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The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)

Author: • Oct 8th, 2006 •

Category: bibliography, inner space, media landscape, medical procedure, sexual politics, short stories, speed & violence, William Burroughs

Ballardian: The Atrocity Exhibition

Apocalypse. A disquieting feature of this annual exhibition — to which the patients themselves were not invited — was the marked preoccupation of the paintings with the theme of world cataclysm, as if these long-incarcerated patients had sensed some seismic upheaval within the minds of their doctors and nurses.”

For many, The Atrocity Exhibition is J.G. Ballard’s most important work. It reads like an instruction manual in how to disrupt mass media and recontextualise technology, as the ‘T’ figure reconfigures the media landscape ‘in a way that makes sense’ — an aesthetic that’s proved to be hugely influential, perhaps more so on artists and musicians than writers.

Is Atrocity a novel or a collection of short stories? Ballard published the Atrocity pieces as standalone stories over a period of four years, while always claiming that he was working towards the big picture: an experimental novel.

Two versions are available: the Flamingo edition, and the large-format RE/Search edition. Both feature annotations from Ballard, although RE/Search’s version is recommended for the gynaecological illustrations from Phoebe Gloeckner.

As Ballardian reader Mike Holliday points out:

The 1990 Re/Search edition added an Appendix with four additional pieces. These comprised three of Ballard’s ‘surgical fictions’ from the 1970s: ‘Princess Margaret’s Facelift’ (1970), ‘Mae West’s Reduction Mammoplasty’ (1970), and ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Rhinoplasty’ (1976); along with (rather incongruously) a story from the late 1980s, ‘The Secret History of World War 3’.

There was a U.K. large format paperback edition by Harper Collins/Flamingo in 1993; of the additional stories included by RE/Search, only Princess Margaret’s Facelift and Mae West’s Reduction Mammoplasty were incorporated in this U.K. edition. Subsequent U.K. editions are identical in this respect (though I don’t think I’ve looked at the very latest one).”

From Amazon:

First published in 1970 and widely regarded as a prophetic masterpiece, this is a groundbreaking experimental novel by the acclaimed author of “Crash” and “Super-Cannes”, who has supplied explanatory notes for this new edition. The irrational, all-pervading violence of the modern world is the subject of this extraordinary tour de force. The central character’s dreams are haunted by images of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, dead astronauts and car-crash victims as he traverses the screaming wastes of nervous breakdown. Seeking his sanity, he casts himself in a number of roles: H-bomber pilot, presidential assassin, crash victim, pscyhopath. Finally, through the black, perverse magic of violence he transcends his psychic turmoils to find the key to a bizarre new sexuality.”

I recommend the inimitable Mark Fisher (aka k-punk) for his analysis of Atrocity — dense and theory-driven, but undeniably intelligent and provocative:

In a sense, the phrase “atrocity exhibition” is a strictly literal description of this media landscape as it emerged in the early 1960s, populated by images of Vietnam, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The novel deals with the violence that haemorrhaged in the 1969 in which it was published: Manson, Altamont, War across the USA. But, for Ballard, the events of 1969 are merely the culmination of a decade whose guiding logic has been one of violence; a mediatized violence, where “mediatization” is a profoundly ambiguous term which doesn’t necessarily imply a disintensification. As they begin to achieve the instantaneous speed Virilio thinks characteristic of postmodern communication, media (paradoxically) immediatize trauma, making it instantly available even as they prepackage it into what will become increasingly preprogrammed stimulus-response circuitries.”

Mark Fisher. ‘Flatline Constructs — The Atrocity Exhibition’.

+ ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ (1966)
+ ‘The University of Death’ (1968)
+ ‘The Assassination Weapon’ (1966)
+ ‘You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe’ (1966)
+ ‘Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown’ (1967)
+ ‘The Great American Nude’ (1968)
+ ‘The Summer Cannibals’ (1969)
+ ‘Tolerances of the Human Face’ (1969)
+ ‘You and Me and the Continuum’ (1966)
+ ‘Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy’ (1966)
+ ‘Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A.’ (1968)
+ ‘Crash!’ (1969)
+ ‘The Generations of America’ (1968)
+ ‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’ (1968)
+ ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’ (1966)

+ ‘Princess Margaret’s Facelift’ (1970)
+ ‘Mae West’s Reduction Mammoplasty’ (1970)
+ ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Rhinoplasty’ (1976)
+ ‘The Secret History of World War III’ (1988)

..:: LINKS
+ Excerpt: Chapter 1 — ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’
+ Excerpt: Chapter 5 — ‘Notes Towards A Mental Breakdown’
+ Excerpt: Chapter 12 — ‘Crash!’

..:: ELSEWHERE ON BALLARDIAN (selected posts)
+ Grand Theft Auto IV: Ballardian atrocities
+ ‘Confronting ourselves’: Ballard and Circular Time
+ ‘An exhibition of atrocities’: J.G. Ballard on Mondo film
+ ‘The fusion of science and pornography’ (WARNING! Exceptionally unsafe for work)
+ ‘Der Visionär des Phantastischen’: An Interview with J.G. Ballard
+ ‘It would be a mistake to write about the future’: J.G. Ballard in Conversation with Jörg Krichbaum and Rein A. Zondergeld
+ The Ballardian Primer: Car Parks
+ Love among the mannequins
+ J.G. Ballard: The Corridor Interview
+ Angry Old Men: Michael Moorcock on J.G. Ballard
+ Atrocity II
+ ‘Magisterial, Precise, Unsettling’: Simon Reynolds on the Ballard Connection
+ The Brangelina Exhibition
+ Fantasy Kits: Steven Meisel’s State of Emergency
+ ‘When in doubt, quote Ballard’: An interview with Iain Sinclair
+ “Thirsty Man at the Spigot”: An Interview with Jonathan Weiss
+ Another Atrocity: A ‘New’ Work by J.G. Ballard
+ Jonathan Weiss: The Atrocity Exhibition
+ The ‘DNA of the Present’ in the Fossil Record of the Cold War Through the Imagery of JG Ballard, Related Sources and Documents in Various Media
+ William Burroughs: Preface to The Atrocity Exhibition
+ Author’s Note: The Atrocity Exhibition


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  5. […] .the atrocity exhibition by joy division. […]

  6. […] it was the sexual fetishism in Crash (no not that shitty Oscar-winner), the scathing brevity of The Atrocity Exhibition or the sheer weightage of psychoanalysis in The Drowned World, something always creeps up in JG […]

  7. […] The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard […]

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  9. […] haven’t read it already.) From there I was guided to one of his short story collections, called Atrocity Exhibition, probably his most famous work besides […]

  10. […] I’ve been interested in Ballard’s writing for many years; I was a big Joy Division fan and read The Atrocity Exhibition simply because they wrote a song with the same name. More recently, it struck me that the themes in […]

  11. This is where “The Shakespeare of the 20th Century” tag is earned. Was there anyone else so in tune with the zeitgeist of the time? This is my bible and guidebook and it transcends the decade. Utterly amazing.

  12. […] put it around his neck to pose for news pictures.“ .william s. burroughs in the preface to the atrocity exhibition by j.g. […]

  13. […] Sceneggiatura: Jonathan Weiss e Michael Kirby dal romanzo sperimentale di James G. Ballard (1970) The Atrocity Exhibition (La mostra delle atrocità, Rizzoli, 1990) Fotografia: Bud Gardner Montaggio: Jed Parker, Chad […]

  14. […] The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) Ballard famously tapped Ronald Reagan for president. His Hello America (1981), on the other […]

  15. […] from now on”. In a completely opposite reading, William Burroughs wrote in the introduction to The Atrocity Exhibition: “The line between inner and outer landscapes is breaking down. Earthquakes can result from […]

  16. […] in the real world is a theme that has been explored in literature such as J.G. Ballard’s (1970) Atrocity Exhibition and works of science fiction (SF), notably David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983). SF novels and […]

  17. […] Ballard’s books might read like straightforward attacks on modernity, but they are anything but. The Atrocity Exhibition, which established his literary reputation in 1969, used an aggressive backdrop of freeways, […]

  18. […] released his new album, Atrocity Exhibition, named after a Joy Division song (itself named after the book by JG Ballard). Brown has a longstanding relationship with the band. In a 2013 Guardian interview, he cited Ian […]

  19. […] the old ones. On Tuesday, Atrocity Exhibition, named after a Joy Division song (itself named after 2013 Guardian interview, he cited Ian Curtis as an influence, and the band have informed his music since 2011s […]

  20. […] the old ones. On Tuesday, Atrocity Exhibition, named after a Joy Division song (itself named after 2013 Guardian interview, he cited Ian Curtis as an influence, and the band have informed his music since 2011s […]

  21. […] the old ones. On Tuesday, Atrocity Exhibition, named after a Joy Division song (itself named after 2013 Guardian interview, he cited Ian Curtis as an influence, and the band have informed his music since 2011s […]

  22. […] the old ones. On Tuesday, Atrocity Exhibition, named after a Joy Division song (itself named after 2013 Guardian interview, he cited Ian Curtis as an influence, and the band have informed his music since 2011s […]

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