John Preston, reviewing Super-Cannes in the London Evening Standard, quoted by Stephen Moss in the Guardian:
Ballard loves to go that bit further out than anyone else, to nose around the outer limits of human behaviour and to rub up against the inconceivable. What ought to be daft becomes instead extremely disquieting. His is a world in which anything has become possible. In this twisted scheme of things, it comes to seem quite logical that the one upright citizen in Eden-Olympia [Ballard's suburban madhouse] should be a mass murderer. Morality has disappeared, so has sanity, and all that's left is a kind of institutionalised madness. Reading Ballard is like viewing the world through a completely new set of lenses.
I've quoted Ballard himself before. Here he is on tourism and travel:
Travel is the last fantasy the 20th Century left us, the delusion that going somewhere helps you reinvent yourself. There's nowhere to go.
On Cronenberg's A History of Violence:
The title, A History of Violence, is the key to the film, and should be read not as a tale or story of violence, but as it might appear in a social worker's case notes: "This family has a history of violence." The family, of course, is the human family, a primate species with an unbelievable appetite for cruelty and violence. If its behaviour in the 20th century is any guide, the human race inhabits a huge sink estate ravaged by unending feuds and civil wars, a no-go area abandoned by the authorities, though no one can remember who they are, or even if they exist. …
Perhaps only damaged actors can lead modern societies down the crooked paths that they prefer.
Having come to Ballard very late, I've recently finished Super-Cannes — and it's not yet left me alone. Tim Adams' Observer review catches some its darkness and power:
… Eden-Olympia, Europe's ultra-sophisticated answer to Silicon Valley in the hills above the French Riviera. The business park is the world's first intelligent city, one horribly logical conclusion of a corporatised continent in which 'freedom was the right to paid work, while leisure was the mark of the shiftless and untalented'; dreams here come equipped with airbags, and the only sounds are the whispers of sprinklers on lawns and the effortless combustion of computer-navigated German sports saloons.
The city is home to techno-chic supernationals - Ciba-Geigy and Siemens, Mitsui and Monsanto - and to the Euro-elite of chief executives who control their strategies, a post-leisure class which derives its excitement from the imposition of systematic efficiencies. There is no need here for law or religion; Eden-Olympia polices itself; decisions are corporate not ethical, and sex is something one watches on customised adult channels.
Ballard carefully constructs this serpentless paradise in perfectly engineered sentences. His images come together with the satisfying hiss of Japanese micro-hydraulics. 'There was a vast car park concealed behind a screen of cypresses, vehicles nose to tail like a week's unsold output at a Renault plant,' he writes. 'Somewhere in the office buildings the owners of these cars were staring at their screens, designing a new cathedral or cineplex, or watching the world's spot prices. The sense of focused brain power was bracing, but subtly unsettling.' …
Ballard unravels the secrets of his post-industrial elysium with panache, leading us into a society which is both an exaggerated parable for our times and a chill piece of futurology. Along the way there are some signature themes: Ballard's books always feel as though they are shot on security cameras and spotlit by police flash photography; their violence is both sterile and graphic. The worlds he describes are frequently immunised against human emotion. And in Eden-Olympia that deficiency has become a potentially fatal threat.
Much more there. (Adams is good on Ballard's satire: 'His satire, however extreme, is always convincing because its governing ideas inhabit every detail. He sees a strain of totalitarianism running through particular dehumanised philosophies of engineering and design and management; sees the potential for dictatorship in the absence of democracy engendered by the colossal power of corporations.')
Just now, I found a long piece (essay and interview) by Jason Cowley:
The twin engines driving so much of British contemporary fiction have long been a kind of enfeebled realism-with its class and social anxieties-and nostalgia. But Ballard operated outside this loop. The drowned worlds, scorched cities and overgrown jungles of his early fiction; his focus on the media landscape of global celebrity and stylised catastrophe; his exploration of the connections between sex, eroticism and death; his fetishism of motorways, highrises and car crashes-almost alone among contemporary British writers, Ballard wrote about the 20th century in its own idiom. As a result his work is exaggerated, pumped-up, often preposterous; a prose surrealist mining a strange, blurry, psychopathological landscape. It is hard to believe in his fictional world precisely because it is so invented, so radically imagined. Like the paintings of Dali, Max Ernst and de' Chirico which he so admires, Ballard transports you into a fabulous realm, at once real and hysterically unreal.
You can read a Ballard novel without believing a word of what is written. Yet something lingers disturbingly in your imagination, something to do with his understanding of the inherent instability of the contemporary condition-as if we are all actors in our own self-referential drama, as if we are all trapped within a set of immense inverted commas.
So, I'm just starting out on Ballard, after some initial flirtation, and from Super-Cannes so many scenes and ideas and conversations stick in the mind. One I made a note of early on was the scene in the car-park — an 'impromptu piece of garage theatre':
Two Eden-Olympia limousines were making their way down the circular ramp. The chauffeurs stopped their vehicles on the third level, slipped from their driving seats and opened the rear doors, giving their passengers a ringside view of the ugly tableau being staged in an empty parking space.
Or there's this, from much later in the book:
Eden-Olympia's great defect is that there's no need for personal morality. Thousands of people live and work here without making a single decision about right and wrong. The moral order is engineered into their lives along with the speed limits and the security systems. … Places like Eden-Olympia are fertile ground for any Messiah with a grudge. The Adolf Hitlers and Pol Pots of the future won't walk out of the desert. They'll emerge from shopping malls and corporate business parks.
Penrose's deranged vision of 'a carefully metered measure of psychopathy', the answer to the 'suburbanisation of the soul' that 'has overrun our planet like the plague', is explored by Penrose and Sinclair in chapter 29, 'The Therapy Programme'. This is Penrose:
A controlled psychopathy is a way of resocialising people and tribalising them into mutually supportive groups. … Violence is spectacular and exciting, but sex has always been the main hunting ground of psychopathy. A perverse sexual act can liberate the visionary self in even the dullest soul. The consumer society hungers for the deviant and unexpected. What else can drive the bizarre shifts in the entertainment landscape that will keep us "buying"? Psychopathy is the only engine powerful enough to light our imaginations, to drive the arts, sciences and industries of the world.
Towards the end of the novel, and despite himself, Sinclair remembers 'the brutal hazings at the RAF flight school, and how they had energised us all': 'At Eden-Olympia, psychopathy was being rehabilitated, returned like a socialised criminal to everyday life'.
Ballard, interviewed in 2004:
My real fear is that boredom and inertia may lead people to follow a deranged leader with far fewer moral scruples than Richard Gould [in Millennium People], that we will put on jackboots and black uniforms and the aspect of the killer simply to relieve the boredom. A vicious and genuinely mindless neo-fascism, a skilfully aestheticised racism, might be the first consequence of globalisation, when Classic Coke® and California merlot are the only drinks on the menu. At times I look around the executive housing estates of the Thames Valley and feel that it is already here, quietly waiting its day, and largely unknown to itself. … I suspect that (as I pointed out in Super-Cannes) the human race will inevitably move like a sleepwalker towards that vast resource it has hesitated to tap - its own psychopathy. This adventure playground of the soul is waiting for us with its gates wide open, and admission is free. In short, an elective psychopathy will come to our aid (as it has done many times in the past) - Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, all those willed nightmares that make up much of human history. As Wilder Penrose points out in Super-Cannes, the future will be a huge Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies. Along with our passivity, we're entering a profoundly masochistic phase - everyone is a victim these days, of parents, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, even love itself. And how much we enjoy it. Our happiest moments are spent trying to think up new varieties of victimhood ...
Elsewhere, Jason Cowley writes of the character, Paul Sinclair, through whose eyes Super-Cannes is told:
In his quest to uncover the truth … he becomes a kind of detective of the self: the more he discovers about Eden-Olympia, the more he discovers about his own potential for deviance and violence, and the more alienated he feels.
Reading Ballard is a peculiarly enriching experience. Every sentence is absolutely characteristic. His novels, at their best, resemble surrealist tableaux, representations of tortured interiority, and Super-Cannes is one of his best.