Super-Cannes by JG Ballard
Didn’t he write well:
Shore parties of passengers strolled under the palm trees, too unsteady after their days at sea to risk crossing the Croisette. They stared at the hundreds of Volvo salesmen emerging from a conference at the Noga Hilton, like travellers glimpsing an unknown tribe about to perform its rites of passage with its sacred regalia, the marketing brochure and the promotional video.
Prostitutes came out at dusk, usherettes in the theatre of the night, shining their miniature torches at any kerb that threatened their high-heels. Two of them entered the Rialto and sat at the next table, muscular brunettes with the hips and thighs of professional athletes. They ordered drinks they never touched, killing time before they set off to crawl the hotels.
I, too, was waiting for the clock to move on, but with rather less hope. Jane was chairing another late-evening committee at the clinic, mapping out a further stage in the scheme that would bring, if not immortality, then perpetually monitored health to Eden-Olympia. Our brains, I often told her, would soon need a false ceiling to make room for the ducting demanded by our ‘intelligent’ lifestyle. Before breakfast we would set ourselves a psychological test, tapping yes-or-no answers to alternative-choice questions, while a standby alarm offered an emergency package entitled ‘What to do until the psychiatrist comes’.
As the prostitutes talked to each other in a creole of French and Arabic, their scent drifted over my table, a dream of houris borne by the night-world of the Croisette, the untaxed contraband of the senses in this lazy entropôt of chance and desire.
Ballard was always interested in violence and sex; but in this one there is an undercurrent of the ever sensible Alice Through The Looking-Glass; surrealism contrasted with voyeurism:
By watching our wives have sex with strangers, we dismantled the mystery of exclusive love, and dispelled the last illusion that each of us was anything but alone.
Ballard, of course, was no stranger to surrealism. His novels give rein to his imagination and he paints a series of tableaux which reach beyond the extent of most other practitioners of his craft. But even when they reveal the inconceivable they always contain some deeper truth and remain in the memory long after.
Paul and Jane Sinclair arrive in Eden-Olympia, she to work as a doctor and he to convalesce from a flying accident. They live in the house formerly occupied by Jane’s predecessor, who finished his occupancy by massacring ten fellow workers in a shooting spree. Paul begins to pry into the wider background of this event and the reader of the novel feels his own eyes begin to pop.
One never knows if Ballard is writing for us or for himself. Sure, there is a driving force which forces his gaze onto character in decline, onto a world that is bereft of god or morality, and, especially onto the evils of social engineering in all its forms. But although he shouts his findings to the mountain tops, we never really feel that he’s preaching to us.
In Super-Cannes, Ballard gives us a recognizable world which is insane; a world which completely undervalues our humanity and is engineered by corporate greed and manipulation. In another sense it is a kind of unthinkable Paradise without a snake. While recognizing that this fictional world does not exist, we are always mindful that it is not far off, just another shrug away.