Tracey Clement, a current PhD candidate at SCA and member of the New Materialisms research cluster, has been selected to present a paper at the 16th Annual International Conference of the European Utopian Studies Society at the Univeristy of Newcastle in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.
Clement’s current research responds to J.G. Ballard’s novel, The Drowned World, with a particular focus on imagery of the ruined city. The title of the conference is ‘The End of the City’ and she will address this theme in her paper, “The Ruined City in J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World: Warning or Utopian Vision for the Age of Climate Change? “
According to the Collins English Dictionary, the term ‘Ballardian’ refers specifically to “dystopian modernity” and “bleak man-made landscapes”[i]. However, in her paper, Clement explores the urban environment in J.G. Ballard’s 1962 science fiction novel, The Drowned World, in order to pose the question: Is it possible that Ballard’s ruined metropolis is both a warning and a prescient utopian vision for the age of climate change?
In order to address this question she will examine how Ballard utilises the conflict between nature and culture inherent in images of architectural ruins and the temporal slippage that they embody[ii].
In The Drowned World, Ballard pictures the present as the ruined past of the future: the streets of a ruined metropolis are flooded and transformed into fetid lagoons patrolled by lurking carnivores; skyscrapers are semi-submerged and penetrated by vines. The devastated city in Ballard’s novel was (and is) a clear warning about the futility and danger of trying to master nature.
But, Clement will also argue that Ballard simultaneously uses imagery of ruins to subvert their traditional interpretation as manifestations of the adversarial dynamic between man and the natural world. He does this by repeatedly presenting the ruined city as a site of nature and culture, not as opposites, but as inextricably bound parts of a whole.
In doing this, he reconceptualises the relationship between nature and culture in ways that are significant for our post-climate change world. Clement will discuss Ballard’s vision in the context of contemporary philosophical works such as With Nature (2014) by Warwick Mules and Claire Colebrook’s Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction (2014), which his novel predated by more than half a century.
In Tracey Clement’s new reading of The Drowned World, Ballard’s post-apocalyptic city is utopian. By presenting nature and culture as entwined in a fictional built environment, he conjures up an idealised non-place, a utopia. In this way, Ballard’s ruined city offers a tiny glimmer of hope for humanity post climate change.
16th Annual International Conference of the European Utopian Studies Society
1-4 July 2015
Newcastle University, UK.
[i] “Ballardian,” Collins English Dictionary, http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/ballardian.
[ii] See: Georg Simmel, “The Ruin,” in Georg Simmel, 1858-1918: A Collection of Essays with Translations and a Bibliography, ed. Kurt H. Wolff (Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University Press, 1959); Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle, eds., Ruins of Modernity, Politics, History, and Culture (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010).