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Conference paper on Ballard and ‘circular time’

Author: • Sep 29th, 2009 •

Category: academia, airports, alternate worlds, Ballardosphere, memory, Shanghai, time travel, WWII

Ballardian: La Jetee

Still from La Jetée (1962), dir. Chris Marker.

If you’re in Melbourne this Thursday, come and say hello! I’m giving a paper on Ballard, circular time and the nouvelle vague this Thursday, October 1, at 3pm 3.45pm at ACMI in the city. It’s part of the time.transcendence.performance conference, held over three days at ACMI and Monash University’s Caulfield campus. Guests include Stelarc (very exciting, for me), Brian Massumi and more. Here’s the conference blurb, followed by the abstract for my paper:

time.transcendence.performance brings together artists, designers and thinkers who work with time, to explore how they might inform each other. How do performers think time? How do thinkers perform time? What shared or different understandings are at work in the different practices?

Even before Aristotle wrote that time is the number of motion with respect to before and after, and Heraclitus observed that it was impossible to step into the same river twice, philosophers – Eastern and Western – have wondered about time. Is it real or just an abstraction? Is it reversible? Does it pass? Do we experience it directly? Is it relative or constant? Does it exist? So far, the consensus is that we do not have satisfactory answers to these questions.

More than an academic conference: the three-day program features public performances, exhibitions, installations, screenings and workshops.

Dr Simon Sellars
School of English, Communication & Performance Studies
Monash University, Clayton

J.G. Ballard’s oeuvre features numerous examples of self-contained societies that many critics perceive as disguised versions of Lunghua, the insular WWII camp he was interned in as a child. His novel, Empire of the Sun, widely seen as Ballard’s ‘authentic’ autobiography and the key to decoding his fiction, activated this perception. However, by cross-examining his body of work, I will argue that there is no definitive reconstruction of this wartime experience – rather, Empire should be viewed as Ballard’s life seen through the holograph of his fiction – and that, moreover, this holistic recycling of memory forms the model for a program of resistance to late capitalism. In wider terms, Ballard positions time as an artificial construct imposing control on the chaotic subconscious: the clock stops, past and future collapsed in the drive to homogenise the planet. Liberation derives from circular time – revisiting memory – and even sideways time, restaging and reinhabiting parallel worlds.

To illustrate this, the paper analyses Ballard’s affinity with nouvelle vague cinema — non-linear film technique, which, incorporated into the fabric of his work, reveals the ‘true’ nature of perception, time and memory. Ballard’s fiction is the fictional doubling of Deleuze’s work on the cinema of the ‘time-image’: both locate ‘nodes of resistance’ in post-war cinema, deploying the nouvelle vague as revealing the truth of the merger between the virtual and the actual. Focusing on repetition and déjà vu, the critical concept of revisiting and reinhabiting memory emerges in Ballardian and Deleuzian philosophy. Ballard’s malleable, circular Lunghua memories become a mutant psychopathology that focuses on inner mental states as reality and the external world of media and consumerism as irreality – a reversal that his work posits as the only viable antidote to an increasingly stylised and mediated post-war realm, the only effective form of resistance to totalising, naturalised systems of control.

..:: Previously on Ballardian:
‘Confronting Ourselves’: Ballard and Circular Time
+ Ballard and the Vicissitudes of Time

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Sparks. Tom Sparks said: Reading: ‘CONFRONTING OURSELVES’: J.G. Ballard & Circular Time by Simon Sellars http://cut.as/8o […]

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