“Resurrected from its Own Sewers”: Waste, Landscape, and the Environment in J.G. Ballard's 1960s Climate Fiction

Rachele Dini

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    Set in junkyards, abandoned waysides and disaster zones, J.G. Ballard’s fiction assumes waste to be integral to the (material and symbolic) post-war landscape, and to reveal discomfiting truths about the ecological and social effects of mass production and consumption. Nowhere perhaps is this more evident than in his so-called climate novels, The Drowned World (1962), The Drought (1965), originally published as The Burning World, and The Crystal World (1966)—texts which Ballard himself described as “form[ing] a trilogy.” In their forensic examination of the ecological effects of the Anthropocene era, these texts at least superficially fulfil the task environmental humanist Kate Rigby sees as paramount for eco-critics and writers of speculative fiction alike: that is, they tell the story of our volatile environment in ways that will productively inform our responses to it, and ultimately enable “new ways of being and dwelling.”

    This article explores Ballard’s treatment of anthropogenic waste and material devastation in The Drowned World, The Drought, and The Crystal World, focussing specifically on his novels’ desistance from critiquing industrial modernity, and their exploitation, instead, of the narrative potential of its deleterious effects. I am especially interested in examining the relationship between the three novels, whose strikingly similar storylines approach ecological catastrophe from multiple angles, and in Surrealism’s influence on Ballard’s depictions of anthropogenic waste matter that fuses with the natural environment to create unfamiliar new forms. More broadly, I am interested in examining the ways in which the articulations of waste in these texts anticipate contemporary discussions in discard studies of waste’s productive capacities and “liveliness.”

    © 2019, The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.. The attached document (embargoed until 06/10/2020) is an author produced version of a paper published in ISLE: INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES IN LITERATURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages20
    JournalISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment
    Issue numberisz003
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2019

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