# LITERATURE /// The Fouled Beauty of James Graham Ballard


The poem that I included at the end of this article was recently found by my friend Martin and constitutes an important document as James Graham Ballard makes explicit in it a form of manifesto – as its title, What I believe, indicates – that can be found in the entirety of his literary work. The repetition of “I believe” at the beginning of each sentence of this poem places the latter indeed in the realms of manifesto; however, the things that J.G. Ballard believes in rather consist in the construction of an aesthetics. It is important to stress the fact that this is in no way a counter-aesthetics that would be composed of all antipodes from the dominant ideal as some people could think. This is not a beauty carved in the negative of another here, but veritably a positive construction for what is fouled, what triggers an ambiguity between disgust and fascination. Such an aesthetic has been so strongly carried within his work that, along with the one of his heroes, Franz Kafka, it gains the adjective neologism status, ballardian, that people like Simon Sellars continue to investigate.

While Andy Warhol deshumanizes an actress by making an icon out of her, James Graham Ballard considers an iconic figure of the United Kingdom 1980’s politics, Margaret Thatcher, and, by bringing her back to what she really is, a body with its genital organs, its postures and its smells, he accomplishes a true political act. What I mean by that is that insisting on her body – along Ronald Reagan’s one as well – and its non-glamorous characteristics should not be considered as a form of political satire, but rather in the demystification of the spectacular (in the “Debordian” sense) myths that built those political personalities.

Just like Antonin Artaud (see my essay on this topic), James Graham Ballard is fascinated by organs that externalize the internal production of the body. The mouth and its “sweet odours emanating from their lips”, the ass and its excrement that “smears the seat belts” in crashed automobiles, and, of course, the genital organs and their ejaculative matter. However, Artaud “re-injects” some transcendence into this matter as he inscribes it within the practice of rituals from a sort of miry religion. On the contrary, in his book Crash, Ballard celebrates the beauty of sperm and gush through the very pagan event of the accident that he sees as the mechanical production of new orifices from which the various liquids and smells of the machine are ejected. The accident couples machines with machines (and in the book, oftentimes, humans with humans), but also machines with humans, the body of each penetrating the other in a de-gendered coitus.

We can interpret this as an allegory of the relationship between humans and machines as Antoine Picon in La ville territoire des cyborgs (The city as a territory of cyborgs), but what this poem reveals is something more present, more literal in Ballard’s interest: the fouled beauty of bodies, machines and places and the slow or accelerated decay that acts upon them. If he sees beauty in it, it is probably because of the vertigo for its irremediability and the unpredictability of its physical production.

(Image from the cinematographic adaptation of Crash by D. Cronenberg (1996))

James Graham Ballard. What I Believe: Interzone, #8, Summer 1984. A prose poem, originally published in French in Science Fiction #1 (ed. Daniel Riche) in January 1984. (found on jgballard.ca)

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.

I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.

I believe in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen on her lower lip; in the melancholy of wounded Argentine conscripts; in the haunted smiles of filling station personnel; in my dream of Margaret Thatcher caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel watched by a tubercular filling station attendant.

I believe in the beauty of all women, in the treachery of their imaginations, so close to my heart; in the junction of their disenchanted bodies with the enchanted chromium rails of supermarket counters; in their warm tolerance of my perversions.

I believe in the death of tomorrow, in the exhaustion of time, in our search for a new time within the smiles of auto-route waitresses and the tired eyes of air-traffic controllers at out-of-season airports.

I believe in the genital organs of great men and women, in the body postures of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Di, in the sweet odors emanating from their lips as they regard the cameras of the entire world.

I believe in madness, in the truth of the inexplicable, in the common sense of stones, in the lunacy of flowers, in the disease stored up for the human race by the Apollo astronauts.

I believe in nothing.

I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dali, Titian, Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, Redon, Duerer, Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, the Watts Towers, Boecklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.

I believe in the impossibility of existence, in the humour of mountains, in the absurdity of electromagnetism, in the farce of geometry, in the cruelty of arithmetic, in the murderous intent of logic.

I believe in adolescent women, in their corruption by their own leg stances, in the purity of their disheveled bodies, in the traces of their pudenda left in the bathrooms of shabby motels.

I believe in flight, in the beauty of the wing, and in the beauty of everything that has ever flown, in the stone thrown by a small child that carries with it the wisdom of statesmen and midwives.

I believe in the gentleness of the surgeon’s knife, in the limitless geometry of the cinema screen, in the hidden universe within supermarkets, in the loneliness of the sun, in the garrulousness of planets, in the repetitiveness or ourselves, in the inexistence of the universe and the boredom of the atom.

I believe in the light cast by video-recorders in department store windows, in the messianic insights of the radiator grilles of showroom automobiles, in the elegance of the oil stains on the engine nacelles of 747s parked on airport tarmacs.

I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.

I believe in the derangement of the senses: in Rimbaud, William Burroughs, Huysmans, Genet, Celine, Swift, Defoe, Carroll, Coleridge, Kafka.

I believe in the designers of the Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Berlin Fuehrerbunker, the Wake Island runways.

I believe in the body odors of Princess Di.

I believe in the next five minutes.

I believe in the history of my feet.

I believe in migraines, the boredom of afternoons, the fear of calendars, the treachery of clocks.

I believe in anxiety, psychosis and despair.

I believe in the perversions, in the infatuations with trees, princesses, prime ministers, derelict filling stations (more beautiful than the Taj Mahal), clouds and birds.

I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination.

I believe in Tokyo, Benidorm, La Grande Motte, Wake Island, Eniwetok, Dealey Plaza.

I believe in alcoholism, venereal disease, fever and exhaustion.

I believe in pain.

I believe in despair.

I believe in all children.

I believe in maps, diagrams, codes, chess-games, puzzles, airline timetables, airport indicator signs.

I believe all excuses.

I believe all reasons.

I believe all hallucinations.

I believe all anger.

I believe all mythologies, memories, lies, fantasies, evasions.

I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand, in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light.