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'Destruction of cities'Author: Simon Sellars • Jan 29th, 2009 •
At Dan Hill’s always-impressive City of Sound, a recent post returns to Dan’s interest in Ballard’s Drowned World, positioning it as the middle panel of a triptych of novels (including Shute’s On the Beach and McCarthy’s The Road) that depict the planet ‘suffering some kind of apocalyptic event in different ways…’, each representing particular aspects of ‘denial’ that are in orbit around current debates on climate change. Hill suggests that all three works are ‘post-nuclear’, but isn’t it the case that the world in Ballard’s book has transformed due to ‘gigantic geophysical upheavals’, ie solar radiation? While in The Road, the low rumble of the percussive strike remembered in flashback could just as well be attributed to a meteor as much as a nuclear hit.
It’s a really intriguing post, however, and it would be great to see Dan expand it into a fullblown essay one day:
Clive Hamilton, in a brilliant essay in The Monthly on climate change denial, completes the Rumsfeldian square with his suggestion that climate change denial is about “unknown knowns, the facts we know but push from our consciousness.” On The Beach is more about this form of denial than reconciliation perhaps. It’s closer to ‘interpretative denial’ than ‘literal denial’ or ‘implicatory denial’, in Stanley Cohen’s model from his States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering.
JG Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) concerns a form of attempted psychological adaptation, perhaps also as denial. Ballard’s vision depicts living organisms, including humans, regressing to a prehistoric consciousness, a form of long dormant lizard brain awaking and grappling for control of consciousness and subconscious, in parallel with the rampantly fertile flora of the Triassic era. This is hardly denial, consciously or subconsciously. Rather, a surely doomed attempt by the human mind to reboot itself into another mode more appropriate to the conditions, like DOS suddenly re-emerging from within Windows.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2007) is shattering, and one of the finest novels I’ve read. Certainly one of the most emotionally affecting. The protagonists in The Road are further advanced along this destructive linear progression. Indeed, further on down the road. They’re far removed from any possible form of denial. Their ash-cloaked dead world is one of grim realisation and numb despair.
Happy new year, indeed.
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