taylor (from pneumonia)..."A mimic generally resembles its target in one or more of the following: appearance, behavior, and habitat. The capacity to mimic is sometimes called "mimetism." Mimetism differs from camouflage in that the mimic does not try to blend with the surroundings, but to appear as some other creature."

2. the human race -- caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit... "Caliban was originally mostly a comic figure; however, in later years, he became a symbol for the wild, natural man. And, in more recent times, Caliban has been used as a metaphor for colonialism by various anti-colonial intellectuals."


#20: the danger area

featuring webster, margaret

1. webster catches marg in the airfield area, beside the camera bunker... all is painted over with body bits

2. marg tries to escape webster, but he points out she'll never be able to find travis because the area is covered with tableau figures

3. a seachlight comes on, revealing mannequins in the target area


#21: the enormous face

featuring nathan

1. nathan is limping along toward the airfield and recognizes the billboarded woman on the blockhouse as liz taylor

2. nathan sees the signs are more than replicas of liz -- "they were equations that embodied the relationship between the identity of the film actress and the audiences who were distant reflections of her"... aha! jungian projections of the ideal woman... "the planes of their lives interlocked at oblique angles", and, more forebodingly, the actress "provided a set of operating formulae for their passage thru consciousness" -- in other words, the vicarious life

3. as for travis, margaret's role was "ambiguous" -- he would attempt to relate marg's body with taylor's, fusing them together in reality...

4. searchlights come on and as he was hobbling to the airfield when an explosion rips the darkness


#22: the exploding madonna

featuring travis

1. for travis, margaret's body also appears to be blown up, rising above the "target area", an exploding madonna (reference to wife, mary?) that he celebrates as it happens...

2. nathan is right: here marg and liz are "quantified" by travis into a single entity, as well as with all the other mediatized women whose postures "celebrated his own search through the suburbs of hell"... depression?


#23: departure

featuring travis

1. next morning, travis surveys the damage... liz's painted figure on the bunkers acts like an impartial third party, resolving all time and space for travis

2. as he searches thru debris, the pilot flies off in the helicopter... then the young woman drives off in the pontiac... he watches them go without regret

3. once they've left, the corpses of nathan, catherine and webster formed their own tableau...


#24: a terminal posture

featuring travis

1. travis lies on the cement, assuming liz's "postures" -- there can only be two that are relevant: supine and prone... or... posture can also be called a person's attitude or bearing...

2. the "dune-like" fragments of her body relieved his past dreams and anxieties

the word terminal here is interesting:

• a simple type of electrical connector that connects two or more wires to a single connection point.

• a device which is capable of communicating over a line.

• being or situated at an end

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


beya, beya, beya, that's all, folks

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

[MH: 24 November 2006]


Thanks for the notes on 'Atrocity Exhibition', Rick. A few comments:

RMcG wrote: these images are equated to the spinal column (time)

Don't spinal levels for Ballard also recapitulate certain aspects of humankind's mental or psychological development? (I'm thing particularly of The Drowned World here.) So references to spinal columns or levels also suggest an element of interiority - and when Catherine Austin thinks that the patients' disturbing pictures remind her of Travis's slides of spinal levels, then maybe that's another way of saying that the 'bizzare images' contained in the paintings reflect what's inside us?

RMcG wrote: fittingly, the view outside is obscured by mediatised representations of a TV war and hollywood sex symbols

That's a good way of putting it - the billboards (representing the mediatized world) obscure our view of anything else.

RMcG wrote: 1. this starts oddly: "at the young woman's suggestion"... who is this young woman? she's not the disfigured twin from the unconscious, because at the end of this section travis asks himself, "when would she speak to him?".... dave, mike, this is one for you guys: I think it's an editing error, do you?

Isn't the 'young woman' Catherine Austin? Later in the paragraph there is reference to "the apartment they had taken overlooking the zoo". And after they have seen the exhibition of war wounds, "Travis and Catherine Austin returned to the apartment overlooking the zoo". So presumably it's Catherine he's with in both cases - she seems to have a thing about wounds ...

RMcG wrote: 6. this mania reveals travis's "belated" (??) attempt to "return to a symmetrical world" -- one that will capture the "perfect symmetry" of the freshly fertilized egg... and his acceptance of the "myth" of the "amniotic return"... it basically reveals a nostalgia on travis's part to return to a moment in time when he was perfect and immortal... back to being an undeveloped ball of possibilities

8. ergo: travis believes he can destroy the asymmetric, imperfect world by regressing to a state of nonconscious perfection,

Which is why I think you can answer the question 'Is Travis successful in this story' in two ways. Purely on his own terms he may well be. But looking at his situation from the outside, the problem with his 'solution' is that you can't go back to a situation where all possibilities are still open because then you can no longer act, no longer live or create a meaningful existence. Maybe that's another reason to have this story at the beginning - it reveals the basic problem facing Travis, but suggests that he will have to 'try again'.

RMcG wrote: the word terminal here is interesting: ... being or situated at an end

Yes - but also 'there is nothing afterwards'; all Travis has left is the postures he assumes. He has 'assuaged his dreams and anxieties', but as the paragraph heading puts it, it is "A Terminal Posture".

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

[RMcG: 24 November 2006]

MH wrote: Don't spinal levels for Ballard also recapitulate certain aspects of humankind's mental or psychological development? (I'm thinking particularly of The Drowned World here.) So references to spinal columns or levels also suggest an element of interiority - and when Catherine Austin thinks that the patients' disturbing pictures remind her of Travis's slides of spinal levels, then maybe that's another way of saying that the 'bizzare images' contained in the paintings reflect what's inside us?

perhaps... but aren't we talking a reversion of geologic & psychological time in drowned world? kerans has dreams... t-man has action.. this travis is trying to start WWIII... in his mind the truly experienced idea of nuclear violence will act as a sort of purging device... by causing asymmetry to self-destruct...

I take that as a heavy kind of self-medication... and I think it's pretty obvious now why he's performing a kind of "mental suicide"... in freudian terms, it's like t-man has unleashed his id upon his superego, with the aim of creating a true ego... one that lives in the "real world" of personal experience, not media-fed fictions...

so it makes sense the t-man is drawn to violence, irrationality, deviance, hedonism -- all the darkside stuff (repressed desires) from having his psyche being spoon-fed fictional emotions by the media, rather than life itself...

but first, ya gotta get outta dodge... no pill, like the matrix... nope, travis's main technique of escape -- to see the world "differently" -- is to extract the time out of it... now the everyday has a "totally altered meaning"...

it's there, in blastosphere: "it occurred to travis that our own bodies may conceal the rudiments of a symmetry not only about the vertical axis but also the horizontal"... that horizontal axis is time...

why time? have you noticed the timeline of travis's technique? he's pulling the future into the present... WWIII hasn't happened, but he's trying to tap its psychic terror in order to rid himself of images/memories/people from his past and his unconscious... and so snap him into living in the present...

MH wrote: That's a good way of putting it - the billboards (representing the mediatized world) obscure our view of anything else.

I was wrong... not obscure... that shd be "decide what's real and translate it into fiction"... ads are always a mixture of information and persuasion

MH wrote: Which is why I think you can answer the question 'Is Travis successful in this story' in two ways. Purely on his own terms he may well be. But looking at his situation from the outside, the problem with his 'solution' is that you can't go back to a situation where all possibilities are still open because then you can no longer act, no longer live or create a meaningful existence. Maybe that's another reason to have this story at the beginning - it reveals the basic problem facing Travis, but suggests that he will have to 'try again'.

I think I see this clearer: travis, with the help of the pilot and the disfigured woman (sadist & masochist?) seek out appropriate psychic battlefields for WWIII... his explorations take him to the suburbs of hell and back, but finally he hits darkside paydirt with the weapons range (war)... the first thing he does is ring the entire area with stupendously large (very imaginative) billboards of liz taylor's body, revealing her 1960s sexuality, which represented her at the height of her glorious facial beauty (with big boobs)... he fills the area with representations of his enemies -- chinese soldier, the gang at the office, the photog, his wife -- and then sends off his bombers to blow them up... it appears the loss of his wife is a special blow (it pisses off nathan, the rational) -- but her death (and ascension) is a victory, as it seems to add time back into travis's perception: "the ascention... was a celebration of the intervals through which he perceived the surrounding continuum of time and space"... she blends with the mediatized sex goddesses, (all are imaginary women) whose "postures" (images?) rejoiced at travis's wandering thru his dark side... whatever the hell that means... the rest of the characters are still there, but dead... the dualisms from the unconscious are also gone... all that's left is travis in what seems to be a deep entropy ... but seen as an afterword after the main action has occurred, it could be travis in the midst of his "healing" process -- assuaging his dreams and anxieties (desires and fears) in the "dune-like" (macey's chronograms = visible time) fragments of her body... I bet that word "posture" is a code... it can't mean just the position of a body... it must have overtones of "attitude"... or 'posing"... as in faking...

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

[RMcG: 25 November 2006]

mike...

(and anybody else with enuff stamina to endure this separation of pepper & fly shit):

"Whom God wishes to destroy he first turns mad."

just came across this quote from the Big E (425 BC)... seems to have AX written all over it, esp. if you think the shrink called t-man is doing a sort of reverse of kafka's metamorphosis: psychically turning from a cockroach into a person... t-man does this by basically psychedelic means: he steps thru some huxlean door into another plane of perception, and in this state he can seek out and deal with his repressed "fragments" -- the litany of darkside activities we're leadenly retrieving -- and thereby confront and incorporate them back into The Balanced Self, which, I think for JGB, involves some kind of existential mysticism about being truly aware and basically suspicious, yet in a friendly, artistic manner.

is that the "extreme hypothesis" that JG says this book tries to examine?

the quote, by the way, is at the beginning of sam fuller's wacky psycho masterpiece, Shock Corridor (1963)... but in that instance, the quote is a dire warning... and fuller shows the tragic results of individual hubris and social irrationality...

another delightful cold war parable...

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

[MH: 25 November 2006]

RMcG wrote: "Whom God wishes to destroy he first turns mad."

just came across this quote from the Big E (425 BC)... seems to have AX written all over it, esp. if you think the shrink called t-man is doing a sort of reverse of kafka's metamorphosis: psychically turning from a cockroach into a person... t-man does this by basically psychedelic means: he steps thru some huxlean door into another plane of perception, and in this state he can seek out and deal with his repressed "fragments" -- the litany of darkside activities we're leadenly retrieving -- and thereby confront and incorporate them back into The Balanced Self, which, I think for JGB, involves some kind of existential mysticism about being truly aware and basically suspicious, yet in a friendly, artistic manner.

is that the "extreme hypothesis" that JG says this book tries to examine?

I'm not sure there is a single 'extreme hypothesis' that runs through AE, unlike High Rise for example. If you really wanted to force one out of me, I'd say it's along the lines of "accept your various forms of alienation and *work on them*".

I'm afraid it's too late on a Saturday night for anything else from me on repressed fragments and existential mysticism ... I don't think it's too far away from what I'm thinking, though I wouldn't express it like that - might have done some years ago, but not these days ;)

By the way ... the Euripides quote is apparently only attributed to him, it doesn't appear in any of his extant works - see http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Euripides


Forward to Interlude ... Underground Nuclear Bunkers


Back to the Contents Page