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Ballardian Glamour

Author: • Dec 11th, 2008 •

Category: academia, Ballardosphere, fashion, sexual politics

Ballardian LEFT: Joanne McNeil.

Recently, I was seriously puzzled by an attack from an anonymous (of course) ‘academic’ (female) on another forum that branded the contents of this site as ‘seething with testosterone’. Well, you make of that what you will, but it reminded me of an incident back when I first attempted my doctoral thesis on Ballard, some 12 years ago. I vividly recall delivering a paper at a postgrad seminar and being roundly attacked during question time by a woman who was disgusted by my support of such a ‘deeply misogynistic writer’. I remember replying that in Ballard, it’s actually the male characters that have a pretty hard time of it, and if anything their flaws are more magnified and on display, thus supporting my interrogator’s sense of outrage about male attitudes in a roundabout way if she could only bring herself to see it thus.

Related to this, there was something else going on about Ballard’s female characters, something to do with male inadequacy in the wake of female intelligence, that I couldn’t quite articulate at the time but which Joanne McNeil of Tomorrow Museum has perhaps nailed, in this recent interview over at Deep Glamour:

DG: Who are the most glamorous characters in science fiction?

JMcN: J. G. Ballard’s female characters are straight out of film noir, except a million times smarter. The only thing he obsesses over more than airports and drained swimming pools is feminine intellect. He barely describes their appearance, but instead gives them high-power jobs, introverted tendencies, and sharp wit. They are doctors, never nurses. They are usually thinking one step ahead of the male protagonist. He recognizes that intellectual curiosity and femininity aren’t contradictory. I mean, this is a man who confessed to a crush on Hillary Clinton in a recent interview. Susan Sontag so much adored his books she briefly planned to script and direct The Crystal World with Jean Seberg in a starring role.

Rosanna Arquette and Holly Hunter are two of my favorite actresses, but it was Deborah Unger who epitomized “Ballardian” for me in Crash. She was so perplexingly remote and intelligent. She’s not a bitch, but she’s not quirky, rarely smiles, and has a tentative way of interacting with other people. Unger’s mother is a nuclear scientist and she studied economics and philosophy in college. So she really is that Ballardian ideal analytic woman. That she’s as beautiful as she is makes it all the more disarming.

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6 Responses »

  1. I had a very similar experience during a seminar on science fiction – the lecturer took immediate dislike to me on learning of my interest in Ballard and Burroughs … mentioning David Lynch just sealed her impression of me completely. Diane Purkiss, j’accuse! (One of your fellow Antipodeans, Simon)>

  2. Wow, Anthony — Lynch too? Now that’s just going too far.

  3. Well, I’m a (female) (failed) academic, and I think Ballard is no more or less misogynistic than any other writer (male or female) of the last 100 years. The reason I love Ballard’s work is that as an author Ballard seems to love and hate everything and everyone all the time and in equal measures. I think we all do that to some extent; he manages to capture it in writing. Therefore: brilliant.

  4. Hi Blaize, that’s a good point — his work captures the ever-shifting reality of becoming a conscious, sentient being. I think that’s why I was so amazed that someone could pin him down to a particular stance about women; to do that is to miss the infinite nuances in his writing, something which I think Joanne in the quote above captures.

  5. Actually, it was even worse … I went and mentioned Cronenberg – at which point she wanted to brand a large scarlet M on my forehead and have me horsewhipped. Me and my big mouth.

  6. Is this what academia is like? Filled with roving bands of Dworkinesque females snapping and snarling at men’s genitals? It’s like they forgot something called time. People have held different views and opinions throughout time and yet seem to be being judged by some abstract absolute set of feminist principles invented by someone today. I find it utterly bizarre. I can only assume that these people have very bad relationships with their parents…

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