Portrait of the Artist as a Jung Man: Love, Death and Art in J.G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands
William M. Schuyler, Jr.
Just as the present holds perils that you did not face in the past, the future will hold threats from which you are for the moment mercifully exempt. Even now, you must speak and act carefully lest you be noticed and thereby elicit some bizarre act of violence. But J.G. Ballard imagines an even more dangerous future in which your semi-sentient clothing could respond to the emotional turmoil of an angered lover and crush you to death. Or perhaps your psychotropic house, traumatized by the violence of a previous owner, will try to suffocate you. Such incidents are commonplace, even trifling, in the desert resort called Vermilion Sands.
Authors are free to imagine any kind of future they wish, but Ballard's futures (and pasts) are so lurid, so bizarre -- words he himself has used to characterize the effects he seeks (Preface, Vermilion Sands, 7) -- that they urge a kind of scrutiny different from the ones critics, even science fiction critics, usually apply. Ballard himself has provided some clues in interviews and nonfiction that suggest a productive approach. It is time to take him at his word and see where they lead. (1)
There is a system of symbols which Ballard has been using and developing since very early in his career. David Pringle wrote a pioneering study of it which is still very valuable (2) but does not form a single, coherent system. I shall amend his schema to produce a unitary, comprehensive strategy for reading Ballard.
Inner Space. By 1962 Ballard was already saying that the new frontier for science fiction was inner, not outer, space (Guest Editorial, New Worlds; cited in Stableford 281). He was still saying the same thing in only slightly different words in 1975 (“Introduction to Crash”). There is no reason to think he has changed his mind since.
This could be taken figuratively to mean that the subject matter of the field should be psychological. This is right as far as it goes, but Ballard meant something more radical. “Inner space” in his lexicon is not simply the internal landscape of the mind. It is the interface between the internal space of the unconscious mind and that of the external world (“Time, Memory, and Inner Space,” 101).
Most, if not all, of Ballard's fiction is set in this inner space. His stories scrutinize the psychology of their subjects from the inside, but their locale is this interface which is neither quite external nor exactly internal. (3) Inner space in this sense is the space of consciousness; not consciousness itself, but the “place” in which consciousness operates.
Ballard discovered psychoanalysis in adolescence and read everything about it that he could find (“From Shanghai to Shepperton,” (4) 114-15 ), so it is there that we should turn for enlightenment as to what he means by “consciousness.” But which version of psychoanalysis did Ballard use? Even in the rare cases where two psychoanalytic systems agree on the meaning of a term, it fits into different places in the different systems. Moreover, different psychoanalytic systems generally assign differing significance to any given symbol. Of course, Ballard might have mixed parts of several systems. This is how Pringle reads him (e.g., Earth is the Alien Planet, 49-50).
Ballard has specifically mentioned Freud and Jung as influencing him (“From Shanghai,” 114-15), so we should look to them before casting our net any wider. We should also seek to find and justify a consistent interpretation in terms of one theory before retreating to the position that Ballard created a mix of his own. Such an interpretation is at hand, and it is Jungian.
Case histories. Ballard has spoken well of Jung, albeit in an oblique way, as “a great imaginative novelist” (“From Shanghai” 115). This is the key to justifying a Jungian interpretation of his fiction, but we must find the lock it fits. We will discover it in what Ballard says about his own writing.
In an interview with Graeme Revell, Ballard said that
In response to Revell's remark that this is a Jungian idea, Ballard agrees and elaborates:
Ballard contrasts his own concern for the future with the concern of psychoanalysis for the past. Classical legends, he says, are useful tools for psychoanalysis because they are concerned with origins, and psychoanalysis is concerned with the origins of the crisis which brings the patient to the psychiatrist. Ballard, however, wishes to have predictive myths; myths that can be used to guide us through our future (Revell 42).
This is not really an obstacle to a Jungian interpretation of Ballard. The classical legends used by Jungians deal not only with origins but also with such matters as rites of passage, coping with dangerous situations, and developing a general plan for one's life. In general, a theory that can be used to explain can be used to predict, and Jungian theory could use legends to predict outcomes for patients.
Even if we do not allow Jungian analysis full status as a theory, it must surely be counted as a valuable heuristic device. Now, Jung says of one of his patients who was reluctant to give up a transference to him (but did so by falling in love with a suitable man), “I saw how the transpersonal control-point [i.e., the new focus of her affections] developed... a guiding function... how... it gained influence over the resisting conscious mind without the patient's consciously noticing what was happening” (“Relating between the Ego and the Unconscious” 79). Here we see in Jung that the predictive function, in which Ballard is interested, would be in close accord with Ballard's conception of an individual private mythology, and Ballard thinks of his own stories as case histories of a sort.
Relating the form of his fiction to general principles, Ballard says
If we look now at Jungian case histories, (5) we see that they are valuable because we can recognize that the patient's predicament is similar to our own and consider whether a similar solution would work for us. This is just what Ballard proposes that we should do with his “case histories” (“Interview with JGB” 45). Ballard and Jung are not dealing with different material; they differ rather in how they use the material on which both of them draw, and the difference is a matter of degree, not of kind.
It is in this sense, the sense in which Ballard regards his own novels as case histories, that he can also regard Jung, the author of case histories, as a novelist. They are engaged in the same enterprise. And one can hardly deny the vigor of Jung's imagination, given the ingenuity he showed in fitting the most mundane events and dreams into the heroic mold of mythology.
The symbols clang. If we look at Pringle's analysis of Ballard's symbols, the influence of Jung on the internal structure of his fiction is too striking to ignore.
Pringle has identified a four-fold symbolism in Ballard's landscapes. Oceans, concrete surfaces, deserts, and crystals all occur with near obsessive frequency. Water represents the past, and also symbolizes the unconscious organic world and the state of man before the Fall (18, 21). Concrete represents the present: it is the city with its technology cutting our roots in life but giving us the freedom of consciousness to compensate for the loss of innocence (26-28). Sand represents the future, dissipation of life force and loss of meaning (21-22). Crystal symbolizes eternity, transfiguration and transcendence (32, 35).
This is an astute analysis. There is no question that it is right as far as it goes. That the symbolism is four-fold urges a Jungian interpretation, since Jungian theory distinguishes four stages of life (Jung, “The Stages of Life,” The Portable Jung, 3-22), but the correspondence between the symbols and the stages of life is not a simple one-to-one relation. Let us seek out more subtle connections.
Briefly, the Jungian view of a successful journey through life is this:
1. Consciousness appears in children when they start making connections. At this stage, there are no problems, no conflicts within the individual. Children may be subject to external limitations, but they are not at odds with themselves. Only gradually do they come to think of themselves in the first person. This is linked with the development of continuity of memory. This linking and ordering of memories is the first stage in the development of the Ego. However, the child is still acting from instinct, on impulse (“Stages” 6-8).
2. The second stage stretches from puberty to the age of thirty-five or forty. During this period, the Ego is forced by external circumstances or internal conflict or both to recognize that it cannot always get everything it wants. This is what problems are. Eventually the Ego learns to settle for what is attainable, but this is at best a temporary solution. Something is lost when choices are made; some needs are not satisfied. In order to cope with conflict caused by unmet needs, the Ego suppresses those parts of itself which make the demands it cannot satisfy. But the part of the Ego which lost out on those choices cannot be suppressed permanently. Those needs must still be met (“Stages” 8-14).
3. The effort to keep what was suppressed under control eventually leads to a midlife crisis. The needs on which the Ego has focused have been met; more of the same is less and less satisfying. At the same time, the needs which have been denied and suppressed become more urgent from long neglect. The result is depression and anomie. By this time, however, the Ego should be strong enough and clever enough to deal with the forces of the Unconscious. It is therefore ready to undertake the dangerous but necessary task of reestablishing contact with the Self, which is anchored in the Unconscious. In order to get through the crisis, the Ego must recover from the Unconscious what was suppressed and fulfill the unmet needs. If it does so successfully, it will reunite with the Self (“Stages” 13-18).
4. One never fully and finally solves any problem. Yet no one lives forever, and so the last task the Ego faces is to learn to accept death with equanimity. This is no easy matter, but those who succeed reach transcendence (“Stages” 18-22).
Of course, not all journeys through life are successful. We naturally prefer the devil we know to the unknown, so some people may never summon the courage to make changes in themselves. Even a successful journey may require more than one attempt to conquer the various obstacles which Consciousness must overcome (“Stages” 11, 13, 20).
Ballard has crafted his stories so that, taken as a group, they follow this pattern from beginning to end. He is concerned with problems, so he has little to say about childhood because children do not have problems in the Jungian sense. (Empire of the Sun is the exception that proves the rule.) This is the first stage.
In symbolic terms, Consciousness begins when it pulls itself out of the ocean of the Unconscious (cf. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, “Ocean”). The Ego paves over the Unconscious with concrete (Concrete Island, Highrise [sic]) -- what better way could there be to suppress those parts of itself which it cannot satisfy? But when it is done, it finds itself in a desert devoid of life-giving water, an environment which represents anomie (Vermilion Sands). This state, along with the midlife crisis that ends it, is the second stage (cf. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of International Symbols, “Desert”).
To prosper, the Ego must return to the Source, i.e., the Self. This means that it must reimmerse itself in the watery depths of the Unconscious (The Drowned World, The Day of Creation), even though there are great perils to be met on the way (Cooper, “Waters”). Not surprisingly, it may hesitate before taking the plunge; hence the many stories set on beaches, which are boundaries between desert and water. (6) If it persists and succeeds, it will find the Self and embark on a new course in the second half of life. This is Jung's third stage.
At last, however, the end approaches. Facing death is the most difficult task Consciousness must undertake. Perhaps it is too much to ask. That is doubtless why so many seek transcendence, which is represented by crystal (Cooper, “Crystal”), rather than resigning themselves to extinction (The Crystal World). This is the fourth stage.
The point here is that in Jungian theory the symbols Pringle identifies are given exactly the meaning that Pringle assigns to them. That Pringle apparently did not have Jungian theory in mind when he made his analysis makes the correspondence all the more striking. However, the correspondence goes much farther than that.
The desert environment. Ballard has taken the Jungian archetype of the Ocean, the source of life and the container of all potential, as the backdrop against which his Archetypal characters interact. In Vermilion Sands, the ocean has dried up: there is no more potential. All that is left is the sand of the ocean bed, which is symbolic of loss of meaning (e.g., in “The Screen Game,” Vermilion Sands, 49). It is no longer necessary for the residents of Vermilion Sands to cap the Ocean of the Unconscious with an impermeable layer of concrete to protect their Consciousness from the terrible forces which dwelt below and threatened to overwhelm their hard won and precariously maintained humanity. Those forces died with the Ocean. (7)
Although we couldn't live with the Ocean, we can't live without it either. We cannot abide the desert of Vermilion Sands, yet it holds the key to our survival. Quartz, a crystalline substance and therefore a symbol of transcendence for Ballard, crops up everywhere; in dreams the Jungian Self is frequently represented by something inorganic, most often a rounded stone or a crystal (von Franz 221). The escape from the extinction of the Ego that faces those who arrive at Vermilion Sands is by way of a rite of passage, in which the Ego accepts the Self in its entirety. It transcends meaninglessness by getting back in touch with the Unconscious, the source of all meaning. How this is done will become clear from the discussion of the significance of Ballard's character types and what they do in the stories.
Who are these people, and why are they acting this way? Pringle has given a helpful analysis of recurring character types in Ballard's work, but it fails to make some important distinctions among similar types. Pringle identifies one type, which he calls “the king,” as a personification of the Freudian Ego, and another, which he calls “the jester,” as a personification of the Freudian Id. On this reading, they are seeking individuation, which the protagonist must prevent if he is to survive (49). In Ballard's personal symbolism, they have respectively the characteristics of Prospero and of Caliban (or rarely, Ariel) (44-49). A third type, called by Pringle “the lamia” because a Ballard protagonist so labeled one of them, is identified as a warped Miranda, as a personification of the negative aspect of the Jungian Anima (40-43,49). Curiously, although Ballard's protagonists are also examples of a recurring type, they are treated as whole persons, not as facets of persons.
Pringle is on to something here, but this mixture of theories leads to confusion. It is methodologically sounder to separate the Freudian and Jungian approaches, and then to see how each can reveal patterns in Ballard's writing. Ballard is more uniform in his symbolism than Pringle sees. The Jungian pattern is especially fruitful in interpreting Ballard, so I shall limit myself to a Jungian approach.
From the Jungian point of view, each recurring character type will represent an aspect of the Self. The narrator will be a personification of the Ego; but it will be the Jungian Ego, which is something quite different from the Freudian Ego. The latter must be prevented from individuating if the person is to remain whole, but separation from the Self is the task of the Jungian Ego for the first half of life and absolutely necessary in Jungian theory for the development of the individual Psyche (Edinger 5-7). The king, the jester and the lamia will represent Archetypes which are especially significant to the Self. The king is often a hero, and the jester is often the Shadow; although in both cases Pringle has included other kinds of figures under a single rubric. Moreover, Pringle has lumped together in the malevolent lamia several distinct Archetypal figures, some of which are helpful.
In Greek mythology, a lamia was a ghost that hungered for the lifeblood of the living. That is an accurate figurative description of what the true lamia-figures in Ballard want. But a personification of the negative aspect of the Anima can also be a Moon-figure, which may be malevolent but is not the same thing as a lamia. We have, for example, Lunora Goalen in “The Singing Statues.” And we have Hope Cunard in “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!”, “a tall, narrow-hipped woman with blonde hair so pale she immediately reminded me of the Ancient Mariner's Nightmare Life-in-Death” (Vermilion Sands, 93). She is hunting for something in her white sand-schooner, with her pack of white sand-rays to seek out her prey (94). It is not likely that Hope's resemblance to Diana the Huntress is a matter of chance.
The Moon, however, is itself a symbol for the Great Mother (Cooper, “Moon”). It is on this conception that the full import of these powerful and enigmatic female figures is clearest. The Great Mother is both Mother and Lover and can appear in each role in either beneficent or maleficent form, leaving open all kinds of options. Note that a single character can personify several Archetypes at once, as when Diana represents the Anima in “Cry Hope,” where she is also symbolically a Miranda and a bereft lover of the Flying Dutchman. This does not contravene Jungian theory.
When she is a negative aspect of the Anima, the female character in the Vermilion Sands stories is narcissistic, quite mad and very dangerous. This is not out of any particular malice toward anyone present, for she is barely aware of the external world, but because of a compulsion to reenact her own traumatic past. Not all instances of this type are alike. They can and do have very different motivations, depending on which facet of the Great Mother they personify. We can distinguish among them by considering which figure from Greek mythology each embodies. Leonora Chanel, who was portrayed as Medea (“The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D,” Vermilion Sands 22) personifies the devouring aspect of the Mother. She is a lamia. Hope Cunard, who is clearly Diana, is the baleful side of the Lover. She is malevolent but not devouring, not a lamia. It is not naive to attribute to them different reasons for being hostile.
The other major female type is certainly peculiar, but she lives in the present and she takes forceful action where things are not to her liking. Jane Ciracylides in “Prima Belladonna” and Aurora Day in “Studio 5, The Stars” are examples of this class. This type is a personification of a positive aspect of the Anima, despite what often appears to be hostile and malevolent behavior. Different versions of her also personify various figures from Greek and Roman mythology, especially Venus, who has positive and negative aspects of her own.
Once the female characters are seen in this light, as one or another aspect of the Archetype of the Great Mother, the roles of the jester and the king fall neatly into place. The paradigmatic jester personifies the Shadow: the Archetype which represents everything that the Ego finds unacceptable in the Self (although, as noted, figures identified as jesters by Pringle can also turn out to be something else). The Shadow may include positive as well as negative qualities (Jung, “Aion,” The Portable Jung, 145 ). In Ballard, the jester is often a dwarf, such as Petit Manuel in “Cloud Sculptors of Coral D.” A dwarf symbolizes the amoral and unconscious forces of nature (Cooper, “Dwarf”), which makes such figures apt symbols for the Shadow. Until the Ego can accept the Shadow, which it represses, the urges and energies it incorporates will always threaten to break loose and do what would be, from the Ego's point of view, appalling damage (Jung, “Aion” 141-148). Like the lamia, the jester can often be more precisely identified, personifying the Shadow while also taking the specific forms of other Archetypes in different stories. In “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!” he is Caliban (104).
The king is usually an ameliorating factor in Ballard's stories, lending the narrator a helping hand. Pringle has combined in this single category several distinct, though related, Archetypes. When the king dies, as he frequently does in Ballard's stories, it often seems to be the result of his own willfulness. And so it is, for in those stories he personifies the Hero. The Hero is a Projection which is endowed with vast powers so that he can accomplish a task which the Ego needs to carry out but does not feel it has the strength to perform. The Hero, however, is beset by the sin of hubris; he always goes too far, bringing about his own death or downfall. There are several different types of Hero, corresponding to the different tasks which are required of the Ego at different stages in its Individuation (von Franz 114,101-103).
At other times the king appears as the Sun Father, a version of the Wise Old Man, representing the Self and favoring Consciousness. In this role, his purpose is to help the Ego through a rite of passage (von Franz,120-125, 208). As Jason Kaiser in “Say Goodbye to the Wind,” he saves Samson, the narrator, from the fate planned for him by Raine Channing, although he, Jason, had helped her set it up.
Pringle recognizes that the king can also be a sinister figure (46). An example of this type is Dr. Gruber in “The Screen Game.” As we shall see, Dr. Gruber personifies the Archetype of an actual king, not just a metaphorical one, as well as the Archetype of the Self.
The Self can also appear in other guises not related to Pringle's kings. Sometimes it appears in a role in which it will be almost unnoticed. The Ship and the Chariot, which in the form of sand yachts or limousines bear the female characters which we know to be personifications of the Anima, pervade Ballard's writing. These vehicles have crewmen or chauffeurs to operate them. When the charioteer is driving for someone other than himself, he symbolizes the Self (Cirlot, “Chariot”), and so do these operators of modem conveyances. They appear in six of the nine Vermilion Sands stories.
But according to Pringle, the jester frequently appears as a chauffeur (45). Here again he is conflating two distinct character types, in this case the Shadow and the Self. The mistake is a natural one. The Shadow is regarded negatively by the Ego; it is often personified as a dwarf or a troglodyte. Foyle, the Shadow in “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!”, is characterized by the narrator as being both like Caliban and like a faun (104). In the Vermilion Sands stories, the chauffeurs when they are described at all are crippled or faun-like; in the one case where a chauffeur gets a specific archetypal identity, he is personified as Pan (“Studio 5, The Stars,” Vermilion Sands, 147, 180).
Thus it is plausible to suggest that these are all instances of the same type, but the resemblance is only superficial. Pan has his base features, which are expressed in his hairy goat legs; but he also has horns, which signify the rays of the Sun, the emblem of Consciousness (Cirlot, “Pan”). That makes Pan (which means “all” in Greek) an excellent symbol for the Self, which includes both the Ego and the Unconscious. Representations of the Self must depict parts of the Unconscious which the Ego doesn't like, including the Shadow, so it is natural that a representation of the Self would look a lot like the Shadow to the unwary observer. The way to avoid error is to look at the part which the puzzling figure plays. The role of the Shadow is very different from the role of the Self. The chauffeurs clearly play roles appropriate to the Self.
I apologize to the patient reader for what may seem an extravagance of theory. It was necessary in order to lay out the system I propose and to distinguish it from that of Pringle. Once the distinction is made, though, the result is remarkably productive. Indeed, it is so fruitful that I must limit myself to a discussion of just one aspect of Ballard's four-fold symbolism and to just a few of the stories that deal with it. The Vermilion Sands stories suit my purpose very well, and I shall confine myself to them.
In what follows I can do no more than sketch the bare outlines of Ballard's luxuriant symbolic structure. In addition to figures borrowed from classical mythology, Shakespeare, Coleridge and Melville (cf. Pringle 6), there are also figures which do not fit any of the larger schemes I discuss. Emerelda Garland in “The Screen Game” and Hope Cunard in “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!” seem to be personifications of Ballard's impression of Emerald Cunard, an actual person. Why the latter should have seemed to Ballard to be a suitable guide for an Archetype I cannot say. Perhaps the associations of the names with crystals and ships gave reason enough to particularize archetypes with her unique attributes. (8) However, it is the universal significance of the symbols, rather than the personalized form which Ballard gives to them, which is significant for my points about Jungian symbolism here. (9)
Art and design. Ballard uses creativity in the arts in these stories as a metaphor for the vitality of the Ego. A pattern emerges as the stories are read in the order they have been placed. The connection with the creative impulse is one of the things that must be abandoned by the Ego in its battle for individuation. As a result, it is cut off from the Ocean, the Archetypal symbol of the source of creativity. In the concrete images of the stories, artistic inspiration will soon be figuratively as dried up as the literally desiccated ocean bed which is the site of the town of Vermilion Sands. The arts are in trouble in Vermilion Sands, and that is symbolic of the crisis of the Ego, which is unable to solve its problems. Into this setting come various powerful women, some hostile, some benevolent. They are Anima-figures who are there to catalyze change. If the Ego can survive their attentions and cope with their challenges, it can rediscover the creative powers of the Self.
Personifications of the Anima are always associated with the arts in Vermilion Sands stories. Leonora Chanel patronizes the cloud sculptors of Coral D. Jane Ciracylides is a singer. Emerelda Garland is a deranged actress. Lunora Goalen, a narcissist who falls in love with the image of her that is reflected in the music of a sonic sculpture, was an actress and is a patron of the arts. Hope Cunard is the victim of a portrait of her done in photo-sensitive pigments. In “Venus Smiles,” Lorraine Drexel visits her indestructible singing sculpture on the unsuspecting community. Raine Channing, a former model, tries to kill the owner of a bio-fabric fashion boutique. Aurora Day tries to arrange the death of a poet. The late Gloria Tremayne in “The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista” was one of the great movie stars of her day. Each of the Anima-figures comes to do something about the arts, and by extension about the Ego. We should not assume their benevolence.
The stories. The stage is set in “The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D.” The narrator, a Major Parker, is an injured aviator who is no longer able to fly. He comes to Vermilion Sands to recuperate and begins building kites. But the kites develop cockpits; they evolve into gliders. He and his creations are discovered by Nolan and Petit Manuel, an artist and a crippled dwarf. They begin to fly the gliders, and more; they carve the clouds with silver iodide (11-12).
Although cloud-sculpture is an ephemeral act, it is still suitable for celebrating Leonora Chanel, an enormously wealthy and narcissistic widow whose husband died in mysterious circumstances (18). She loathes Nolan because he rejected her. Nevertheless, she commissions the cloud-sculptors to do portraits of her (20-22). The method in her madness becomes apparent when she coerces them into flying into a thunderstorm. She seems determined that yet another man will die for her -- preferably Nolan, but Petit Manuel will do. Petit Manuel goes up, his glider is destroyed, and he falls to his death. Nolan, enraged, goes up and shapes the storm into a weapon that seeks out and kills Leonora Chanel. No trace of Nolan is ever found, although there is some reason to think he survived. Leonora Chanel's scatterbrained secretary moves in with the narrator (26-30).
The Ego as embodied in the narrator recognizes Chanel as extremely dangerous. It sees her as a personification of the Great Mother, but solely in her devouring aspect, which seeks to destroy (by killing the Ego) the Consciousness which the Ego has achieved, in order to restore the original unity. The Ego would like to split off this threatening part of the Anima and eliminate it while keeping the nurturing part. Chanel's narcissism, signifying alienation from part of herself, is the symptom of this attempt at division.
The narrator, Major Parker, is so reticent about himself that the characteristics of the Ego cannot be discerned by scrutinizing him. Instead, we must infer them from the traits of other individuals in the story.
We note that it is Nolan who contended with the Great Mother. This means that Nolan is a Hero; a figure projected by the Ego as a stand-in to help it individuate itself. Hero-figures have the qualities of the Ego, but in exaggerated degree so that they will be strong enough to fight the battles that the Ego feels it is not strong enough to win. Hence we can infer the Ego's character and problems from Nolan's.
Nolan has rejected the Great Mother, which is to say that the Ego has separated itself from the Collective Unconscious and no longer acts solely by instinct. This we learn from the revelation of the savage portrait he once painted (not a cloud-sculpture) of Leonora Chanel as a dead Medea (22): the mother as murderess of her children, but dead; killed symbolically by the Hero. Now he must actually do battle with her or be destroyed.
Petit Manuel is the alter-ego of Nolan, and therefore of the narrator, so Petit Manuel is the Shadow of the narrator. But Petit Manuel is smitten with Her. Love for the Mother which the Ego cannot accept in itself wells up in the Shadow. Petit Manuel is sent to his death; but if the Ego cannot accept in itself what Petit Manuel represents, neither will it deny it: through its proxy Nolan, it manipulates the storm winds to avenge the death of Petit Manuel on Her who brought it about. No trace of Nolan is ever found because Heros always leave the scene when they have played out their parts.
The deaths of Petit Manuel and Leonora Chanel represent the separation of the Ego and its repression of the material by which it creates the Shadow and the individual part of the Anima. With the help of the Hero, the Ego has achieved autonomy. But the cost has been terrible. The narrator, personifying the Ego, is a disabled pilot. He cannot fly the gliders he creates for the cloud-sculptors, but Petit Manuel, personifying his Shadow, is the best of the pilots. Thus the cost of autonomy for the Ego is what it loves most. No wonder the narrator is depressed and alienated, information which we get indirectly by examining the behavior of his projection, the Hero, who is a model of the Ego enhanced in strength though not in qualities. Petit Manuel has gusto, openness and the capacity for love. The Ego needs what the Shadow has, but all that had to be sacrificed if the Ego was to succeed in individuating itself.
This is the only story in the group in which water (clouds, rain) appears in nature. After Individuation, the creative juices dry up. That is another part of the price that the Ego must pay for Individuation. It cuts itself off from the Anima, which is its connection to the source of creativity. Still, the situation is not hopeless. Even though there isn't much to her, the secretary personifies a positive aspect of the Anima. It is encouraging that the Ego still feels there is one. Perhaps one day it will be strong enough to get back in touch.
Music is a constant presence in these stories, and nowhere more so than in the earliest of them “Prima Belladonna.” Here, it is not only heard, it has optical effects. Jane Ciracylides is a singer, human perhaps, but with a heavy dose of mutant in her background. One of her first acts is to project sonically an illusion of an emperor scorpion to discomfit some men who annoy her. She is an exotic beauty with gold-patina skin and eyes like insects. Even if she weren't, her singing casts an irresistible glamor over her for almost all who hear her (Vermilion Sands, 31-33,38).
Great singers and exotic orchids both have the reputation of being highly temperamental. Consider in this light the Khan-Arachnid orchid: from a wild progenitor which emitted a few random frequencies to attract (perhaps hypnotize) the spiders which are its symbiotes, it has been inbred and hybridized until its vocal range is a full 24 octaves. (10) A more vicious-tempered creature never lived. Its owner, Steve Parker, is a florist whose shop specializes in singing plants, but the Arachnid is so-filled with rage that it refuses to sing. Parker can use it only to tune his other plants: that much it can be forced to do by controlling the chemicals in its water and the atmosphere in its case (34-37).
In her own way, Jane is every bit as fierce as the orchid. She cannot bear to lose; she cheats at games as a matter of principle (44). Each instantly recognizes the other as a competitor; each instantly feels a deadly antipathy toward the other. The inevitable result is a vocal duel between Jane and the orchid. Although the narrator tries to stop it, the orchid suffers fatal disease and dies soon afterward (45-46).11
Here Jane did not cheat. She gave the orchid what it needed to use its vocal powers to the fullest, and she used her own to sing it down. Even though she had to destroy it, it was a worthy opponent and a kindred spirit whose pride and power deserved her respect.
On the surface, Jane Ciracylides simply recognizes the singing plants, especially the orchids, as things that will destroy her livelihood if she doesn't fight. Under the surface there is more; more even than that the singing plants will eventually displace not just her but all singers and musicians. The orchid personifies the Great Mother in her devouring aspect, a point which is made by the detail that the orchid is pollinated by spiders, which symbolize the Great Mother (Cooper, “Spider”). Jane has golden skin, and she literally glows at the height of her duel with the orchid. On the Archetypal level, she is Venus, the morning star, a precursor of the Sun (Cooper, “Planets”) which symbolizes Consciousness. In this capacity, she is an aspect of the Anima mobilized to resist attacks by the devouring Mother.
The Ego, personified here in Steve Parker, is a baffled observer of a conflict it does not understand. Symbolically, the building in which he lives represents the psyche with its different levels (Cooper, “House”). (12) The bare, airy lodgings upstairs are the domain of Consciousness. The shop downstairs, crowded, noisy and filled with life, is the Unconscious -- where all the real business takes place.
Now we can see the true significance of Jane's cheating at cards. It takes place upstairs, in the realm of the Ego, which thinks it makes the rules. But Jane represents unconscious forces, so she plays by the real rules, which are the rules of the Unconscious. The rules that Consciousness would like to enforce are no more than wishful thinking. Despite everything, The Ego is reluctant to give up the Great Mother, even if she is dangerous. Hasn't it got her safely secured in a case? But it must get rid of her completely in order to be solidly individuated, because she could break out, as she does in the duel with Jane. The Ego does not believe it can get along without the Great Mother (it is needed to tune the other flowers) until Jane shows it otherwise (by tuning them herself ).
The Ego can (and does, in the story) live with the positive aspect of the Anima. It does not understand that the negative part is inseparable from the positive. Unable to recognize this, it makes inevitable a confrontation that will deprive it of both and damage the Anima. Still, there is cause for cautious optimism. The Ego has come to realize that the positive aspect of the Anima can be a strong character in her own right without threatening its autonomy.
The narrator of “The Screen Game,” Paul Golding, is a painter whose inspiration has left him. On the scene appears Charles Van Stratten. He is pleasant, insipid, very rich, and given to patronizing the arts since he himself is not creative (49-50). He hires Paul to do the scenery for a movie he is producing, a reinterpretation of the Orpheus and Eurydice theme, directed by Orson Kanin, a raffish near-genius who has already done a notorious version in which Orpheus deliberately looked back because he wanted to get rid of Eurydice (54-55).
Van Stratten has an ulterior motive. He loves Emerelda Garland, a young actress who believes she murdered his mother. Ever since the mysterious death of the old lady, Emerelda has lived in seclusion under the care of a Dr. Gruber. Van Stratten believes that she can be lured out of hiding to take part in the film and thus be cured. He sees himself as a modern day Orpheus, despite the fact that his only connection with music is that his sonic sculptures react to his presence (60-64).
It almost works. Emerelda is enticed out of the house, accompanied by her jeweled insects, to make her way through a shifting labyrinth of screens which were painted by Golding. But Van Stratten at last grows impatient and accosts her, not by approaching through the labyrinth but by knocking the screens aside. The jeweled insects react to her panic and attack him, finally stinging him to death (69-71).
The narrator, Paul Golding, personifies the Ego. Van Stratten is the Hero whose task is to achieve what the Ego does not think it is able to do. Kanin functions as the Hero's shadow. Van Stratten doesn't make a very good Hero, despite his determination to play Orpheus, but we do get a better idea of what the Ego is really like by looking at him. Likewise, we get a better idea of what the Ego's Shadow is really like by examining Kanin. When we do, we see that the Ego does not have what it takes to be a good painter, and that its Shadow, although somewhat dissolute, is not so bad after all. If the Ego could accept the Shadow, it could tap into the creative energy that we see in Kanin while providing the discipline that the Shadow needs. But it can't do that yet.
Dr. Gruber is a sinister and mysterious figure, but his Archetypal identity is clear. He is Hades, lord and eponym of the Greek Underworld, who holds Eurydice, i.e., Emerelda, in thrall (64). Van Stratten's failure as an Orpheus-figure is foreshadowed when he comes upon Emerelda and Dr. Gruber in the labyrinth and fails to persuade Gruber to release Emerelda. Similarly, Golding who falls in love with Emerelda himself, cannot face Dr. Gruber when the chips are down. But Hades is only the veneer over Dr. Gruber's deeper significance. He personifies the Self, which is sovereign over the underworld of the Unconscious and which neither Van Stratten or Golding is able to face (63, 68).
Van Stratten does have the sense to know that he is going to need help and enlist Kanin for that duty. But he lets Kanin wander off and tries to do the job himself. Kanin, with a better understanding of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, would probably have had the sense to prevent Van Stratten from making the fatal error of knocking over the screens -- the analogue of looking back at Eurydice. Quite apart from that, Van Stratten should have seen the deadly flaw in his plan. He proposed to coax Emerelda out of the Underworld and into a labyrinth, expecting to be able to find her at its heart and carry her away. He should have remembered that what dwells in the heart of a labyrinth is a monster.
Kanin, the personification of the Shadow, knew this. That is why in his film Orpheus feared and hated Eurydice, the personification of his Anima, and in the end deliberately looked back. Kanin's Orpheus saw something dead in Eurydice: the devouring Mother from whom he had individuated himself at such cost by symbolically killing her. Kanin's Orpheus lost his nerve; he could not cope with the devouring Mother being part of the Anima, so he rejected it altogether.
Thus the death of Orpheus at the hands of the Maenads many years later was not a separate incident. The Maenads, who are represented in “The Screen Game” by the jeweled insects, were something in his Anima, in his Self, which he could never accept. So when he needed it, he couldn't get to it, and he died for the lack of it.
The position of Golding, the Ego, can be inferred from that of his projection, Van Stratten. Individuation has taken place. His mother, the Great Mother in her devouring aspect, is dead: the negative Anima has been conquered. His task now is to get in touch with his Anima, personified in Emerelda. But he can accept only the “good” aspect of the Anima. He fears the jeweled insects, which represent the “bad” aspect of the Anima, and kills them when he gets a chance. Since the Anima is the channel of communication between the Ego and the Self, inability to cope with the knowledge that coming to terms with the Anima brings with it means inability to face the Self in the form of Dr. Gruber. The attempt to rescue Emerelda in these circumstances was bound to end in failure or disaster as it did. The Anima must be taken as a whole or not at all. Nevertheless, this is progress. The Ego is on the right track in attempting to descend into the underworld of the Unconscious, even if it is disastrously confused about how to go about it and loses its nerve.
In “Prima Belladonna,” an aspect of the positive Anima was summoned to suppress an aspect of the negative Anima. That has been recapitulated here: Emerelda, personifying the Lover aspect of the Great Mother, killed Van Stratten's mother, who personified the devouring Mother. In this conflict the Ego is trying to split the Anima into “good” and “bad” parts, discarding the “bad” part. This tactic will not work, because the Lover has negative as well as positive guises, just as the Mother has positive as well as negative guises. The fragmented Anima is left damaged and dysfunctional, a state symbolized by the madness of Emerelda. The damaged Anima is still a danger, symbolized by the poisonous jeweled insects, so the Ego is not yet secure. If it tries to approach the Anima, it will find out the hard way. There is only one way to safeguard its autonomy. It must split off from itself and suppress the part that knows how to communicate with the Anima and the Shadow. In other words, Van Stratten must be sacrificed.
This is a terrible loss. (The insects are jeweled.) Even so, there has been progress toward individuation. In “Cloud Sculptors,” Major Parker was still trying to stabilize his autonomy. In “Prima Belladonna.” Steve Parker was not strong enough to give up the devouring Mother. This time the separation is completed, even if the Ego can't live with the knowledge of what it has done.
Sonic sculptures are commonplace in Vermilion Sands. Sonic cores have gone to seed in the desert, where they grow wild in their odd metallic way, making peculiar noises. The noises they make are partly emotional responses to the sonic profiles of nearby objects. Sculptors harvest them to incorporate in their work, into which they can be wired so as to respond emotionally to people nearby in very specific and complex ways. For this task, the artist needs a good working knowledge of neurophonics as well as an intuitive sense of what a given core can be made to do (“The Singing Statues,” Vermilion Sands, 88,79). This may seem like gibberish, but it makes perfectly good sense as applied Surrealist technology.
What sonic sculptures do is externalize the internal emotional responses of the characters in the story (e.g., “Singing” 77). Thus Ballard has used the visual arts as agents to reveal what is hidden in the mind on yet another scale. As we have seen, he used them to provide the scenery for and the form of an overall Jungian framework in Vermilion Sands for the book taken as a whole. Then he used formal devices borrowed from the visual arts to shape the individual stories within the book as conflicts within a Self played out in inner space. Now he uses the visual arts within the stories to give overt expression to emotions internal to the Archetypal characters.
Lunora Goalen is a former movie star. Before a terrible accident, she was pretty enough; but after her face was rebuilt, her very flaws made her irresistibly fascinating. Now she is a patron of the arts. She is especially interested in sonic sculpture (“The Singing Statues” 76-77).
She arrives at a gallery in Vermilion Sands, where Milton, the narrator, is working inside one of his sonic sculptures. Milton is not very good at neurophonics, so his sculptures have a very limited range of responses. Lunora Goalen demands something more. He improvises: as she approaches, he croons the “Creole Love Call” into the testing microphone; it will be so distorted by the circuits that his ruse won't be detected. She is taken, she is taken in, she buys it (78-81).
The eruption of Krakatoa was nothing compared to what happens when the sculpture won't sing love songs after it is delivered to her. Milton hastily makes a tape of suitable music which he slips into the sculpture under the pretense of repairing it. Ironically, he falls in love with her. He seeks pretexts to make further repairs; he sneaks in to make unauthorized substitutions for the tape. He watches her while she sleeps in front of the sculpture, but he is no prince to wake a sleeping beauty (83-85).
At last, he decides to reveal himself. He makes a tape of his own voice confessing his hoax and declaring his love for her. He is prevented from inserting it by her secretary. The latter reveals that her employer is in love -- not with him, not with the sculpture, but with herself. Not long after, they leave (85-88).
Milton is the personification of Ego in this story. The limited responses of his sonic sculptures, which are projections of him, reveal the Ego's inability to experience a real emotional response. It can fake emotional responses by imitating the outward form of them, which is what Milton makes his sculpture do, but that is all. Milton is obsessed with Lunora Goalen, but he is not capable of loving her.
The narcissistic Lunora Goalen is the damaged Anima, seeking completeness by trying to regain unity with the part of herself that she has split off. True sonic sculptures externalize emotions. When Lunora approaches Milton's sculpture, what she hears played back to her is yearning and love; just what she feels, just what she needs. For her, the sculpture is a magic mirror. Unluckily for her, it is a fake magic mirror.
Even a genuine magic mirror wouldn't help her, though. She cannot find what she needs in an image of herself; what is missing is something real, the Mother aspect of the Great Mother. That is what nurtures and loves. It is present, too, in the person of Mme. Charot, her secretary. Milton senses something of this (e. g., 80, 86), but Lunora is oblivious.
“The Singing Statues” seems slight in comparison to some of the other stories, but it marks an important turning point. After the Ego has succeeded in individuating itself by splitting off the Shadow and its personal part of the Anima into the Unconscious, it must change its course and rebuild the connections it has severed. The Ego, in this story, feels a sense of deprivation caused by its lack of contact with the Anima. It wants to get back in touch with the Anima, but it doesn't know how. The Anima in turn is maimed, although all its parts are present in some form.
Even so, the outlook is promising. The suppressed part of the Anima is at hand, and it is seen to have a positive side. The Ego fails this time, but it does make the attempt.
“Cry Hope, Cry Fury!” draws on such a wealth of associations that it is hard to see how they could all have been fitted together, or even that they do. We find attributes of The Tempest, The Ancient Mariner, Les chants de Maldoror, and “The Flying Dutchman,” all pieced together in one story. At the crest of this flood of nautical references is the name of the narrator, Melville. It is Robert Melville, to be sure, but he is compared to Captain Ahab (104).
Melville is hunting sand rays far out on the dry ocean bed when a tire on his sand yacht goes flat. He is marooned with a chilled shaker of martinis and no real hope of rescue. Nevertheless, he sets out on foot after some sand rays. The fractured sand shreds the soles of his shoes, and his feet as well, before he gets back to the derelict. Presently a huge white sand ray, just what he was hunting, begins to circle his stranded yacht, showing no signs of hostility. He shoots it. It falls on him, smashing his rigging and knocking him unconscious (92-93).
He awakes just as he is about to be rescued by the spectral Hope Cunard. She is hunting for someone, though not for him. She takes him on her schooner to Lizard Key. She inherited the island from her father; when he first found it, it was infested with gila monsters and basilisks, much like Propsero's refuge in The Tempest. There Melville meets her half-brother, Foyle (who is later compared to Caliban), and her secretary, Barbara Quimby. They were expecting Hope to bring back someone, but not him (93-95).
While Melville is recovering, he falls in love with his hostess. He reads to her from Les chants de Maldoror while they pose for their portraits. The portraits are done in photosensitive pigments. The prepared canvas is like a photographic plate but with several differences. First, although a painting takes hours to form, one can spread the time out over a number of sittings. Second, slight movements and changes in position do not blur the image, but they do change it. The portrait can turn into a character study of deadly accuracy -- Melville's portrait begins to look like a vision of the Ancient Mariner, with the white lace cushions on his divan taking on the appearance of a white sand ray, his albatross. Third, one can watch the image develop while one is sitting for the portrait. Fourth, as time passes and the image sharpens, it moves backwards in style through the history of art. Starting with hard-edge, it evolves through Abstract Expressionism, late Picasso, Surrealism, Cubism and Futurism, and on to Impressionism (96-98).
In the normal course of events this progression would continue, but things begin to go awry. A new figure begins to appear in Hope's portrait, one unlike anyone in the house. Someone is spending time in front of that canvas. Is it the mysterious man for whom she seeks? Melville, fearing to press his suit independently, superimposes his own bland face on the powerful features of the new figure. Hope, noticing the new figure, takes Melville to be her lover reincarnate and to her bed (101-102).
She tells Melville about her previous lover, Charles Rademaeker, who was killed or escaped, perhaps because of something having to do with an earlier portrait of Hope. Meanwhile, the portraits keep changing, taking a nightmarish turn. Hope's image mutates into something coarse and depraved. Melville's becomes brutish, his plump features transforming themselves into a pig-like visage (104-105).
In a terrible climax, everything comes together. Melville catches Foyle and Barbara Quimby in costume in front of the paintings, which is what is disfiguring the images. Rademaeker appears, and the two men chase the malefactors away. But Hope finds Melville still holding the ugly props and jumps to the wrong conclusion. She starts shooting, destroying the portraits and wounding Rademaeker in the wrist. The two men flee in Rademaeker's yacht. By the time Melville returns to take care of the loose ends, she hardly remembers him (105-109).
The narrator, Melville, as usual personifies the Ego. What attracts attention is that there has been another Dutchman named Charles before this: Van Stratten. He seemed weak and unimportant (rather like Melville) in contrast with the powerful, charismatic Rademaeker. Even so, both are Heroes who are supposed to know how to contact the Anima, and Heroes are allies of the Ego. The difference in the way they are perceived stems from a difference in the way the Ego perceives itself, the need of communicating with the Anima, and what it needs to do so.
Yet Van Stratten died and Rademaeker almost does. The Heroes did not have what it takes to do their job. The Ego is lacking something, but it doesn't know what. It has hidden that knowledge in the Shadow; the Shadow in this story being the appropriately named Foyle. When he is overlooked, he takes ruinously effective steps to counter the Ego's maneuvers to forge a bond with the Anima (105-106).
The Anima here has two personifications, Hope Cunard and Barbara Quimby, its “good” and “bad” parts. The Ego is still seeking the impossible, to have the one without the other. It can't be done. If the “bad” aspect is split off, its qualities will turn up in the “good” aspect; in the portrait of Hope and in her psychotic break.
Nevertheless, there is progress. Rademaeker is not killed, as Van Stratten was. Melville does make brief contact with the Anima, which Golding did not. But the lessons for the Ego inherent in the earlier story are underscored: first, the Shadow has something the Ego needs; second, it is unnecessary to deal with the Shadow before approaching the Anima; third, The Ego must accept all of the Anima or it will get none.
“Venus Smiles” is a study, finely etched with strong acid, of bourgeois mentality confronted with the not-so-new and different. The earnest members of the Fine Arts Committee which is formed to commission a piece of public sculpture are relieved to find Lorraine Drexel, whose chrome plated metal sculptures seem just the right kind of thing to affirm their commitment to advanced taste without offending anyone (“Venus Smiles,” Vermilion Sands, 113).
They had been expecting a stylized human figure, perhaps a representation of her dead lover, a pop-singer who played the sitar. What they get is something that looks like a misbegotten radar antenna and sounds like a pop-singer playing the sitar. It is a true sonic sculpture which reacts individually and uniquely to variations in its environment. Responding to the hostile reception it receives at its unveiling, it begins to whoop, confusing traffic (112-14).
There is worse to come. It grows. It does mature to the point of rendering classical music as it grows (116-120), but eventually it gets out of hand and has to be chopped down (122-23). The pieces are melted down as scrap, but that is not enough to kill them all. Some of the steel made from the scrap is incorporated into the new courthouse of Vermilion Sands, which begins to turn itself into an authentic Drexel sonic sculpture. This is discovered only after the artist has successfully sued for damages after learning of the destruction of her sculpture.
The narrator, who is identified only as “Mr. Hamilton” even by his secretary and mistress who bullied him, personifies the Ego. Beyond that it would be hard to go, were it not for a remarkably symmetry which is beginning to appear. We have just seen the parallels between “The Screen Game” and “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!” The same roles were filled with the scenarios were mirror images of each other. This is also the case with “Prima Belladonna” and “Venus Smiles.”
If Lorraine Drexel is analogous to Jane Ciracylides, she also represents the Anima. With her cartwheel hat (a Sun disc) she personifies Venus, the morning star and forerunner of the Sun, in this story. This is confirmed by the title of the story: she is the Venus who smiles, although it is not a pleasant smile. Lorraine Drexel represents the universal Archetypal part of the Anima, not the individual part, and that is why she is also associated with the Sun, which is the symbol of Consciousness. She has been mobilized by the Self as a whole to give the Ego a shove in the right direction, toward a higher degree of Consciousness. Doubtless she seems more negative than positive to Hamilton, but she does him a valuable favor, even if he doesn't appreciate it.
This time, however, her function is to force the Ego to deal with the devouring Mother in the Personal Unconscious rather than to repress her. The Ego is now strong enough to cope with this formidable entity, and it will not be allowed to evade its task. The role of the orchid, the devouring Mother, is filled by Lorraine Drexel's sonic sculpture, which is prepared to engulf everything in sight. The Ego's short term strategy for dealing with this devourer is unsuccessful, but it sees the danger and also in principle how to deal with it.
If applied biology can produce sentient singing plants, there must be other wonders in store. Where else should we look for the cutting edge but in the fashion industry? Bio-fabrics are the wave of the future! They come in all kinds of weaves and textures. They respond to the feelings of the wearer and to their surroundings; in fact, they need human contact to stay alive. They have, however, their individual temperaments. Picture the effect of an emotional storm on an extensive wardrobe:
Madness or trauma to the wearer can do permanent emotional damage to the clothing. It takes on deformed shapes. It may reenact the traumatic experience, although Samson, who is the narrator and the owner of a bio-fabric boutique, assures us that the story of the murderer strangled by the coat stolen from his victim is apocryphal (137).
Samson falls for one of his customers, Raine Channing. She complains to him that her late lover, the brilliant bio-fabric fashion designer Gavin Kaiser, demanded that she remain forever as she had been at fifteen when he met her and transformed her into the world's top fashion model. He insisted that she have plastic surgery again and again to preserve her original appearance, until she came to fear staying young. He died mysteriously, in the convulsed clutch of one of his own creations (138-139).
Raine is quite mad, as is evident from the behavior of her wardrobe. She tries to reenact the destruction of Gavin Kaiser with Samson as the new victim. She is assisted but in the end frustrated in this endeavor by Kaiser's brother Jason, who helped clothe Samson in the deadly garment but later cut it off its hapless intended victim (141-143).
The overall symmetry is carried on in this story, which recalls “Cloud Sculptures.” Once again there are the similar roles and mirror image scenarios. Samson is the counterpart of Major Parker. Raine Channing is every bit as mad and deadly as Leonora Chanel. Jason Kaiser is the analogue of Nolan. The problem that the Ego faces is the same: how to deal with the devouring Mother.
It tried repressing her in the earlier stories, but that worked only temporarily and at great cost. Now it is strong enough, and desperate enough, to try another approach. Instead of resisting, The Ego will surrender and die -- not actually but symbolically. Then it can symbolically be reborn, in which state it will no longer be the object of the wrath of the devouring Mother. This is very difficult and dangerous if attempted unaided. In order to help the individual survive transitions like this, ceremonies have been invented and experts trained to perform them. Such ceremonies are rites of passage (von Franz 123-125).
The events of the story portray a rite of passage in which Samson risks death to be reunited with the Great Mother and is reborn through the mediation of the Sun Father; a process represented by his being clothed in the womb-like constricting garment and then removed from it by the Sun-figure Jason Kaiser. In this rite of passage, the task of the Ego is to reach a new level of maturity. The artificially ageless Raine Channing personifies Samson's Anima; the success of the Ego will restore her to health by reuniting the Lover with the Mother, from whom she had been cut off by her inability to age. This will move the Ego past a stage in which it has been trapped by fear and obsession. The procedure is a success, and Samson escapes the fate of Gavin Kaiser. This is real progress; movement instead of a holding action.
Poetry has been disastrously damaged by the time Aurora Day appears on the scene in “Studio 5, the Stars.” Poets compose on computers:
as Paul Ransom, the narrator, tells her.
But Aurora Day does it the old way. The best computer poets find her work impossibly bad. Surely she is a lunatic. How else could she write stuff like “ ‘nor psalms, nor canticles, nor hollow register to praise the queen of night’ ” (154-155)? Moreover, she demands that they go back to the old ways and actually make up poetry in their minds (168-169)!
As the poets find out later, she actually thinks she is a goddess. An incident which the narrator notes without seeing its significance tells us that she identifies herself with Venus (150-151). When the poets don't cooperate, she sets out to reenact a sacrifice like that of Corydon for Melander, using Tristram Caldwell as her Corydon. As in the original story, Caldwell is the only poet in his group who is still actually writing poetry. In a temple-like grotto of a coral reef in the desert, Caldwell and Aurora seem to be trapped in a dead end and attacked by sand rays. Caldwell tries to fight them off. He fails, apparently a victim of their deadly stings (175-179). But Caldwell has faked it, and Aurora Day leaves Vermilion Sands without detecting the deception (181-182). The poets actually do start writing poetry again (183-184).
Aurora Day personifies Venus, the morning star, who represents among other things the creative mother and imagination (Cooper, “Planets”). Caldwell's trick counts as a rite of passage, which requires no more than a symbolic death and rebirth. Caldwell is a Hero, which is why all the poets can benefit from his act. Seen from this perspective, its success is explained.
“Wind” showed us a rite of passage in detail. Although it showed us the grave dangers associated with it, the story did not tell us much about the benefits that might accrue to someone who went through it. That is what “Studio 5, the Stars” does. There we learn that once we have come to terms with the devouring Mother, we will be able once more to draw on the creative forces that she commands.
In “The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista,” times have changed. “No one ever comes to Vermilion Sands now, and I suppose there are few people who have ever heard of it” (Vermilion Sands, 185). Howard Talbot, the narrator, and his wife Fay move into a psychotropic house which once belonged to the movie star Gloria Tremayne and her husband, the architect Miles Vanden Starr. She murdered him but was acquitted; she herself died five years later (193-195). Talbot, who is infatuated with her memory, finds out the hard way why she did it. The house, traumatized by the emotional storm of its previous occupants, plays them back, forcing the new occupants into the same destructive cycle (198-202). If Fay hadn't had the sense to desert Howard, she would have killed him. Even so, the house almost manages to do the job on its own (204-206).
Vanden Stan was a tyrant. He is compared to Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright (199), two architects especially noted for forcing their clients into Procrustean structures which are more in tune with the ego of the designer than the needs of the occupants. Vanden Starr tried to force Gloria Tremayne into a persona of his own design by a program of psychological, and perhaps physical, abuse. She could not oppose his brutal forcefulness directly, but she had her own kind of strength. The bludgeon does not always win against the rapier. She slipped away from his attacks with quicksilver elusiveness until she could stand it no longer, and then she shot him as he lay in drunken sleep on his bed (202-203).
The constant emotional warfare climaxing in violent death gave the house a repetition compulsion. When it is turned on, it tries to run through the same emotional sequence, which would push its current occupants into the same pattern of behavior. Even though no one is there to show Howard, the house's recapitulation of Vanden Starr's death agonies would be enough by itself to do him in; but he rouses himself to action and escapes (206-207).
This story records a victory for the Self whose Ego is Howard Talbot. Vanden Starr personifies his Shadow, which appears here in its demonic aspect. The creative impulse has been perverted by repression. Vanden Starr's buildings are designed not as joyous outpourings of a vital force but as prisons for the human spirit: housing projects in Chicago or Tokyo (199). Talbot does accept this angry, malevolent presence as part of himself. He acquiesces to Vanden Starr's baleful emotional patterns as they are played back to him by the psychotropic house. Because his Shadow has been repressed for so long and become so powerful, he is very nearly overcome by it. Yet in the end, having incorporated these dangerous elements once more into himself, he masters them. He has risked death to be reborn; he has successfully completed a dangerous passage.
Talbot remains in the house after his victory. The rite of passage he has survived is only the first which he must complete. Having dealt with his Shadow, he must confront his Anima. Gloria Tremayne personifies the Anima, and she is waiting in the circuits of the house. When he has strengthened himself enough for the next test, he will turn the house back on (207-208). But in any case, how could he forsake it? This house, like Steve Parker's, represents the psyche. To leave would be to go out of his mind, in more ways than one.
The design revealed. The Vermilion Sands stories must be taken as a group. They were written over a period of fourteen years, and they came in clusters, which suggests otherwise. On the other hand, Ballard rewrote an early story (“Mobile,” 1957, which became “Venus Smiles”) (13) to put it in the sequence, and he arranged them in an order which is not the order in which they were written and which is not in chronological order for Vermilion Sands either. The sequence has a larger plan than those of the individual stories. It may have been imposed by Ballard after some of the stories had already been written, but it is none the worse for that. When we read through the stories in the order in which they are placed in the collection, what appears is a meta-narrative in symbolic form constructed by the juxtaposition of disjoint parts.
Jungian psychology describes a universal path to self-actualization. It begins with the Ego separating itself from the Collective Unconscious. This is a necessary step, but a Pyrrhic victory because the Ego cuts off contact with the Shadow and the Anima, both of which it needs in the long run to survive. It must therefore reintegrate with them. Only when it has done so can it come to terms with the Self, achieving wholeness again on a higher level of function.
The meta-narrative of the Vermilion Sands stories describes this quest in part, portraying it up to the point where the Ego is ready to seek out the Anima. The book is not incomplete for stopping short of that step. The further effort would involve a different rite of passage that would take place in another landscape under different conditions. We must look elsewhere for that part of the odyssey of the Self. (14)
Vermilion Sands is the perfect setting for the events which do take place there, quite aside from the character of the landscape, which was discussed above. It is a resort, in the sense that a resort is a place to which one goes for a holiday. The Vermilion Sands stories take place during the Recess, a kind of ten year holiday (“Prima Belladonna” 31). A resort in a slightly different sense is a chance or hope or recourse of which one avails oneself in time of need, and the narrators in the Vermilion Sands stories are certainly in need. We should also bear in mind the original meaning of holiday: a holy day on which ceremonies were performed; in this instance, rites of passage. In its own glossy, lurid, bizarre way, Vermilion Sands is a holy place, a place to which one resorts in time of need to undergo certain ordeals and take part in certain rites which are required of all who would become truly Conscious and thereby human.
The grand design revealed. Although each of these stories is about internal conflicts which are set in a landscape in inner space, and hence is about a single person, the choice of a Jungian Framework gives them a universal character. The Archetypes are universal in the Collective Unconscious. Ballard therefore could, and did, use his stories to address considerations about humanity as a whole.
According to Jung, “primitives” have not moved as far toward absolute Consciousness as more “advanced” peoples (“Approaching” 36). Thus the progress of the Self has a cultural as well as a personal angle. If a person is brought up in an “advanced” culture, then, other things being equal, he or she will be able to achieve a higher degree of Consciousness than someone brought up in a primitive culture (Jung, “The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious,” The Portable Jung, 127). The four-fold symbolism described by Pringle has temporal as well as psychological significance; sand, the desert, symbolizes the future. In Ballard's perspective, this means that not until some future time will humanity in general have advanced to the point where most people are psychologically ready for the trials they must undertake at Vermilion Sands.
Yet a time will come, sometime in the future, when humanity is ready. At that time, which will come to be known as the Recess, most people will come to Vermilion Sands to undertake the rites of passage which are its reason for being. The Recess will be only ten years long, which may not seem long enough for a process of so vast a scope, but it is ten years of dream time, which is a very long time. Some won't get there; others will never have the courage to do what is necessary to be able to leave. On the whole, the picture is bright. Psychic evolution has not ceased and will continue.
The end in sight. To conclude, the best reason for accepting my explication is the benefits deriving from it. Ballard's stories have an hypnotic power to them. Despite the fact that in ordinary terms they make little or no sense, the reader gets the distinct impression that there are good and sufficient reasons why all these weird things are happening, usually without getting any notion of what those reasons might be. First, then, I have provided a ground from which such reasons can be discerned. Second, this ground is applicable to a very large part, perhaps even all, of Ballard's fiction, not just to the Vermilion Sands stories.
Other readings could warrant similar claims, and I do not wish to deny the interest or value of either critical approaches to Ballard. However, I take it to be beyond them to account for Ballard's remark in a 1983 interview that he has been misread: his fiction, he said, is optimistic; his stories are of psychic fulfillment (“Quotations” 161b). The unique virtue I claim for my analysis is that it shows that and how this statement is literally true without recourse to irony, whimsy or perversity.
William M. Schuyler teaches at the University of Louisville.
Ballard, J. G. Crash. 1973. New York: Vintage, 1985.
-- Concrete Island. 1973. New York: Vintage, 1985.
-- The Crystal World. 1966. New York: Berkley, 1967.
-- The Day of Creation. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987.
-- The Drowned World. New York: Berkley, 1962.
-- Empire of the Sun. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
-- “From Shanghai to Shepperton.” Ed. David Pringle. Foundation No. 24, February 1982. Rpt. in V. Vale and Andrea Juno, eds., 112-124.
-- High Rise. 1975. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988.
-- Introduction to Crash, French edition. 1974. Rpt. in V. Vale and Andrea Juno, eds. 96-98.
-- “Mobile.” 1957. Cited by Pringle (10) without documentation.
-- Vermilion Sands. 1971. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, UK: Panther Books, 1975.
Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. Jak Sage. 2nd ed. New York: Philosophical Library, 1971.
J. C. Cooper. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of International Symbols. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1978.
Eddinger, Edward F. Ego and Archetype: Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche. 1972. New York: Pelican, 1973.
Franz, M.-L. von. “The Process of Individuation.” Jung and von Franz, 157-254.
Jacobi, Jolande. “Symbols in an Individual Analysis.” Man and His Symbols. 323-374.
Jung, Carl G. “Approaching the Unconscious.” Jung and von Franz, 1-94.
Jung, C[arl] G. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Eds. Herbert Read, Michael Fordham and Gerhard Adler. Tr. R. F. C. Hull. 21 vols. to date. Bollingen Series XX. New York: Pantheon, 1953-1966; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966- .
-- The Portable Jung. Ed. Joseph Campbell. 1971. New York: Penguin, 1976.
Jung, Carl G., and M.-L. von Franz, eds. Man and His Symbols. 1964. New York: Laurel-Dell, 1968.
Kaufmann, Yoram. “Analytical Psychotherapy.” Raymond J. Corsini and Contributors. Current Psychotherapies. 2nd ed. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock, 1979.
Pringle, David. Earth Is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard's Four-Dimensional Nightmare. The Milford Series: Popular Writers of Today 26. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1979.
Revell, Graeme. “Interview with JGB.” 1983. Vale and Juno, eds. 42-52.
Stableford, Brian M. “J. G. Ballard.” Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. Ed. E. F. Bleiler. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1982. 277-282.
Vale, V. and Andrea Juno, eds. Re/Search #8/9: J. G. Ballard. San Francisco: Re/Search Publications, 1984.
1. Taking him at his word is not the same as taking him seriously. No one can read interviews with him that have been published and be unaware of his strong sense of irony.
2. As can be seen from its publication history. The first version, “The Fourfold Symbolism of J. G. Ballard,” appeared in Foundation 4 in 1973. It was reprinted in 1976 in J. G. Ballard: The First Twenty Years. A much revised version appeared as the second chapter of Pringle's Earth is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard's Four Dimensional Nightmare in 1979. This in turn was reprinted in Re/Search 8/9, a double issue devoted to Ballard, in 1984. That in turn has gone through several printings.
3. Pringle almost gets this (39) but never quite brings himself to take it at face value.
4. This piece is in Ballard's own words, but it was not written by him. It was reconstructed by Pringle from many interviews with Ballard (Re/Search 8/9, 112). Like all such compiled material it must be scrutinized carefully, but it seems clear that Pringle has been faithful to his subject.
5. E.g. Jacobi, “Symbols in an Individual Analysis.”
6. Pringle counted 25 at the time he was writing (25).
7. Actually, the Ocean, which represents the Unconscious, is still there; but the Ego has managed to become oblivious to it. This is the only way in which the Ego can achieve and maintain the autonomy which it needs at this stage in the process of Individuation. Ballard's dry ocean bed is an elegant way of symbolizing the state of apparent but not actual separation which the Ego experiences.
8. This possibility was suggested by Barbara C. Schuyler.
9. I may have fallen into error in many details, but the contours I sketch agree so well with the forms in Ballard's writing that they must be accounted as recognizably accurate characterizations of them. At the same time, one must also recognize that Ballard does not always follow orthodox Jungian theory, if there is such a thing.
His application of the Jungian model of narcissism to the Anima is a case in point. Narcissism in Jungian theory arises from a sense of incompleteness resulting from alienation from one's own being (Edinger 161). The Ego fears the loss of its precariously held autonomy, which it fought so hard to wrest from the Unconscious, which gives rise to the sense of incompleteness. Trying to overcome this loss of what it has suppressed, the Ego moves to get back in touch with the Self, but mistakes itself for the Self and becomes self-absorbed.
In Ballard, however, it is an Anima figure which is narcissistic. This results from the attempt of the Ego to separate the “good” nurturing part of the Anima from the “bad” devouring part. The resulting incomplete Anima figure can plausibly be represented as narcissistic because the Anima must be taken as a whole, and on some level the Ego recognizes this. Even so, it is unconventional.
10. This passage is not entirely clear. Its discoverer is said to have been deaf, but capable of hearing blossoms sing simply by looking at them. However, after he went deaf, he never looked at another Arachnid, so how do we know we could “hear” them visually? The answer is doubtless that he also bred the other genera of singing plants and “listened” to them.
Another kind of problem is posed by the ferns, which have “liquid, fluting voices” (“Prima Belladonna,” 35). Ferns have no blossoms, so it is not clear how they sing. Since these are Surrealist ferns, it suffices that they have found a way.
11. A Freudian interpretation is also possible here; and to give such an alternate reading would certainly enrich our reading of the text. However, I shall resist the temptation to go off on this interesting sidetrack.
12. Buildings other than the protagonist's living quarters, however, have a different significance (Cirlot, “House”).
13. Cited by Pringle (10) without documentation.
14. For example, in The Atrocity Exhibition. The stories in there are related in much the same way as those in Vermilion Sands (Ballard, “Quotations by Ballard,” in Vale and Juno, eds., Re/Search #8/9: J. G. Ballard, 154b), but they deal with a different stage in the development of the Ego. Unfortunately, this is not the place to discuss that thesis, so it must wait for its proper occasion.
Publication details: "Portrait of the Artist as a Jung Man: Love,
Death and Art in J. G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands" by William M.
Schuyler, Jr., in New York Review of Science Fiction no. 57 (May
1993): 1, 8-11, and no. 58 (June 1993): 14-19.