Ballard’s London

Sebastian Groes
‘Kicking the Dog will Do’: Ballard’s Unhuman Londons

24 Minutes


J.G. Ballard is not a ‘London writer’ in the way that Blake and Dickens or, more recently, Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair are London writers. Whereas the former are directly engaged with the city and Londoners, Ballard and London are tied together through his sheer aversion of what the author calls ‘an aching hangover from the nineteenth century that should have been bulldozed decades ago.’ Yet Ballard’s reading of the Victorian metropolis as a s/place of control over the modern subject accurately captures the complexity of the contemporary condition.

I intend to show, by drawing on urban semiotics, Lacanian theory and Fredric Jameson’s work, that the overwhelming abundance of signs that central London is composed of causes a carceral ‘logic’ and alienation (as formulated by urban sociologists such as Georg Simmel). Ballard’s positioning of himself at the capital’s periphery allows him to explore a breakdown of the conventional signifier-signified relationship, producing schizophrenia, which allows a creative transfiguration of London’s overwhelming materiality into a phantasmagoric yet dangerous geography of potential and possibility. This ambiguity is illustrated by assessing the tension between Deleuze and Guattari’s writings and the urban sociographer Ed Soja, whose respective theories on de/reterritorialisation and urban geography allow us to understand the relationship between the contemporary subject and postmetropolian spaces in the writing of this visionary anthropologist.