Book ♣ The Drowned World ♭

J.G Ballard, what an interesting author, they broke the mold when they made him When I started reading sf in the 80s I had the impression that Ballard specializes in global ecological disaster scenario, what with The Drowned World, The Burning World, and The Crystal World A sort of go to guy for a dot dot dot World apocalyptic fiction Then I read Concrete Island and Empire of the Sun and realized Ballard cannot be pigeonholed so simply The Drowned Worldis one of his earlier novels from his apocalyptic phase If you are looking for an ecological thriller where masses of people are stampeding away from a gigantic tidal wave, you will need to find a new tree to bark up While there are some thrilling moments toward the end, on the whole, I would describe the mood of this book as contemplative From the first chapter most the world has already been submerged, thanks to solar radiation that melted the polar ice caps This bit of hard sci fi is quite well written in the book but subsequent to this exposition the novel isconcerned with the psychological impact on the main characters, particularly Dr Robert Kerans, through whose point of view the third person narrative is focused.For some reason, the environment of the flooded world is causing a gradual regression or devolution on the creatures living on it People are having bizarre nightmares sparked by racial memories Later on a piratical villain named Strangman shows up and the beginning of mankind s mental devolution can be seen through him.This is an intriguing, but not easy to read, book Something about this book s narrative tone comes across as rather detached and I could not feel much involvement in the plight of the characters They are not uninteresting, but none of them is sympathetic I wonder if this is typical of Ballard s prose style I have read a few of his books, but that was decades ago when I was in my teens and I cannot remember much about those books I do know that he is not a sf author I ever find easy to read like Asimov, Heinlein or Clarke, he isakin to Le Guin though somewhat less accessible There is clearly a literary quality to his writing and he often has me reaching for the dictionary.The world of this book is quite vividly described, the image of the drowned cities is quite evocative, and the drained city evenso There is an odd kind of beauty to it There are mutated animals and giant insects in this book, but they are a part of the novel s props rather than monstrosities to be battled The Drowned World is well worth reading as something unusual and unpredictable It is one of those rare books that I enjoyin retrospect when I think about it than while I was actually reading it It certainly makes want me to read Crash and other Ballard novels I have read and forgotten about. Goodbye to All ThatThe end of the British Empire was not a sudden event,a slow burn over decades For many around the world, its progress was masked by the ratherterrifying facts of the Cold War and its potential for the destruction of life on Earth Nonetheless the disintegration of the Empire was not without its loss, in the opinion of some, to global culture But how to express such a sentiment without jingoistic intimations of sour grapes A fiction about the effects of global warming and the retreat of civilisation might do the trick The British Empire is the eponymous Drowned World or I m an evangelical Republican In 1962 global warming would have been considered an entirely natural, and non political, phenomenon, not one brought on by industrial development but a condition brought about by circumstances Ballard was not scientifically prescient he was establishing a vaguely plausible process by which the world order was undergoing rapid transformation So global warming serves nicely as a subtle metaphor for the twilight of the accidental realm on which the sun had not set for two centuries or so the British Empire Just as accidentally it was being destroyed progressively from the South and bit by bit returned to its primitive state London, the nerve centre of this global government, is literally submerged along with the rest of the developed world , that is to say the Northern hemisphere There ishere than an account of change There is a judgment that what is happening is unfortunate, retrograde, and purely destructive.The characters that Ballard presents are the types of imperial decline Riggs is the stalwart old colonial hand who still dresses for dinner and knows the responsibilities imposed by duty Kerans on the other hand, along with many others, is seduced by the allure of the jungle, its heat, and its vegetative fecundity not to mention its rather looser moral code Beatrice is literally the entire indigenous population beautiful but somewhat resentful and slightly mad Kerans is in love with Beatrice but both know that they really can t live together happilytheir only true meeting ground would be in their dreams The climate itself is causing an evolutionary regression which is irresistible except by those with real cultural backbone It is not only the flora and fauna which are adapting to new conditions The most primitive parts of the human nervous system, the reptilian brain, have been activated by these same conditions To survive it is necessary for human beings to go native, that is to climb back down the evolutionary ladder The only alternative is to rapidly retreat to the healthier environment of the Mother Country This is located in the relatively cool North of course, where cohesive government and advanced technology are still in control.The retreat of imperial government officials like Riggs creates a power vacuum which is quickly filled by commercial pirates who are interested in profiting from the new ecosystem of now defenceless territories The freebooter Strangman is the leader of gang of black treasure hunters, portrayed in barely concealed racist language as without either aesthetic taste or good manners the racism made ratherexplicit by references to the oxymoronicblack sun which is the ultimate source of the global malaise They loot and vandalise entirely without appreciation of the value of what they acquire and desecrate Clearly they already occupy that inferior evolutionary niche to which the white remainers are attracted in their dreams.Strangman pursues Beatrice with an sort of vulgarity equalled in his plundering, showering her with jewels and booze Kerans s response is not one of affectionate jealousy but alienated suicide, a desire to dissolve himself in the Triassic miasma in which he finds himself rather than confront the fate of his beloved a post colonial head in the sand response par excellence Strangman meanwhile restores a sort of quasi order by draining part of the encroaching swamp Just enough really to complete his stripping any remaining assets This reveals a travesty of the old civilisation, the decaying remnants of submerged, long defunct institutions are now useless ruinsI m afraid the magic has gone,Kerans admits to Beatrice Indeed it had, but for Beatrice the magic had died many years before.But violence is still necessary, apparently as a sort of residual obligation of civilisation Bodkin, the aloof intellectual no doubt a Lefty , tries to destroy the Strangman regime by blowing it up He s ineffectual, of course, and himself ends up dead Tempted by wealth and opulence, Beatrice is saved by Kerans on the brink of being ravaged by Strangman Kerans s pluck and inherent sense of righteousness have overcome his retrograde evolution, at least temporarily With the aplomb of a Flashman, he eludes the evil black mob long enough to see the arrival of Riggs and his trusted Sergeant Major, McCready, at the head of an armed force my vision is of Richard Attenborough as RSM Lauderdale in the 1964 film Guns at Batasi They have returned to intervene in the uncivilised chaos It was their duty, indeed their burden, as Mr Kipling said.But ultimately, Kerans no longer fits either with the local culture of Beatrice or with the civilisation Riggs represents He is an outcaste, a man without a country He has devolved into an inferior species, less than human, who livesin the Southwith the other relics of Empire He is a lesson to us all about what we will become if we forget our roots in a civilised society The triumph of the South is an unqualified disaster for the planet Farewell Britannia Ballard describes Kerans as having a lean ebony body I doubt this refers to a healthy suntan He is setting the character up for his consignment to inevitable racial inferiority.Postscript Because I found it strange that few reviewers took Ballard s apparent racism seriously, I put a comment on a number of reviewsI think you may have missed the import of this story which is profoundly racist at its core While many responded positively, there were also many who found my remark insulting, sometimes profoundly so, even after my protestations and apologies For example, as one respondent writesOh you weren t trying to be insulting when you said to me I think you may have missed the import of this story I would hate to see what you would say to a veteran reader such as myself if you were REALLY trying to insult me Manners is something people seem to forget when they are online under an assumed name So live and learn Human beings are farvariable than one expects The tendrils of racism are transparently thin but incredibly strong Our ability to rationalise them seems infinite Most commentators aver Ballard s purported emulation of Conrad s Heart of Darkness as the literary reason for the savage tone of The Drowned World I don t buy it The book is about muchthan the incidental use of dialect And its relation to Conrad s work is in any case questionable It is self evidently a statement of a world view that is inherently grounded in racial superiority and or some really bad pseudo sci fi.It s one thing to recognise the potential for alternative interpretations of a piece of literature in the abstract But sometimes what gets revealed through interpretation is almost mystically misdirected to avoid the obvious And that revelation of the reviewer is often merely one of unjust prejudice The Drowned World is a case in point It doesn t simply depict the incidental s of the time It is a lament for the loss of white supremacy in the world Treating such casual racism casually, especially when it is exhibited so publicly, is reprehensible. Book ♓ The Drowned World ♪ First Published In , JG Ballard S Mesmerizing And Ferociously Prescient Novel Imagines A Terrifying Future In Which Solar Radiation And Global Warming Have Melted The Polar Ice Caps And Triassic Era Jungles Have Overrun A Submerged And Tropical London Set During The Year , The Novel Follows Biologist Dr Robert Kerans And His Team Of Scientists As They Confront A Surreal Cityscape Populated By Giant Iguanas, Albino Alligators, And Endless Swarms Of Malarial Insects Nature Has Swallowed All But A Few Remnants Of Human Civilization, And, Slowly, Kerans And His Companions Are Transformed Both Physically And Psychologically By This Prehistoric Environment Echoing Joseph Conrad S Heart Of Darkness Complete With A Mad White Hunter And His Hordes Of Native Soldiers This Powerful And Beautifully Clear Brian Aldiss Work Becomes A Thrilling Adventure And A Haunting Examination Of The Effects Of Environmental Collapse On The Human Mind Oh, what s left to be said about J G Ballard If you have yet to enter his cult, his realm please do so soon The man is dead, and so his sea of work is a limited lake of placid doom, of absolute apocalypse He is often imitated M Crichton the new Annhilation Southern Reach trilogy guy come to mind, but he is as unique a literary voice as any of the greats He is, actually, currently under Canonization negotiations by the Crazy Cray cray Literary Canon.Oh, this dude is inspiring In The Drowned World , the prehistoric meets the apocalyptic, the dioramas Mr Ballard brilliantly forms for us are just so staggeringly real, that I hate the fact that this is not a screenplay Although the lack of dialogue, perhaps the clich d villain and villain s plot overall, make it no better than some of his weaker short stories all immersive, all absolutely extraordinary, but still I wholly love Crash, High Rise, Empire of the Sun which seems to me the most apocalyptic of all his novels, although it s set in W.W.II , and consider his complete short story collection to be one of the best of all time its entire 1100 or so pages There is a heftiness of prose here, and the description is so cinematic that, like I mentioned, I found the medium to besuitable for a rip roarin script The environment is so lush that it reminds one of Fantasia, or Jurassic Park , or other cool concoctions of the child like imagination It will remain in your subconscious as a worthwhile deposit As a glorious cancer made of amethystLet s just get this dude up on his deserved pedestal they are few Nothing endures so long as fear J.G Ballard, The Drowned WorldI promise God I promise I ve learned my lesson I ll review these books sooner I loved this book, dear God, but now I have to go back to my lizard brain memory to recall why Oh, yeah, because nobody figured out our 21st Century global clusterfuckery as early in the 1960s as J.G Ballard ok, perhaps PKD, or Pynchon He seemed to be writing our nightmares now 50 years ago It is hard to read this and not feel strapped on squeezed between Heart of Darkness and some global meltdown conference on Global Warming oh, Hell, was that another piece of the Antarctica that just banged into the ocean One of my favorite things about Ballard is even in the early 1960s the guy was the masterglazier of setting I mean he could nail a swollen river with plants, iguanas, lagoons, alligators, and swollen biological memories This book is a warm freakshowdream that oozes a dystopian anxiety hiding just around the corner. Dull plotting.Duller psychology.Shallow characters.Improbable coincidences galore.Pretty racist.And yet almost entirely saved by some great descriptive work in painting the submerged world.Worth reading, barely. This was my introduction to J.G Ballard How to best describe this book I would call it apocalyptic realism I thought I invented that term until I looked it up, and yes it exists It s an apocalyptic future that I can see happening, and I imagine it very much like Ballard does here, except my version is tied to climate change and his is caused by a changing sun Also, it has an eerie similarity to Conrad s Heart of Darkness I m certainly looking forward to readingof Ballard s work. The Drowned World was my introduction to Ballard I don t know what I likedthe lavishly described landscape with its swollen sun, primeval jungle, and shrieking iguanas or the inner landscape of recurring dreams, instinctive impulses, and psychological obsessions It s the combination of these two worlds the outer and the inner that give The Drowned World its depth and hypnotic air The outer world is described in such poetic prose that a narrative is nearly unnecessary It is a voodoo jungle 27 with a strange dream like beauty 30 , a nightmare world of competing organic forms returning rapidly to their Paleozoic past 31 , an unending succession of green twilights 31 surrounded by the luminous, dragon green, serpent haunted sea 70.The world is undergoing a regression, a devolution to an earlier stage in Earth s history In this world of lagoons and equatorial heat, reptiles rule It is a world without consciousness This is the world to which Kerans and the others are adapting This is the world in which each character finds himself in his dreams As each member of Kerans team succumbs to insomnia and isolation, dreams and d j vu, the pull of the outer world on the inner world becomes stronger Everything is sinking back into a pre conscious state This self imposed isolation is preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance 25.Dr Bodkin offers a psychological theory for what is happening to them all He explains to Kerans that the jungle dream they are all having is not a dream but an ancient organic memory millions of years old 89 All the bizarre behavior is the result of being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs 56.Ballard s prose is at its finest when he uses metaphor to merge the outer and inner worlds Aimportant task than mapping the harbours and lagoons of the external landscape was to chart the ghostly deltas and luminous beaches of the submerged neuronic continents 58.This is where I went from being spellbound by the prose to being fascinated by the theories of consciousness, dreams, and memory As a poet and a philosopher, these are the areas that most intrigue me and inspire my creative work But for all my delight with the first half of Ballard s novel, the second half left me wishing he had written it as a novella, leaving out the ninety or so pages about Strangman and his crew The book didn t need these action scenes It already had atmosphere and ideas I believe these chapters detract from the phantasmagoric quality of the novel Yet they do have some redeeming value The behavior of Strangman s crew is atavistic, primitive It is the behavior of men only just emerging from their pre conscious origins, their emerging consciousness still half submerged in the swampy amniotic fluid of the collective human race instinctual, tribal, and superstitious But instead of evolving, Strangman s men are devolving Instead of emerging from their pre conscious origins, they are slipping back into it Towards the end, the novel returns to the theme of isolation and the dream like unreality that accompanies it And this brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion The dormant magic and mesmeric power 59 of The Drowned World has cast its spell over me. The solar disc was no longer a well defined sphere, but a wide expanding ellipse that fanned out across the eastern horizon like a colossal fire ball, its reflection turned the dead leaden surface of the lagoon into a brilliant copper shield By noon, less than four hours away, the water would seem to burn Solar radiation has melted the polar ice caps, and the oceans have risen to engulf most of the major cities of Europe and America These cities have become tropical lagoons with only the upper floors of the tallest building sticking up out of the water and silt Flora and fauna baked by radiation have grown to enormous sizes reminiscent of the Triassic era A team of scientists have come to investigate and analyze the changes that have occurred in London since humans were forced to flee North Some of the members of the team start to have strange, primordial dreams What are these nightmares you ve having Beatrice shrugged Jungle dreams, Robert, she murmured ambiguously I m learning my ABC again Last night was the delta jungles She gave him a bleak smile, then added with a touch of malicious humour Don t look so stern, you ll be dreaming them too, soon Ballard explains what is happening to the scientists with a bitdetail beyond just calling them jungle dreamsJust as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs 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 Beatrice Dahl is a beautiful woman madelovely by the fact that she is the only female on the expedition She has found an exquisite apartment that with the help of a generator still has air conditioning and ice She has a sexual relationship with Dr Robert Kerans, but she seems rather apathetic about her lover Of course, it could be the heat Temperatures climb to 140 degrees by midday There is a Max Ernst painting on the wall of Beatrice s apartment, and the longer they are there, thethe painting reminds Kerans of the real world I wonder if the Max Ernst painting was something like this.As the day approaches that they will have to leave, Robert and Beatrice becomeconvinced that they are going to stay It doesn t make any logical sense Within a matter of months they would be out of fuel to drive the air conditioning and food would begin to be a problem, but the desire to stay and become part of their jungle dreams clutters their thoughts This novel has a Conradian feel, specifically one of my favorite books Heart of Darkness, so Ballard had my attention from the very first page I m a fan of post apocalyptic books, and J.G Ballard was obsessed with the worlds that are created by the chaos of destruction The characters in this novel go against the norm for post apocalyptic novels They aren t resisting the apocalypse They are intent on joining it The novel becomes even stranger when some scavengers show up led by the pale, thin man aptly named Strangman.Ballard explores the urges that are normally repressed by civilized human beings The call of the wild is in our DNA When we are dipped in the primordial soup of a tropical lagoon, we feel the need to escape the bondages of civilization Something on a cellular level is telling us that we are missing the fundamental purposes of life Kerans is intent on escaping the clutches of all that is trying to bind him and head South into the uncertainty of a new world His commitment to the future, so far one of choice and plagued by so many doubts and hesitations, was now absolute If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at The Drowned World is my first JG Ballard novel, but it won t be my last Civilization is swallowed up by encroaching oceans The lavish scenes of nature reclaiming the world belie the apocalyptic overtones Life is shown adapting to a period on earth comparable to the Triassic Period That is, all forms of life including plants adapt to the changing world except for man People seem out of place even alien in the newly formed landscapes De evolved nature is inhospitable to man it feels like man is being kicked out of paradise, but now with nowhere to go Aspects of this book reminded me of Annihilation, but I m sure I could find lots of novels influenced by Ballard s work Not sure which Ballard novel to read next, but they ll make it onto my to read list soon.