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

INTERLUDE ... WORLD WAR III AND DEATH OF AFFECT


[UR: 18 October 2006]

'Was my husband a doctor or a patient?' That's the question that the T-cell's wife asks Dr Nathan. Well, isn't his answer odd? He starts discussing W.W.III.

Is this just a surrealistic way to address the question, or isn't it a highly ironic speech? Sort of Nathan is explaining the woman (and us) that in such a crazy world that the total nuclear destruction is being scientifically built day after day, wasting enormous sums and sentencing whole countries to misery and starvation, the difference between doctors and patients (sane and insane) becomes utterly meaningless in the end...

Which is not so far from a world (ours) busy building stealth fighters and bombers and whatever to be used against... what? But we keep spending and spending and spending...

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[MH: 19 October 2006]

UR wrote: 'Was my husband a doctor or a patient? That's the question that the T-cell's wife asks Dr Nathan. Well, isn't his answer odd? He starts discussing W.W.III.

That's an interesting paragraph, isn't it ... because Dr. N. then goes on to refer to "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." So interpreting JGB's comments on W.W.III (such as the one about it having started, undetected, the moment W.W.II ended) isn't straightforward ...

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[RMcG: 20 October 2006]

In the first four sections (the harper perennial edition [2006] actually comes out and calls them "chapters") I count 100 -- coincidence -- of JGB's little subhead/text constructions. Aside from the slight annoyance of the t-man variations, if we cut out those 100 paragraphs (little novels) and tossed them in a bag and read them out one by one in a random draw, would it change the overall "story"? isn't that surrealism?

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[MH: 20 October 2006]

RMcG wrote: Aside from the slight annoyance of the t-man variations, if we cut out those 100 paragraphs (little novels) and tossed them in a bag and read them out one by one in a random draw, would it change the overall "story"?

Maybe and also maybe not ... JGB does suggest somewhere that you can read the book by picking out sections at random. But then in the annotations he says that the main character appears "in a succession of roles, ranging across a spectrum of possibilities available to each of us in our interior lives. In the most abstract role, 'You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe,' he behaves like an element in a geometric equation. In 'The Summer Cannibals' he is his most mundane arid everyday self".

When I re-read the book, I noted that different pieces do vary in tone (Summer Cannibals is almost "Mr and Mrs Traven take a holiday"), and some have a characteristic theme: the three dead astronauts in "Notes ...", obsession with geometry in "You, Coma ..." and "Great American Nude", car crashes in "University" and "Tolerances of the Human Face".

So I guess it's not *that* random a book.

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[RMcG: 20 October 2006]

yes, mike... I had the same sense of "change"... I think JG was exaggerating a bit... coy way to get you to read a couple hits, maybe get hooked

can we ascribe a different level/type/description of "insanity" as we move thru the traven-types?

in order, they are:

1. In 'Atrocity Exhibition' it's Travis, and the theme... separation from reality? why T goes nuts?... "travis was pre-occupied by his separation from the normal tokens of life he had accepted for so long"... long-established JGB theme of psychotic reaction to extreme social inversion, fast & violent...

2. In 'the University of death' it's Talbot, and "car crashes"

3. In 'The Assassination Weapon' it's "Margaret" Traven

4. In 'You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe' he's Tallis in his "most abstract role"... and "he behaves like an element in a geometric equation"... you say "obsession with geometry"

5. In 'Notes.. Mental Breakdown' it's Trabert... "characteristic theme: the three dead astronauts"

6. In "Great Nude" it's Talbert... again, "obsession with geometry"

7. In 'The Summer Cannibals' he's "He"... as for character: "he is his most mundane and everyday self"... like "Mr and Mrs Traven take a holiday"... altho JG only identifies him as Traven in the annotations, right?...trustworthy? it's been a few chapters since that name was used, and then for the mrs... in the original, it's third person singular all the way

8. In 'Tolerances of the Human Face' it's Travers, and "car crashes"

after that, we're into jgb's deep end, t-person free

hmmm... this almost looks like it could be a chart... a medical chart of t-type's snake ride to the bottom of the game...

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[MH: 20 October 2006]

RMcG wrote: can we ascribe a different level/type/description of "insanity" as we move thru the traven-types?

8. In 'Tolerances of the Human Face' it's Travers, and "car crashes"

Despite the fact that car crashes feature in 'Tolerances' (and poor old Karen Novotny suffers another 'conceptual death'), I reckoned that Travers is rather more restrained in this one.

'Tolerances', the last piece to be written, also has two autobiographical elements to it: the 'Too Bad' section that we discussed a short while back, and the fact Travers is trying to make sense of his wife's death (in a car crash, a few years previously). And Vaughan appears ...

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[RMcG: 20 October 2006]

yeah... I think this is an interesting direction... "spot the psychosis"...

I'm just about to re-read (with annotations... are they cheating?)... and I'm certainly gonna see what the T (for timetrapped?) does for kicks

I'm not going to be surprised if once again we're in a prison camp, disguised as a mental hospital... (it's struck me that high-rise is lunghua on edge) and this is the "odd behaviour" way to deal with living in a historical vacuum.. if there's one thing you don't have while being trapped, it's a future.

but it's also about losing your supports for your sense of self... when that which you've employed to define yourself in western culture (job, objects, beliefs, "tokens of life") are suddenly snatched away, you're probably going to have a mental reaction.... remorse comes to mind....perhaps even remorse unto madness... there's references to freud in AX... I'll look up "severe ego loss" in the psycho-books

as an aside: sure, there are parts of AX that look surreal, especially the wacky lists, but even tho JG says he free associated those things, they still seem very appropriate and calculated... even 'the generations of america' looks like a concrete poem, a steve reich piece on paper

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[RMcG: 22 October 2006]

just finished reading a fascinating piece in today's NY Times called "Mondo Multiplex: The Snuff Film Turns Respectable"... the mondo bit caught my eye, of course... the thing is basically about snuff docus, including old fako mondos, and real ones like The Bridge (a year of jumpers off the golden gate), Gimme Shelter, Grizzly Man, etc...

the piece quotes susan sontag, who says something that could be very germane to AtrocityX... in her last book, "Regarding the Pain of Others", she disputes the notion that viewers are numbed by an onslaught of photographed calamities... "It is passivity that dulls feelings", she says.... and argues for the importance of the image, even in a saturated mediascape, as a stimulus to thought and even a call to action...

I can see that... isn't it the perverse power of death imagery that it attracts and repulses at the same time? ahh, death... the great western taboo... the ultimate reality we deny, fear, and... eroticize? is this what burroughs means in his preface when he talks of JG exploring "the nonsexual roots of sexuality"?

is the mediascape in AX stimulating? a call to action? how does passivity link with death of affect?

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[RMcG: 23 October 2006]

I wonder about the passivity bit... but I think not, as the t-man is actively trying to replace the loss of "life's tokens", his illusions of stability which appear to be the genesis of the two hallucinations ("couriers from his own unconscious") he sees: the fading pilot and radiation-burned woman... symbols of death that replace his wife, his work, his "tokens"....

he can no longer accept the fact that his own psyche (soul, or seat of faculty of reason) failed to accept the fact of its own consciousness... his soul is refusing to accept its own existence? is that a fancy way of saying t-man has lost his "sense of conscience"... in freudian terms, the cultural watchdog -- his super-ego?

and t-man is "in revolt against the present continuum of time and space"... well, that just means "the here and now"...

what is it that JG's characters do? assess the situation, then try to control it... if they succeed, then no matter how crazy reality is, they attain some form of psychological peace. in this case, t-man has to restart WW III, psychologically

I think there's a big clue in "Lost Symmetry of the Blastophere"... having just read freud's death instinct, what jgb describes t-man seeking is essentially freud's analysis of life's conservative desire to regress back to a pre-life state... "perfect symmetry on all planes"... that's a crystal...

then the payoff: "In his mind World War III represents the final self-destruction and imbalance of an asymmetric world."

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[MS: 23 October 2006]

RMcG wrote: I wonder about the passivity bit... but I think not, as the t-man is actively trying to replace the loss of "life's tokens", his illusions of stability which appear to be the genesis of the two hallucinations ("couriers from his own unconscious") he sees: the fading pilot and radiation-burned woman... symbols of death that replace his wife, his work, his "tokens"....

As for passivity I think AX and Ballard's continuing obsession with the media is precisely about passivity and how this is caught up in the feedback process of the death of affect. I think there's a complex chicken and egg miasma that needs to be unpacked a lot more (seems to me to go back to desire really: we aren't made passive by the media, or indeed controlled by it, but there is some inherent charm to it that draws us in. Virilio has a great word for the semi-ecstatic 'state' which certain forms of media initiate- picnoleptic - when the bodies sensory organs are fully functioning but are closed to external impressions). I go with de Certeau on this that there needs to be more examination of what we do with experiences we get from the media and more precisely TV- to try to make it a more interactive, productive experience- instead of sitting around like so many mute valium whores

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[MH: 23 October 2006]

RMcG wrote: I wonder about the passivity bit ... 

what is it that JG's characters do? assess the situation, then try to control it... if they succeed, then no matter how crazy reality is,they attain some form of psychological peace. in this case, t-man has to restart WW III, psychologically

I think there's a big clue in "Lost Symmetry of the Blastophere"... having just read freud's death instinct, what jgb describes t-man seeking is essentially freud's analysis of life's conservative desire to regress back to a pre-life state... "perfect symmetry on all planes"... that's a crystal...

Agreed, Travis is active rather then passive - he doesn't just want to 'go back to the womb' and wallow around (as does, say, the bloke at the end of 'The Overloaded Man'). As Matt suggests, media-generated passivity is one of the things he's probably trying to escape from.

So that makes Dr. Nathan's comment about the Blastosphere a bit puzzling, even interpreted metaphorically

On my reading, Travis needs to disengage himself from the buzzing confusion of 'our' world. As JGB suggests in various places (e.g. one of the annotations for the You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe section), our minds censor the input from our senses and feed it into a set of ready-made interpretations. When these functions break down, as presumably they have for Travis, suddenly one can be overcome with the confusion and apparent insanity of the world. So what Travis is trying to do is reconstruct the world so it makes sense to *him*. And in order to do that he needs to clear away a whole load of existing meanings and behaviour patterns - he needs to regress to the Blastosphere ... not to remain there, but so he can be born again into the world - but this time into *his* world, one that he is patiently constructing for himself.

RMcG wrote: then the payoff: "In his mind World War III represents the final self-destruction and imbalance of an asymmetric world."

Maybe we can say that Travis is aiming for a new world that will be symmetric in the sense that he has created meanings and relationships between different aspects of it such that the world now hangs together for him - it is now in balance.

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[RMcG: 23 October 2006]

MH wrote: Agreed, Travis is active rather then passive - he doesn't just want to 'go back to the womb' and wallow around (as does, say, the bloke at the end of 'The Overloaded Man'). As Matt suggests, media-generated passivity is one of the things he's probably trying to escape from.

ahh... I don't agree with matt, then... there's nothing passivity-inducing about the AX media... it's interactive, it's big, bold and in yr face... it seems activity-oriented... mcluhanesque "extensions of man"?.... actually, I don't think travis is trying to escape at all... let's say he's "lost contact with his former self" -- sorta like quickly going from a rich & revered, colonial factory bossman to a dazed & confused, testosterone-depleted, sick & starving nobody in a POW camp, and now he's trying to figure out how to survive in this previously unimaginable situation... an "asymmetric world" equally as bizarre as a mental ward... JGB and his inversions, eh?

or maybe it's like quickly going from a happy hubby & father of three writing highly imaginative stories about time and human psychology to a traumatized, single father of three writing this kind of high art "diary", like each version of the t-man represents a type of recollection, stylized thru jg's stupendous gift of over-saturating the reader's visual idea of what's going on -- his usual trick of making us ultimately fill in the blanks

unless JGB is pulling our chains, it's in the text: travis can no longer accept the fact that his own psyche failed to accept the fact of its own consciousness... is that a double negative? JGB just being playfully obscure? or is it just a complicated way of saying travis feels "alienated"? as JGB puts it: "in revolt against the present continuum of time and space"....

in any case, is this a crazy guy in a sane reality, or a sane guy in a crazy reality?

I'm reminded of sam fuller's 1963ish masterpiece, Shock Corridor, (http://www.rickmcgrath.com/movies/shock_corridor.html) in which the main hallway of a nuthouse becomes fuller's symbol for main street, usa, and he uses it to ironically reveal the seamier underside of cold war america... ultimately, the sane guy goes crazy, too... got me thinking: is the landscape of AX the usa? are the t-men extensions of american psychopathologies?

"the human organism is an atrocity exhibition"... just what does that mean?

MH wrote:  On my reading, Travis needs to disengage himself from the buzzing confusion of 'our' world. As JGB suggests in various places (e.g. one of the annotations for the You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe section), our minds censor the input from our senses and feed it into a set of ready-made interpretations. When these functions break down, as presumably they have for Travis, suddenly one can be overcome with the confusion and apparent insanity of the world. So what Travis is trying to do is reconstruct the world so it makes sense to *him*. And in order to do that he needs to clear away a whole load of existing meanings and behaviour patterns - he needs to regress to the Blastosphere ... not to remain there, but so he can be born again into the world - but this time into *his* world, one that he is patiently constructing for himself.

I'm with ya... JGB loves to upset those "ready-made interpretations"... but I don't think the "confusion and apparent insanity of the world" overcomes travis... no, he's already gone when we meet him... he's in a severe state of loss that his hallucinations salve... he doesn't know who he is anymore -- his trappings of self have been stripped away... then it becomes a JGB tour de force of technique & imagination... wonder how big the morning scotch was when he sat down to think up some of those lists...

MH wrote: "In his mind World War III represents the final self-destruction and imbalance of an asymmetric world."

Maybe we can say that Travis is aiming for a new world that will be symmetric in the sense that he has created meanings and relationships between different aspects of it such that the world now hangs together for him - it is now in balance.

perhaps, altho that seems like a goody two-shoes ending... I'll keep it in mind

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[MS: 23 October 2006]

RMcG wrote: there's nothing passivity-inducing about the AX media... it's interactive, it's big, bold and in yr face... it seems activity-oriented... mcluhanesque "extensions of man"?.... actually, I don't think travis is trying to escape at all... let's say he's "lost contact with his former self" -- sorta like quickly going from a rich & revered, colonial factory bossman to a dazed & confused, testosterone-depleted, sick & starving nobody in a POW camp, and now he's trying to figure out how to survive in this previously unimaginable situation... an "asymmetric world" equally as bizarre as a mental ward... 

I'm with you there Rick- and I guess if AX could be said to have dated then it's in its portrayal of the media as some sort of great controlling mechanism that is locking into areas of our psyche, populating it, warping it. I think that whole idea of subliminal advertising, 'doped with religion, sex and TV' is a little dated, and I think the relationship between ourselves and our mass market artform which is TV is more complex than that. The T-Cell is partly a man going through a nervous breakdown and also a character using Ballard's mantra of total immersion in alienation to see what might be on the other side, isnt he? Retooling the world and himself to explore the frontiers of the possible... But essentially the Death of Affect has to be about passivity doesnt it? Unless you figure it as part of some sort of aspect of the Death Drive- a species move, in retreat from emotional implosion.

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[RMcG: 23 October 2006]

MS wrote: But essentially the Death of Affect has to be about passivity doesnt it? Unless you figure it as part of some sort of aspect of the Death Drive- a species move, in retreat from emotional implosion.

no, not part of the death instinct -- I think freud was careful to call it an instinct -- we already know how to deal with them...

I see death of affect as a psychosis in which people have no feelings... no love, hate, remorse, joy... sort of a mr spock on draino... so they can fulfill their repressed desires without a conscience, without feeling bad for the pain of others... they feel no pain, either... hell, they're the discontents of civilization freud warned us about... we keep em in jails & asylums...

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[RMcG: 25 October 2006]

AX cover art: I didn't know this.... (we're referring to the cape cover)

"City of Drawers" by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, makes use of the psychoanalytical references of Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud; ‘City of Drawers’, like ‘The Burning Giraffe’, has sets of drawers, which fits in with Dali’s quote: “The only difference between the immortal Greece and contemporary times is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, purely platonic at the Greece epoch, nowadays is full of secret drawers that only the psychoanalysis is capable to open.

Dr Nathan, c'mon down!

of course, the title is also a pun on drawing, as the original is done in pencil

altho as I burrow deeper into the "fractured" world of AX, I'm starting to wonder if our friend nathan isn't the craziest of them all... his "psychoanalytic" analyses are just about as obsessive as traven's activities...

I also found it cool to discover JGB says that Traven is the "core character" of all the T-men, and he chose that name as a conscious hat tip to B. Traven, the world's most obscure novelist... I've read some of BT's short stories -- pretty good stuff in a sort of JGBish atmospheric way

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[MH: 26 October 2006]

RMcG wrote: altho as I burrow deeper into the "fractured" world of AX, I'm starting to wonder if our friend nathan isn't the craziest of them all... his "psychoanalytic" analyses are just about as obsessive as traven's activities...

There's a lovely bit in "Assassination Weapon" where Nathan lectures Capt. Webster about science, which "isolates objects or events from their contexts in time and space. This obsession with the specific activity of quantified functions is what science shares with pornography" ... which a pretty apt description of Nathan's own behaviour a couple of paragraphs earlier. Travern has shot both Nurse Nagamatzu (used by Nathan as 'bait') and Webster, but Nathan, who is nearby, doesn't seem to notice or care, as he's 'intently building a sculpture of mirrors'.


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