The Drowned World

As ever, what interests me most about this is the blasphemy. I love a bit of blasphemy, me. Through some rather unbelievable psychoscience, Ballard constructs a scenario by which modern man finds himself back in prehistoric conditions and memories buried deep within our gene code are awakened. As our protagonist Kerans puts it: 'a point might ultimately be reached where a second Adam and Eve found themselves alone in a new Eden'. That prediction proves correct, Kerans himself becomes 'a second Adam searching for the forgotten paradises of the reborn sun' at the end of the novel.

Rather than meeting his maker, Kerans reaches a state by which all loyalty to civilisation is stripped away and he becomes the human animal. A bit like the one imagined by Rousseau, a solitary creature. His maker is the natural world, and ultimately, the sun – the sole source of life-nourishing energy on our planet.

So we have our indifferent, impersonal God, but who is the serpent in this little fable? (Beatrice, by way of Dante perhaps, plays the part of Eve.) That would be Strangman, but also, it turns out, Riggs. The rapacious pioneer and empire-builder sanctioned by and sustaining the political powers that be. The crazy root driving our towering achievements is here exposed, but the alternative presented by Ballard is equally absurd and terrifying, although he seems to sympathise with the outcasts and their past-smitten rejection of progress.

Rousseau was categorical that going back was not only impossible but undesirable, and proposed measures to restrain and reverse the imperialist mindset. Ballard is (if it's possible) even less sanguine – the only paradise humanity will know is that of the jungle.

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