Violence as Poetry

Paul and Jane Sinclair, protagonists of J.G. Ballard’s 2000 novel Super-Cannes, move from England to the French Riviera to live at a new high-tech business park, Eden-Olympia (!), after Jane’s friend and former lover, Dr. David Greenwood, goes on a killing spree that ends with suicide.

Jane, a pediatrician, takes over as one of the leading physicians at the park. Paul, a pilot nursing a knee damaged in a crash, gets bored of lounging poolside and begins to sleuth around to find out what could have happened to Dr. Greenwood.

Emotion drains from the Sinclairs’ marriage as Jane throws herself into constant work and Paul becomes obsessed with David’s rampage. They’re not alone. Everyone at the office park is filled with, which only sharpens the mystery. Everything at Eden-Olympia seems perfect. There’s no crime or passion. Why then Greenwood’s explosion of violence? Why his sudden “brainstorm”?

Without realizing it, Paul starts living the answer. On an excursion into nearby Cannes, Janes steals a copy of Paris Match from a tabac and the theft excites a night of love-making. Paul deliberately crunches his aging Jaguar into the Audi belonging to Eden-Olympia psychologist, Wilder Penrose, and later steals a Mercedes from Frances Baring, an enchanting real estate agent, to take a joy ride. In a world of overwork and over-regulation, in a world brushing the edge of utopia, the only way to remain normal is to indulge your inner psychopath.

Penrose beat Paul to the insight. Eden-Olympia is a utopia of labor, not leisure, but Penrose encourages a very special kind of recreation, one that befits a community liberated from traditional morality. “A giant multinational like Fuji or General Motors sets its own morality,” Wilder explains, “There are no more moral decisions than there are on a new superhighway.” Rules are delegated to the company, which “leaves us free to get on with the rest of our lives. We’ve achieved real freedom, the freedom from morality” (95).

Freedom from morality is also freedom from community. In the perfected individualism of Eden-Olympia, Wilder says, “People find all the togetherness they need in the airport boarding lounge and the department-store lift” (263). Greenwood’s house, where Jane and Paul live, contains multiple editions and translations of Lewis Carrol’s Alice books. It’s fitting, for Paul feels he’s stepped through the looking glass.

How does an Ubermensch spend his free time? Not “playing around with balls of various shapes and sizes,” Penrose snorts (94). A more visceral therapy is needed, and Penrose has organized it. Random gang violence, directed against minorities, transvestites, and prostitutes. Cruelty and rage. Sex with pre-pubescent girls and boys.

Executives put on leather jackets to join a “bowling club” for an evening ratissage in a nearby village, and they return to Eden-Olympia stronger, sexier, healthier. Jane carries on an affair with Simone Delage, becomes a heroin addict, and tries out street walking for an evening. Transgression drives out tedium; weekend madness balances workday sanity; a homeopathic dose of psychopathy proves to be “its own most potent cure” (251).

Wilder has reversed evolution, turning pale decadents into predatory hunter-gatherers. As Paul sardonically puts it, “The toy poodle becomes a wolf again” (264). Greenwood’s spree was his revenge and his confession, an attempt to use extreme violence to expose the extreme violence under the shiny veneer of this new Eden, this new mountain of gods. By the end of the story, Paul Sinclair is arming himself to finish what Greenwood started.

In its unsettling depiction of petty malice, Super-Cannes rivals Ballard’s High Rise. Like Dave Eggers’s The Circle and The Every, the novel offers a penetrating sketch of multinational corporate dystopia. Like Fight Club, it’s a parable of the psychopathy provoked by consumer society.

“The consumer society hungers for the deviant and unexpected,” Wilder explains to Paul. “What else can drive the bizarre shifts in the entertainment landscape that keeps us ‘buying’? Psychopathy is the only engine powerful enough to light our imaginations, to drive the arts, sciences, and industries of the world” (265).

In brief: “Meaningless violence may be the true poetry of the new millennium” (262).

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