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.
I have never in any way really cared for Michael Jackson’s music, so the news of his death does not move me too much. I tried to gather an interest in him from a media studies perspective – he is after all perhaps one of the last big actualisations of the Disney era of sorts; a half-imaginated, half-real zombie of sorts that seemed to live most of his last years in a weird haze world. What was incidental of some of the reports / review articles of him after his death (reading some newspapers in Berlin), was the reference to his status as a victim of sorts. He was written in some articles as the not-completely-grown-up that was continuously struggling with relationships and his status as a public character. Of course, such ideas hit the mark all too well – and this is the status he wanted to give himself as well. All the fantasies of the boy who did not grow up, the Peter Pan, the infantile work now in his favor to create a polished picture that is not ready to discuss his possible pedophilia.
Indeed, describing him in terms of infantility is I believe the point and ranges from his music (all the high pitched screams, or his so soft talking voice, almost beyond language, infantile) and his public persona. It goes as far as hinting towards a legal status as well, which is interesting. Jackson is one of the first and last great Baudrillard-kind of characters of simulacra that do not seem completely real but governed by the logic of simulacra – a logic of signs floating around in a world of media cultural capitalism of sorts. In Jackson, this reached certain corporeality through his on-going metamorphosis and the years long media discussion concerning his nose and skin. What do we remember of him but those two things? The mutilated nose and the oh-too-white skin? Its emblematic of the Disney world as well, the urge for whiteness present in so many implicitly racist Disney narratives. Jackson the media persona at least shows the political contexts of any simulacra that in this case territorialized very concretely on issues of race and gender. Yet, such issues are accessible through a sans langue of the infantile with the intensities of the skin color, the voice, the fragility rather than a clear language-orientated grid of representation. No signifiers and signifieds, but intensities and bodies. In this sense Jackson shares something with Marilyn Monroe, as Milla reminded me; Marilyn also as a Hollywood-infantility according to some critics, her babylike face, infantile sexuality present in her soft voice that as if struggled to be heard at all, almost child-like
The Finnish media theorist Jukka Sihvonen pointed towards such a culture of infantility in his book on media education that I alas do not have at hand. I am sure it would inspire some really good points about our media culture as one of infantility more widely. Have to pick up the book when I get back to Cambridge just to remind myself of his arguments, which place the whole idea of “media education” in the important context of contemporary media in a post-enlightenment condition.