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Alternative Worlds

Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900

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Edited By Ricarda Vidal and Ingo Cornils

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds that were conceived over the course of the last century. While change at the macro level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles of the twentieth century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners and writers, all of whom imagined alternatives to the status quo.
Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, this book explores the dreams, plans and hopes as well as the nightmares and fears that are an integral part of alternative thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the centre of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While these alternative worlds reflect their particular cultural context, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in the present.
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6 ‘The landscape is coded’: Visual Culture and the Alternative Worlds of J.G. Ballard’s Early Fiction

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Jeannette Baxter, in her comprehensive evaluation of J.G. Ballard’s relationship with visual culture, states that Ballard’s fiction constitutes ‘a radical Surrealist experiment in the writing of post-war history and culture’1 and argues that Ballard displays a perpetual ‘desire to penetrate the myriad surface realities of our disturbed modernity, to tap into its hidden subtexts and to mobilise its unconscious energies.’2 In Baxter’s view, Ballard adopts Surrealism’s ambition to juxtapose overt rationality with unconscious desire and applies it to the specificity of postwar culture as a way of infiltrating underlying codes of meaning beneath ‘the consumer landscape’.3 While Baxter is correct to cite Surrealism as a key influence on Ballard’s literary experimentations, it is also important to recognise that Ballard’s ‘painterly’ fictional landscapes incorporate a collection of artistic inspirations to create estranged or ‘alternative’ visions of contemporaneous culture. Keeping in mind Roger Luckhurst’s argument that Ballard’s fiction represents ‘the place of the hinge’,4 this chapter will focus on three early narratives and consider how Ballard’s unique near-future landscapes emerge from a collision of various artistic and literary forces. By fusing perspectives in visual art with science fictional motifs, Ballard’s early narratives produced unsettling ← 147 | 148 → socio-political messages that concurrently challenged literary orthodoxies during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Exploring Ballard’s first published short story ‘Prima Belladonna’ (1956), his ecological disaster novel The Drowned World (1962), and Cold War meditation ‘The Terminal Beach’ (1964), this chapter will consider how each work interacts with both Surrealism and...

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