‘In 1966, New Worlds, a British science fiction magazine edited by the writer Michael Moorcock, published a “condensed novel” by JG Ballard titled “The Assassination Weapon”. Moorcock was, he remembers, “delighted” to receive Ballard’s copy. “It was exactly what I’d been looking for and I demanded more. He complained I was making his eyes bleed, turning them out. For me it was exemplary, a flag to wave for authors and readers.” Later that same year New Worlds published “The Atrocity Exhibition”, which would become the title story of Ballard’s most notorious book.
‘In 1970 the American publisher Doubleday agreed to print an edition of Ballard’s condensed novels under that title. Marc Haefele, a young Doubleday editor at the time, remembers that a few weeks before publication, the company president was touring a warehouse in Virginia when the book was drawn to his attention. On the spot, he gave the order to pulp the entire print run. A British edition went ahead, but it wasn’t until 1972 that an American edition was published, under the title Love and Napalm: Export USA.
‘Whatever the guardians of public morality found so hard to stomach about The Atrocity Exhibition, it was surely more than dirty words and lèse-majesté. The novel presents fragments or avatars of a traumatised man, variously named Travis, Travers, Traven, Talbot or Talbert, who is conducting some kind of spun-out scientific experiment, which also takes the form of a lecture or media spectacle. Traven is both a researcher and an experimental subject or patient in an institution where white-coated medical science has become contaminated by other things: pornography, celebrity, the imminence of violent disaster. He is observed by one Dr Nathan and has a highly fetishised sexual relationship with Karen Novotny or Catherine Austin or Coma, names for a blank, damaged woman who often seems to be constructed from fragments of female celebrities – Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe.
‘The Atrocity Exhibition visits terrible violence on these female celebrity bodies, in the form of plane and car crashes, nuclear fallout, disasters of all kinds. Ronald Reagan and the car-safety campaigner Ralph Nader get the same treatment. The book’s obscenity, the reason it still has the potential to shock, is a function of its objectivity. It is clinical when, for decency’s sake, it ought to feign emotion. It looks on our sacred treasures, our culture’s real sacred treasures – the imaginary bodies of famous people – and responds with all the violence and lust and revulsion that the healthy well-adjusted citizen suppresses. Decency is what separates rational economic actors, dutifully maximising their personal benefit, from the racaille, from scum. It is the source of order. Ballard’s fictional refusal of it was – and remains – a threat.
‘Each section of The Atrocity Exhibition is a flight over the same apocalyptic landscape, a landscape that is also the human body, observed with a clinician’s eye as it undergoes trauma, as it is anatomised, penetrated, cut and crushed and humiliated, scorched and fucked. This body-landscape is also an image of itself, a mass-media projection made up of Hollywood movies and pornography and news footage of the Vietnam war. Living in the shadow of disaster, Travers is an exemplary modern subject. The only difference between him and the average suburbanite is that he doesn’t disguise his abjection. He is a burnt-out case, a celebrity stalker, a kind of psychological crash‑test dummy with a detached professional interest in the brick wall that’s about to make contact with his skull. He may, of course, also be insane.
‘The Atrocity Exhibition is a melancholy book, fixated on something terrible that it can’t let go. Its landscape is both dead and accelerating, a windblown desert strewn with the wreckage of modernity that is at the same time a place of unbearable speed and intensity. In 1964 Ballard’s wife Mary died suddenly of pneumonia, leaving him to bring up their three children alone. In 2007, when he was already terminally ill, I interviewed him. “I was terribly wounded by my wife’s death,” he told me. “Leaving me with these very young children, I felt that a crime had been committed by nature against this young woman – and her children – and I was searching desperately for an explanation … To some extent The Atrocity Exhibition is an attempt to explain all the terrible violence that I saw around me in the early 60s. It wasn’t just the Kennedy assassination … I think I was trying to look for a kind of new logic that would explain all these events.”’ — A Useful Fiction
The Atrocity Exhibition @ goodreads
TAE @ A Useful Fiction
Rob Doyle on TAE
JG Ballard: five years on – a celebration
TAE @ Ballardian
TAE @ Conceptual Fiction
TAE @ mewsings
Piecing Together J. G. Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition”
Disaffection and Abjection in J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition
Atrocity Exhibition Archive Paradoxe – Déambulations dans La Foire aux atrocités
LA DISSECTION DU MONDE CONTEMPORAIN CHEZ J.G. BALLARD
Anybody here read JG Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition?”
Analysis and Interpretation of the Visualisation of Traumatic Experience in J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition
TAE @ Fantastic Fiction
Piecing Together J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition
J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition and Trauma Narrative
Acts of reconsideration: J.G. Ballard annotating and revising editions of The Atrocity Exhibition
La mort de l’affect dans The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)
Reading The Atrocity Exhibition: A History of Forms
Jarry, Joyce and the Apocalyptic Intertextuality of The Atrocity Exhibition
The Art of The Atrocity Exhibition
”Sex(ual identity) Is Dead: J.G. Ballard’s Post-Humanist Myths of the Near Future,”
J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition and Postmodern Dystopia
The death of JG Ballard considered as an atrocity exhibition
The Atrocity Exhibition (JG Ballard and the Motorcar) 
JG Ballard on science fiction, technology and the future
Harnessing Perversity: J.G. Ballard, David Cronenberg, and Crash
JG Ballard’s Excerpt notes
Do you prefer using a specific locale in your work? In The Crystal World, for instance, you set the scene in Central Africa.
I use the locales that seem suitable to the subject at hand. I’m drawn to certain kinds of landscape: deserts, jungles, deltas, certain kinds of urban landscape. I suppose I like very formalised landscapes, like great dunes or sand bars. I’m drawn to freeways, concrete flyovers, the metallised landscapes of giant airports.
As far as naming a particular place goes — well, take something like Atrocity Exhibition. It’s not really set anywhere. It probably is England, in fact, but it could equally be elsewhere. A lot of Americans think it’s the United States. It’s not specifically the U.S. but it could be. It’s really a landscape we see in our minds, which we carry around with us, which we might see as we dream.
Why did you start writing the so-called condensed novels?
I wanted to write directly about the present day, and the peculiar psychological climate that existed in the middle sixties, when I started writing them. I think the key to that book was Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, which I saw — and still do see — as the most important event of the whole of the nineteen-sixties. It seemed to me that to write about this, and about similar events that were taking place, like the suicide of Marilyn Monroe, and the emergence of political figures like Ronald Reagan, and the whole tremendous explosion of the mass media, the way politicians and advertising corporations were using them — well, it was to try to come to terms with all this. It seemed to me it was creating a landscape around us that was almost like a gigantic novel; we were living more and more inside a strange, enormous work of fiction.
Reality and fiction were crossing each other.
Yes, they’d begun to reverse — the only point of reality was our own minds. It seemed to me that the only way to write about all this was to meet the landscape on its own terms. Useless to try to impose the conventions of the 19th-century realistic novel on this incredible five-dimensional fiction moving around us all the time at high speed. And I tried to develop — and I think successfully — a technique of mine, the so-called condensed novels, where I was able to cross all these events, at right angles if you like. Like cutting through the stem of a plant to expose the cross section of its main vessels. So this technique was devised to deal with this fragmentation and overlay of reality, through the fragmentation of narrative. Although the plot lines are very strong in those stories.
And they’re all variants. Each of the main stories in that collection describe the same man in the same state of mental crisis, but they treat him, as it were, at different points along a spectrum — as you might compile a scientific dossier about someone, explore various aspects of his make up. On the one hand a story like ‘The Summer Cannibals’, where a man and a woman have turned up at a kind of super-heated resort. This is a completely naturalistic account of two people on the level of their sweat glands. In fact they don’t have names, because their names are not important. Right through to the other extreme, where the character is seen as a kind of cosmic hero, a second coming of Christ, in ‘You And Me And The Continuum’. The same character appears in a whole series of different roles. Any of us could be fragmented in the same way, we are all to some extent.
Atrocity wasn’t liked very much by critics.
It had very bad reviews over here, on the whole. But in Europe, oddly enough, the response was completely different. Denmark, Germany, Holland — it had a terrific reception, absolutely stupendous, What impressed me about the reviews was not that they were flattering, but that they grasped straight away what the book was about. Most of the English reviewers seemed to resent not just the technique, the style in which the book was written, but also the subject matter, that I should want to talk about such things.
In America the entire Doubleday edition was destroyed, on the orders of an executive, for similar reasons. The book has just been published in America under a different title [Love and Napalm: Export USA], by Grove Press. As far as response to the stories on the US SF scene goes, you’ve got to bear in mind that there I was seen as the originator of the so called New Wave — terrible phrase — and I was absolutely loathed by most of the American SF establishment. The old guard — Isaac Asimov and company — would almost go red in the face with anger. But that particular storm, New Wave vs. Old Wave, has died down; it was just a sort of last spasm of the old guard, I think,
The Atrocity Exhibition was published in 1970 — could you say anything about what you’ve done since?
Well, my last novel I finished three weeks ago. I’d rather not give the story away as it won’t be published here for a year [presumably Concrete Island; SS]. But a previous novel, entitled Crash, will be published in June by Cape. I spent about two years writing that. As the title implies it’s about the motor car, and its whole role in our lives. It’s a cautionary tale in a sense, how I see the future. Sex times technology equals the future. In the novel I take the motor car as most clearly representing technology in our lives.
Taking off from ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’?
In a sense it’s a follow on, but it’s written in completely conventional narrative. I felt that was the best technique to use.
So you still feel it’s OK to me conventional structures?
I think one has to adjust the style to the subject matter. People have accused me of being an experimental writer, but I’ve written 90 short stories and 6 novels, of which 80 short stories and 6 novels are completely conventional, in technique and form. I think the subject matter comes first; the style and technique serve the subject matter; and I still think there’s a place for conventional narrative. It’s the idea that needs to be needled. My real criticism of most of the fiction written today is that the content is so banal, so second rate, so imitative of itself. It’s a fiction based on fiction, other people’s fiction, rather than based on experience and ordinary life.
J. G. Ballard The Atrocity Exhibition
‘First published in 1970 and widely regarded as a prophetic masterpiece, this is a groundbreaking experimental novel by the acclaimed author of ‘Crash’ and ‘Super-Cannes’, who has supplied explanatory notes for this new edition. The irrational, all-pervading violence of the modern world is the subject of this extraordinary tour de force. The central character’s dreams are haunted by images of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, dead astronauts and car-crash victims as he traverses the screaming wastes of nervous breakdown. Seeking his sanity, he casts himself in a number of roles: H-bomber pilot, presidential assassin, crash victim, pscyhopath. Finally, through the black, perverse magic of violence he transcends his psychic turmoils to find the key to a bizarre new sexuality.’ — Flamingo
p.s. Hey. If anyone out there would like to hear Diarmuid Hester talk about my work and me on the Bad Gays podcast, you can do that here. ** Dominick, D-ster!!!! Yay!!! Everyone, It’s a great day among days because the new, eighth issue of Dominik’s key lit/art zine SCAB is now available to peruse, absorb, scour, and more. The new issue has tons of amazing stuff in it including pieces by DC’s familiars Josiah Morgan and Golnoosh Nour. Set aside most of your brain cells and click this ASAP. I saw the announcement yesterday, as you know, and I’m going through and loving the issue to death. You rule, maestro. Great work! I think there’s a Zoom meeting about the fundraising in the next day or so, so I’ll know better then. That duo you chose would make very fine Cooper characters indeed! Hm … I think my first assignment for them is to, first, become the embodiment of love in two parts, then to silkscreen SCAB onto every article of their clothing and make signs advertising SCAB to carry around with them everywhere and print out piles of SCAB #8 and set off into the wide world with orders to employ their yumminess in service of that great cause, G. ** Misanthrope, The escort posts do seem too becoming more and more comedic. Whereas the slave posts seem to be becoming more and more horrifying. I wonder why. Going on ‘Rise of the Resistance’ is one of my biggest dreams right now. Sigh. Being parents to overgrown children is good for your soul maybe? ** David Ehrenstein, One hopes, yes. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! Yeah, a pretty good batch, I thought so too. So happy to hear the darkness is abating, man. And that you’re into the novel, which is, obviously, the best news. Sure, Skyping sounds great. I’m around, by default. Let me know when is good. I read that Tobias Carroll interview a while back. Nice convo. He’s cool. Everyone, Jeff Jackson is interviewed about the connection between his novel ‘Destroy All Monsters’ and band Julian Calendar by the fine-minded Tobias Carroll at Vol 1 Brooklyn here, and it’s a goodie. Yes, I did a Robert Kramer post. Let’s see … Here I don’t think I’ve seen ‘Guns’, no. I’m due a visit to the Re:Voir shop and I’ll look for it. Will do on the Milford Graves doc too. RIP to that great one. Great to see you, bud! ** Nathaniel Kochan, Hi, Nathaniel, welcome. Thanks about my stuff. At my first quick peek, those videos look amazing, I must say. Thank you! I’ll go check out the lot of them later. And go see your show at Le musée du Fumeur if at all possible (I’m a bit bottled up with a film shoot this week, but I think I can swing by). Funny, my friend and collaborator Zac Farley lives practically across the street from that place, and I’ve walked by it a billion times and never entered. Thanks! I’ll do that. Take care. ** Steve Erickson, Best of luck quelling the deal with your super, obviously. We don’t in fact have a strict lockdown here. Closed restaurants/cafes/museums and a 6 pm curfew is what we have. The govt. is trying to do everything possible not to lock Paris down again because the economic disaster and public outcry that would ensue, but it is looking more than a bit grim. I know the name Emmanuel Mouret, but I don’t think I’ve seen his films. Huh. Your description of that one film isn’t a huge magnet towards it, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled. ** Mark Gluth, Hi, Mark. I totally understand your thinking or deliberative lack off thinking about your process. As much as I graph things out for my work, I still feel pretty confused when I’m actually writing it. I guess it’s like wanting the safety of a conceptual path in which to lose myself or something. It’s funny, the US has seemed like such a total disaster over here about the pandemic, and yet at the moment everyone here is envying the speed of your recovery. The French authorities have really fucked up the vaccine roll out. It’s very surprising. I hope we’ll be in the hopeful phase over here, god, soon. ** Brian, Totally tip-top, tremendous Tuesday, Brian. ‘Playtime’ is a sublime masterpiece if there ever was such a thing. I know I’ve seen Yang’s ‘That Day, on the beach’. Maybe another one, I can’t remember. He seems like a good director to take a dive into. Thanks! My yesterday wasn’t one for the books either. Today my collaborators and I will be at the Pinault Foundation trying to firm up our ‘home haunt’ event with them, meaning trying together them to agree to pay for it. That’s today’s crux. I hope your Tuesday finds and rewards you. ** Thomas Moronic, Mr. T! I know that feeling when you find out someone whose work you admire likes your work. It’s really just the ultimate feeling ever, no? Well, if our govt. is to be believed, ha ha, you might just get to pop over here and gorge on espressos with moi by April or so. Hey, you never know. Love, me. ** Right. I decided to spotlight my favorite JG Ballard book today, and that’s what I’ve done. See you tomorrow.