Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summer Reading 1: Costa De Stopia

As mentioned earlier, I’m just back from a couple of weeks in Spain. Usually not big fans of the sun holiday scenario, this year the offspring deemed sunshine and a pool to be mandatory elements, so off we flew. And guess what? It was fuppin’ great! Lucky timing too - as borne out by our alarm monitor phoning to say the house alarm was going off back home but not to worry - we weren’t alone - it was probably set off by the torrential rain and hailstones!!!

Between narrowing down the iPod options for best poolside basking music (Air … by a drowsy mile!), glugging ice-cold rosado and experiencing 135kmph rollercoasters, I had plenty of languid reading time. I’d brought a selection of journals, one poetry collection and one novel, but pride of place HAS to go to JG Ballard : The Complete Stories: Volume 1.

Reading Ballard’s dystopian gems under the hot Spanish sun brought on unexpected and eerie synchronicities between his stories and the surreal and artificial landscape of the mass tourist experience. All that packaged recreation, intensive leisure, modular accommodation, shifting sands, glaring skies and polished dereliction. The contrast between the well-watered, palm-shaded apartment enclaves and the dusty, halfshod streets outside seemed spookily similar to some of the environments from the Vermillion Sands stories. The ever-present swimming pools, whether fully functioning or leering from the gaptooth building sites of the stalled Spanish economy, were an obvious Ballard trope. The heaving, oily beaches emphasised references to the Gadarene swine in The Reptile Enclosure. While our apartment may not have had the Thousand Dreams of Stella Vista, humidity-broken sleep produced its own myriad shattered tableaux. The psychotropic correlation of environmental guilt and the slight drainy whiff as the aircon kicked in wasn’t lost on me either!

Considering most of these stories dated from the late 50’s and early 60’s, I was struck once again by Ballard’s uncanny prescience. Admittedly the clunky poetry-tape-producing Verse-Transcriber machines of Studio 5, The Stars seem quaint in the context of today’s digital environment, but - as Ballard states in his introduction – these stories aren’t set in any future, but a ‘visionary present’. The cumulative effect of reading these stories in relative succession led to a vaguely ominous, but not altogether unpleasant, disorientation – peaking in Barcelona. After Ballardian immersion, both the Zoo and the Metro felt bizarrely virtual. But the icing on the cake had to be an offhand mention in a phone conversation that “the Radar had died in Dublin airport”, a few days before we were due to return. Yikes!

All ended well though - an excellent break, to which these stories added a spice of head-swimming, delerious pleasure!