Reanimator

The pivotal story that intensified Ballard’s divisive status [among SF authors] was the first of what he called his ‘concentrated novels’, ‘The Terminal Beach’. The text is presented in short, titled blocks of prose, which abandon linear sequence, and strip out the extraneous connective material of conventional narrative. The prose-blocks juxtapose imagistic evocation, found texts, gnomic dialogues and different technical registers. Ballard pursued this experimental style between 1966 and 1970, eventually publishing the texts as The Atrocity Exhibition. Merril immediately included ‘The Terminal Beach’ in her manifesto Year’s Best in 1966, and Moorcock editorialized in New Worlds in the same year under the headline ‘Ballard: The Voice’, proclaiming that these new experiments were ‘the first clear voice of a movement destined to consolidate the literary ideas – surrealism, stream-of-consciousness, symbolism, science fiction, etc. etc. – of the 20th century’.12Ballard delivered his own manifesto, ‘Notes from Nowhere’, in the same issue. It was full of puzzling juxtaposed assertions: ‘Neurology is a branch of fiction: the scenarios of nerve and blood vessel are the written mythologies of brain and body. Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?” In a central passage, however, Ballard crisply explained his experiment:

Planes intersect: on one level, the world of public events, Cape Kennedy and Viet Nam mimetised on billboards. On another level, the immediate personal environment, the volume of space enclosed by my opposed hands, the geometry of my own postures, the time-values contained in this room, the motion-space of highways … 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.

“This method was essentially one of Modernist collage reanimated by the 1960s avant-garde. Disregarding boundaries between discourses at the level of the sentence, Ballard’s experiments also moved between different media. He published a number of pieces in New Worlds but also in non-SF ‘little’ journals like Ambit and Transatlantic Review. He designed mock-advertisements, and sought funding from the Arts Council for billboard art (of the kind being done by Daniel Buren). He also organized an exhibition at the London Arts Lab to explore new psychopathologies. This was, needless to say, anathema to an American SF that Ballard characterized as ‘an extrovert, optimistic literature of technology’ compared to ‘introverted, possibly pessimistic’ new SF.” The first American print-run of The Atrocity Exhibition was pulped for fear of litigation; it eventually appeared in a Grove Press edition, the home of avant-garde fiction by Georges Bataille and William Burroughs.”

Roger Luckhurst, “Decade Studies: The 1960s”, Science Fiction. Cambridge: Polity. 2005. p 149-150.

Image: Stanley Donwoo, Teeth, 2006, via New Shelton

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