Ballard’s Island(s): White Heat, National Decline and Technology After Technicity Between ‘The Terminal Beach’ and Concrete Island

Alexander Beaumont

Abstract


This essay argues that the early fiction of J.G. Ballard represents a complex commentary on the evolution of the UK’s technological imaginary which gives the lie to descriptions of the country as an anti-technological society. Such descriptions were lent credence during the postwar period by a perceived crisis in English identity as the British Empire slowly broke apart and the British state appeared to enter a period of decline. Ballard’s work has recently been positioned as an example of this national crisis; however, by reading the representation of landscape in the short story ‘The Terminal Beach’ (1964) alongside Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat’ speech of 1963, and interpreting both in the light of David Edgerton’s complication of declinist interpretations of Britain’s technological revolution, this essay argues that any straightforward attempt to identify Ballard as an example of traumatised Englishness is likely to oversimplify matters. Instead it suggests that, in identifying a numinous fantasy of technology after technicity, ‘The Terminal Beach’ offers a much more complicated vision of the role of technology in the UK of the 1960s and early 1970s. The significance of Concrete Island lies in how the collision at the outset of the novel marks a move away from this technological imaginary, and a violent transition into a landscape marked by the immanent practice of technicity rather than a transcendent fantasy of technology after technicity.


Keywords


J.G. Ballard, technology, Englishness, UK, declinism, nuclear weapons

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Copyright (c) 2016 Alexander Beaumont