J. G. Ballard, 1930-2009

Ballard, Modernity, Science Fiction, Short stories, Space is deep, Travel writers, Violence, Visionary, War

What is there to say?

He showed us strange, alien worlds,  and then we’d look around and realise that we already lived in them. It was a bleak privilege to be a part of the culture he was dissecting, and thus receive his writing in the most direct, most living way possible.

There’s much more to be read about him, and his achievement, here at Ballardian, and the full text of a relatively recent Toby Litt interview with him here.

(first of 6 – others can be accessed here – click on ‘More from Adlefred’ at right and they’re all listed there).

Sensawunda removal machine

Landscape, Science Fiction, Space is deep, Travel writers, Violence, War

The original ‘Star Trek’ remains a fascinating show, not least because of the wondrously strange vistas of the imagination it opens up. You want to meet Apollo? He’s there. You want to visit an earth where the Nazis will win World War II? Check. You want to find out how dead satellites become galaxy spanning AIs? They’ve got it. You want to see Spock turn on, tune in and drop out – and then SMILE, blissfully and self-consciously? It’s all there.

‘Star Trek’ has sensawunda, in spades, even if it does wander at times into the ludicrous. Even my jaw dropped when *echo effect* THEY STOLE SPOCK’S BRAIN… an episode only matched for inadvertent comedy by the utterly ludicrous *echo effect* THEY STOLE NYLIX’S LUNGS… episode of ‘Star Trek – Voyager’, or possibly by the enjoyably nutty ‘Riker at the pandimensional alien barbers’ incidents of ‘The Next Generation’.

But the crew of the Enterprise have a more complex relationship with sensawunda than would first appear. In episode after episode they encounter an external threat, feel overwhelmed by its inexplicable (if wondrous) threateningness, develop a rational understanding of it as a problem, in doing so reduce it to a human scale, and then go on to solve the problem and thus neutralise the wonder.

They rarely – if ever – stand back in amaze at the wonder itself; rather, they perceive it as a threat, and stop it dead. Seen from this point of view, the Enterprise is best described as a sensawunda removal machine; something that exists to support a particular kind of reductive impulse as it seeks to re-frame the cosmic in entirely human, profoundly limiting terms, imposing a simple, binary threat / no threat set of judgements on the vast, endless richnesses of alien space, and wiping out its complex wondrousness accordingly.

The butcher’s apprentice

Film, Narrative, Rants, Television, Violence

I’m at home, watching trailers for upcoming movies on Five. Guns, fisticuffs – combat as a fundamental dramatic component. It’s so all-pervasive, you don’t notice it any more.

And I’m sick of it. Sick of the reduction of the subtle emotional conflicts inherent in drama to meatheaded literal battles; sick of the constant presentation of violence as a positive response to problematic situations; sick of the idiot miscalled-morality that can only respond to opposition with absolute destruction.

Encoded in violence-as-entertainment is a whole broken world view, over-brought in to a narrative structure that demands a frangible antagonist for every protagonist, and makes every hero an innocent victim of evil, a by-definition justified responder to a situation that’s been forced onto him or her, thus absolving them of any real moral responsibility for their actions.

This sickened externalisation of such a limited view of evil, this self-indulgent definition of the other as both dispensable and perpetually unjustified, is at the root of so much of the damage we do in the world, complaining about our own hurt while butchering by the thousand to re-confirm our brutally narrow, boneheaded definitions of what heroism is.

You want to hold up a mirror to up to the worst parts of what we are? Turn on the television, and watch endless butchery presented as narrative positivity, casual massacres as a constant solution to opposition. We are our obsessions – and, in the modern world, our obsessions are so brutally, perpetually present and exposed.