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Jean Seberg, part 2Author: Simon Sellars • Jun 25th, 2008 •
I know we’re supposed to be all blase and post-ironic about the internet these days, but still I retain the capacity to be knocked sideways by the blinding pace and reach of the info dump. What was that Virilio said about the apocalyptic speed of information technology forcing a bleeding of time? Oh, yes: ‘As time changes, it is speed that changes gear and history that changes camp, finally attaining a speed limit that cannot be exceeded.’
Ballard, too, is in on this, but from the reverse perspective… ‘Once we get away from our sense of serial time into, say, some more complex notion of time — time perceived as a simultaneity — we are beginning to reach the threshold of a larger mental consciousness of the kind that’s perceived by mystics…’
Well, earlier today, no sooner had I posted David Pringle’s snippet about Jean Seberg and The Crystal World, than none other than Jonathan Rosenbaum himself, the catalyst for this obscure slice of Ballardiana, immediately stopped by to leave a comment. This was in answer to David’s query about the identity of Jonathan’s ‘friend of mine who was a friend of Seberg’s’:
The friend of mine who was a friend of Seberg’s is/was Edith Cottrell. She still lives in Paris, and works, I believe, as an agent. I haven’t seen her in years, but through another friend we exchanged emails several month ago.
Intrigued, I Googled ‘Edith Cottrell’ and ‘JG Ballard’ and came across the following on Jonathan’s personal website:
It was … at the Cannes festival in the early 70s that I told Susan [Sontag] about the screenplay I’d been commissioned to write adapting J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World for a fledgling producer, Edith Cottrell, who owned the rights and was hoping to find someone interested in directing it. “I’m interested,” Susan declared, and back in Paris I wound up spending an afternoon with her in her garage flat behind Nicole Stéphane’s house, engaged in what I suppose could be called a script conference. She wasn’t too enthused about what I’d written so far, but insofar as I’d been interested in the script mainly as a way of paying my rent—and had so little confidence in it being filmed that I wasn’t even making a carbon copy—I could hardly blame her. Still, the prospect of working for Susan made it much more interesting, so I eagerly went off to follow her suggestions about making the whole thing “sexier,” not realizing at the time that her own interest in the project most likely evaporated on the spot. She was rather awkward in explaining this when I finally managed to reach her again on the phone, and by the time she’d arranged to return a copy of Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men that I’d lent her, it finally dawned on me that we wouldn’t be having a second script conference.
Imagine that: Susan Sontag directing Jean Seberg in an adaptation of The Crystal World. I am sure Ballard would approve. Not only would he be well aware of Seberg’s star power, given that he is a long-standing admirer of Godard, the director who first brought her extraordinary qualities to the world, but he has written approvingly of Sontag’s criticism:
I commend Susan Sontag’s brave 1969 essay (‘The Pornographic Imagination’), though I would go much further in my claims. Pornography is a powerful catalyst for social change, and its periods of greatest availability have frequently coincided with times of greatest economic and scientific advance.
JGB, notes to The Atrocity Exhibition.
But that’s not all. In David Pringle’s own 1979 interview with JGB, the following was revealed:
Pringle: Did you happen to read Susan Sontag’s book On Photography , or have you seen the TV programme based on it?
Ballard: No, neither.
Pringle: It seemed to me a lot of the ideas about the way we use cameras had been anticipated in your fiction, in stories like “The Sixty-Minute Zoom” for instance.
Ballard: Oh, yes. No, I haven’t read that. I’d like to because I like the sound of
her. She’s been extremely generous about my fiction, said the most complimentary things about it. From what I’ve read of her criticism she’s a first-class critic, with a very rare sensibility, absolutely in tune with a lot of the goals that I think writers and critics should set themselves and few do. I admire her enormously. I’m happy there are correspondences.
David also tells me that Sontag had ‘supplied Grove Press with a hearty endorsement for their edition of Love & Napalm: Export USA back in 1972’ (Love and Napalm being the American retitling of The Atrocity Exhibition).
And of course, there is Sontag’s well-known appraisal of JGB: ‘One of the most important, intelligent voices in contemporary fiction.’
So there you go: the virtual bleeding into the actual once more, cross-linkage of transient layers galore. In the words of Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, ‘Give in to it, boy, it’s like a tidal wave!’
Many thanks, Jonathan.
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