Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: B.Traven

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Presumed Portrait of B. Traven
In a Technical Sense. Webster’s hand hesitated on Karen Novotny’s zip. He listened to the last bars of the Mahler symphony playing on the radiogram extension in the warm bedroom. ‘The bomber crashed on landing,’ he explained. ‘Four members of the crew were killed. He was alive when they got him out, but at one point in the operating theatre his heart and vital organs failed. In a technical sense he was dead for about two minutes. Now, all this time, it looks as if something is missing, something that vanished during the short period of his death. Perhaps his soul, the capacity to achieve a state of grace. Nathan would call it the ability to accept the phenomenology of the universe, or the fact of your own consciousness. This is Traven’s hell.’

J.G Ballard-The Assassination Weapon-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Talbot. Another face of the central character of The Atrocity Exhibition. The core identity is Traven, a name taken consciously from B.Traven, a writer I’ve always admired for his extreme reclusiveness-so completely at odds with the logic of our own age, when even the concept of privacy is constructed from publicly circulating materials. It is now almost impossible to be ourselves except on the world’s terms.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

 

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Elizabeth Taylor

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Liz Taylor-Richard Avedon 1956
The Atrocity Exhibition. Entering the exhibition, Travis sees the atrocities of Vietnam and the Congo mimetized in the ‘alternate’ death of Elizabeth Taylor; he tends the dying film star, eroticizing her punctured bronchus in the over-ventilated veranda of the London Hilton, he dreams of Max Ernst, superior of the birds; ‘Europe after the Rain’; the human race-Caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit.

J.G Ballard-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Elizabeth Taylor , the last of the old-style Hollywood actress, has retained her hold on the popular imagination in the two decades since this piece was written, a quality she shares (no thanks to myself) with almost all the public figures in this book…A unique collision of private and public fantasies took place in the 1960’s, and may have to wait some years to be repeated, if ever. The public dream of Hollywood for the first time merged with the private imagination of the hyper-stimulated 60’s TV viewer…our perception of the famous has changed-I can’t imagine writing about Meryl Streep or Princess Di, and Margaret Thatchter’s undoubted mystery seems to reflect design faults in her own self-constructed persona. One can mechanically spin sexual fantasies around all three, but the imagination soon flags. Unlike Taylor, they radiate no light.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

 

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Ronald Reagan

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Ronald Reagan
The motion picture studies of Ronald Reagan Reagan’s hairstyle. Studies were conducted on the marked fascination exercised by the Presidential contender’s hairstyle. 65 percent of male subjects made positive connections between the hairstyle and their own pubic hair. A series of optimum hairstyles were constructed.

J.G Ballard-Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan-The Atrocity Exhibition 1968

At the 1980 Republican Convention in San Francisco a copy of my Reagan text, minus its title and the running sideheads, and furnished with the seal of the Republican Party, was distributed to delegates. I’m told it was accepted for what it resembled, a psychological position paper on the candidate’s subliminal appeal, commissioned from some maverick think-tank.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Diptych 1962 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987
Andy Warhol-Marilyn Diptych 1962
The ‘Soft’ Death of Marilyn Monroe. Standing in front of him as she dressed, Karen Novotny’s body seemed as smooth and annealed as those frozen planes. Yet a displacement of time would drain away the soft interstices, leaving walls like scraped clinkers. He remembered Ernst’s ‘Robing’; Marilyn’s pitted skin, breasts of carved pumice, volcanic thighs, a face of ash. The widowed bride of Vesuvius.

J.G Ballard-You:Coma: Marilyn Monroe-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Marilyn Monroe’s death was another psychic cataclysm. Here was the first and greatest of the new-style film goddess, whose images, unlike those of their predecessors, were fashioned from something close to the truth, not from utter fiction. We know everything about Marilyn’s sleazy past-the modest background, the foster homes and mother with mental problems, the long struggle as a starlet on the fringes of prostitution, then spectacular success as the world embraced her flawed charm, loved by sporting idols, intellectuals and, to cap it all, the US President. But she killed herself, slamming the door in the world’s face.

A kind of banalisation of celebrity has occurred; we are now offered an instant, ready to mix fame as nutritious as packet soup. Warhol’s screen-prints show the process at work. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy drain the tragedy from the lives of these desperate women, while his day glow palette returns them to the innocent world of the child’s colouring book.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

 

 

 

Living The High Life

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Sammy Slabbinck

Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months. Now that everything had returned to normal…

J.G Ballard High-Rise 1975

Surely one of the darkest yet funniest openings to a novel in English fiction, J.G Ballard’s cautionary tale on civilisation and its discontents shows, in typically ambiguous fashion, that our inner natures could revolt against the conveniences of modern existence and the alienation implicit in our sanitised, mediated (un)reality.

Written in the hard-edged concrete-and-glass style of the late sixties and early seventies and hot on the heels of the experimental and spectacularly deranged  The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash, High-Rise, is with Concrete Island from the same period a return to a more traditional narrative framework. Eschewing the fractured, clinical and compressed ‘novels’ of The Atrocity Exhibition and the hallucinatory cadences of Crash (a prose poem of twisted metal, broken glass and wound patterns), High-Rise follows the three main characters, Dr. Robert Laing (a reference to the author of The Divided Self) who lives on the twenty-five floor; Richard Wilder a documentary film-maker down near street level on the second floor and the buildings architect Anthony Royal who lords it over them all in the fortieth floor penthouse as the amenities within the luxurious, self-contained high-rise block starts to break down, causing the affluent, well educated residents to wilfully and joyfully participate in the destruction of the building and revert to tribalism and barbarism. Always subversive, Ballard wickedly suggests that the only possible way to be free is to regress, discarding all civilised constraints and acting upon our deviant impulses and innate cruelty.

Royal detested this orthodoxy of the intelligent. Visiting his neighbours apartments, he would find himself physically repelled by the contours of an award-winning coffee-pot, by the well modulated colour schemes, by the good taste and intelligence that, Midas-like, had transformed everything in these apartments into an ideal marriage of function and design….Royal would have given anything for one vulgar mantelpiece ornament, one less than snow-white lavatory bowl, one hint of hope. Thank God that they were at last breaking out of this fur-lined prison.

Ben Wheatley’s stylish film version of High-Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller and produced by Jeremy Thomas who was  responsible for David Cronenberg’s film version of Crash was released in 2015.