But for those of us who don't fall into those two camps, there are other reasons to enjoy this that don't involve admiring the firm chassis of that sexy import with its patent leather seats. This book's had several different forms over the years, first starting off as a variety of short pieces published roughly all over the place that were eventually condensed and collected under this umbrella, which gave them some thematic scope and the chance to inform each other.
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Of course, with a title like "The Atrocity Exhibition" a title so good that Ian Curtis apparently didn't even bother reading the book before stealing it for one of his own songs and story titles that involve invoking the name of a famous celebrity or politician in a sexual context, its no surprise that American publishers did what American publishers normally do when confronted with something remotely controversial that they aren't able to easily make money from said controversy.
The current editions are all large size paperbacks and are liberally sprinkled with annotations from the author himself, as well as a variety of photographs and illustrations, most of which can be imagined as if "Grey's Anatomy" the TV show treated sex like they were "Gray's Anatomy" the medical textbook.
Oddly, they add some atmosphere and texture to the stories, as long as you don't mind clinical cross sections of genitalia and other things that should be sexy reduced to a diagram that is the very opposite of sexy. But welcome to the world of JG Ballard. As for the "stories" themselves. Its fascinating in its way, presenting a series of fragmentary scenarios that go out of their way to read like essays on sex from people who learned how to write about sex by reading a book about how to write a book on sex.
Without any narrative progression to speak of, you're basically forced to go along with the flow and immerse yourself in Ballard's ideas about the media and society and apparently the immense psychic bomb that was the death of JFK.
As a study in society driving someone crazy, it's great. As a conventional story with a beginning, middle and end, not so much and you have to let go of any ideas along those lines when opening this work. As frustrating as the structure can be at times, there's a weird fascination with how committed to this Ballard is and how he's able to communicate these decently strange ideas in an equally odd format and yet the combination of the two makes it not seem that strange at all.
What helps, interestingly enough, are the annotations and while I'm normally not a huge fan of the author hanging out to hold my hand as he explains the premise of his own novel, his notes on his own stories are extremely enlightening and often act as mini-essays in themselves, expanding on his ideas involving how the media shapes the perceptions of people, especially in terms of sexual desires, often far more coherently than the stories themselves do.
Some of it comes across as scarily prescient especially in terms of shaping our reactions to tragic events, in particular those that are blocked from depicting the true look of large body counts and some of it seems rather dated while a lot of the stories seem to be an attempt to come to terms with the Kennedy assassination, its ultimate impact seems to be diminished with each further generation that wasn't witness to the event. Meanwhile, those who stick it out will be rewarded with what amounts to a dry run for "Crash" and although it's not the focus of this book, it actually comes across as the most understandable aspect of it you can even suggest that "Crash" had even more impact by taking some of the strange ideas in this book and molding them into something resembling an actual story.
This edition also adds four extra short stories, three of which are basically "stories" involving lovingly detailed but clinical descriptions of surgeries done on famous people. I see the point of the style and I see where he's going with it but I always get the impression that I should be more shocked by it than I am. But maybe its impact is dulled because I'm in the healthcare profession and read my own surgical reports for fun. The last story is probably the most savage, taking the idea of Ronald Reagan as President he's a pretty common target throughout the book, despite it having been written in the last sixties for terms past his two to a rather horrifying extreme that in some parts doesn't seem entirely removed from the reality we got the story's satirical lionizing of him is amusing in light of how some political circles almost canonize him these days.
But for all that, is it worth reading? The easy answer is "No, if you don't want to be challenged" but the truth is there's nothing else Ballard has written that was even remotely like this, vicious and despairing, gleeful and horrified, detached and drowning in blood, perverse and mourning. It's one man's lament on what he perceives is the collapse of society and his attempts to comprehend it and in doing so, make us comprehend the full import.
The fact that we didn't listen and indeed seem to have doubled down on everything the book was warning about doesn't make the attempt any less fearless, or his message that much less urgent. Read Ballard for any length of time and you know he returns to the same obsessive images and landscapes again and again, often to powerful effect.
Well, The Atrocity Exhibition is obsessive Ballard taken to the max. The landscapes of the Atrocity Exhibition stories are haunted by blown-up, Madonna-like images of women which sometimes literally fill the sky, but which fail to enable his male protagonists to relate to the real women they have beside them. But this is a book all about fragmentation, dissociation, the post-traumatic need to somehow create a unity out of a shattered whole, to replay past disasters the death of Marilyn Monroe, the assassination of Kennedy , but in a way that makes sense.
Jan 27, Adam rated it it was ok. At first I thought this is going to be good. But the authors self-proclaimed "free association" method of writing quickly becomes tedious. In the version I read, each chapter was followed up with explanations. I found the explanations and their tangential ramblings to be much more interesting than the story itself. I could sum up the book in a few sentences 1 Car crashes are like sex and sex is like car crashes. Mad and briilliant. View all 8 comments. An experimental novel about sex, death, media manipulation, car crashes and celebrity, written at the fag-end of the s and foreshadowing various themes found in his later works.
The narrative is very repetitive, with chapters telling versions of more or less the same story, and I found it by turns tedious and repellent. Rather too experimental for my tastes - it has taken me forever to read it, and it's only pages long. Feb 16, Tosh rated it it was amazing. First I have to make clear that this is not the ReSearch annotated edition, but a mass market book from a British publisher Thiad Panther, and issued in Nevertheless this is a very stimulating book.
Ballard is probably one of the great visionary writers regarding culture as it is now.
I want to say he predict what will happen, but I think it was happening when he wrote his series of classic novels, but most of us were not aware of that 'Ballard' world that was and is clearly out there First I have to make clear that this is not the ReSearch annotated edition, but a mass market book from a British publisher Thiad Panther, and issued in I want to say he predict what will happen, but I think it was happening when he wrote his series of classic novels, but most of us were not aware of that 'Ballard' world that was and is clearly out there and here and everywhere.
Kennedy assassination as the ground zero of anxiety, dread and fear. I think Ballard is commenting on the role we all play, but especially the powers-to-be, whoever they may be, in planting a world that is not of our choosing, but one that we just have to deal with. Which includes sexual desire when confronting death, shock, and machinery. Ido not know if his novel "Crash" came before or after "The Atrocity Exhibition, but the book does deal with the same issues of the erotic pull of car accidents and iconic personalities.
Ballard gets extra points for including Ralph Nader among the celebrities that get maimed or killed by the automobile. Now mostly remembered for his political viewpoints as well as running for President, he at the time of this novel was famous for going after the automobile industry for not making cars more safer with respect to seat belts, etc.
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What we get here is a college effect of names, who at the time were still alive, being sacrificed to the automobile death culture as well as interesting commentary on the readers obsession with famous people and how they are placed in our world as entertainment, but also masking secret desires that are not fully exposed to the public. Ballard mixes the agony of death, of losing someone, and how culture eats up the anxiety of the 20th century and now the 21st A great book, whose sister is Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" and a cousin to classic Surrealist painters. View 1 comment.
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May 04, Misha marked it as will-come-back-to-later-no-really. Only a few pages in. Flashes of brilliance. He was a smart guy, this Ballard.
This is proving a challenging and thought-provoking read. A couple of sentences I love: - "They hung on the enamelled walls like the codes of insoluble dreams, the keys to a nightmare in which she had begun to play a more willing and calculated role. If you bumped into him on the streets of Moscow, Idaho, you'd find him a humble and unassuming elderly man, the kind of retired academic that litter small college towns.
You might never know that as a student of Luis Alvarez he helped design the ultra-fast detonator used in the Nagasaki bomb. As a young reporter, I was a little intimidated to interview this kind of witness to real history, someone who likely had been interviewed by reporters better than me and been asked every question under the sun.
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So I started by asking him what he wanted to talk about that no one had ever asked him. It was a rather lazy question, and one I haven't used again, but in that moment he lit up. What he wanted to talk about was how he'd been looking for God in science -- looking in nature, evolution, biology, physics. As we progressed into the interview and talked about his work on the Manhattan Project, and how those who created such destructive forces justified what they were doing, it seemed maybe he needed to see God in his science so that he could believe what man had wrought was true and right and just.
I didn't expect to like or understand this book much.
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The concept, the experimental nature, drew me to it, but I know it isn't the kind of thing I enjoy. Find interesting, maybe, but not enjoy.
The Atrocity Exhibition is so bizarre to me, so lacking in coherent narrative, that it's doubly hard to read. I find myself wonderin I didn't expect to like or understand this book much. I find myself wondering if my mother a psychiatrist has read it, and what she'd think. Knowing our shared taste in literature, I would venture to guess that she doesn't think much of Ballard, but I meant in a psychiatric sense.