It’s not the first time I have made the reference to J.G.Ballard while talking about Cambridge (UK). It somehow just seems to share the similar psycho-pathologies of middle-class that Ballard is continuously on about; all the innocent looking fronts, civilized habits, closed communities, and so on. Cambridge is the academic Disneyland that attracts tourists to marvel the 800 years of history of knowledge production — the sublime Western heritage of closed institutions, privileged few and the close link of money with information.
In this context, its only natural that the tourist bus ride that I took to accompany my mother and cousins during their visit turned out to be nothing less than the poor-man’s roller coaster ride through Cambridge with head-phones on tuned into a discourse of indoctrination to the marvels of not Cambridge-the-town, but Cambridge-the University. The narrative voice tells the tale of Cambridge, and its one University (hence, forgetting the Other one off the map, Anglia Ruskin that is), and basically framing the whole narrative and the mobile tour around that single theme. The mobility of the bus from the other end of Cambridge to the other is stagnated by the immobility of the discourse. Through a continuous rhetoric of “we” it weaves a success story of a very boring kind, lacking almost any kind of interesting self-reflexive touch (although recognizing e.g. the long term exclusion of women).
Naturally this kind of occupation of Cambridge could be seen through ideas of the “creative cities” á la Richard Florida, a clusterization of brains that Cambridge represents. Yet, this creative city is very much branded by a corporatisation of the area also known as Silicon Fen, not by for example an arts led agenda. And then its about the past. In academic humanities, for example, its still the very old-fashioned and hence prestigious disciplines in which the University excels with its Grand Old Men. In terms of the wider “creative industries”, incidentally, even Wikipedia explains the possible reasons for the attractiveness of the Silicon Fen as: “Another explanation is that Cambridge has the academic pre-eminence of Cambridge University, a high standard of living available in the county, good transport links, and a relatively low incidence of social problems such as crime and hard drug use.”
Sounds like the setting for a Ballard novel? Is this the novel he should have written next, Super-Cambridge? I have already imagined various juicy plots involving some darker rooms at King’s College, weird sexual rituals, inexplicable violence, the libidinal released from the security of private schools and superior education.