The Politics of Enthusiasm

[Image: Emiliano Granado, Night 1].

Two months ago, Ballardian interviewed J.G. Ballard – something previously linked and summarized here – but now, insanely, BLDGBLOG has the wildly flattering privilege of being interviewed itself – joining Ballard, Bruce Sterling, and Iain Sinclair, among others.
Over the course of the interview, Simon Sellars and I talk about J.G. Ballard's novels, from Concrete Island to Super-Cannes, The Drowned World to Crash – not to mention High-Rise – and we get there via a look at corporate office parks, Richard Meier, science fiction, Le Corbusier, the Paris riots, Archigram, Norman Foster, Sigmund Freud, sexual deviance, Daniel Craig, gated communities, the Taliban, Victor Gruen, future flooded Londons in the era of nonlinear climate change, Steven Spielberg, sports-car dealerships, Margaret Thatcher's son, public surveillance, Rem Koolhaas...

[Image: Emiliano Granado, Environments 2].

Read how speculative architectural treatises are actually "an extremely exciting, if totally unacknowledged, branch of the literary arts. Look at Thomas More’s Utopia. Or China Miéville. Or, for that matter, J.G. Ballard." Discover how "the buildings and cities and landscapes in Ballard’s novels are more like psychological traps built by management consultants – not architects – who then fly overhead in private jets, looking down, checking whether their complicated theories of human cognition have survived the test. Where ‘the test’ is the world you and I now live in." Learn how "perhaps manufacturing AK-47s is the only way to liven things up." Argue whether or not "the problem with architecture is that it’s still there in the morning; you can’t turn it off."
While you're at it, gaze upon the fantastically Ballardian photography of Emiliano Granado, whose work both accompanies the interview and appears here.

[Image: Emiliano Granado, Environments 11].

Then join commenter #1, at the end of the interview, in disagreeing already with what I have to say... And have fun.

(Earlier, J.G. Ballard-inspired posts on BLDGBLOG: Concrete Island, Bunker Archaeology, 10 Mile Spiral, Silt, The Great Man-Made River, White men shining lights into the sky, Cities of Amorphous Carbonia – and so on).

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Blogger Mario Ballesteros said...

forgot to mention the cute picture of yourself

November 10, 2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

Fantastic interview.

However, I do sincerely hope the future does not become "insanely fucking interesting."

There's an interesting post to be done here on fetishizing disaster and dystopia. (There's probably already one on this site?)

Should we be breathlessly enthusiastic about mass disaster? It seems sort of flippant and politically irresponsible when hundreds of thousands have been killed in Iraq, HIV and malaria kill millions in Africa, and where earthquakes and floods kill thousands in third world countries. It seems a little First World.

But enough with this uptight moralizing. Fetishizing disaster as an aesthetic is, obviously, off-putting, but it's also obviously boring and predictable to interpose this objection, I guess, and, more likely than not, I've missed the point.

November 10, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Octo - I see where you're coming from, but I'd say two things: 1) I don't think the interview is calling out for disaster - or for dystopia - so much as pointing out the apparent wish, in today's pop culture and media, to see both, in ever-increasing intensity. And 2) I don't think apocalyptic thinking is limited to the First World - at all, in fact. I'm even tempted to say it may be weighted the other way round. So I don't think talking about catastrophe and ruin and disease and so on is the mark of being a First Worlder. I'm sure it's a mark of something, but...

What I do say in the interview is not that the future will only be interesting if millions of people die of bird flu or in an earthquake, etc., but that those things could very well happen - and that, if they do happen, they'll be interesting. Full stop. Which I don't think is a politically irresponsible or morally bankrupt thing to say. They might happen to me - and I'll find it interesting. Terrifying, yes - but interesting. Blah blah blah.

Otherwise, glad you like the interview!

November 11, 2006 2:46 PM  
Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

Geoff: Very sound response.

I don't think apocalyptic thinking is limited to the First World - at all, in fact. I'm even tempted to say it may be weighted the other way round. So I don't think talking about catastrophe and ruin and disease and so on is the mark of being a First Worlder.

That is an interesting point you make. I agree that “apocalyptic thinking” is not limited to the First World. I was tempted for a moment to say that aestheticizing mass disaster and dystopia is very First World, but perhaps that’s not right. “Terrorists” bent on destruction surely aestheticize disaster in their own way.

However, I think it’s true that when others engage in apocalyptic thinking, it often is tied to a religious/political program of some sort. What seems unique in secular First World enthusing about disaster and dystopia is that it has no political or religious bent; the discussion is neither to advance a political/religious agenda nor to suggest policy or practical steps to prepare for or the possible catastrophe; the discussion is merely to consider disaster as an interesting object of intellectual consideration. (Perhaps that’s not actually apolitical.)

I think I’ve been imprecise in describing my objection. It’s undoubtedly true that apocalyptic thinking in various forms exists around the globe. What is different about the type of apocalyptic thinking we do on our Macs and in glossy Verso paperbacks is that this discourse is conducted in the swaddles of our power, prosperity, and privilege: the ultimate sense that these scary scenarios we conjure up to create a sense of doom and excitement will not and cannot actually happen to us. Of course bird flu and earthquake and flood (and aerial bombing from American made F-111s?) could happen to us, but, having post-graduate degrees, surely we would also have cars to drive away from the floods, access to antibiotics to stave off death, or flights out of town. We can enthuse about these fantastic possibilities because we live in a protected world in which we are rarely at the mercy of disaster beyond our control.

And I guess the portion of the interview I was addressing was the part in which there appears to be genuine enthusiasm for potential disaster because disaster, at least, breaks up the tedium of the quotidian. We “talk[ ] about catastrophe and ruin and disease” because otherwise, the world, at peace, in boring Updikean suburban prosperity, is boring. As you note, these things “might happen to me - and I'll find it interesting. Terrifying, yes - but interesting.” First, the statement pretty much assumes that these things won’t actually happen to you and kill you. And I just don’t think people being bombed in Beirut or dying in Africa of malaria or washed away in Sri Lanka find these events terrifying but interesting. That perspective – or the possibility of that perspective – strikes me as uniquely First World. (Then again, perhaps I am condescending to people in Beirut, Africa, and Sri Lanka, in itself a First World move.)

In the end, though, I think you are right: we would find these events, if they were to come to pass, terrifying and interesting precisely because we never could have imagined that these things could actually happen to us, inured as we are to our American invulnerability. Watching the towers fall in New York, even with the smoke and fluttering papers over my head, I had a hard time believing it was happening. And yes, it was certainly “interesting”. Our unique perspective toward disaster, seeing it as an abstract object of intellectual interest, is made possible by our – to this point – sense of inviolable security. And perhaps it is only right to make use of our unique position to explore these perspectives and to be able to discuss and consider disaster in an interesting way – while recognizing that the possibility of this discussion is part and parcel of our privileged place.

Sorry to be such a windbag. I think it's an interesting discussion (pun intended), though I do have the nagging feeling that these points have been rehearsed by others in other places long ago.

November 13, 2006 2:32 PM  

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