Apathy in the U.K

The U.K is feeling down. According to research by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, there’s been a 7% increase in the number of people prescribed antidepressants by 2013. That means this number has now increased. The number ‘7%’ can’t accurately portray what this means for those millions of people beginning prescription. Most will be starting a life long commitment, a commitment that could alter their brain chemistry, long term mood and levels of anxiety – but often not in a positive way. We now rely on chemical cures for depression. We may not be more depressed than before (though compulsions like ‘social media anxiety’ don’t allude to many positives) but we are medicating it far more than ever before. In the way of the American healthcare system, prescription has become procedure.


Medication is necessary in certain cases, and many people are relieved when they find the combination that suits them and helps them control a condition that affects every aspect of life. This article isn’t referring to those with extreme conditions, where a life without a well-placed seroquel, or other anti-psychotics, here and there is unimaginable and unlivable. There are over prescription problems that should breed concern in that area too – but let’s start with the people brought in on the first rung of the ladder.


This article is for the huge numbers of those with minor/short-term depression or anxiety who have been told that a pill is the answer. Large amounts of young and vulnerable people are being medicated for a condition they may not have, or one that may be better treated with alternative methods. These are the majority of antidepressant users - those with a minor depression or anxiety condition, usually reactive rather than endogenous - who begin with ‘short term’ treatment. The typical anti-depressant is a SSRI or SNRI; these drugs halt the reuptake of specific neurotransmitters related to mood, specifically serotonin and noradrenalin. This is a biological treatment for what is often a situational or societal problem - a side effect laden treatment for what is often a ‘reactive’ depression. Is it normal to react to sad news by being sad...? to be sad when someone dies? or does it call for medication?


The proliferation of psychoactive treatments, over therapy, for children, adolescents and young adults seems strange when you consider that studies report that ‘significantly higher’[1] suicide rates for adolescents on antidepressants. One study found an increased suicide risk of 58% when antidepressants were compared with a placebo. In a group with average risk this would equate to an increase from 25 in 1,000 to 45 in 1,000[2]. Adult users also record increased desire for suicide in early treatment. That explains those scary ‘may increase thoughts of suicide’ notes on the side of the box that have incited irony laced laughs from generations of depressives starting treatment.


In one study involving 188 participants, rates of suicidal ideation were significantly higher in the antidepressant medication group (18.6%) compared with the psychological therapy group (5.4%)[3]. If NHS practice were in line with this biological data, it would have to reverse its current policy. At the moment, drug therapy is considered cheaper, even if it is more dangerous. The ease with which people are prescribed happy pills is laughable, with many people suffering from short-term depression, or just feeling low, being prescribed treatment after a short conversation with their GP. Even if you don’t feel like you are a depressive, a promising pill is a tempting offer to anyone feeling in a dark place, and saying no to a medical professional is against most peoples conditioning.


Depression is a mental disease, and so being told yours is bad enough to warrant treatment can be enough to push a person further into its depths. It’s stigmatized, so they will also feel more alone. The powerlessness felt would lead many people, who would otherwise have overcome their depression in the usual way, turning to SSRI’s. Unfortunately, this comfort blanket not only increases suicide risk, it also effects ambition, sex drive, social function and can, for many, begin a cycle of reliance on legal and illegal drugs.


An infamous side effect of SSRIs is “amotivational syndrome”. The patient shows apathy, disinhibited behavior, demotivation and a personality change. Its symptoms are similar to those that develop when the frontal lobes of the brain are damaged[4]. Essentially, we’ve created a chemical version of our archaic technique of mashing the brains’ frontal lobes in a lobotomy, a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. This effect is particularly prevalent on those medicated from a young age, and many researchers have linked the use of antidepressants during pregnancy, or in young children, to emotional disorders later in life[5].


Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University found that high-dose, short-term exposure to SSRIs in rats was sufficient to produce distortion in the serotonin nerve fibers[6]. So, antidepressants may also arrest neuron development. Would we rather harm our brains irreparably and function adequately, or allow our emotions free reign at the possible detriment of our daily activities? Medication becomes a matter of economics; a person on antidepressants is less likely to take a long leave of absence due to personal tragedy as their chemical apathy allows them to function adequately despite emotional strain. Like a lobotomy, antidepressants can make the patient a perfect citizen: obedient, predictable and controlled. Is this state preferable to the natural, emotional, human condition?


How early can you tell if someone has a predisposition to depression? 18? 13? 8…? Fluoxetine, the first on the antidepressant tree to be prescribed to a new patient, is licensed for use in children 8 years and over in the U.K. This means an 8 year old could continue to be medicated indefinitely, with a drug proven to damage their brain and cause dependence, until they choose to stop.  This is despite the evidence of studies showing ‘no statistically significant’ differences between young people with depression being given placebo’s or antidepressants. The very act of medicating a child gives the placebo effect – it validates a belief that they have something that must be medicated.


Depression and addiction have been related to human connection in more recent studies. Rats who lived alone had a choice of a heroin bottle, and a water one. They all kept at it till death. Rats who lived community, presented with the same options, lived normal, long, lives. When we have human connection, we don’t need drugs to deal with a short term depression, we have people. Having been on anti-depressants I can tell you that I, for one, felt like I was in a bubble that kept people, and their emotions, at arms length. I was more callous, practical, and less like me. Switching pills for connection – in my case, creating projects with creative people, and writing a lot – could stop a young persons depression from becoming a life long struggle finding the ‘right’ drugs.


I recently started the blog Just Gushing for people with all perspectives to share their stories and creations, as a way of connecting and trying to brush off the stigma of mental illness.


[1] http://www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk/component/jdownloads/finish/2050/7883?Itemid=0

[2] Hetrick SE, McKenzie JE, Cox GR, et al; Newer generation antidepressants for depressive disorders in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14;11:CD004851. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004851.pub3.

[3] Cox GR, Callahan P, Churchill R, et al; Psychological therapies versus antidepressant medication, alone and in combination for depression in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14;11:CD008324. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008324.pub2.

[4] Marangell et al. 2001, p.1059

[5] Ansorge et al. 2004

[6] Kalia 2000

Incestuous Politics and Westminster Scandals: Who’s to Judge?

By Alice Louise Wadsworth

You may have been hearing a bit about the government’s child sex abuse inquiry. Today Theresa May announced that it could grow from an inquiry into a ‘full statutory inquiry’ (because an inquiry alone means nothing, apparently). This may lead to arrest and accusations, it equally may not.


The first judge chosen for this illuminati-sounding mystery was Baroness Butler-Sloss. Until it turned out (no one had realized this previously somehow) that her brother had sat in the cabinet in the 1980’s, while all this alleged abuse was going on. Oops. So they looked really hard for someone utterly unconnected to political figures – as the inquiry covers a wide breadth of Westminster - and they found Fiona Woolf. It may have been convenient to find her, as she lives just down the road from David and Samantha, of Tory fame. This convenience became a bit of a downer when it turned out that this too might affect her impartiality as it’s been discovered through corrospondance that she has a fairly cosy relationship with Lord Brittan, home secretary at the time of the alleged abuse. Lord Brittan is central to the enquiry over the alleged ‘loss’ of 114 key documents relating to child abuse in Westminster, having admitted receiving a ‘substansial bundle of papers’ from, now deceased, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who compiled the dossier on roughly 40 known abusers in parliament. He ‘did not recall’ any further action on these matters. As forgetful as his friend Fiona, who failed to recall their long and close relationship.


Fiona Woolf has since stepped down under public pressure. In her farewell statement she jibed that her replacement must be ‘a hermit’ if they are to avoid what befell her and the Baroness. Now, Fiona, there are many people who aren’t friends with anyone in Westminster, who still manage to have rather active social and professional lives. Woolf’s comment shows how inhibiting this position of social privilege can be – only a hermit could be both a respected judge and not intimately connected with influential Westminster figures who may or may not have been involved in covering up child abuse.


Rather than merely showing HR incompetence, doesn’t this issue highlight how interconnected the influential, rich and powerful are in the U.K? So much so that it is practically impossible to appoint an impartial judge for a parliamentary inquiry. It scratches my innards that this is only getting attention because of the controversial ‘paedophile ring’ nature of the case. Aside from the  inquiry’s content, from my soapbox this appears to show that in most cases – when they, rarely, appear – that legally question the actions of the parliamentarily privileged, the judge is likely to be connected to a web encompassing, at least, the associates of the accused. Perhaps this is why it’s so unlikely for them to end up in the courtroom, and such a surprise when any punishment is metered out.


Rebecca Brooke’s crimes deeply infringed individual’s rights to privacy, yet her sentence was less than that of a run-of-the-mill stalker (who doesn’t hang with SamCam et al). Certain tax dodgers crimes are known by what appears to be the whole internet, with crimes detailed on blogs, in books, and over the radio, yet these criminals remain unchallenged. Under 35’s – the group most affected by austerity cuts and most vocal about corruption – have reached peaks of apathy that prevent us from even seeing the polling office. It just seems like a big club we’re outside of. So, only 55% of under 35’s vote. That’s also the most liberal part of the population, so I guess now we know how we ended up with that human shaped semolina pudding in office.


Now isn’t the time for the voting talk (though if you’re reading this and you don’t vote I do recommend a spoiled ballot for cathartic release reasons), but it is an issue which helps sustain the close-knit socialism for the rich in English politics. If the powers that be know that they have more to gain answering to corporations than to the people – as such a large section of us don’t vote, and such a large section of them have so many lucrative contracts to offer – then Westminster, the media and private companies can grow ever closer. Trying to rise in the ranks of politics when you don’t have, or don’t want to have, such connections, is difficult. This is perhaps why such a disproportionate number of politicians are from public schools, are landlords and are independently wealthy with connections to other wealthy, powerful people. This is the rocky road that someone like Fiona Woolf will have had to traverse, picking up friends en route.


It’s unfair to assume this will alter her judgement - she is a professional with a good case record – but the problem remains that the only people eligible for her post in this trial are inevitably connected to someone who is involved, or even implicated, in such a trial. …There are no other judges eligible? This appears to imply something many frustrated people have felt in their bones for some time: that to be able to rise to that level within the corridors of power, you will aquire links that will make your respectability as an upholder of justice, particularly when on a collision course with such power, questionable.


Let’s just see how this transpires. Who the least connected person turns out to be. If they aren’t related to someone being investigated, or living on the same street as people close to the case, then is that all ok? If they are just good friends with those being investigated, will that fly? I’m afraid there may not be ample choice in this regard, and that Woolf’s successor will still be influenced – through less obvious geographical or genealogical paths – by those being investigated. Mostly, I’m terrified that this will be seen as another inevitability by apathetic and disaffected youth voters; another reason to not get involved in politics, as the door ‘in’ appears to be right out of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Only those that know they can go through the door (maybe relatives have wandered through it before) can access both politics and the law. If this door is to remain as unreachable as in the past – and to become more so with education and benefit cuts – then the only people qualified to investigate the rich and powerful will be members of their ranks. If this is the case, is there any point having a trial at all?

Quantum Occurring in Virginia Woolf's 'The Waves'

by Alice Louise Wadsworth

Virginia Woolf was a woman of varied interests and talents. Her work explored radical ideas, as well as innovative forms. She read widely, following scientific journals, as well as contemporary literature, philosophy and arts. Therefore, her experimentation with both how we write, and how we understand, reality in The Waves is well founded in an eclectic education. Woolf used this to break boundaries in fiction, experimenting with literary forms to explore emerging ideas on the nature of realty. Woolf’s literature reflected the move away from objective realism growing in science and philosophy.


The wave-particle debate had been raging a long while before Woolf wrote ‘The Waves’. In 1630 Descartes decided light was waves, while beginning in 1670, and stretching over 3 decades, Newton’s work hypothesized light consisted of particles.

In 1803, Young’s double-slit experiment saw light behave as waves again, as the diffraction of light through the two slits showed interference, which wouldn’t happen if light had moved through the slits directly in a beam of particles.


Young’s findings made the wave model regain popularity. By the end of the 19th century light was thought to consist of waves of electromagnetic fields, and matter to consist of localized particles.


Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle was published in 1927, 4 years before The Waves, and deals with the problem of interrelation between pairs of physical qualities, like the position and momentum of a particle[1]. Heisenberg’s theory shows a trade off; the more we know about the particle’s position, the less we know about its momentum, and vice versa. This is due to the nature of waves and particles – it’s virtually impossible to find momentum and velocity of particles within a wave, as their positions aren’t fixed. Bohr’s principle of uncertainty – which is more widely accepted– is not that we cannot know momentum and velocity simultaneously, but that they do not have determinate values of position and momentum simultaneously. This began the full collapse of wave-particle duality. Young’s experiment was later investigated with more precise equipment and showed that the dark and light bands shown on the viewing screen are formed of absorbed light – in particle form – with their varying density showing the pattern of interference. Using detectors, physicists found each photon went individually through the slit (as a particle), rather than both slits (like a wave). Light was both states simultaneously.


Reports on Young, Heisenberg and Bohr, and this shift away from the 19th century’s belief in light and matter’s set boundaries, were published during Woolf’s lifetime. Woolf’s diaries showed her interest in this work, and Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, scholarly interests included relativity[2]. He believed in objective reality, and saw objects as a product of sensation; a table is only present when observed. He challenged some of the duality between the physical table and the mental sensation, by relating the experience of seeing a table to that of having a toothache[3], but never refuted objective relativity. Woolf’s position, as a non-formally educated daughter, caused her and her sister to devower Stephen’s library, so an intellectual background in objective relativity, and its criticisms, formed part of their self-education. She was inspired by it too. The breaking of subject/object boundaries is a key feature of The Waves.


The Waves was published in 1931, and is seen as Woolf’s most formally experimental work. As objective realism was being questioned in physics, Woolf challenged realist writing, which assumed this objectivity, instead creating a text with fluid characters, shared consciousness, and a lyrical style which was neither narrator, third person, nor a character’s voice. At the start of the text, when the characters are children, the same poetic correlative is used as when they are adults, with no change in tone or vocabulary.


The Waves presents Monism; each character is an element of one whole.


‘The six characters were supposed to be one. I’m getting old myself – I shall be fifty next year; and I come to feel more and more how difficult it is to collect oneself into Virginia; even though the special Virginia in whose body I live for the moment is violently susceptible to all sorts of separate feelings. Therefore I wanted to give the sense of continuity (Woolf. Letters IV, p397[4])


It’s only ‘what is behind [bodies that] differs – the perspective’[5]. Monism dictated that everything was made up of one thing. Discoveries by physicists continued to show unexpected reactions between particles, even changing states. Einstein in 1930 proposed the cyclic universe theory – that the universe broke down and then expanded again – a year before Woolf published The Waves. While Woolf may not have directly read this work, similar ideas of all matter being made of one basic thing (later supposed to be quarks) were contained in Monism. Woolf, and the Bloomsbury group were intrigued by Monism. In most fiction before this point, the sensate physical body, and the images of the mind, were separate. Woolf shows the sensate body to make up the mind; Bernard needs ‘words of one syllable…a howl, a cry’[6], symbols, to convey his sensations, while Jinni is intensely physical and uses her body in conversation with sensation. Woolf wished to base her work on ‘feeling and not upon conviction’[7], by focusing first on the sensory body and then displaying ‘feeling’ through associations; reading the mind through the body. The body reacts to a shared world but does so subjectively, being both individual and part of a wave of sensation drawn from one point (shared experience). In her essay The Common Reader, Woolf’s Monist ‘luminous halo’[8] replaces the symmetrically arranged ‘gig lights’ - an image of objective realism’s incomplete viewpoint - as dualities creating object boundaries, like those separating sensation and thought, are collapsed. The ‘luminous halo’ breaks down the binary of consciousness and body; characters are individuals and part of a wave facilitated by sensory experience that is no longer restricted to an internal mental space. The calls to ‘see’ and ‘hear’[9] in The Waves connect characters sensations; Jenny says ‘our bodies communicate’[10], and it’s the ‘sensation’[11] of the water, which creates their ‘sensitive’[12] bodies. Like Einstein’s theory of a cyclic universe, the characters in The Waves are being ‘made and remade continually’[13] . This shown explicitly in Woolf’s draft, where ‘new born babies’ are ‘tossed from the top of the waves’[14].


Shared consciousness is shown in The Waves, as exact lines of thought are repeated in the characters poetic correlative. These pseudo-characters could be ‘facets of existence’[15], moving as one wave, while also retaining individuality. While collective consciousness is not an accepted part of quantum physics – mainly due to difficulties defining consciousness – particles in interaction going beyond their previous objective boundaries is. For Woolf, who saw mental phenomena as equal to physical, the movement of light particles in Young’s double slit experiment may have led her to hypothesize humans creating a larger form of this effect, moving as a wave of bodies and thoughts outside of physical boundaries (as in artistic, literary or philosophical movements), while also remaining individuals with different sensory reactions.


Individual traits pass through the group, highlighting their different interactions to stimuli, as they rise as individuals (as the waves separate) and sink back into the collective self. Bernard’s fear that he ‘need[s] the illumination of other peoples eyes, and therefore cannot be entirely sure what is my self’[16], shows human selfhood to only become whole through interaction. Woolf’s work paints a cyclical, holistic, universe through extrinsic poetic narration, inhabited by voices imbued with quantum tendencies. The desire ‘to make one thing…seen by many eyes simultaneously’[17] is symbolized through ‘a single flower…but now a seven-sided flower, many-petalled…a whole flower to which every


[1] The momentum of a particle is related to its velocity; in particular, momentum is mass times velocity

[2] Particularly in his book ‘A History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century.’

[3] p46-7, Stephen, Leslie. History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century.

{C}[4]{C} Woolf, Virginia. . Ed. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Vol. IV. New York: Harcourt, 1977-1982.

{C}[5]{C} p86, Woolf. The Waves

{C}[6]{C} p166, Woolf. The Waves

{C}[7]{C} p119, Woolf, Virginia. ‘Modern Fiction’. Virginia Woolf: ‘Selections from her Essays’ Ed. James, Walter. (London: Chatto & Windus Ltd, 1966)

{C}[8]{C} p120, ibid.

{C}[9]{C} from p4 onwards,Woolf. The Waves.

{C}[10]{C} p56, Woolf. The Waves.

{C}[11]{C} p13, Woolf. The Waves.

{C}[12]{C} p163, Woolf. The Waves.

{C}[13]{C} p74, Woolf. The Waves.

{C}[14]{C} qtd on p156, Minow-Pinkney, Makiko. Virginia Woolf and The Problem of The Subject: Feminine Writing in the Major Novels. (Sussex: Harvester Press Ltd, 1987)

[15] P5-6, Rodal, Jocelyn.’”One World, One Life”: The Politics of Personal Connection in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves’ (US: DSpace@MIT, 2006) web: http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/35703/71248827.pdf acc: 7/11/13

[16] p64, Woolf. The Waves

[17] p70, Woolf. The Waves

TTIP-ing the Balance

by Alice Louise Wadsworth

It was only a month or so that I spoke to a –generally politically aware and active friend – about TTIP. I was surprised that she hadn’t heard of it. Only to be further surprised that many in the group I was with were also unaware of exactly what it means. Then, I felt I wasn’t confident enough with the details to explain fully.  Partly due to the details of TTIP being mainly off limits to press and public


A month or so has passed now, and the secret is coming out. This shadily manufactured bill, even while the exact transcript is restricted from the pubic and media, has finally come to light. Now, many of those who were unaware have come our fervently against this enabling bill for further corporate power. Corporate ethics are not universally popular, surprisingly. On the 11th October over 1000 people gathered in Parliament Square, from Occupy, Friends of the Earth, Unite the Youth and more of the generally concerned, showing the secret is out. Over 400 actions in 22 cities held took place that day. The winds have changed away from ‘TTIP wtf?’ to ‘That means companies can sue the government, and essentially govern the county unelected, increasing privitisation? WTF?’


One of the main arguments raised against the bill is it opening up governments to being sued by trans national corporations. John Hilary, the executive director for War on Want – a campaigning organization with inequality causing poverty leveled in their crosshairs – said that ‘this elevates trans national corporations to the same status as the nation state itself’. Already our politicians regularly move into jobs in trans national corporations after their time in power, its known how close the two sectors already are. The government spends around 10billion a year conducting research and development for private companies; Vodaphone, Starbucks, Arms dealers, Oil firms all benefit from paying little tax with no benefit fraud complications; around 50% of public sector spending on goods and services (around 187billion) now lands in private pockets; Boris Johnson saw far more city bankers in his first term in office than public servants (and see’s anti-TTIP individuals as ‘numbskulls’…un-bialy). The TTIP may be the final tip towards countries, as well as their economies, falling under the complete control of Trans-nationals competing for profit. Capitalism is ruthless, and profit has been consistently ranked over people in Capitalist economics.


The main aim of TTIP is to open up EU businesses to American companies.

Creating new trade agreements that try to get around pesky regulation standards to get better profits for business.


If you are still out of the loop of the TTIP agenda, which to a large part the media and public are, here are a few salacious selections:

-       TTIP gives corporations the ability to sue the national governments through new powers to bypass domestic courts.

-       TTIP see unemployment as jobs switch to the USA.

-       TTIP could also see the relaxing of private data laws

-       TTIP’s lifting of environmental regulations:

  • Lead to increase in CO 2 emissions
  • Flood networks with GM foods
  • Give corporations further power to commandeer protected land for farming

-       Privatisation is highly likely to increase with TTIP

-       TTIP promotes declining employer safety laws, employee labour standards, food safety and hygiene standards and fair wages

-       TTIP allows frakking


Phillip Morris are suing Australia for billions, as the government wants all tobacco products to be marketed in plain packaging. Monsanto are trying to sue Vermont for wanting to put warnings on their labels for GM products. With these examples thus far, there appear to be no positive effects from TTIP, unless you’re already in the rich clique of corporate controllers.


TTIP is a slap in the face to the majority of the EU. The UK has already been dragged through austerity cuts, university fees, 0 hour contracts and the many, many failings of private businesses. Including those contracted to provide worse services and worse working conditions, in hospitals and universities, and the banking bailouts. There is a form of socialism in the U.K right now, but it’s for the rich. Those at Parliament Square on The 11th October were angry. At being kept in the dark, as well as over the effect of TTIP. Simultaneously, there was a sense of futility. If they can do this, secretively, then not listen to the criticism roaring around it; not listen to the protests; not listen to the people who can’t afford to heat, or live in, a home due to 0 hour contracts, little support and poor working conditions; not listen to the – gagged by law – overworked NHS workers.


What will it take to change a government more concerned with corporations than people? Nigel Farage – ex-city banker running a party funded by one rich man – is scratched off the list of possibilities of course, as are the major parties who have all in heir own ways contributed to this commingling of business and politics. We can’t sit back and allow the continued breaking up of the U.K, and EU, into bite size of corporate chunks without putting up a fight.


If you want to help action against TTIP, or find out more, read below:


Green Party: ‘TTIP trade deal is a corporate grab that must be stopped’



War on Want: ‘Say No to TTIP’: http://waronwant.org/campaigns/trade-justice/more/action/18180-sign-up-to-say-no-to-ttip


Occupy London http://occupylondon.org.uk/stop-ttip-articles/


For information on dangerous thinking in private corporations watch ‘The Corporation’ by Joel Bakan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6zQO7JytzQ

Replacing Walls with Mirrors: First They Came For Your Porn, Then They Came For Your Art

by Alice Louise Wadsworth

Michael Guidetti, Untitled (2009).

There’s this site called Rhizome I like to look at on rainy days. It’s an online gallery of sorts. One of the works is a Michael Guidetti from 2009, a watercolour on canvas with animated digital projection. Guidetti places icons of the computer age, its default palate, over a watercolour of a conventional gallery. These images are digitalised; the Rabbit and Dragon of gaming images, and the ‘Utah Teapot’ (a 3D computer model so ubiquitous on the internet that Wikipedia calls it an ‘in-joke’ for programmers. Whatever tickles your fancy I suppose). The piece amounts to a simple animation of light crossing the floor of the gallery. These images, and this room, become an analogy for the internet; each new sight/site is a new particle of light falling on one of the internet’s key tropes.

The sharing of an image on the internet is a process of continual reflection and refraction; each time an image is repeated in a new context its meaning is refracted through the web host, the designer of the image, those viewing it, how they view it, the ads suited to you (which may cause heavy eye rolling to distract from the viewing experience). Though this is similar to staging an art piece in a gallery, it removes the image from the conventional standardised and sterilised white cube experience. Now we can interact with the image, screen shot it, change it; far more than we can do with a Tracy Emin drawing (if only we could rip that off the wall and start doodling on it).

Tracey Emin, Ripped Up (1995).

The computer (or mobile phone, tablet, Google glasses, whatever) based image is open to more dimensions of refraction than art as object, as virtual objects occupy, supposedly limitless space.

It’s this freedom that opens up ideas that the art world furrow their brows over, to a whole range of people; having coffee on their lunch break; keeping watch overnight at an Arctic research centre; procrastinating during job hunting at your local library. Those shut out by this assumed level of decorum, the prior knowledge of ritual imbued in a typical gallery visit, can freely view, interpret, reblog, reinterpret, screen shot, an image from anywhere. Or contribute their own image. While a block of marble is still fairly pricey, the growth of affordable computers, and a camera on most phones, has increased individual’s image making, and consuming, power across economic divides.

With increased controls on the internet, such as those ushered in by David Cameron’s porn (/Childline/opinions-he-don’t-like) blocking bill, is the freedom that allows these dimensions already diminishing?

Van Gogh selfie.

Art on the internet straddles the private and public. It can be intimately shared in a message, or admired alone from your bed. Often internet art is personal, for the benefit of creation itself and individual symbolism. Since personal, primitive art, cave painting, or ice age jewellery (which faced the wearer), the arts evolved to be imbued with status symbols and materials, as we developed into the self-aware cultures we are part of today. Internet sharing and art is increasingly at risk of this process of deserting the personal; partly as it evolves so rapidly, partly due to imposed restrictions.

However, art is also public: it’s used in blogs to present images, Picasso becomes advertising and a sexy name for a car, while Basquiat becomes a Facebook cover photo. This opens up possibilities of digital art as public political statements, as shown in Augmented Reality Graffiti, where an individual’s coded image is used to imprint virtual and geographical space, to mock or question that space.

Augmented Reality Grafitti.

Internet art is a product of, and the creator of, its own environment. This interactive growth is unlike the high art world, which has gone through a process of increasing separation. The price involved in studying and creating it, and the elite rituals of how one consumes, displays and interacts with art, are barriers. Art as object can become lifted out of the publics reach, and become anchored to a social group, culture, or geography. The internet hosts all these images, but the viewer can choose how and where to see them – in new contexts, Photoshopped, using galaxy effect apps, or coded multi dimensional objects. Write on it, unshackle art from its contexts and make it new again.

Without the hierarchy attached to art as object, we can take that Tracy Emin off the wall, rip of the corner we like best, and stick it on a jacket, or slip it in a strangers notebook on the Tube.

Unfortunately, a good thing rarely lasts.

The Last Pepperspray.


Increasing focus on internet copyrights, and the Metropolitan Police’s recent statement stating a crack down on internet crimes, bring a new dimension of accountability to the previously unrestrained freedom the internet provides. ‘Subversive’ images could be banned (and defining that is a Pandora’s box on it’s own); certain (government friendly…?) forums may be claimed to be more legitimate than others; people could be/are being tracked due to an interest in any type of art their government finds unsettling. There is a movement in Parliament right now pushing for broader ‘paywalls’, which would allow only the rich fast internet and access to certain sites. China has already shown how possible a censored internet is. The NSA scandal has shown this same desire to control the internet laying not-so-dormant in British and American governments, as has Cameron’s, disturbingly vaguely worded, internet reform bill.

As Edward Snowden pointed out last month (from a computer screen, being hosted at a TED talk, to be shared by thousands of people in thousands of settings): ‘there are absolutely more revelations to come’. He used the example of buying a copy of 1984 from Amazon – though it could as easily have been someone googling ‘Balthus’ – being monitored and stored for use by governments, and corporations, across the world. ‘Thought crime’ is no longer an Orwellian concept; you can get a year long imprisonment under the new IPNA for ‘intent to annoy’ (from what I gather, this is the main occupation of the majority of the internet) and other, equally vague, claims related to thinking, or googling, the wrong thing.


I don’t claim to know a solution to this. I can’t help but worry that Tim Berners-Lee’s statement that we need a Magna Carta for the internet has come along too late. Given the trajectory of governmental desire, it would be optimistic to claim we can prevent the sterilisation of the internet, and with it the transformation of free internet art into the stratified and homogenised experience the ‘high’ art world is increasingly becoming. Okay, we’re not arresting artists for portraits of a cross-dressing Putin, as in Russia recently. In fact, I’m sure tranny portraits of David Cameron would go down a treat. The freedom to subvert, share, digest and create internet art in a free space, however, with no rent controls or unnecessary security guys, is already ending.

Will artists have to migrate to the dark net to get away with a jot of the controversial? Is the darknet even safe, given the shutdown and arrests related to its biggest market place ‘Silk Road’?

While it’s still here, devour all you can. Before you know it, it’ll be 2020 and that screenshot you shared of a ‘Miliband in Miniskirts’ blog, placed on a background of some smarmy campaign poster, will be being used as evidence of your ‘intent to annoy’. Suddenly you’re under house arrest. With no internet porn. And you won’t even be able to take to Twitter to bitch about it.


This article was first published by The International New Media Gallery here: http://www.inmg.org/blog/replacing-walls-with-mirrors/#.VGI9pijrw20

Feminists Can Be Kinky Too

Not long ago, after having fairly rough and debauched sex with a certain man for the first time, he managed to ruin my period of post-coital relaxation with a question that, a few years ago, would have sent me running for the hills.


‘How can you like that and be a feminist?’


I instantly assume he’s joking, but look over to check, and it seems like a genuine question. It also seems like he has no idea how vastly he just reduced his chances of ever doing that again.

Now, this man is not your run of the mill, stereotypical, misogynist and has generally respected and discussed my frequent ruminations on human rights, such as feminism, without any of the usual ‘any hole’s a goal’ warning signs. When my initial wave of bile had subsided, I noticed his question didn’t even have a judgmental tone; he seemed to be genuinely wondering.


The problem with this question falls into three main categories;

1.     The assumption that acting in the manner I see fit impacts my ability to believe in equal rights for men and women.

2.     The presumption that the ‘that’ that I enjoyed is innately derogatory to women.

3.     The compunction to ask me to explain a sexual act, in which fantasy has a part to play, within the context of my feminism, and to assume it’s O.K. to do this.


First off, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a ‘bad feminist’, as feminism is generally both personal and societal, and those that would define themselves feminist therefore feel personally that they are deserving of equal rights and treatment. If you feel this way, then it’s your prerogative to act in whatever manner you see fit, and as we’re all wonderfully different little snowflakes, this can mean acting in a wide variety of ways which would make other people, feminists and otherwise, uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean that any one of us is more right than any one else, only that one of our valuable human rights, oft transgressed, is the right to conduct ourselves as we please, without fear from judgment based on our gender, race, socio-economic status and so forth. To judge a woman as a ‘bad feminist’ is to take away her right to do this, because you have deemed her actions ill-fitting according to your view of how a feminist should conduct themselves, and according to your views therefore on how a woman should conduct themselves. I have, after years of struggling with it due to these kinds of assumptions, now accepted that my enjoyment of submissive role-play during sex is entirely in keeping with the whole that is my feminist self. The very fact that I, or the many others similar to me, feel this way and have deduced this after, what is always in such cases, a long road of questions, should be enough to make someone about to judge those acts to think twice. The woman, or man, you are about to question on their sexual preference has probably questioned themselves ten times more rigorously and will, hopefully, have come to their own reasoning on the matter. This is because sex, particularly if you prefer to get a bit kinky, is still a taboo, and still synonymous with guilt for a wide range of people. In addition, sex often presents sides of people they wouldn’t always show the world, as they are supposed to be free of their inhibitions. So, naturally, people will question the sides of themselves that they present when they’re ‘free’ of their inhibitions, and with the helpful dollop of guilt society adds, this questioning will most likely be thorough. If you happen to not be a dominant, fairly vanilla, heterosexual male, then the portion of societal guilt is larger, and if you happen to also have a belief in your own rights to enjoy whatever you enjoy, then it seems inevitable that you will consider and thoroughly work through this guilt so as to reconcile your enjoyment with your right to enjoy.


Essentially, this means the response to whatever well meaning question one asks on whether a persons sexual preferences are ‘allowed’ by their belief in their right to act freely, will be either brief (followed by never seeing that person again) or an exasperated, but well researched, argument detailing exactly what is wrong with that question. In my case, I chose the former, and feel a little cruel for dismissing the question, which was probably not meant to make me want to cut his balls off, and so here I will present the latter.


2. The presumption that the ‘that’ that I enjoyed is innately derogatory to women.


Without getting too specific, the reason this man felt compelled to question me was because I enjoyed playing a sexually submissive role when we had sex, and it can get a little rough. Within his view of society, as a somewhat modern man, this may have caused him some confliction; women are meant to be respected, but I’m pulling her hair, does that mean she doesn’t want my respect? So she doesn’t respect herself? But what about feminism? Does this make me a misogynist?


No, dear, pulling my hair and essentially doing what I would like you to does not make you a misogynist. (Obviously this is only within the context that I was encouraging and enjoying this, otherwise this would be a different story.) Questioning my ability to decide what I am O.K. with during sex? That, I’m not quite sure about…


Way back in 1914, Mina Loy wrote this thing called the ‘Feminist Manifesto’. She perceived a particular barrier preventing equality between men and women: virtue. Loy recommends the surgical removal of virginity at puberty, as she see’s virtue as only a trade-off in the marriage contract for economic security. As at this time Loy and her fellow women couldn’t jump straight into securing economic security for themselves very easily, it didn’t look like the balance would be redressed by tipping the scales in this way any time soon (they still haven’t tipped a century later), so assumed virtue must be destroyed first. It’s this perceived virtue, Loy and others argued, that prevents women being accepted into many areas of society – the army, politics, manual labour, boxing, etc – for ‘their own good’. Preserving this virtue involves restricting women’s’ movements, rights, voices, and holding high importance in this virtue only brings further insult to women who are sexually assaulted (and adds to the convoluted validation of rape in some cultures as a punishment). Even in the 15th century, famous intellectual, patron of the arts, author and courtesan Ninon de L'Enclos said ‘feminine virtue is nothing but a convenient masculine invention’ – and she was even seen fit to advise the French royalty. Pity nowadays both Loy and Ninon’s advice is vastly ignored. I can’t see Jenna Jameson or Sasha Grey becoming the next Governor of California, but a male ex porn star, and topless model, did. Why does it make society so much less comfortable to see a woman’s body? Or a woman acting sexually?


If we forget this ‘virtue’, marriage is not a man buying a woman’s virginity, it’s a beautiful union between two people, and sex becomes not just a woman conceding to a mans desire, but can be a damn good experience for you both. To assume ‘virtue’ is to assume this desire doesn’t exist. This assumption of male desire over female is not, as some argue, based in age old tradition; it’s actually reversed since Classical Greek times, when women were believed to have a higher sexual appetite.


A little after Loy, Anais Nin’s diaries and erotica showed, specifically submissive, sexual desire in a women exquisitely honestly. Nin spoke frankly about how she enjoyed relinquishing control in the bedroom, and came up with what should have been my response when questioned on my desire vs. my feminism:


“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”


This is perhaps why I felt sorry for the man asking me this question. He was essentially fearful and confused; seeing himself as dominant male, therefore in charge of protecting my female virtue, and as predatorily desirous (according to society). However, as we’ve seen, both the idea of the more sexually desiring male, and that of female virtue, are utter bollocks. People like what they like in the bedroom and, as my third point attests, they probably know why. And, if they don’t know why, they probably don’t want to be asked immediately after sex. Someone with courage, and respect for their partner, knows better than to question how they choose to conduct themselves in the bedroom/kitchen/forest/club toilet. I don’t think someone who asks this question is necessarily trying to be disrespectful, they’ve just misunderstood feminism, and reevaluating this could lead to more fun and orgasms all round. People fight over meanings of Feminism constantly, but in each new representation it still supports any woman who is assertive and dominant being so, but a feminist should not be a particular type of woman, it is all people who believe in equality. Each person should be allowed to make their own choices and respected for those they choose. That, to me, appears to be equal rights. No guilt on either side. So pull my hair and call me names, as long as you have the strength of character, and respect, to realize that afterwards I will remain a feminist; whether hog-tied on your floor, or giving a presentation to my boss, my belief in human rights remains intact. Or, let your other half beat your ass, without questioning your masculinity or their virtue. Let’s play with our roles; after all, it’s a fantasy isn’t it? Then we can all have our cake, and eat it too. 

This article was first published anonymously for Femmeuary, the Brighton Feminist Collective magazine and blog here: http://femmeuary.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/feminists-can-be-kinky-too/ 

Voltaire, J.G Ballard, and the Redemptive Possibilities of the Mimitized Self



M.C Escher. ‘Circle Limit with Butterflies’, 1950


In Greek Mythology psyche, or psykhe, meant “the soul, mind, spirit, or invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body”. Psyche was represented by the butterfly, and Psyche (Cupid’s wife) was often described with butterfly wings; showing an mimesis in psyche, The Atrocity Exhibition (henceforth ‘TAE’) and Candide’s protagonists’ attempts to make sense of their psyche’s opens a redemptive possibility in their dystopias.


‘My fiction is optimistic because it’s a fiction of psychic fulfillment’ – J. G. Ballard


The mimetized body is part of, and representation of, its environment. Mimesis has various interpretations relating to how the self-sufficient and symbolically generated world of man can relate to any given "real", fundamental, exemplary, or significant world. The modern self is mimetic in its attempt to understand its environment through the self, which I relate to the 20th century interpretation of an adaptive, biologically determined, mimesis supported by Taussig, Benjamin and Adorno. Bodily mimesis breaks down the distinction between the self and other, while mimetic reflections of reified concepts present their incongruity with nature. Personal understanding - making oneself similar to an Other – rather than merely imitation, leads to understanding of the self through the Other, towards ‘psychic fulfillment’. To reconnect to the ‘real’ in nature, and in the self as a part of nature, is the redemptive aim of The Atrocity Exhibition, and this individual ‘cultivation’ is Candide’s final philosophical realization. Both aspire towards Spinoza’s third stage of knowledge; knowing substance/nature ‘directly’. Spinoza’s theory of one substance, extended through attribute in Thought and (physical) Extension, is a basis for exploring mimesis in the modern self, reconnecting the interior to the exterior.


The dystopian worlds in both texts appear counter to the natural, yet are extensions of the people who inhabit them, and only through mimesis can signifiers become individualized and optimistically redemptive. For Ballard’s protagonist in TAE (referred to as ‘Traven[1]’ from here on) environment is mimetised through his separation of selves, a reflection of his dismembered environment. The traits, and fates, of the key characters in Candide reflect the despotism, greed, lust and fallacies of the ruling elites being called into question by the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment focus on the philosophy of Spinoza and Leibniz is reflected in Pangloss and Candide. Ballard presents ‘traumas mimetized’, grown out of, for Traven, the ‘failure of his psyche to accept the fact of his own consciousness’. To reclaim his own consciousness, Traven creates individual mythomanes based around global media constructs and consumer durables, mapping his interior world in the exterior. Adorno equates man’s perception of mastery over nature with the growth of social hierarchies, while Ballard and Voltaire show modern protagonists experiencing ‘objective powerlessness’ in the face of nature, disabling the basis of these hierarchies. Candide’s philosophical confusion is due to a ‘failure to accept the fact of his own consciousness’ as he relies on Martin and Pangloss’s beliefs rather than self-cultivation, reflecting rather than mimetising his environment.


The dystopian nature of Ballard’s work, showing the modern self in constant trauma, with its grotesque images related to ‘death of affect’, emphasizes a disconnection between psyche and media environment. Growth of extensions, such as global trade in Candide (the self moving through capital and weaponry), or the media world of Ballard (the self as reflected through capitalist constructs and media violence), lead to disembodiment, and death of effect, when not mimetised to connect to psyche. Spinoza’s assumption of the ‘desire’ in man to understand the self, and therefore substance, supports the biological argument for mimicry. Jonathan Ree calls this ‘eroticising the intellect’ for Spinoza, as it correlates with Enlightenment focus on ‘reason’ being assumed innate to man’s nature. Enlightenment reason, attempting individual understanding through the scientific method, leads to dismemberment through the separation of objects ‘from their contexts in time and space’; the ‘ultimate pornography’. Extensions in Ballard and Voltaire show false reason and question its validity. Ballard does this through symbolic reading of extensions in media and architecture, paralleling false reason as separative. Voltaire relates ‘sufficient reason’ to extensions in weaponry and global trade, showing its destructive effect without mimetic understanding. Kant’s invocation; ‘Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity… have courage to use your own understanding!’; shows the start of 20th century separation between reflection, or representation, as mimesis, and mimesis as a process of ‘psychic fulfillment’. George Trey’s question of ‘whether the atrocities of the current century are a sign of immaturity or a function of the very maturation process that Kant so enthusiastically lauds’ will be the basis for my conclusion.




Descartes claimed that everything is ‘extended substance’, and that true knowledge would come from an understanding of this. Spinoza specified ‘by substance, I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself’. Though Spinoza relates this substance to ‘God’ and ‘nature’, here it will relate specifically to ‘nature’. Taussig and Ballard focus on the ‘real’ as interior (the ‘one small node of reality left’ is ‘inside our heads’) to be understood through mimesis of the ‘real’ in exterior nature. Candide only matures when he relies on self-cultivation. The self’s extensions in media, violence and capital, without mimesis, leads to dystopian disembodiment. By attribute, Spinoza meant what the ‘intellect perceives of a substance as constituting its essence’. This becomes complicated by the differing intellects views on the essence of a substance, through globalization, necessitating mimesis between representation, other and self.


Bodily Extension


Traven maps his consciousness through correlating bodily extensions in TAE, staging his wife’s death through personalized symbols from media, biology and architecture. Both texts show disembodiment, with the characters in TAE reduced to ‘types’, or ‘constructs’, and returning from death, similarly to the constantly reappearing characters in Candide, who are seen as representative of certain Enlightenment vices, or types. Physical descriptions of disembodiment litter both texts; ‘brains were scattered across the ground, amidst severed arms and legs’; ‘the dismembered bodies of Karen Novotny and himself’.


 ‘The mind, then, like any other idea, is simply one particular mode of God's attribute, Thought. Whatever happens in the body is reflected or expressed in the mind. In this way, the mind perceives, more or less obscurely, what is taking place in its body, and through its body's interactions with other bodies, the mind is aware of what is happening in the physical world around it. But the human mind no more interacts with its body than any mode of Thought interacts with a mode of Extension.’ – Spinoza.


Detachment occurs when the psyche cannot connect to exterior extensions. In Candide physical exile and the flow of capital and property bodily extensions detach Candide from his psyche, relying on others explanations of the world instead. In Ballard the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds have become increasingly detached through simulations distanced from emotion – such as media violence and scientific rationality. His ‘library of extreme metaphors’ mocks the sharp disconnection between modern atrocities and individual emotional reactions, as mediated by ‘manipulated images of violence’. Ballard describes this disconnection as ‘the unconscious belief that a plane crash is an exciting event not far removed from a demolition derby’.


Bodily extension in the form of trade and capital, or capitalist goods, is reflected through the maimed bodies of characters in Candide. The slave who Pangloss and Candide meet on the road says (in some translations) ‘the mill snatches hold of a finger’, personifying it as an extension of its owners, then, an anonymous, ‘they’ ‘cut[s] off the hand’. The slave’s maimed body relates to his severance from his home, and his disembodiment as a traded object being used as an extension of others to create capital. His body reflects the effects of colonial expansion; maimed cultures, taken apart for trade. Emphasising this process of extension the slave states ‘this is the price we pay for the sugar you eat in Europe’ – I highlight ‘we’ and ‘you’ to emphasise Voltaire’s presentation of slaves as extensions of hierarchical power. While the characters in Candide only reflect their environment through bodily, and moral, disfigurement, Traven mimitises the environment, including bodies as a part of it, to understand his psyche. This far along the trajectory of extension, moral disfigurement has advanced into amoral death of affect; the maimed body becomes fragmented, intermingled with its man made environment, like the corpse in a car crash.


Extension through technology is addressed in Candide through weaponry, as evidence for man’s ‘little’ ‘corrupted nature’; ‘men are not born wolves, yet they have become wolves’; ‘God gave them neither twenty-four-pounders nor bayonets’. In the same speech this is compared to the growing structure of man made economic governance and law, both ‘bankrupts’ and the ‘courts which seize the effects of the bankrupts’. This comparison presents greed, violence and despotism, present in the human condition, magnified by extensions in the outer world. The disconnection caused by technological advance, of weapons, and reified concepts, like the system of capital, is presented as a disconnection between that made by man, and that made by God or nature. The bayonet is deemed ‘sufficient reason for the death of several thousand’. ‘Sufficient reason’ is used throughout the text in ironic reference to Leibnitz’s believe that nothing is without sufficient reason. Sufficient reason often means false reason, e.g. Pangloss’ answer of ‘love’ (rather than syphilis) to Candide’s enquiries regarding his disfigurement. Voltaire mocks the idea of reason as attached to global bodies – like weapons, the slave trade – or to cause and effect – as in Pangloss’ usage, as both are disconnected from individual reasoning.


Candide means ‘optimism’ or ‘innocent’, and his character grows through his experiences in the despotic world and the influence of those around him. What Grobe calls the ‘discontinuous aspect’ in Candide, is emphasized by the characters’ returns from death, changing tenses in the (French) text, and sudden changes of emotion and environment brought on by natural, and man made, forces (the Lisbon earthquake, and Candide’s loss of his sheep after El Dorado). As Candide ‘had been brought up never to judge anything for himself’, his reliance on others’ beliefs is representative of discontinuous reflection, rather than mimesis. Candide parrots first Pangloss, then Martin; it is ‘discontinuous’ as only at the end does Candide diverge from Pangloss, cultivating his own philosophy; ‘but we must cultivate our garden’. In Traven’s case, ‘alternate deaths’ ‘take place partly in [Traven’s] own mind and partly in the external world…and represent his attempt to make sense of these unhappy events and attribute them…a measure of hope’. Rather than Candide’s discontinuous loop, the return of dead characters in TAE adds ‘hope’, as by mimetic understanding of interior and exterior deaths Traven comes closer to understanding his psyche. ‘Candide experiences a sensation of having no temporal roots’, a reflection of his exile, and only through focusing on tending his garden – internal and external nature as a route towards understanding his psyche – can he re-root himself. The final emphasis on the personal aspect of Candide’s philosophy fits with Kant’s invocation to ‘have the courage to use your own understanding’, and Traven’s personalisation of symbols to create ‘individual mythomanes’. The text ends before we see effects of his cultivation, erasing continuity and resolution from the text.


Bodily Extension in TAE and Candide lead to disembodiment and fracture, shown by loss of limbs, repeated deaths, extension through capital, architecture and weaponry. It is impossible for bodies to dominate the environments of each text because (1) bodies are inextricable from landscape, immediately becoming part of it as soon as they enter it; and (2) bodies are themselves landscapes. Dr Nathan, who Ballard claims to be the voice closest to some objectivity in the text, claims ‘the human organism is an atrocity exhibition’, equating it with a physical, public, space. Characters in Ballard are ‘simultaneously activating and being activated by changes in their immediate environment’. Ballard, and his characters, use bombs, breasts and balconies to create a landscape of the human body, and show the body as part of, and representative of, a psychological, historical and political landscape; ‘In the post-Warhol era a single gesture such as uncrossing one’s legs will have more significance than all the pages in War and Peace’. The balcony brings in associations to famous assassinations, like Martin Luther King’s, and the explicit pictures of body parts link to psychological fears as well as political and historical sexual discourse. Architecture, which is described in The Dialectic of Enlightenment as ‘differ[ing] little between authoritarian and other countries’, and more recently by Ballard’s friend and peer John Gray as ‘virtualised environments’, is repersonalised in TAE; ‘the hollow basins of cracked mud were inversions of the damaged dome of the planetarium, and of the eroded breasts of Marilyn Monroe’. Our increasingly virtualized physical, and media, environments are mimetized to reconnect to a root in human psyche; The ‘right angle spiral of a stairwell’ reminds Traven of ‘biases within the chemistry of the biological kingdom’. War and trade disfigure the old woman in Candide’s body, which resemble scarred land after warfare, emphasized by her lost buttock. Locations in each, particularly TAE, act as iconographic symbols. TAE’s crash sites, university and long stretches of motorway symbolize sterilized dislocation, and El Dorado as utopia vs. dystopic Enlightenment France symbolize the contrast between an enlightened utopia (maintained by its residents desires), and an enlightenment dystopia (dictated by hierarchies).


In the ‘planes of [Karen Novotny’s] body…[Traven] seemed to mimetize all his dreams and obsessions’. ‘Fetishism’ of culture is represented through Traven’s fixation on scientifically separating the geometry of the body from its self and emotion. Ballard’s history as the editor of a technical journal, and his experience of human dissection; ‘they look like visitors from another planet…you enter literally and mentally, imaginatively, into the bodies of these dead men and women’, informed TAE’s aesthetic. His ‘lewd dissection room humour’ represents the separative scientific process that leads to a sensation of disconnection from the body and its emotive connotations by isolating objects from their ‘contexts’. Sex and violence are primitive urges disconnected from their contexts by media representation and technological distancing (through internet porn, sex toys and long range weapons). The parallels Traven makes between these images and modern culture deconstruct both through mimetic understanding. Ballard explains this in relation to Ralph Nader – a symbol of our willing ignorance to consumer technology’s dangers, and corporate immorality covered by fetishisation of objects. Traven ‘is here distinguishing between manifest content of reality and its latent content’; Nader’s ‘true role is…very different from his apparent one’. Like other symbols in the book, Nader symbolises a range of attributes both personal to Traven, and part of public consciousness. Giving these symbols new contexts begins the process of redemption through understanding the psyche.


Due to what Delville claims is an excess of awareness towards exterior stimulus – ‘a concatenation of seemingly unrelated signifiers’ - Dr. Nathan’s patients cannot conceive ‘the phenomenology of the universe, the specific and independent existence of separate objects and events’. This is not due to an excess of awareness (awareness is necessary to recontextualise) but is due to the ‘seemingly unrelated’ nature of these signifiers. To reconnect this ‘increasingly atomized mythic landscape’ to one whole, Traven conceives it using individual myths, connecting his fractured self to his ‘disembodied’ experience of space. This accords with Taussig’s belief in mimesis as ‘a powerful force capable of challenging capitalist reification, instrumental rationality and the fetishism of the modern state’, capable of ‘undermining the difference between ego and alter…giving nature and object their due against…cultural constructivism’. In Ballard ‘external landscapes appear as direct equivalents of the inner world of the psyche’. It is only in this process of breakdown that the virtualized modern environment - emphasized through media images, the car (the ideal ‘consumer durable’), scientific distancing and the ‘exhibition’ backdrop in TAE - becomes physical, therefore tangible.


Diaspora is a theme of both texts, in Candide the main characters are exiled, as was Voltaire when he wrote the novella. Traven is exiled from his sense of self, he is homeless in his inability to reach the root of his selfhood. He only understands his mental and physical landscape in terms of biological or media related images; ‘his posture mimetized in the processions of space…an image of the geometry assembling itself in the musculature of the young woman, in their postures…in the angles between the walls of the apartment’. Candide cannot return home, though he can aspire to a natural life of self cultivation. Traven’s attempts to return to his sense of self through mimesis are optimistic in intention, though we see no result. The university location, exhibition and Candide’s travels are also environments where people are removed from their usual homes. Though this is not exile it shows displacement.  Zizek perceives trauma as an experience that can remove the subject from the self, which can represent a form of exile. Trauma leaves the subject in a repetitive loop, like Traven and Candide are in. The only escape from this loop is reconnection to the ‘real’ through direct understanding of substance, gained through mimetic understanding.



Thought Extension


‘The highest capacity for producing similarities…is man’s…Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.’- Walter Benjamin


In Candide, characters mimic their environments through their vices; greed, lust, vanity, while the constant action and movement of the prose and plot, and the switching between tenses, mimic the rapid change Voltaire saw during the Enlightenment. The unemotional rationality of Voltaire’s prose, and of most of the characters, as well as repetition of ‘sufficient reason’ as an excuse, mimics the Enlightenment move towards rationality. Rather than personalize elements of their environment, they reflect it. Only at the end of the text does mimetic understanding of nature through the self – in the garden metaphor – begin to be explored. Ballard is equally emotionless in his detached, scientific presentation of the ‘types’ in TAE. The brief stories, headings, lists, scientific language (particularly as related to biology), and the lack of emotional language all present the ‘types’ like laboratory data. Ballard’s protagonist, named Travis, Traven, Traven, Tallis, etc., and non-linear narrative, critique the notion of character as autonomous, and narrative as unified or linear, concepts central to the realist novel. The conventional narrative structure is no longer applicable for the ‘increasingly fluid’, or increasingly fractured, modern self. Voltaire mocks this through Candide’s lack of traditional progression in the text. Instead of gaining status, money, love, religion, like the progress of characters in realist novels, both texts develop according to the protagonists understanding of themselves, in a mimetic relationship with their environment. This is one of the ‘means necessary to attain [Spinoza’s] end’; ‘to infer correctly the differences, agreements and oppositions of things…[and] the extent to which things can...be acted upon’ and ‘compare this result with the nature and power of man’, through mimicry. This is counter to the progression of a character towards a particular place in society, instead reified hierarchies are a ‘fiction’ that must be de-, then re-, constructed by the natural ‘real’ in our psyche.


Michael Taussig describes mimesis as the ability to ‘explore difference, yield into and become Other. The wonder of mimesis lies in the copy drawing on the character and power of the original, to the point whereby the representation may even assume that character and that power". ‘That power’ here will refer to the power of nature, of which we are a part. The possibility of redemption – in both texts - comes through a mimetic immersion with nature leading to a direct understanding of substance; ‘when a thing is perceived through its essence alone’. The bodies and scientific rationality that have grown up since the Enlightenment - particularly with extensions of capital, media violence, and ‘concatenation of …signifiers’ - inhibit this mimesis. Taussig explores our replications of cultures in mimesis in ‘Mimesis and Alterity’ using the Cuna people as an example. The wooden figurines that they used for rituals were perceived by colonists to represent colonists. Traven’s adoption of media images as representations of his consciousness is similar to the Cuna’s appropriation of a Jack Daniels bottle as a part of their culture. The Cuna’s adoption of these emblems accords with Ballard’s redemptive mimesis, where personalized myths explore this ‘other’ and connect it to the individual psyche.


With the vast profusion of images in Western culture, of other cultures and reflections of institutions, wars and corporations, it follows that the personalization necessary to engage with Aristotle’s ‘real’ through mimicry can create fractured selves. Like Ballard’s image of ‘Caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit’; the self in mimesis ‘become[s] the other’. The vomit which smears their mirror, obscuring mimesis, are the reified constructs and ‘seemingly unrelated signifiers’ that make up the media landscape, being cannibalized and regurgitated. These obscure our view of the ‘real’ unless individualized into personal myths.


TAE is littered with layered references, particularly in relation to Surrealist art or media violence, which show a comingling of contradictory elements relating the emotive interior self to its extensions in the world, or representations of the world mimetized. Contrary to Delville’s view that ‘Ballard's oeuvre seems informed by a recognition that no stable representation can result from the jumble of material and ideological elements that constitute contemporary culture.’, Ballard shows how the jumble of contemporary culture can still constitute links to stable representations for the individual; to the ‘real’. This is shown through Ballard’s repetition of certain symbols – the car crash, the pudenda (referencing both female genitalia and shame), ‘Mrs. Kennedy’, Surrealist work – and his use of ‘types’ rather than ‘characters’. Ballard sees redemptive possibility in ‘highly individual and ephemeral’ myths’, not the ‘vast archetypes’ of Jung’. Individual myths accord with Kant’s invocation to use ones own understanding, and the idea of the Cartesian self. Ballard’s use of Surrealist art and media violence, in particular, show the necessity of mimetically understanding the ‘real’ through the self. Surrealist art often mimics the world of interior and exterior as one, while media violence is a false mimic of real violence, separated from the self’s emotions.


Ballard deems media violence ‘more harmful’ than its real counterpart, as it disassociates the observer from the emotions related to the violence, becoming part of the ‘huge entertainment industry’ (an example of ‘cultural constructivism’). This separation leads to death of affect, creating a devalued, unemotional, reality. The Atrocity Exhibition itself, with its grotesque and sadistic images, alongside brutal architecture, weaponry, popular culture and pornography, appears to be the dystopian pinnacle of ‘death of affect’, and Traven its key victim. However, Traven is the closest Ballard comes to a character in TAE, and Dr. Nathan can be read as his self-assessing psyche. Conversely, the ‘sterilized vacuum’ in our glimpses of Catherine Austin, or Karen Novotky, rings with death of affect. Traven’s aim of psychic fulfillment shows Ballard’s optimism. He claims his books ‘affirm a more positive world view’; ‘The characters are finding themselves, which is after all the only definition of real happiness’(Ballard), and what redeems the text.



In most cases, mimicry has two meanings; imitation, and artistic representation. Ballard uses surreal artistic representation, like the Surrealist manner of his prose as well as his many allusions to artworks, to mimic the world of fused interior and exterior. ‘The Eye of Silence’, a piece by Max Ernst that is heavily influenced by Freud’s theory of the subconscious, is alluded to in ‘The University of Death’ chapter of TAE. Artworks can “provide modernity with a possibility to revise or neutralize the domination of nature”, through representation. The painting shows both conscious and unconscious images in the same foreground; a sphinx like woman and calm lake, in what was a dream fragment, take up the same space as the familiar sky behind unfamiliar shapes. ‘The Eye of Silence’ was painted in exile and reflects Ernst’s alienation and dislocation, as a native German, during WW2; it revises the domination of assumed cultural identity, a human construct, as well as reflecting nature. This homelessness is similar to Candide’s or Traven’s, and a part of the globalised, fractured self.

{C}{C}{C}                    Ernst, Max. (German, 1891–1976) The Eye of Silence (1943–44) Oil on canvas


The exterior world of cultural change is represented through Ernst’s alien landscape, Greek references (a fallen civilisation), and drastic juxtapositions of light and dark. Ballard shows both how the ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ comingle in the psyche through allusion to Ernst and other surrealists, as well as through Traven’s creation of an outer world of ‘direct equivalents of the inner world of the psyche’. Ballard does not accord with Freud, for example his own belief in personal histories is contrary to Freud’s readings of dreams. Instead he recontextualizes Freud, mimetising parts of his work through his protagonist’s psyche, such as the therapeutic necessity of reading conscious and subconscious. In the psychoanalysis aspects of Ballard’s work Freudian and Lacanian ideas are used but ‘fail to coalescence…because they are appropriated by individual mythomanes’. They share space with neuroscientific theories that disagree with Freud, as both are symbols of personal myths. As Freudian techniques are particularly associated with advertising, placing his theories as a part of Traven’s consciousness shows their legitimacy once mimetized, as advertising makes up a part of our landscape, and it is a form of Extension.


Ballard called Surrealism ‘a heightened or alternate reality beyond that familiar to our sight and senses’ which creates a ‘calculated submission of the impulses and fantasies of our inner lives to the rigours of space and time…reduced to the essence of their own geometries’. Where the inner world enters the outer, e.g. Traven’s staging of his wife’s death, we mimic the ‘heightened reality’ of our nature, and come closer to Spinoza’s ideal of knowing it ‘directly’. Ballard believed in primitive aspects of our human nature remaining in our psyche, hence his belief in Surrealist art’s ‘redemptive and therapeutic power’ by placing the psyche and its environment in one foreground. Time is ‘eroded’, only geometries remain, as extensions of the physical parallel the mental. Surrealist art’s challenge to ‘instrumental rationality’ erodes the difference between ‘ego and alter’.


For Ernst Bloch, known as the greatest modern utopian thinker, ‘individuals are unfinished, they are animated…utopian longings for fulfillment.’, like the characters and ‘constructs’ of Candide and TAE. Catherine Austin asks Dr. Nathan, who may be both narrator and another form of Traven[2], ‘was my husband a doctor, or a patient?’. Dr Nathan says this question is no longer ‘valid’; The modern self is their own doctor and patient, as only through reliance on personal understanding can they begin to reach the root of the traumatized self. Freud’s theory of transference, where the subject transfers affections on to, and to some extent mimics, the psychoanalyst, is another dimension of this relationship. Traven transfers his obsession with his wife onto the outer world, which he uses in his self-psychoanalysis, while this experience of fracture, through physical and scientific separation, is transferred back onto him. Ballard stated that ‘in all of us there are elements of contradictory…doubles of ourselves’, through mimesis and creation of individual mythomanes, these doubles can begin to be resolved into a single self.


The Ballardian individual must realize that ‘he or she is all he or she has got’; the outer world is best dealt with as a ‘complete fiction’, analysed through ‘the one small node of reality left…inside our heads’. This is the natural, primitive ‘real’ which Aristotle, Taussig and Spinoza refer to, which leads to a direct understanding of nature. Exploring this nature through ‘objects’ representative of the fetishism of the modern state and capitalist reification (e.g. the car, violence as pornography, weapons, war, media idols), using ‘instrumental rationality’ in the works scientifically detached form, undermines capitalist constructivism. Traven’s mimetic representations present capitalist reification and fetishism of the modern state as dystopic, but TAE’s redemptive possibilities lie in Traven’s ‘courage to use [his] own understanding’ to reach psychic fulfillment.


Objective Powerlessness


In Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, mimesis is described as ‘once’ a dominant practice in which one ‘yields to nature’, to the extent that the subject loses itself. To yield to and reflect nature, through itself and in itself, is the movement from attribute to substance. This is due to ‘objective powerlessness’ leading to ‘conceptual and practical imitation of nature in an attempt to master objective dependence’. The realization of fatality as proof of our impotence before nature means nature ‘exert[s] [its] power…through the medium of human consciousness’. They claimed ‘objective powerlessness’ is now repressed in Western history, as it opposes the desire, particularly in Enlightenment science, to dominate nature. After primitive mimesis of nature, came projection through spiritual institutions, which reflected the power of nature by claiming more access to it than the non-denominational (through ritual etc). This, Adorno and Horkheimer assert, transformed mimesis from a dominant presence into a distorted, repressed, and hidden force. As man still has no real mastery over the final fact of nature, fatality, the natural world is still to be understood through the natural in human consciousness due to objective powerlessness. Candide experiences ‘objective powerlessness’, despite lack of fatality, through an objective dependence on structures built around assumed mastery of nature, e.g. his punishment by several governments and religious institutions. Traven’s reliance on scientific processes, which assume power over nature, prevents the redemptive possibilities of his mimesis due to a denial of objective powerlessness in the face of nature. Instead he shows objective powerlessness in the face of science, still relying on his consciousness for understanding, but failing to connect directly with substance due to this barrier of reified constructs. 


(The death drive) ‘plays the role of the transcendental principal, whereas the pleasure principle is only psychological’. If death is the transcendental, it is what brings us to realize our ‘objective powerlessness’ in the face of nature and therefore become closer to our ‘real’ nature, then its absence from both texts shows their inability to truly transcend. Though the mimetic self is attempting understanding of the ‘real’, it is yet to be achieved. ‘The theme of death, which appears to draw together most negative elements of psychological life, can be in itself the most positive element…to the point of affirming repetition… Eros must be repeated, can only be lived through repetition, whereas Thanatos…is that which gives repetition to Eros, that which submits Eros to repetition’. Eros is absent from both texts. TAE makes this apparent through clinically described sex; ‘the act of love became a vector in an applied geometry’. This shows death of affect, which can only be revived through proximity to death – ‘a fertilizing rather than destructive event’ – such as the car crash. Catherine Austin’s body is a ‘bizarre exhibit’; she becomes an ‘obscene masturbatory appliance’.  Cunegonde in Candide is also only used as a transitory ideal. Candide’s interest in her is piqued by violent interruptions to their union, and his initial exile due to it, but he goes off her when her looks fade. The transcendental principle’s absence is evidence of the characters remaining in Spinoza’s second stage, the ‘empirical scientific view’. Ballard’s use of famously assassinated people and their wives, one of the text’s many allusions relating sex and violence, is an affectless mimicry of the Thanatos – Eros cycle using media attributes. This fixation on a hypostatized version of idols in the moment of death mocks their elevation by using scientific detachment, and relating them back to the primitive urge.


Through hypostatization the constructed world assumed dominion over the natural world, an effect of capitalist reification that supposes countries and companies have power over their geography. Events, like the Lisbon earthquake in Candide, where governments and institutions are shown to be powerless at protecting man from nature, challenge this. Car crashes or bombings also question the – widely assumed - fallacy that our safety is assured by machines and systems. Ballard’s references to Ralph Nader allude to his book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. This allusion, alongside descriptions of car crashes, points to the deconstruction of this built up capitalist construct, designed around making the user feel safe, despite the reality. TAE, particularly the chapter ‘Crash!’, present an obsession with car crashes reflecting capitalism’s reified eroticization of technology and cars, but at the same time deconstructing it, physically and metaphorically, into impotent parts. Dr Nathan calls this ‘redefining the elements of space and time in terms of our most potent consumer durable’, but it is acting out the reverse, redefining the car around human, disembodied, experience of space and time. The patients’ obsessions with car crashes display ‘fragments of personal myths fusing with commercial cosmologies’.


Redemption through Mimesis


As we are still in a state of objective powerlessness, yet live in a constructed world of reified concepts and man made environments, the modern self is stuck in mimesis with attributes, like Traven, rather than becoming ‘immersed’ and knowing substance directly. They are rootless, in a liminal space, like trauma victims; ‘traumas mimetized’; causing death of affect. Only through a realization of objective powerlessness – missing from the scientific Traven and Dr Nathan trying to create their environment – can redemption come through an examination of the psyche as receptacle of the ‘real’. Without awareness of objective powerlessness, Traven only mimics attributes, hence not reaching reach psychic fulfillment. Candide’s encounters with objective powerlessness, through natural and man made disaster, lead him to a cultivation of nature as a mimetic cultivation of self in his conclusive focus on tending the garden.


Adorno saw it possible to move forward, past mimesis, to place ‘conceptual’ elements within thought alongside a ‘heterogeneous’ perception of nature, which would offer potentials for the cultivation of the self. Globalisation facilitating connection between differing subjectivities unsettles this idea of the ‘conceptual’ as a connection to our psyches root. Instead, mimesis of multitudinous man made and natural environments and concepts, as understood through the self, reflect an inherently heterogeneous nature. In accordance with Taussig, this mimesis breaks down the barrier between ‘ego’ and ‘alter’. The lack of character in Ballard, instead using ‘types’ and a protagonist with shifting names, point to this fragmentation of the self in modernity as an outcome of this attribute based mimesis, which assumes objective dependence on systems, rather than objective powerlessness. Ballard’s presentation of death of affect in sex and violence shows disconnection between the modern self and natural urges. This is, as Taussig notes, a reaction against the reflections of the power of nature as shown in social structures/constructs who aim to, or assume they can, control it. Mechanised violence, sex and fracture in Ballard and Voltaire are related to wider social structures. Traven’s alternate death becomes ‘the mimetized disasters of Vietnam and the Congo recapitulated in the contours of these broken fenders and radiator assemblies’. This specifies a process of breaking down hypostatized social structures, recapitulating them through the psyche, and showing them as impotent parts far removed from substance. Only with a focus on interior and exterior nature, though awareness of objective powerlessness, can we move past these structures back to a primitive mimetic relationship with the ‘real’. Breaking down these constructs leads to the redemptive possibilities in the initially dystopic elements of The Atrocity Exhibition.


George Trey asks ‘Whether the atrocities of the current century are a sign of immaturity or a function of the very maturation process that Kant so enthusiastically lauds’; ‘if the former is the case…enlightenment must be a basic tenant of any social theory. If the latter is the case, then social theory must cut against the grain that has been constituted by “enlightened thought”’ .


If we take maturation to mean the process towards understanding our psyches, then in Ballard, and Voltaire’s, cases, both statements are true. ‘Maturation’ is possible through a focus on Kant’s invocation, but practices and bodies that have grown up since the Enlightenment also limit it. The scientific method, grown from Enlightenment rationality, led to an ‘eroticising of the intellect’, and death of affect, present in TAE; ‘science is the ultimate pornography…whose main aim is to isolate objects or events from their contexts in time and space’. Simultaneously, the grain that resulted in denying objective powerlessness, through the continued ‘inadvertent packaging of violence and cruelty like attractive commercial products’, continues from the physical extensions of capital, trade and slavery in Candide, to the cacophony of media, and capitalist, symbols in TAE. Separation from disaster through media representations, and the modern reliance on media, allows only a hobbled version of Kant’s invocation; ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding’ (from the information provided). The removal of tragedy from violence, in favour of its use for entertainment, causes ‘responsible T.V’ to be ‘far more dangerous than the most mindless entertainment’, is due to this scientific separation dictated by the scientific method of the Enlightenment.


The Enlightenment focus on ‘sufficient reason’, is mocked in Candide and TAE. The deaths of soldiers and slaves are ‘sufficient reason’ for commodities like ‘chocolate’; violence is separated and claims ‘reason’ as its cause. Ballard insists that ‘there are so many subjects today about which we should not be reasonable’. Candide ignores Pangloss’s ‘reason’ at the end, focusing on his own belief in cultivation. This is the first time Candide thinks for himself in the text, and his attempt to mimetically understand his self and nature through one another is redemptive. The mimetic modern self is fractured, and traumatized, but the ‘optimism’, underlying Ballard and Voltaire’s dystopic fictions, comes from the protagonist’s aims to understand their psyches. Understanding the human self mimetically, personalizing attribute, may, in Spinoza’s ideal, lead to immersion with substance. In the least, a reliance on self-understanding deconstructs the hierarchy Adorno mentions, founded on a false understanding of conquered nature, and holds possibilities for reconnecting the fragmented self. Expansions outward necessitate mimetic understanding of the world to understand attributes, then substance, directly. Traven’s fragmented self is obsessed with the ‘lost symmetry of the blastosphere’ – ‘the primitive precursor of the embryo…the last structure to preserve perfect symmetry’ – this desire incites his mapping of consciousness, and contextualizing of his environment.


Traven’s desire for a mimetic psyche, resembling the butterflies that share its name, is the beginning of a redemptive process. A direct understanding of substance is not yet possible for Traven; scientific rationality and his virtualized environment prevent him understanding objective powerlessness in front of nature. Candide’s reflections of his environment aren’t mimesis; his opinions are always someone else’s so he doesn’t understand through himself. Candide’s final focus on cultivation holds redemptive possibility due to its mimetic reliance on individual understanding, and focus on natural cultivation. This accords with Aristotle’s belief that mimicry is a fundamental expression of our human experience, something we share with nature, which brings us closer to the ‘real’. Only ‘individual mythomanes’ can piece the modern self back together to reconnect to its’ root; these are the redemptive possibilities of the mimetic self; Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology’.



[1] ‘the core identity is Traven’ p36, Ballard, J.G. The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). (London: Fourth Estate, 2006)

[2] ‘reason rationalizes reality for him’ (similar to Traven’s reason based deconstruction of the world) but ‘there are so many subjects today about which we should not be reasonable’ p89, TAE.