Thursday, 31 January 2013

Nothing

I've had this impulsive, utterly superfluous sympathy for quantum physics for quite a while. One of the main things that appeals to me, on a very superficial level, is the idea of worm-holes, parallel universes, colliding black holes, etc. In many ways it provides a working basis for my fascination with non-linearity and circularity in literature.

The idea of 'nothing' as a philosophical concept as appealed to me of late. (It sounds silly, I know!) I've assumed that this is intrinsically linked with quantum theory. Well, it isn't. Sectors without matter are called 'Vacuums.' Even these grey zones are not likely to exist, as gravity cannot be blocked out. Even if these regions existed, which isn't likely, they'd still contain properties coming in and out of existence!

The Atomists were strangely defeatist when it came to this concept. They argued that there cannot be any motion without a void. 'Plenums,' spaces completely filled with matter, cannot move because they do not have voids. There are a multiplicity of plenums, and these coalesce and diffuse, thus causing motion. Without voids, there would be no motion. That's very odd, because you are actually transfiguring 'nothing' into something quite tangible and real! Modern science has in fact shown that there isn't motion in a plenum but that motion can't start in a plenum.

When you start going beyond this, you get into the realm of quantum physics and that's where all the head scratching starts for me. Huamanity has selfishly assumed for centuries that we are the centre of the universe and everything is there strictly to serve us. The idea that there are empty spaces in the universe has been inconceivable. I remember that in the school playground, we would discuss these conundrums that would go round in circles. How can we be here? How can there have been nothing before us? Priests must always be contested by children who ask the question "So, who created God?" How can something come out of nothing? That's music to the ears of intelligent design adherents, who formulate arguments about 'fine tuning' and that the Big Bang must have been designed. Even astrophysicists can't answer that grand question and probably will never be able to! (Though apparently the discovery of the Higgs particle is bringing them closer to the answer.)

And when you get into linguists, this also becomes absurd. Surely the word denotes meaning, no? It must therefore be something! When you probably read the title of this blog post, you must have scoffed at the amount of text beneath! And you must have laughed that it I started talking about something quite concrete!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Crash: The droopy teen's model text

Crash, I would say, is the most important novel I read in my formative teen years. As will be revealed later on, it momentarily messed me up in many ways, but its exciting melange of pornography, social commentary and clinical prose truly adrenalised me.

Ballard has previously stated that his novels like Crash involve protagonists self-creating their own "psychoses." In a fictional context this is a marvellous idea but, when transmuted into real life, from my own experience, it is harrowing.



In the midst of an episode I experienced, I was in the middle of writing some kooky thing when, suddenly, my hand began moving of its own volition. I was convinced - please bear in mind that I was completely and utterly crazy - that Ballard had entered my head. My hand, without my control, began writing in a style approximating Ballard's own. It said something like "I was trying to show in Crash what young men like Simon find fault in conventional education and how they find excitement and interest in novels such as these" before I interrupted this movement and wrote more dribble of my own.

Now, I am certain that this was hallucinatory. I don't believe in alchemy, astrology or any occult mambo-jumbo which may suggest the opposite. Still, it has confirmed to me that Crash is a novel that does indeed excite and enthral young men fed up with conformity, banality and narrow-mindedness. In many ways, it is a text that proffers an exit from that kind of prison.

What is it about it that's so special? I'll boil it down to four things:

1) The writing style, which is clinical and forensic yet strangely lyrical and poetic.
2) The breakdown in communications, where everyone is cold toward one another. All emotion appears to be eviscerated. Sex also becomes a mere physical activity, with all amorous connotations dispensed with.
3) Its transgressive quality. The 'disgusting' and 'shocking' parts of the book become so frequent that they hardly seem surprising.
4) How the characters yield to their obsessions.

And why did these four things appeal to me, subjectively speaking? First of all, that kind of 'clinical' writing style is very helpful for teens who write in a flowery way. It teaches you to economise in many ways. There is still a beauty to it - when I read through much of Ballard's best writing I am agog by it. As a stylist, I think that Ballard is a master, however clunky he may appear at times. Whilst he may not produce many memorable lines, he can certainly produce hard-hitting, arresting ones.

 Strangely enough, I found the lack of 'warmth' and 'emotion' in Ballard's universe quite stimulating. In many ways, I kind of wish that people communicated like that in real life. The characters do not engage in sexual intercourse to 'bond' or to feel 'closer.' Many sex scenes are described in an almost medical way. I also love the use of scientific and mathematical jargon to describe the physiognomy of people. Words such as 'geometry' are used to describe the physicality of characters whilst words such as 'algebra' and 'gradient' are used when the protagonist attempts to rationalise situations.

The novel obviously has a transgressive quality, which is always emphasised when people name-drop it. This obviously appeals to moody teens full of angst. When the furore about David Cronenberg's 1996 adaptation erupted, many people objected to it on moral grounds. There does seem to be a moral detachment from the characters and they never disapprove (why would they?) of the sado-masochistic behaviour. This still hides the fact that Ballard clearly wrote this with an intellectual - and, yes, moral - agenda. The subtext of the book chiefly deals the physical and cerebral relationship between man and technology. There is a moral agenda to the book because, as Ballard points out in the preface, in many ways it is a cautionary tale. The relationship between sex, celebrity (in the novel a character is obsessed with dying in a car crash with Elizabeth Taylor) and the motor-car does prefigure in many ways incidents like Princess Diana's death.


Obsession is a major theme in the novel, pretty much what it is centred around. It is the main running thread through nearly all of Ballard's novels. This is palpable in The Drowned World, where the protagonist heads southward to the blazing heat and to certain self-annihilation. What I find fascinating about Crash is that the characters pin-point their obsession, however warped it may be, and follow it through to its logical conclusion, however bad the consequences may be.

I can obviously tell now that the book has its shortcomings. The central gist may just seem like a jeu d'spirit which may not pan out on the page. Many people feel like it is unnecessarily protracted. Whatever its failings, this is a model text for a very specific kind of rebellious teenager.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Eurosceptics

Depressingly, a view that has swept across England is a disenchantment with, not just the European Union, but Europe as a whole. The prospect of a National Referendum looms in the distance which, if approved, would annex Britain's membership.

If you look at the logistics, this would would obviously harm Britain. Our so-called 'competent' government, spear-headed by 'pro-business' politicians, think that helping Britain's economy is of the highest interest. Well, one in ten jobs of this country are in some way linked to the Euro Zone. A total and complete annexation of Britain's membership would seriously affect trade and import.

Still, many Tories want limited involvement. Our parochial little prime minister, with his parochial little government, does want to continue trade and diplomacy. But they feel unease when they have to contribute to a budget plan to salvage countries mired by bankruptcy and debt.

The resented Eurosceptics within the Tory fold have migrated and infiltrated other parties. Whilst far-right parties like the BNP and the National Front are not respectable outlets for bigotry and ignorance, a party like UKIP most certainly is. With crude tautologies and vulgar rhetoric, they have swayed swathes of people who are chauvinistic and anti-Euro. Following the demise of the Liberal Democrats after this Coalition, they are quickly becoming the third most prominent party. Beneath this veneer of respectability lurk vile political sympathies. Far more radical than the Tories as regards Europe, they keep pressuring them to veto the EU altogether.

What I find most upsetting about all this is that this just re-inforces all the insularity that has depressed me about Britain. Instead of engaging with other governments and to embrace cosmopolitanism (an even more vulgar view of these people, that borders on the racist, is that immigration must be stopped altogether at all costs), they perpetuate the image of Britain as this tiny isolated island, with very little swagger or character.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Literary photos

I got this signed after a talk Paul Auster gave in London. By all accounts, this book is meant to be very bad (the reviews describe it as rotten) and I don't care for much of his recent output. He seems to be taking his navel-gazing to nigh unimaginable levlels. Nonetheless, when he signed this for me, I went dumb and stayed mute. I didn't gush as to how much some of his books have meant to me. Still, I'm keeping this as a valuable memento.


Joseph Conrad is buried in Canterbury of all places. I searched the cemetery online and, as it happens, it is literally right next to my university. So, armed with a camera, I located it and... here it is. A real master.