J.G. Ballard Uses Similes Like A Virus-riddled Robot

As much as I enjoy the concepts of science fiction writer J.D. Ballard, I find it hard to accept that he was, according to Martin Amis, the “most original English writer of the last century”. His characters and dialogue are wooden throughout his acclaimed The Drowned World:

The Colonel paused at the rail, looking down at the beautiful supple body with ungrudging approval. Noticing him, Beatrice pulled off her sunglasses, then tightened the loose straps of her bikini under her arm. Her eyes glinted quietly. “All right, you two, get on with it. I’m not a strip show.”

However it’s Ballard’s use of similes, on almost every page, constantly and thoughtlessly, comparing a thing to another, that lays the author bare:

...seemed to press down like a translucent pane on the leafy spread, a thousand motes of light spitting like diamonds. (76)

…planting immense dripping sundials like daggers in the fused sand. (77)

…its leaning headstones advancing to their crowns like a party of bathers. (77)

Hardman swung himself like an acrobat down the drain-pipe to the parapet below. (78)

Like a wounded water-buffalo, Hardman continued to wrestle in the mud. (79)

Which is to say J.G. Ballard uses similes like a virus-riddled robot.

Fears & Revelations Not

Let’s start with the basics. There is no such thing as getting over your fears, any of them. They are ingrained, and that is where they will stay.

Second, and last, there are no revelations. Realization does not come in a flash. That’s just drugs, booze or how you woke up, something that makes you happy for an instant.

Once you accept these two things – fears are there to stay and revelations are nowhere to be found – you have a better than 50/50 shot of making something of your life.

Pacioli’s Equilibrium in the Cosmos

Pacioli based his Divine Proportion on Plato’s Five Bodies, four of which represent the basic elements – cube (earth), octahedron (water), tetrahedron (air) and icosahedreon (fire) – and the last, a dodecahedron, which represented being.

Kepler used the Platonic bodies as his guide for the cosmos as a complete and perfect entity in which we can find our own equilibrium.

Ice Friday: Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer”

Some choice extracts from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2015 eloquent novel:

Innocence and guilt. These are cosmic issues. We’re all innocent on one level and guilty on another. Isn’t that what Original Sin is all about? (103)

What if, I said to him, I wrote a screenplay about the American West and simply called all the natives Indians? You’d want to know whether the cavalry was fighting the Navajo or Apache or Comanche, right? Let me tell you a secret, the Auteur said. No one gives a shit (133)

I was suddenly aware of the outline of my body, of the sensation of the chair underneath my thighs, of the fragility of the force holding together y body and my life. It would not take much to destroy this force, which most of us took for granted until the moment we could not. (198)

The beautiful, transparent Stolichnaya maintained a stoic Russian demeanor as we regarded it in silence. Every bottle of alcohol has a message in it, a surprise that one will not discover until one drinks it. (213)

The only problem with not talking to oneself was that oneself was the most fascinating conversational partner one could imagine. Nobody had more patience in listening to oneself than oneself, and nobody knew better than oneself, nobody misunderstood than oneself. (248)

Do The Right (No)thing

What is everyone so wound up about? Aren’t El Paso and Dayton the status quo? Aren’t MSNBC et al just getting their satellite dishes ready for the next massacre at the next mall/festival/school? Don’t their ratings go up with every casualty? Or did I miss something?

The people of Newtown, Connecticut are mad.


It’s almost as if they expect the media to address issues like gun control instead of mainlining our catharsis.

More importantly, what’s this “media vultures” spin? Is the media supposed to be something alien? Do they live in a shadowy compound? Don’t the people of Newtown understand that we can only read so much about lobbying for gun control? I mean, it’s just like all of this talk about my privacy being invaded. Instead of going on about what this guy Snowden thinks, can’t TMZ just catch him drunk in Red Square? 


In  the meantime, the people of Newtown need to stay focused on news that matters:

Rob Ford Breaking News!
                             Rob Ford Breaking News!

And remember Edward R. Murrow’s famous words: “Television isn’t the classroom of the world; it’s the marketplace.” That wasn’t a bad guess for a guy who had never posted or sexted, not understanding our basic need for the simple things.


Life, liberty and the pursuit of more soma.

This country’s obsession with guns will will never change. (Much of this was reblogged from December 6, 2013.)

Tree-Planting is Everything


Davis and Baz bag up in the pre-dawn light; the horizon is purple and green. They both ingest mushrooms and take a long drink of water before going up to plant the burned ground together. Clouds of ash rise up as they begin to work. A montage series offers close-ups of the shovel blades going into the ground, the trees gripped in their hands, boots tramping over the burned-out ground, interspersed with helicopter shots of them, tiny figures in the massive dominating landscape of mountains and valleys.

DAVIS (Not stopping): Feeling it?

BAZ: Feeling it.

DAVIS: It’s good.

Montage of close-ups continues, including extreme close-up of the bright blue tape tied off on a branch, beetles scampering along the edge of a burn-out twisted stump, an abandoned chainsaw blade twisted among the weeds, a woodpecker perched on a tree at the edge of the block, sweat dripping off the nose and chin of Davis, a mosquito landing and stinging Baz on the shoulder, ending with a hard slap. They stop, look at each other, drink water, move their trees from the back bag to the side, and continue planting.



Davis and Baz continue to plant. The sound of their heavy breathing, scuffing boots and cicadas are the only sounds. They reach the back edge of the block and a band of shade, planting the very edge of the road like experts, the trees rapidly dropped in. They pause in the shadows, each eating nuts and dried fruit, drinking in heavy gulps that spill down their necks.

DAVIS: I almost like this.

BAZ: Almost.

DAVIS: There’s something….

BAZ: Being an animal.

DAVIS: A burrowing creature, like a…badger.

BAZ: Digging.

DAVIS: Bringers of life.

BAZ: At 11 cents a tree.

They both laugh stupidly, looking at each other, and then go back to planting.

BAZ: I could never work at a desk.

DAVIS: Why would anyone do that? Insane.

BAZ: Look at my arm.

DAVIS (Looking at his dirty, ash-stained arm): I see it.

BAZ: Why is that part of me?

DAVIS: It’s crooked.

BAZ (Examining it): No, it isn’t.

DAVIS: I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing.

BAZ: It isn’t crooked.

DAVIS (Holding his arm out): Mine is too!

BAZ: You’re right. Your arm’s fucked up.

DAVIS: It isn’t fucked up.

BAZ (Taking a tree, rubbing the needles gently through his hand): My point is that this arm is mine. It’s a part of who I am supposed to be.

DAVIS: Extremities.

BAZ: My brain commands, the electric impulses obey.

DAVIS: You’re just in your head? The master commander.

BAZ: Not even that. It’s a tiny point in the back. Or just outside, floating in the darkness.

DAVIS: That’s you?

BAZ (Planting again): Yes.

DAVIS (Following him, planting too): What about your nose?

BAZ: I don’t have a problem with my nose.

BAZ (Throwing his shovel in hard): That makes sense to me.

DAVIS: Your nipples.

BAZ: Nipples. Yeah.

DAVIS: What the fuck are you doing with nipples?

BAZ: I like nipples.

DAVIS: Your nipples?

BAZ: Yes.

DAVIS: You find that erotic.

BAZ: And my throat.

DAVIS: I don’t like that word.

BAZ: Throat. Man, I love a chick’s throat.

DAVIS: You mean her neck.

BAZ: No. Throat. That’s erotic.

They plant in silence, the sound of their shovels pronounced against the stillness of the day.

DAVIS (Reciting Hamlet, II, II, 228-331):What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in… Something or other. I forget… in apprehension how like a god… and yet to me, this quintessence of dust.

There is a long pause, the shovels once again the only sound.

BAZ  (Reciting lines from Ginsberg’s Howl in a deep and booming voice):Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch in whom I dream angels!Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! Invincible mad houses! Granite cocks!

There is another long pause.

DAVIS (Unwrapping packets of trees): Granite cocks?

BAZ (Planting ahead, chanting):Invincible mad houses, granite cocks. Invincible mad houses, granite cocks!

Davis starts planting again and joins in the chant, done in chorus with their boot steps, the shovels in the ground, the tree dropped in. They suddenly hear another noise, almost the same grunting, but deeper and louder. They look up together and see a Grizzly Bear standing right in front of them, massive, only 30 feet away. The giant creature considers them, chewing on something methodically. Baz and Davis notice a bear cub on the other side of her. They waver and then, in unison, continue to plant, Baz makes a grunting noise that almost sounds like he is continuing the chant. They plant a number of trees in succession and look up again. The bear and cub have both vanished.

DAVIS: Jesus. We just had a fucking vision.

BAZ: Both of us? At the same time?

DAVIS: What did you see?

The Grizzly and cub come out from behind the slash, walking away, and crashing into the forest.

BAZ: I saw that.

Davis goes back to planting.

DAVIS (Looking back up): What?

BAZ: I think I just saw your cat. (Pause) Riding the cub’s back, guiding it by the ears.

DAVIS: What was that noise you were making?

BAZ: What noise?

DAVIS: You were grunting or something.

BAZ: I was asserting my presence.

DAVIS: You sounded like you were having a seizure.

BAZ: It’s what the mountain gorillas do.

DAVIS: When’s the last time you think this bear ran into a fucking mountain gorilla?

BAZ: That stuff’s universal.

DAVIS (Laughing to himself): Joint. (Pause) Universal joint, remember? The van?

They continue to plant toward the road.

DAVIS (Planting his last tree): Last one. How many you got?

BAZ (Looking in his bag): Same, man. The exact same.

Baz plants his last tree and they walk slowly, languidly down.

DAVIS: What are your numbers?

They walk for a few moments in silence.

BAZ: I don’t know.

DAVIS: Me either.

BAZ: Oh, shit. One more. (Pulling a tree out and planting it)

DAVIS: Baller.

Tree-planting is Life


Davis plants slowly, stops and stares off into the grey sky. He rips a piece of flagging tape, ties it off, counts three paces for the next tree, throws the shovel into the ground and plants a tree. He swats at the mosquitoes, which swarm all over his face, and wipes at the sweat dripping down his neck and face, as he continues to plant, wearily and mechanically. He plants along the edge of the forest again, looking up into the darkness.



Davis sits slumped forward, his face down, at the bench in the Quonset hut. It looks as if his face might actually be in his food. A chant begins behind him.

TREEPLANTERS: Fuck this fish! Fuck this fish!

One of the treeplanters throws a plate of food at another. A food fight ensues. Timor, camera in hand, runs amongst the screaming planters, filming the scene like an action picture. Davis never raises his head, not even when the cook comes out screaming with a fire ax.

COOK: Out of my tent! Out! OUT!!!

The mob stampedes out of the Quonset hut. Davis remains slumped over.



Davis plants slowly up a steep slope. He grabs a branch to pull himself over a pile of slash and throws the shovel in, dropping a tree into the hole, kicking it in, and continuing up, kicking hard through the brush.

DAVIS (Half signing Cordelia by The Tragically Hip):It takes all your power to prove that you don’t care.(Pause)I’m not Cordelia, I will not be there.

He continues to wearily yet determinedly plant trees. He looks up and sees Max fifty yards away, his tree-planting bags hanging at his side, standing on a tree stump. A crow sits on a fallen tree above, cawing at him.

MAX: Flee from me, you monster! Flee!

The crow moves back and forth, still cawing, on the branch. Max suddenly leaps off the stump and runs wildly away, appearing in and out of the slash, the crow paying little attention, until he suddenly stumbles and vanishes out of sight with a hard thud. Davis drops his bags and, as the crow flies lazily off, runs over to find Max sprawled out face down in the muck.

DAVIS (Kneeling beside Max): Max.

MAX (Groaning, face covered in mud): Did you see that Grizzly, man?

DAVIS: It was a crow, Max.

MAX (Pause): You have anything to drink? A martini. That’s what I am thinking.


Davis sits in the hot tub with a small group, including Max, Graham, Cindy, Emily and three other treeplanters. Allan, wearing his Baller hat as usual, arrives, drops his towel and climbs into the tub.

ALLAN (Opening a bottle of beer): You guys hear about the Grizzly?

CINDY: Girlfriend in town?

ALLAN: Three people mauled. (Guzzling his beer) They just radioed Tony twenty minutes ago.

MAX: I was mauled by a raven.

ALLAN: You were mauled, man? By a raven?

MAX: Well, not ‘mauled’ mauled.

ALLAN: These people were actually fucking mauled.

CINDY: (Mocking him) They were mauled, man.

ALLAN: Ask Tony.

CINDY: You know what my problem is with you?

ALLAN: That you can’t have me.

CINDY: You’re what’s wrong with this place, Allan. You just keep talking and talking. When all you’re supposed to do is plant trees, just that. (Pause) You just don’t stop. And you’re not going to stop, are you?

TREEPLANTER #1: Is that, like, Schopenhauer?

TONY (Walking by the hot tub, a load of fire axes over his shoulder): How’s the water, kiddies?

ALLAN (Almost in falsetto): Tell them about the Grizzly, Tony.

TONY: Mauled three.

ALLAN: What did I tell you?

TONY: How are your numbers, Cindy Lou?

CINDY (With contempt): What do you think, Tony-O?

TONY (To TREE-PLANTER #1): You crack a thou?


TONY (Nodding at Graham): What about this guy? You balling it or what?

GRAHAM: I got in eight and a half.

MAX (Muttering to Davis): Why doesn’t he say eight hundred and fifty, like a normal person?

TONY: You hear what this guy’s doing, Davis? You got that in you? (Turning to Max) Who’s this guy? You still even on my fucking crew?

Max stares back at him.

TONY: Clock’s ticking, buddy. You got me? Plant or walk. Got it?

Max stares back, expressionless. Tony walks away.

GRAHAM (Reciting from The Power of Myth):The conquest of the fear of death is the life’s joy. Life in its becoming is always shedding death and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life.

ALLAN: Yeah, man. It’s a good day to die.

Tree-planting is Hell

The following is an excerpt from the film Baller to be released in the spring of 2022:

Davis steps forward, wobbling over the uneven ground, the bags very heavy for him, makes three uncertain strides and then throws the shovel into the ground, hitting a rock. The shovel bounces out and falls as Davis shakes his hand, numb from the impact.

TONY: Watch the ground. Got to keep your eyes open, Davis. There are rocks and roots everywhere. Got it?

Davis picks up the shovel, looks for what might be a better spot, but can only seem to see roots, rocks and stumps all around.

TONY (Pointing): There. Go!

Davis places the shovel’s tip on the ground and pushes down with his boot. He kicks down a couple of times and then wedges the earth open, stands up, reaches for a tree, and has it backwards, the top of the tree pointing down, and has to reach around with both hands, leaning the shovel against his leg, gets it the right way around and puts it in the ground, kicking it closed.

TONY: Too deep. Look.

Tony reaches down to the tree, half of it buried, and kicks the tree plug in properly. Davis steps forward again, three paces, and pushes the shovel in again. It goes in properly, and he digs out another tree, turns it around, drops it in, and kicks it closed.

TONY: Too shallow.

Davis looks at the tree more closely and realizes that it is high out of the ground, half of the dirt plug showing; the tree is already falling forward. DAVIS steps forward again, going around a stump.

TONY: Watch your line. You have to watch your line. (Pointing to the forest, a couple of hundred yards away) Find a reference point, stump, branch, whatever. Keep your line. Keep it straight. Go to the back and come back. Back and forth. Got it? Until you’ve planted your land.

DAVIS: My land?

TONY: The green tape – where you’ll stop. Allan is planting next to you. (Pause, watching Davis trying to plant again) Keep your trees three yards apart, all directions. Got it? The inspectors are looking for that. Three yards. I’ll tie off your boundary just down this hill. 

Tony nods curtly at Davis, who looks back, confused.

TONY: Trees in the ground, Davis. Time to make money. (He turns and jogs back to the road.) And don’t plant the road!

DAVIS: What road!?

Tony continues to jog away. Davis looks ahead to the forest. Adjusting the bag, raising the shovel high, he steps ahead three paces and throws the shovel in successfully, brings a tree out and drops it in. He goes ahead again and gets another one in. And another. And another.

DAVIS: Almost a whole dollar. Now we’re talking.

Davis seems to be getting the hang of it and then hits a root. Unfazed, he finds another spot and puts the tree in. He looks up. The forest doesn’t look any closer. He has to step over a series of ponds, planting the trees on little rises of moss and weedy grass. They don’t look like they could possibly survive. He continues ahead, swiping at the cloud of mosquitoes around his head, methodically planting all the way up and then gets to the edge where the ground is suddenly completely open and clear. Excited, he quickly plants a succession of trees in the ground and then looks into the woods, staring into the shadows, imagining he can see something moving. He freezes, half raising his shovel, and jumps back, and then realizes it is just a branch. He turns back cautiously to the planting and realizes that he can’t see where to go because he’s forgotten to tie off any tape and so can’t see his line. He tears off his bug hat and tries to jam it in his back bag. It falls to the ground, unbeknownst to him. He stumbles ahead, searching for the trees he’s already planted, trying to make sure that he doesn’t plant them too close. He unwraps the tape and ties off almost every time he plants a tree. The tape becomes tangled in his bags and unspools in a long line, turning into streamers in the wind. The mosquitoes have arrived in a thick cloud, all over his face, getting in his eyes and ears; one flies right into his mouth. He spits it out and waves angrily. He looks for his hat and can’t find it. He continues ahead and eventually makes it back to the landing and drops the bags on the ground. He counts through his bundles, swiping at the mosquitoes, spitting them out of his face, and realizes that he has planted 45 trees and looks at his watch. Almost two hours have passed. He lights a cigarette.

TONY (Arriving on his ATV, boxes of trees tied down on the back): No smoking on the block, Davis.

DAVIS: It keeps the bugs away.

TONY (Leaning forward on the ATV handlebars): What did I tell you about planting the road?

DAVIS: What road?

TONY: The cream in the back. You can’t plant that. I saw you, Davis. You got to take those trees out.

DAVIS: Take them out? That’s like half my trees.

TONY: It’s a fire road. We got to keep that clear. That’s the law. (Pause) How many you got in?

DAVIS: 45, I think.

TONY: You put 45 trees in the road?

DAVIS: No, total. That’s all of my trees.

TONY (Pause): Are you cut out for this, Davis? Yea or nay?

Davis stomps his cigarette out.

TONY (Leaving): Trees in the ground, Davis! That’s the name of the game.

Tony drives away. Davis puts the bags on and begins to plant again. He is planting slower now, looking almost in pain, as he climbs over the slash and stumps, meticulously tearing off strips of tape, marking his line. He comes to a swampy area where it looks like no trees could possibly be planted. He stops and stares, not knowing where to go. He tries to plant a tree but it just sinks deep into the muck and vanishes, drowned.

DAVIS: Fuck me.

He looks up to a distant ridge and sees another treeplanter, effortless in his work, moving across, planting tree after tree.

DAVIS (Watching and counting the trees as the figure plants): Seven trees? In like a minute. Who the fuck is that? (Squinting) Holy shit. Max? No. Is that really Max? No. The guy gets up late and he’s going to make ten times what I do.

Davis looks around again for a place to put a tree and kicks at the ground when a large snake leaps from the muddy grasses and launches itself, mouth wide at his leg. Davis jumps back and the snake swims across the muddy water and vanishes back into the grass. Davis waves his shovel through the muddy grass, trying to scare out any other snakes and, not seeing any, he drops a tree in the water and stomps it into the mucky water. He tries to jump the pool and falls terribly short and falls back in, completely soaking his boots. He lunges forward and falls in again. It isn’t until he takes the bags off that he can get out and drag the bags after him. He puts the bags on again and then realizes he has to defecate. He takes the bags completely off again and searches the ground intensely for animals before he pulls his pants down and then leans against a stump and squats. The mosquitoes buzz all around him. He swings at them, furiously trying to keep them away and then suddenly sees a massive beetle jumping right toward his ass. He swings at it and ends up hitting his own feces.

DAVIS (Wiping his hand violently on the ground): Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck!

He has no toilet paper and wipes his ass with moss and shreds of bark, ants and beetles falling off in clumps, and then scoops water from the stagnant pond and finishes with that. He puts the bags back on, takes the shovel and looks for a place for a tree. The rain has lessened. It is now more of a mist.

DAVIS: What’s next? The goddamn fucking puma?

He looks up, warily, squints and recoils, thinking there really is a bear ahead. He stumbles back and realizes that it is just a stump. He wildly waves at the mosquitoes and runs away, stops, runs around and comes back. The bugs are everywhere. He hides his face in his shirt.

DAVIS: Fuck!!!!


Davis, his face covered in dirt and mosquito bites, smokes a cigarette in the back of the crummy as they drive back to camp. Baz is beside him. They are silent for a long time.

BAZ: How many?

DAVIS: Three hundred and twenty.

BAZ: Shit. I thought I was fucked.

Knowing and Not Knowing

I took the train to the bar, the local, thinking I knew what I knew. She would be there. And that was that.

I had calculated the $10,000, the equivalent of 50 nights at a nice hotel, 75 bottles of very fine scotch, an Antarctic cruise or a buyout from a first marriage. Not a big deal.

I felt clarity and confidence in that, knowing exactly what I was doing, intensely so. It was what might be next – the harrowing plummet to who knows where – that I could not grasp. And then it hit me. I should have taken the express.