Notes on “Millennium People” by J. G. Ballard (2)

Chapter 9 “The Upholstered Apocalypse”

Already, Ballard has poked fun at the idea of a middle-class need for revolution, but he is half-serious, intending his narrative to be the beginnings of a 21st Century revamping the outfit of “revolution”. I wonder what Ballard thinks now of the traditional, bloody revolutions happening in the Middle East. The book was first published in 2003; was all of the developed world so self-absorbed at the turn of the century? Could there possibly be a revolution against comfort and mild prestige while there are still developing worlds in abject poverty and terrorists lurking in the Middle East? 9/11 had occurred two years ago, London had had its share of burning wreckage in the streets – it couldn’t have been detached from the fear of ‘envious’ violence from foreigners less fortunate. I suppose though, that that is the crux of the matter – the middle-class are detached: “These people want to change the world, use violence if they need to, but they’ve never had the central heating turned off in their lives.” (p 67, Chapter 9 “The Upholstered Apocalypse”); “with their naive talk of overturning an entire century… they had torn down a travel poster in a shopping mall”. The implication is that they have a general urge to change the world, which they believe looks like a moment in the sun, chanting along with a large group of their fellow victims (p 51-):

Kay Churchill – “She was telling off a luckless hospital receptionist, raising her voice to a fishwife shriek as she described my chest injuries and likely brain damage. All the while, she was watching herself admiringly in the coat-stand mirror.”; “I noticed the deeply bitten nails, and the strong nose she had picked since childhood.” she openly wore her insecurities like a collection of favourite costume jewellery”;

Dexter, the imposter? – “the very picture of  fashionable Chelsea vicar”; but the scar was a little too fresh, and I suspected that he kept it deliberately inflamed…one of his canines was missing, a gap he made no attempt to hide, as if advertising…”; “he fingered the scar on his forehead, trying to rub it away and at the same time make it more prominent, an oblique caution to himself”; “his affection [for Joan Chang, girlfriend] was clear, but somehow lacked confidence, part of a larger failure of nerve.”; “I should have remembered who I was trying to be.”;

Joan Chang – “smiling slyly. ‘He doesn’t like the Adler Institute. In fact, he said everyone there should be hanged.”; “‘I always tell the truth.’ She beamed winsomely. ‘It’s a new way of lying.'”

Sally – “immersed in her own perpetual recovery, an had no wish to share her monopoly of doubt and discomfort… my bruises [from the cat show demo] were self-inflicted, far removed from the meaningless injuries that presided over her life like an insoluble mystery.”; “huddled happily over a pillow. ‘He was fined. A hundred pounds. Yes, I’m married to a criminal.”

And David’s own sob story of a motherless childhood.

“As always, a perverse calculus refreshed and redefined the world.”

  • Mathematical calculus is finding the instantaneous rate of change at a certain point i.e. the study of change – a perverse calculus is calculus configured oppositely; so, the change in Sally from chair-bound to mobile was somehow contrary – I’ve really no idea.
  • perverse: willfully determined/disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary; wayward or cantakerous; persistently or obstinately wrong; turned away from/rejecting what is right/good/proper i.e. wicked/corrupt.

Chapter 10 “Appointment with a Revolution”

Vera Blackburn – “Her apartment was sparsely furnished… A chromium-framed photograph hung above the mantlepiece, a blow-up of herself in full Helmut Newton mode, all emotion eliminated from her face… a shrine to a desperate narcissism.”

I’m starting to recognise a writing style emerge from the way the dust sits and the exhaust hangs in the wake of Ballard’s tour of the middle-class. Borrowing the dialogue of the characters, the novel is showcasing the symptoms of middle-class’ grievances against the current societal order: immortal mortgages, children needing education from the most competitively priced schools, and the threat of the dispersal of the middle-class under the stress of the first two. Written with words thick in meaning for those initiated to the problems of the middle-class, the narrative is relatively hard-going for me but I’m enjoying the insight. A particularly intense boredom, a need to place faith in a time when it’s intellectually disreputable – perhaps I am behind the times, but I identify with these conundrums, and although I may not be drinking pink gin and have Axminster wall-to-wall in central heating, my problems are easily first-world.

It’s an interesting book – you should read it!

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