- Chronopolitics:Space, Time and Revolution in the Later Novels of J.G. Ballard
J.G. Ballard’s novelistic production falls into a number of interrelated but thematically bound periods. Where his earliest novels The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966) present surrealist dystopias following upon natural disasters, and his middle period is characterized by investigating the effects of the increasing technologization of human life in novels such as Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High Rise (1975), his most recent novels are all preoccupied with exploring the implications of extreme consumerism, capitalism, and comfort. In his four last novels, Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000), Millennium People (2003), and Kingdom Come (2006), the surrealist reality of his earlier work is replaced with realistic, if rather ironic, settings that project some possible effects of the complete subsumption of human agency into the political and economic systems that organize the Western world today. In the control society which, according to Deleuze and many after him, is gradually replacing the organization of power that Foucault theorized as disciplinary society, subjects are not molded by means of institutions so much as they are constantly modulated and manipulated by means of a complete infiltration of control on all levels of being (see Deleuze 1998). The notion of control society has been taken up by a range of theorists concerned with the transformation of the political, biopolitical, and what some have called the postpolitical landscape which has emerged during the past decades. Of central importance in these theories and debates is how physical as well as psychological and emotional integrity increasingly comes into question as bodies, minds, emotions, and memories are integrated and manipulated by commercial and political interests. And as we see in Ballard, the worlds depicted in his last novels are not submerged under water, plagued [End Page 271] by drought or in the constant process of crystallization. Neither are they tracing the precarious and increasingly murky borders between humans and technology. Rather, they systematically stage ways in which agency seems to be built into the spatio-temporal coordinates of this type of control society.
These later novels, as Andrzej Gasiorek notes, mark a shift from the collapse of social systems explored in Ballard’s earlier texts to a depiction of the implications of the success of social systems (2005, 20). This is a completely different type of dystopia—the nightmare of the ultimate success of capitalism—or, as Jeanette Baxter puts it “the alliance of neo-fascism and global capitalism across a shifting contemporary Europe” (Baxter 2012, 386). Instead of dystopian wastelands and natural disasters, these later novels are set in spaces of perfection. All human needs, Gasiorek notes, “have been anticipated, and the entire social mechanism has been calibrated to minimise friction and disturbance” (2005, 21). On the one hand, Ballard’s work has been read as expressing a Baudrillardian disenchantment with the possibilities of political change in postmodernity and on the other, his engagement with questions of the social and the political has been understood in terms of more hopeful aesthetic and political movements such as the Surrealists and the Situationists International. This article reads his later novels through this ambivalence and suggests that Ballard’s last work offers ways of thinking about the difficulties but also the possibilities of locating agency in the particular spatio-temporal coordinates of contemporary capitalist structures. The preoccupation with time and space which marks these later novels is constant throughout Ballard’s oeuvre. This interest is heavily foregrounded in his short stories which, beginning with one of his very first stories “The Voices of Time,” bring together the themes, tropes, and motifs of time and space that occupy his textual production more generally. In stories such as “Chronopolis,” “The Garden of Time,” and “The Enormous Space,” Ballard releases time from the idea of a universally recognizable and measurable entity and lets it reflect, rather, a set of spaces all of which are ultimately dependent on politics. Thus, for example, the landscape in “Chronopolis” is one in which clocks have been forbidden in the wake of a revolt against what had...