Saturday, 29 March 2014

Invisible suburbs

J. G. Ballard lived in a nondescipt town called Shepperton, where he wrote about thirty books. In one of many interviews he gave, he mentioned 'I need invisible surroundings and this town is practically invisible to me.' This interview came after the success of Empire of the Sun, which catapulted him into near celebrity status. He did not 'run away with a teenage girl,' nor did he ' buy a night club.' He muddled on with the same routine and continued to live in his small detached house. At the same time, he wrote about pornography, depravity and mutilation.

Flaubert's aphorism resonates here: 'Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.' Lou Reed, following the drug-addled hedonism he enjoyed with The Velvet Underground, moved back to his suburban town to live with his parents. Here he wrote some of his most transgressive material, including 'Take a Walk on the Wild Side.' Just lead a quiet, unassuming life and you might produce some of the most lurid material.

Dronfield in all its glory.

The town I have lived in since 2002 is called Dronfield. Sounds dreary, doesn't it? It is. But then, when I immerse myself in my routine, I hardly notice where I am. When I work on my writing or read a book, the row of terraced houses and the bland shopping centre becomes completely unnoticeable. It is odd. I sometimes run into one of my school peers from several years prior and it most jolting. I seem to lead in a completely parallel universe from the majority of the Dronfield inhabitants. The literary cosmology of my stories are closer to home!

These surroundings are optimal. I would not like to live in London. (I may have to soon, because the job market is better.) I feel overwhelmed whenever I spend a week in a bustling city like London, Barcelona, Buenos Aires. When you're there, you are aware that you are in the midst of historical monuments and that important events unfold every second. You can't retreat from it. Not so in Dronfield. You just retreat from the tiny community around you and you can focus on whatever it is you want to do. Ideally I would rather live in a sprawling forest, the countryside, the sea (I did last year!), but this is the next best thing.

In Ballard's The Unlimited Dream Company (I'm writing about this book for my dissertation), a character called Blake reconfigures Shepperton into an edenic primeval forest. He moulds the town to his liking. With writing, you sometimes feel like you do indeed possess these supernatural powers. You are playing with little figurines, shaping these ciphers to your liking. The town around with you is bound up to the dictates of law and order. I am completely libertarian. When I am in this town I am not usually working for university nor am I employed. I have the freedom to look askance from the parochialism surrounding me.

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