The Drowned World

J. G. Ballard
The Drowned World Cover

A racist novel? Or psychological symbolism?



So if you are after spaceships or an adventure romp, look elsewhere: this is about inner space instead of outer space, as Martin Amis notes in his excellent introduction. The problem, however, is that for a novel that supposes to examine a certain psychology, Ballard's hypothesis obviously is ludicrous. So what is he examining here? A mere speculative effect, that doesn't offer much insight in the human condition, because it is totally unrealistic? For a psychological novel, there's not that much characterization, let alone character development, even though there are glimpses of brilliance on the matter.

Paintings of Paul Delvaux and Dalí serve as props in the story, and they offer a way to get a better grip on what Ballard was trying to do, which is write a surrealist/symbolist novel. The Drowned World shouldn't be read for psychological realism, but rather for psychological symbolism - a tangent to the fact that what is psychologically real is not always the same as reality in this book. Once I realized that, it seemed a pretty straightforward affair: a tale about regression, about the mere veneer of civilized society, and the heart of darkness underlying all. It is as if Ballard's nature imagery might serve as a simile for the human condition:

Beautiful and serene from his balcony a few minutes earlier, Kerans realised that the lagoon was nothing more than a garbage-filled swamp.

(...) but I don't think there's something like an irreducible primitive core that needs to be held in check. The days of Freud are over - but who can blame Ballard for writing stuff like this in the sixties? Besides, dichotomies remain ever popular today.


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