The Atrocity Exhibition

Last updated

The Atrocity Exhibition
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author J. G. Ballard
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre Experimental
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages157 pp
ISBN 0-224-61838-5
OCLC 161158
LC Class PZ4.B1893 at PR6052.A46
Preceded by The Crystal World  
Followed by Crash  

The Atrocity Exhibition is an experimental collection of linked stories or "condensed novels" by British writer J. G. Ballard.

J. G. Ballard British writer

James Graham Ballard was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist who first became associated with the New Wave of science fiction for his post-apocalyptic novels such as The Wind from Nowhere (1961) and The Drowned World (1962). In the late 1960s, he produced a variety of experimental short stories, such as those collected in the controversial The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). In the mid 1970s, Ballard published several novels, among them the highly controversial Crash (1973), a story about symphorophilia and car crash fetishism, and High-Rise (1975), a depiction of a luxury apartment building's descent into violent chaos.


The book was originally published in the UK in 1970 by Jonathan Cape. After a 1970 edition by Doubleday & Company had already been printed, Nelson Doubleday, Jr. personally cancelled the publication and had the copies destroyed, fearing legal action from some of the celebrities depicted in the book. Thus, the first US edition was published in 1972 by Grove Press under the title Love and Napalm: Export USA. [1] It was made into a film by Jonathan Weiss in 2000. [2] [3]

Jonathan Cape British publisher

Jonathan Cape is a London publishing firm founded in 1921 by Herbert Jonathan Cape, who was head of the firm until his death in 1960.

Grove Press is an American publishing imprint that was founded in 1947. Imprints include: Black Cat, Evergreen, Venus Library, and Zebra. Barney Rosset purchased the company in 1951 and turned it into an alternative book press in the United States. He partnered with Richard Seaver to bring French literature to the United States. The Atlantic Monthly Press, under the aegis of its publisher, Morgan Entrekin, merged with Grove Press in 1991. Grove later became an imprint of the publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

A revised large format paperback edition, with annotations by the author and illustrations by Phoebe Gloeckner, was issued by RE/Search in 1990. [4] The edition with annotations is now standard.

Phoebe Gloeckner American cartoonist, illustrator, painter, novelist

Phoebe Louise Adams Gloeckner, is an American cartoonist, illustrator, painter, and novelist.

RE/Search Publications is an American magazine and book publisher, based in San Francisco, founded by its editor V. Vale in 1980. In several issues Andrea Juno was also credited as an editor. It was the successor to Vale's earlier punk rock fanzine Search & Destroy (1977–1979), which was started with $200 provided to Vale by Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. RE/Search itself began as a tabloid-sized magazine.

All of the 1970 book originally appeared as stories in magazines before being collected. There is some debate on whether the book is an experimental novel with chapters or a collection of linked stories. With titles such as "Plans for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy," "Love and Napalm: Export USA," and "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan," and by constantly associating the Kennedy assassination with a sexual or sporting event, the work has maintained controversy, especially in the United States, where some considered it a slur on the dead president's image. Ballard claimed that "it was an attempt for me to make sense of that tragic event."

Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan is a short work by dystopian English author J.G. Ballard, first published as a pamphlet by the Unicorn Bookshop, Brighton, in 1968. It was later collected in The Atrocity Exhibition.

Content and composition

The Atrocity Exhibition is split up into sections, similar to the style of William S. Burroughs, a writer whom Ballard admired. [5] Burroughs wrote the preface to the book. Though often called a "novel" by critics, such a definition is disputed, because all its parts had an independent life. "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan," for example, had three prior incarnations: in the International Times, in Ronald Reagan: The Magazine of Poetry, and as a freestanding booklet from Unicorn Bookshop, Brighton, all in 1968. All 15 pieces had been printed and some even reprinted before The Atrocity Exhibition was published.

William S. Burroughs American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer

William Seward Burroughs II was an American writer and visual artist. Burroughs was a primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author whose influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films. He was also briefly known by the pen name William Lee. Burroughs created and exhibited thousands of paintings and other visual art works, including his celebrated 'Gunshot Paintings'.

Each chapter or story is split up into smaller sections, some of them labelled by part of a continuing sentence; Ballard has called these sections "condensed novels". There is no clear beginning or end to the book, and it does not follow any of the conventional novelistic standards: the protagonist (such as he is) changes name with each chapter or story (Talbert, Traven, Travis, Talbot, etc.), [6] just as his role and his visions of the world around him seem to change constantly. (Ballard explains in the 1990 annotated edition that the character's name was inspired by reclusive novelist B. Traven, whose identity is still not known with certainty.)

Protagonist the main character of a creative work

A protagonist is the leading character of a story.

B. Traven German novelist

B. Traven was the pen name of a presumably German novelist, whose real name, nationality, date and place of birth and details of biography are all subject to dispute. One of the few certainties about Traven's life is that he lived for years in Mexico, where the majority of his fiction is also set—including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927), which was adapted for the Academy Award winning film of the same name in 1948.

The stories describe how the mass media landscape inadvertently invades and splinters the private mind of the individual. Suffering from a mental breakdown, the protagonist—a doctor at a mental hospital—surrenders to a world of psychosis. Traven tries to make sense of the many public events that dominate his world (the death of Marilyn Monroe, the Space Race, and especially the assassination of John F. Kennedy), by restaging them in ways that, to his psychotic mind, gives them a more personal meaning. It is never quite clear how much of the novel "really" takes place, and how much only occurs inside the protagonist's own head. Characters whom he kills return again in later chapters (his wife seems to die several times). He travels with a Marilyn Monroe scorched by radiation burns, and with a bomber-pilot of whom he notes that "the planes of his face did not seem to intersect correctly."

Inner and outer landscapes seem to merge (a Ballardian speciality), as the ultimate goal of the protagonist is to start World War III, "though not in any conventional sense" – a war that will be fought entirely within his own mind. Bodies and landscapes are constantly confused ("Dr. Nathan found himself looking at what seemed a dune top, but was in fact an immensely magnified portion of the skin area over the iliac crest", "he found himself walking between the corroding breasts of the film-actress", and "these cliff-towers revealed the first spinal landscapes"). At other times the protagonist seems to see the entire world, and life around him, as nothing more than a vast geometrical equation, such as when he observes a woman pacing around the apartment he has rented: "This ... woman was a modulus ... by multiplying her into the space/time of the apartment, he could obtain a valid unit for his own existence."

Chapter or story titles

  1. The Atrocity Exhibition. New Worlds , Vol. 50, # 166, September 1966 (excerpt).
  2. The University of Death. Transatlantic Review , No. 29, London, Summer 1968.
  3. The Assassination Weapon. New Worlds, Vol. 50, # 161, April 1966.
  4. You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe. Ambit # 27, Spring 1966.
  5. Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown. New Worlds July 1967 (excerpt).
  6. The Great American Nude. Ambit # 36 Summer 1968.
  7. The Summer Cannibals. New Worlds # 186 January 1969.
  8. Tolerances of the Human Face. Encounter Vol. 33, No. 3, September 1969.
  9. You and Me and the Continuum. Impulse, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1966.
  10. Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy. Ambit # 31, Spring 1967.
  11. Love and Napalm: Export USA Circuit #6, June 1968.
  12. Crash! ICA-Eventsheet February 1969 (excerpt).
  13. The Generations of America. New Worlds # 183, October 1968.
  14. Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan. Brighton: Unicorn Bookshop, 1968
  15. The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race. Ambit # 29, Autumn 1966.

Appendix (added in 1990)

References in other media

Related Research Articles

<i>Crash</i> (Ballard novel) novel by J. G. Ballard

Crash is a novel by English author J. G. Ballard, first published in 1973. It is a story about symphorophilia; specifically car-crash sexual fetishism: its protagonists become sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes.

<i>High-Rise</i> (novel) novel by J. G. Ballard

High-Rise is a 1975 novel by British writer J. G. Ballard. The story describes the disintegration of a luxury high-rise building as its affluent residents gradually descend into violent chaos. As with Ballard's previous novels Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), High-Rise inquires into the ways in which modern social and technological landscapes could alter the human psyche in provocative and hitherto unexplored ways. It was adapted into a film of the same name, in 2015, by director Ben Wheatley.

<i>Cocaine Nights</i> novel by J. G. Ballard

Cocaine Nights is a 1996 novel by J. G. Ballard. Like Super-Cannes that followed it, it deals with the idea of dystopian resort communities which maintain their seemingly perfect balance via a number of dark secrets.

<i>The Crystal World</i> novel by J. G. Ballard

The Crystal World is a science fiction novel by English author J. G. Ballard, published in 1966.

<i>The Wind from Nowhere</i> novel by J. G. Ballard

The Wind from Nowhere is a science fiction novel by English author J.G. Ballard. Published in 1961, it was his debut novel. He had previously published only short stories.

<i>The Day of Forever</i> book by J.G. Ballard

The Day of Forever is a collection of science fiction short stories by British writer J. G. Ballard.

<i>Myths of the Near Future</i> book by J.G. Ballard

Myths of the Near Future is a collection of science fiction short stories by British writer J. G. Ballard, first published in 1982.

<i>The Terminal Beach</i> book by J.G. Ballard

The Terminal Beach is a collection of science fiction short stories by British author J. G. Ballard, published in 1964.

<i>Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories</i>

Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories is a collection of science fiction short stories by British writer J. G. Ballard published in 1976.

<i>The Kindness of Women</i> book by J.G. Ballard

The Kindness of Women is a 1991 novel by British author J.G. Ballard, a sequel to his 1984 novel Empire of the Sun, which drew on the author's boyhood in Shanghai during World War II, presenting a lightly fictionalized treatment of Ballard's life from Shanghai through to adulthood in England, culminating with the making of Steven Spielberg's 1987 film Empire of the Sun. A non-fiction account of the same experiences can be found in Ballard's autobiography, Miracles of Life.

<i>The Unlimited Dream Company</i> novel by J. G. Ballard

The Unlimited Dream Company is a novel by British writer J. G. Ballard, first published in 1979. It was nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1980. It won the British Science Fiction Association Award in the same year.

The Underworld USA Trilogy is the collective name given to three novels by American crime author James Ellroy: American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), and Blood's a Rover (2009).

<i>Memories of the Space Age</i> book by J.G. Ballard

Memories of the Space Age is a collection of science fiction stories by British writer J.G. Ballard. It was released in 1988 by Arkham House. It was published in an edition of 4,903 copies and was the author's first book published by Arkham House. The stories, set at Cape Canaveral, originally appeared in the magazines Ambit, Fantastic Stories, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Interzone, New Worlds and Playboy.

The John F. Kennedy assassination and the subsequent conspiracy theories surrounding it have been discussed, referenced, or recreated in popular culture numerous times.

The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard: Volume 2 is a short-story collection by J. G. Ballard, published in 2006.

Beatles is a novel written by the Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen. The book was first published in 1984. It takes its title from the English rock band The Beatles, and all the chapters are named after Beatles songs or albums. The book tells the story of four Oslo boys in the years from 1965 to 1972, recapitulating their adolescent years and early adulthood. The boys have a common interest - worship of the Beatles, and take on the names of the group members, John, Paul, George and Ringo. Each of them shares some characteristics with the chosen member.

"Atrocity Exhibition" is a 1980 song by Joy Division, the opening track on their second and final album Closer. It was produced by Martin Hannett, and recorded at Pink Floyd's Britannia Row Studios, London.


  1. Ballard, J. G. (1972). Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A. New York: Grove Press. ISBN   978-0-394-48277-4.
  2. "Thirsty Man at the Spigot": An Interview with Jonathan Weiss
  3. The Atrocity Exhibition (2000) on IMDb
  4. Ballard, J. G. (1990). The atrocity exhibition. San Francisco, CA: RE/Search Publications. ISBN   0-940642-18-2.
  7. Dowling, Stephen. "What pop music tells us about JG Ballard". BBC, 20 April 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  8. J. Bennett, "Fallen Empire", Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, Albert Mudrian, ed., Da Capo Press, ISBN   9780306818066. p. 322.
  9. Kellman, Andy. "The Comsat Angels | Biography & History". AllMusic . Rovi Corporation . Retrieved 16 July 2016.