Atrocity Media

Reading J.G.Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) as media theory in a similar manner in which Thomas Pynchon was such an influence to German media theory, and William Burroughs to cyber theory; with Ballard, the exhibition of the mediatic convergence of the inner and outer landscapes in the becoming flesh and spinal of our built environment, and the fabricated artefacts becoming the catalyzer for so much of what we considered “internal” – psychosis, perversions, and other feelings that constitute the everyday. Ballard is wonderful as an archaeologist of the architectures of fragmented bodies that he investigates through a science-media link, both tools of analysis: partial objects, intense focai of desire, parts in massive patterns of data. J.G.Ballard does big data. He establishes the link from media to science as the future source of sexual perversions, and at the centre of the collection of texts lies a world of research based on experiments and statistics. Optimum wound profiles, scientifically measured statistics of the body in arousal, leg positions.

Data – “Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”:

Experimental Test Situation of “Reagan in a series of simulated auto-crashes”: one form of optimization again, this time as therapy:

“Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto-disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan’s head on the retouched  photographs of crash fatalities. In 82 percent of cases massive rear-end collisions were selected with a preference for expressed faecal matter and rectal haemorrhages. Further tests were conducted to the define the optimum model-year. These indicate that a three-year model lapse with child victims provide the maximum audience excitation (confirmed by manufacturer’s studies of the optimum auto-disaster.)”

With Ballard, the crash is of course one way of providing material for the imagination of new sexual perversions – part of social change. His way of mapping the psycho-sexual drives of perversions/desires as part of the political landscape is ingenious, and is as powerful as a Deleuze-Guattarian schizoanalytic mapping. Such mappings do not look for the signifying anchor point, but the productive processuality of where psychosis might stand – as a relay across various regimes of reality.

As a link between power and sexual fantasies, more experiments and data from Ballard:

 “Incidence of orgasms in fantasies of sexual intercourse with Ronald Reagan. Patients were provided with assembly kit photographs of sexual partners during intercourse. In each case Reagan’s face was superimposed upon the original partner. Vaginal intercourse,with ‘Reagan’ proved uniformly disappointing, producing orgasm in 2 percent of subjects. Axillary, buccal, navel, aural and orbital modes produced proximal erections. The preferred mode of entry overwhelmingly proved to be the rectal. After a preliminary course in anatomy it was found that caecum and transverse colon also provided excellent sites for excitation. In an extreme 12 percept of cases, the simulated anus of post-colostamy surgery generated spontaneous orgasm in 98 percent of penetrations. Multiple-track cine-films were constructed of ‘Reagan’ in intercourse during (a) campaign speeches, (b) rear-end auto-collisions with one and three-year-old model changes, (c) with rear-exhaust assemblies, (d) with Vietnamese child-atrocity victims.”

The perverse worlds Ballard paints from Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe to J.F.K and Reagan are mediated by the media technological worlds of cinematic expression. The cinema-landscape-desire –folding is itself a cartography of 20th century in a fashion that is insightful in its link to science and military.

The outside-inside linking as a methodology to investigate such cartographies of power and desire are now however faced with the question that Ballard already flirts with. How about this inside/outside in the age of post-phenomenological bodies, were desires circulate as part of architectures of computing, data, and chip architectures? A lot of the recent theoretical waves, such as thinking through affect (I am reminded especially of Shaviro’s Post-cinematic Affect) point towards such directions, but what if we insist on even more media-specific methodologies? Where do we go to map architectures of the non-visible, code and hardware, electromagnetic fields and signal processing? The Weber-Fechner law as a guide in our mapping of the changes in mediatic sensory intensities.

For more on Ballard in the context of media theory, read Matteo Pasquinelli’s Animal Spirits.

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  1. Struan
    September 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I’m interested it the link you sight between Burroughs and cyber theory. I was aware Burroughs heavily influenced writers like William Gibson (who in Neuromancer (1984) could be seen to address the cartographic questions you raise at the end of the piece), but other than that found the connection to dry up. Any recommendations for further reading around the link?

    • September 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      I think for instance Scott Bukatman’s Terminal Identity could be a book of use to you — it maps some of these debates very nicely…. the already mentioned Matteo Pasquinelli book Animal Spirits has a chapter on Ballard.

      • Struan
        September 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm

        Great! Thanks very much for the recommendations, the Bukatman text looks really interesting. I’ll let you know how the search progresses…

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