Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

isolation and rationalism which the nineteenth century promulgated as the (masculine) ideal, "the man of action and power who seeks to master nature, to subject the natural and human worlds to his own will and pride." 42 Ballard calls this "Crusoeism," and each of the catastrophe novels features a madman of this type, who is clearly the double of the obsessed protagonist.

Ballard's protagonists are not, as some have suggested, simply passive. They are as isolated and self-directed as the madman, at least in terms of social norms, and they plunge into all kinds of perilous physical action with great intrepidity. They are not so much passive as obsessed, no longer "captains of their fates." They are heroes because they follow the logic of the landscape. 43

But they are clearly doubled by the other half of the madman; the mad antagonist, the superman, is the avatar of Western man imposing his psyche on the world, while the protagonists are having their psyches possessed by cosmic forces of time. Different stories take different angles to the hero/madman pair. Which one is the reader? Which is Ballard?

Ballard claims that the world we experience daily is already a fiction, a projection onto the physical world of our fantasies, made possible by technology. As human society becomes more and more technologically powerful, that claim becomes more credible, and indeed it is not ridiculous to claim that some phenomena of our lives are directly inspired by science fiction itself. If we accept this vision of things, there is no longer any point to questioning the verisimilitude of Ballard's catastrophes, their scientific basis, or the credibility of the odd characters and marooned, evanescent societies that result.

Ballard chooses to create relatively incredible narratives as a way of participating meaningfully in the fact that the "real" world in which we live is a creation of the human imagination, up to and including the likelihood of mass suicide. Caught up in the processes of our own mass psychology, we act as if it were a force of nature, an externally imposed catastrophe, our destiny.

In these circumstances, Ballard's writing may indeed be "apotropaic," serving both magical and cautionary purposes. It partakes of prophecy in a deeper and more meaningful way than the normal equivalence of prophecy and prediction would suggest, although it is very likely an "atheistic" prophecy.

We, his readers, are given the opportunity to participate in creating other outcomes. If, more and more, anything that the human mind can imagine will become real, then the society that survives the catastrophes of Ballard's imagination is the world outside the boundaries of the book, the one in which the reader lives. We, the readers, are the potential survivors of the Ballardian catastrophe in which we actually live. If there is to be a remade world, we must make it, by re-creating the possibility of a "real world" independent of our psychological projections. That would be the true Eden.


NOTES
1.
William Atheling Jr., More Issues at Hand ( Chicago: Advent Press, 1970), p. 5.
2.
David Pringle, Earth Is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard's Four-Dimensional Nightmare ( San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1979), p. 16.

-142-

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