Violence, obsession with security is mirrored in J

Violence,
trauma, anxiety and threat are all issues which seem to dominate contemporary
life. Both the novels, Saturday by
Ian Mcewan and Kingdom Come by J.G
Ballard address and deal with these issues using both similar and different techniques,
I will be looking at how these themes are represented in contemporary life post
9/11, some more dominantly than others.

 

Anxiety,
within both of these novels is something which arises from the fear of the
unknown. Within Saturday, anxiety stems from the outside of the protagonist Perowne’s
home in the public sphere, which he wants to keep away from. Perowne is so
frightened and anxious about the outside world, that he has covered his door in
“three stout Banham locks, two black iron bolts as old as the
house, two tempered steel security chains, a spyhole with a brass cover, the
box of electronics that works the Entryphone system, the red panic button, the
alarm pad with its softly gleaming digits.”(McEwan, 2006:36) This obsession
with security is mirrored in J G Ballard’s novel Kingdom Come when it states that “Warning displays alerted each other,
and the entire landscape was coded for danger. CCTV cameras crouched over
warehouse gates, and filter left signs pulsed tirelessly, pointing to the sanctuaries
of high security science parks.” (Ballard,2006: 6) This idea of excessive
security is one relevant within post 9/11 culture as people have realised that
our lives are not untouchable and we can still be affected in violent and
traumatic situations no matter your class and social status, much like how they
affect Henry Perowne and Richard Pearson in the two novels I have chosen to
examine.

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Both of the novels are written after
9/11 and Saturday mentions this
atrocity but Kingdom Come does not
specifically, but it notes the populations obsession with terror and a growing
anxiety which we can relate to the post 9/11 society. Saturday is a
novel in which 9/11 has happened within it and so is reflective of the Post Millennial
trauma as it was an event which shook the world and led to increased anxiety
and security measures as well as a sense of attack on the modern societies way
of life. We see Perowne act on this anxiety of impending terror due to 9/11
when he sees a plane in the sky and assumes that it is a terror attack on
London “everyone agrees, airliners
look different in the skies … predatory or doomed”. (Mcewan, 2005: 16) This plays into the post millennial anxieties
at the time of whom terror is a very real threat and a concern for modern
society. Perowne in Saturday states “London, has a small part of it, lies wide
open, impossible to defend, waiting for its bomb, like a hundred other cities.
Rush hour will be a convenient time.. the authorities agree, an attack’s
inevitable.” (McEwan, 2005:276). This idea of terror being just around the
corner and the public are just waiting anxiously for it to happen is prevalent
within Kingdom Come too “Never far
from the defensive walls of the motorways, there was more than a hint of
paranoia, as if these people of the retail city were waiting for something
violent to happen”(Ballard, 2006:16)  both of these highlight the fear which modern society
faced post 9/11, the heightened security and police presence created a sense of
fear among the public which made them more security conscious. “He takes a step
towards the CD player, then changes his mind for he’s feeling the pull, like
gravity, of approaching TV news. It’s in the condition of the times, this
compulsion to hear how it stands with the world, and be joined to a generality,
to a community of anxiety” (McEwan 2005: 176)

Anxiety
is represented in both novels as the fear of unknown and unsecure places. For
Perowne, this is outside the comforts of his own home “such defences, such
mundane embattlement: beware of the cities poor, the drug addicted, the
downright bad.”(McEwan, 2005:36) He is fearful of the outside world and the
anxieties which it brings as his interactions with Baxter in the outside world
is what brought trouble to his front door in the first place, and couldn’t keep
out. Within Kingdom Come this anxiety
of unfamiliar places is clear when Pearson describes how ” I felt vaguely
uneasy when I left the inner city and approached the suburban outlands”
(Ballard, 2006:4) this anxiety of the suburbs stems from the fact that Richard
Pearson believes “the suburbs dream of violence” (Ballard, 2006:3). This we
gather is because of the violence which he knows to be true of them because of
the murder of his father when “these amiable suburbs had sat up and snarled,
then sprung forward to kill my father” (Ballard, 2006: 4) thus explaining how
the terror of what happened to his father has now created this anxiety on his
behalf of the suburbs as all being the same “The motorway towns are violent
places…The whole area is waiting for trouble” (Ballard, 2006:102) highlighting
how this anxiety of violence waiting to happen is actually in a way encouraging
it to happen as it feels like there is a gap waiting to be filled.

This
idea of a longing for something to happen is described by Zizek as “our gaze
was transfixed by the images of the plane hitting one of the WTC towers, we
were all forced to experience what the ‘compulsion to repeat’ and jouissance
beyond the pleasure principle are: we wanted to see it again and again” (Zizek,
2002: 11-12) this highlights how we were almost fascinated with terror and the
anticipation for something to happen so that we could watch it almost awe as if
it isn’t real as if it is just something on the television.

 

Violence
is shown in Kingdom Come through the football hooligans and the Metro Centre
and within Saturday it is through 9/11 and the character of Baxter, both
acts/instances of terror.

Kingdom Come shows violence as being intrinsically
down to revolving around the metro centre “where do you think this violence is
coming from? The Metro-Centre? It’s possible” (Ballard,2006:58) because of its
representation of consumerism. “This is todays England. Consumerism rules, but
people are bored. They’re out on the edge, waiting for something big and
strange to come along”(Ballard 2006:101) The Metro Centre “encourages people in
the wrong way. Everyone wants more and more, and if they don’t get it they’re
ready to be… violent?” (Ballard,2006: 24) This highlights how Ballard believes
that violence stems from the need for us as humans to always want more and the
idea of a big shopping centre feeds this desire which in turn encourages the
violence.

There
is quite a clear link between the violence of the Metro station and the
violence of the racists hooligans who “celebrate soccer as society’s last hope
of violence” (Ballard, 2006;36) only thing shown in the metro centre was the football
screens, creates a relationship between fascism and consumerism. Dr Maxted, the
psychologist in the novel confirms this link as he states “All this racism and
violence.. people are bored…The danger is that consumerism will need something
close in order to keep going” (Ballard, 2006:103) This is then confirmed by Richard
Brown due to his belief that the Metro Centre is a “nightmare utopia in which
racist violence emerges as a way of alleviating the boredom of shopping”
(Brown, 147) “All of us who are members of consumer society; all of us are
responsible. I think that these are a sort of seismic movements that drift
through the collective psyche and which facilitate the emergence of ultra right
wing groups like the Nazi’s and the fascists in Italy” (Litt) EM 419 interview with Toby Litt in Extrme
Metaphors therefore reiterating the idea that violence and capitalism
are inextricibly linked, maybe suggesting that Ballard views capitalism and
fascism on the same level, evil.

Football
created a new sense of hooliganism within British Society and the hooligans
acted on their anxieties about foreigners and started to use violence against
them. Within the novel the white St George shirts were compared to the “black uniforms
and deaths-head emblems”(Ballard, 2006;56) of the SS. The setting of Kingdom
Come is in the suburbs, in a small town which Kumar states is typical of  “These towns along the M25. There’s something
in the air. I take it there are right wing groups here?”(Ballard,2006: 58) who
present themselves as football fans, but really they are only interested in one
sport. Beating people up” (Ballard, 2006:58)

These
hooligans do not target just anyone, they aim for ethnic minorities such as “Asians,
Kosovans, Bosnians”(Ballard,2006: 58) and Eastern Europeans. This highlights
how threatened the Neo Nazi group must have felt by the minorities that they
felt they had to inflict violence upon them. It is almost like it is the fear
of the unknown which scares people.

 

This
theme of hooliganism and violence is also present within Saturday through the
character of Baxter. Baxter forces Perowne, a middle class man who likes to
keep himself separate and away from the outside by keeping his security high as
a way of “clearly eliminating the square and the wintry world beyond it” (McEwan,2005:
181). Perowne never initially feels threatened or at the risk of violence
because he leads a very privileged life in which many of the everyday problems
such as bills do not affect him as he is a very wealthy man. However, we can
see in the novel how violence and trauma of such kind cannot be avoided no
matter who you are. Perowne’s regular saturday routine is interrupted by the
protesters below him and the radio and new reports which are to follow. Cara
Cilano believes that “the novel intends to confront the cultural trauma that
haunts the West in the aftermath of 9/11” (Cilano 31) The novel highlights what
we would call a mediated trauma, as in the fact that it was not directly
experienced  by us or Perowne, it was
seen on the television. This experience of watching it through the media is
what we call the Real. “We are unable to integrate it into (what we experience
as) or reality, and therefore are compelled to experience it as a nightmarish
apparition” (Zizek, 2002:19). This introduction to the novel highlights how the
modern world are now anxious and fearful that something of the same kind may
happen again and so now think the worst whenever something unusual happens.
Perowne is an example of this when he believes the plane in the sky is headed
towards London to recreate terror just like the attacks in New York. These
everyday thoughts our a typical modern way of thinking now because of incidents
like 9/11 and Perowne accepts this as part of life now as states that feeling
like this is just like how “patients eventually do to their sudden loss of
sight or use of limbs”(McEwan, 2005:33) showing how this trauma has manifested
itself into everyday life and it’s just something that we have to be fearful of
now. Trauma is present within Saturday through not just the threat of
terrorism, Perowne’s trauma is due the fact that his family may be hurt and the
threat of Baxter around them. Baxter’s trauma, unlike Perowne’s emotional one
is a physical trauma due to his Huntington’s disease, which threatens his life.

 

Both
of the novels can be seen to be showing attack on the west in the form of
capitalism/ consumerism. The causation of 9/11 can be seen to have been because
of America’s interference in the Middle East and their Americanisation of the
buildings and society over there. It can be argued that that the bomb attack on
Metro was to wake people up as . Similarily to 9/11 both can be seen as an
attack on the wests capitalism. This is highlighted in Kingdom Come when the
bomb at the metro goes off “A blow struck the side of my head, almost knocking
me from my feet. A huge explosion sounded from a nearby street.” (Ballard, 2006:126).
Pearson states that ” Only a direct attack on the great shopping mall would
rouse a deeply sedated population”(Ballard, 2006 :127). This idea that the
blowing up of a capitalist icon is reinforced by Zizek when he says that “masses
were so deeply immersed in their apolitical consumerist stance that it was not possible
to awaken them through standard political education and consciousness~ raising-
a more violent intervention was needed to shake them out of their ideological
numbness, their hypnotic consumerist state, and only direct violent interventions
like bombing supermarkets would do the job.” (Zizek 2002:9) This use of
violence in both the novels can be seen as a way to wake society up and to stop
them being complicit in what is going on, both through the use of bombs.

 

Mcewan does this through his use of
Baxter infiltrating into Perowne’s personal space and inflicting violence . Cilano
believes that Saturday represents “terrorism through a displacement, in the
form of the intrusion of violence into the home and into the individual psyche”
(Cilano:39)  Perowne, however realises
that he may have brought Baxter’s violence on himself because he “humiliated
Baxter in the street”(McEwan, 2005:210) and did not have any repercussions for
it. This therefore could highlight how sometimes violence can be as a direct
result of something which someone else has done to warrant. Nick Rennison highlights the fact that sometimes no
matter who you are terror and violence is not immune to you, this is
highlighted in Saturday as “the intrusion of brutal, inescapable reality into
comfortable lives” (Rennison,2005:110) is experienced by Perowne. Through the
intrusion of Baxter into his comfortable life. This experience shown through Perowne
as being personal trauma. Global trauma is something which the majority of the
modern world felt after 9/11 and the Iraq War, but it took the personal trauma
of Perowne when Baxter infiltrated his life for him to really feel the effects
of trauma on every day life. Frank Furedi describes this by saying that when
big global crisises such as 9/11 occur “They also challenge a society’s capacity to make sense
of the unexpected, and its belief in its own way of life.”(Furedi, 2006) which
we know to be true as Perowne begins to understand that Baxter is acting the
way he is because he has Huntington’s disease. This ability to almost
understand the anarchist is what Spivack argues is the “ability to be able to
imagine our opponent as a human being and to understand the significance of his or
her action

“(Spivack,
2004) in order to understand their motives. Perowne does this with Baxter and
after having an altercation with him, he still decides to operate on Baxter in
order to save his life as he knows he acts this way because of his condition.

 

In
conclusion, I believe that both of these novels highlight the themes of
violence, trauma, threat and anxiety as being a part of every day life. Both of
them show violence and terror to have meaning behind it and to accept this
makes it easier to control, rather than leading a sheltered life like Perowne. I
think that both of the novels are representative of the current moment of society
being a “state of anxiety” which the media and the consumerist culture play on.
“It is the awareness that we live in an insulated artificial
universe which generates the notion that some ominous agent is threatening us
all the time with total destruction.”(Zizek, 2002)