:: Article

Paris 13 / 11: J.G. Ballard and Sam Beckett

By Richard Marshall.




The atrocities of Paris remind us that we’re on earth. Culling merciless lines from two of the writers we’re missing most maybe we can find things to pivot off…

JG Ballard: People aren’t ennobled by suffering . . . At the same time, it does strip away a lot of illusions. One pays a terrible price for that, but at least one glimpses some kind of truth. Conrad once said that it’s necessary to immerse yourself in the most destructive elements of the times, and then attempt to swim.

Sam Beckett: We are all born mad. Some remain so.

JGB: We tolerate everything, but we know that liberal values are designed to make us passive.

SB: Let me go to hell, that’s all I ask, and go on cursing them there, and them look down and hear me, that might take some of the shine off their bliss.

JGB: We are swayed powerfully by forces that suddenly erupt in our plans. Too many of us would rather be involved in a sex crime than in sex.

SB: I have my faults, but changing my tune is not one of them. We are no longer the same, you wiser but not sadder, and I sadder but not wiser, for wiser I could hardly become without grave personal inconvenience, whereas sorrow is a thing you can keep adding to all your life long, is it not, like a stamp or an egg collection, without feeling very much the worse for it, is it not.

JGB: Obsessions are as close to reality as you can get. The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction. Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality. My advice to anyone in any field is to be faithful to your obsessions. Identify them and be faithful to them, let them guide you like a sleepwalker.

SB: To contrive a little kingdom, in the midst of the universal muck, then shit on it, ah that was me all over. (Pause) The only way one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something, just as the only way one can speak of God is to speak of him as though he were a man, which to be sure he was, in a sense, for a time, and as the only way one can speak of man, even our anthropologists have realized that, is to speak of him as though he were a termite. God is a witness that cannot be sworn.

JGB: My fear is that in a totally sane society, madness is the only freedom. The urge for destruction as a way of redefining oneself is very strong. We believe in progress and the power of reason, but are haunted by the darker sides of human nature. We’re obsessed with sex, but fear the sexual imagination and have to be protected by huge taboos. We believe in equality but hate the underclass. We fear our bodies and, above all, we fear death. We’re a few steps from oblivion, but we hope we’re somehow immortal.

SB: The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said. (Pause) There is something … more important in life than punctuality, and that is decorum. Don’t wait to be hunted to hide, that’s always been my motto. To him who has nothing it is forbidden not to relish filth.

JGB: Violence is like a brush fire, it destroys a lot of trees but refreshes the forest, clears away the stifling undergrowth, so more trees spring up. Surrender to a logic more powerful than reason. Life isn’t an avant-garde movie!

SB: My life, my life, now I speak of it as of something over, now as of a joke which still goes on, and it is neither, for at the same time it is over and it goes on, and is there any tense for that? Watch wound and buried by the watchmaker, before he died, whose ruined works will one day speak of God, to the worms. (Silence) All the things you would do gladly, oh without enthusiasm, but gladly, all the things there seems no reason for your not doing, and that you do not do! Can it be we are not free? It might be worth looking into.

JGB: Freedom has no barcode. Freedom: the last great illusion of the twentieth century. These days one needed a full-scale emergency kit built into one’s brain, plus a crash course in disaster survival, real and imagined.

SB: In me there have always been two fools, among others, one asking nothing better than to stay where he is and the other imagining that life might be slightly less horrible a little further on. Let me say before I go any further that I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life and then the fires and ice of hell and in the execrable generations to come an honoured name.

JGB: The planet is turning into a gigantic Disneyland. A gigantic theme park where Japan equals the future, Europe is the past and Africa is a giant apocalyptic disaster area, a continental disaster movie screened for the Western benefit. The human body’s capacity for painkillers is almost unlimited. Despair erodes everything: courage, hope, self-discipline, all the better qualities. It’s so damned difficult to sustain that impersonal attitude of passive acceptance implicit in the scientific tradition. I try to think of Galileo before the Inquisition, Freud surmounting the endless pain of his jaw cancer surgery. We theme-parked the future just as we theme-park everything. We theme-parked the past. We theme-parked the future, and visit it only when we feel we want some sort of glittery gimmick. The temper of the times seems to be one of self-love, if of a strange sort: Caliban asleep across a mirror stained with vomit. But perhaps the story also illustrates the paradox that the only real freedom is to be found in a prison. Sometimes it is difficult to tell on which side of the bars we really are the real gaps between the bars are the sutures of one’s own skull.

SB: Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

JGB: The destruction of time: the next evolutionary step forward?

SB: The essential is to go on squirming forever at the end of the line, as long as there are waters and banks and ravening in heaven a sporting god to plague his creatures, per pro his chosen shits.

JGB: Adaptability is the only real biological qualification for survival. At the moment a pretty grim form of natural selection is taking place. Politics is over . . . it doesn’t touch the public imagination any longer.

SB: Ah, the old questions, the old answers, there’s nothing like them!

JGB: The crime wave is already there. It’s called consumer capitalism. In a real war no one knew which side he was on, and there were no flags or commentators or winners. In a real war there were no enemies. There’s nothing to believe in now. All ideology is gone. The great churches are empty; political ideology is finished; there’s just a scramble for power. There’s a nagging sense of emptiness. So people look for anything; they believe in any extreme—any extremist nonsense is better than nothing.

SB: Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us!

JGB: All our responses are pre-empted before we have even made a direct human response. We are reaching a point in the world today when a direct human response to practically anything is impossible.

SB: I grow gnomic. It is the last phase.

JGB: The brief span of an individual life is misleading. Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory. The uterine odyssey of the growing foetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is a coded time scale, each nexus of neurons and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time.

SB: Consider: the darkening ease, the brightening trouble; the pleasure pleasure because it was, the pain pain because it shall be; the glad acts grown proud, the proud acts growing stubborn; the panting and trembling towards a being gone, a being to come; and the true true no longer, and the false true not yet. And to decide not to smile after all, sitting in the shade, hearing the cicadas, wishing it were night, wishing it were morning, saying, No, it is not the heart, no, it is not the liver, no, it is not the prostate, no, it is not the ovaries, no, it is muscular, it is nervous.

JGB: The only real philosophers left are the police.

SB: They never lynch children, babies, no matter what they do they are whitewashed in advance.

JGB: The mass media have turned the world into a world of pop art. From JFK’s assassination to the war in Iraq, everything is perceived as pop art.

SB: All I say cancels out, I’ll have said nothing.

JGB: The trouble with Marxism is that it is a social philosophy for the poor: what we need is a social philosophy for the rich. These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth-century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed . . .

Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

Buy his book here to keep him biding!

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 15th, 2015.