Post-liberalism in Ballard’s “Kingdom Come”. Ultra-fetishist geophilosophy and totalitarian nightmare…


“…a flow is always of belief and of desire. Beliefs and desires are the basis of every society, because they are flows and as such are “quantifiable”; they are veritable social Quantities, whereas sensations are qualitative and representations are simple resultants…” (Gilles Deleuze – Felix Guattari “A Thousand Plateus”, p. 219)

I desire, I believe, therefore I possess” (Gabriel Tarde)

“These New Towns are completely dependent on the highway system that surrounds London and provides a constant escape route, creating a widespread sense of irresponsibility. As these residential areas are conceived there can be no feeling of rooting and therefore of loyalty for those who live there. The only loyalty is to the place where you go shopping, huge hypermarkets like you have in Italy, mostly in the suburbs. You drive about ten miles, put the car in a large parking lot, enter a shopping center, take the cart, fill it up properly, and then drive back home, with no social connection to the place in which you live. All this cannot be the basis of a healthy society. For the moment it may be acceptable, but what will happen if things change and take another direction? This is what worries me. Because they are places, from the social point of view, without defenses. “(James G. Ballard interviewed by Valentina Agostinis in “Londra Chiama”, 2009, p. 51)

A true testament of the entire literary work of J.G.Ballard, Kingdom Come, published in 2006, is an apocalyptic sight at the “real England”, the one that has been developed in the “Housing Estate” of the New Towns arose as a result of Thatcherism along the M4 motorway that departs from London, or around the immense orbital ring of the M25 (188 km long) surrounding the British capital.

The territories along the flowing ways serving London are fed by an arterial system that, through the metal of the cars, nourishes the muscular tissues of the enormous London pulsating organ. Ballard’s true England is not in the heart of the global-museum-city, the city used to be visited, inhabited by the top of the world society, but in the suburbs, an immense area where social classes no longer exist, in which people are deprived of roots, detached from “traditional values” and interested only in themselves, whose only desires are linked to consumption and the desire for a new car.

The urban and narrative fabric of Kingdom Come is typically postmodern, necessarily fragmented into a palimpsest of specialized architectural forms, between the city center (only evoked) and Brooklands, in West London; among the private terraced houses, the streets, the car interiors and the shopping centers, where the variations and intensities of the intimate spaces personalized to the monumentality and the gaiety of the show are measured. The space is modeled for social purposes and is subordinate to the construction of a social project that seems to have lost the characteristics of liberalism.

It is between Heathrow airport and the headquarters of the research laboratories of Siemens, Motorola, Astra Computers, where develops the novel, beyond there are the empires of consumerism. An area of the Thames valley crossed by hundreds of thousands of cars a day, the expression of a suburban culture based on residential neighborhoods where the inhabitants depend on the car for their own autonomy and from the shopping malls for their social identity, based on consumption, work, and home privacy.

The blurred social class, from which only the otherness of the immigrants living in Brooklands stands out, seems to suggest that the social subjects that Ballard had in mind are a sort of suburban middle class, whose sole objective is to keep the obsession alive for the operation of the consumption machine that revolves around a huge shopping mall, the Metro-Centre.

What would happen if for some reason consumerism should slow down? Ballard seems to be asking himself: “What will do these multinationals that constantly push us to shopping…if at some point we lose interest in this kind of activity? After all, how many televisions can you have, how many pairs of shoes…How far can this machine of consumerist capitalism go? Perhaps, to keep the engine running, we will have to start leveraging some psychopathological tendency that has always been present in human beings “. (James G. Ballard in “Londra Chiama”, by Valentina Agostinis, page 53)

From the hymen of monotonous and homogeneous what can be born, if not boredom? If everything comes from identity, and if everything tends to return to it, what is the source of this river of varieties that dazzles us? (Gabriel Tarde)

It is in these environments that the characters of Kingdom Come, like the protagonists of Pasolini’s “Salò or the 120 days of Sodom”, live a life based on boredom. A boredom that is a driving reality of the very nature of desires and passions, interrupted by acts of violence without reason:

The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world…” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

The central idea of ​​Ballard is that consumerism leads society to progressively shift towards fascism when politics aims to satisfy the desires of people educated to become merchandise, whose only relation is between the credit card and the shop where they go shopping. “That’s where people vote today, no longer in the ballot box. Where people go to vote every day, even several times a day, is at the polling station of the cashier, they vote for Mc Donald’s, if they are rich for Prada. It is a society completely dependent on consumption and goods, which is understandable because we live immersed in the culture of entertainment. It’s all we have, buying things is our fun. When we go shopping, it’s like buying toys that we give to ourselves. The culture of entertainment that we inhabit is making us childish, it forces us to become children again”.(James G. Ballard in” Londra Chiama “, by Valentina Agostinis, pag.51)

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew, 6:10)

The protagonist of Kingdom Come, Richard Pearson, narrative voice and alter ego of Ballard, is a forty-one-year-old advertising agent residing in Chelsea, whose father was killed while he was in the Metro-Centre, the shopping mall, by a sniper who randomly shot in the crowd. Pearson, a few weeks after the tragic event, goes to Brooklands to resolve the legacy issues, and to question himself about that absurd death. In this way, he rediscovers the life of his old father, a former British aviator, who has always lived in that area, since before it was urbanized and transformed into a residential neighborhood. Brooklands is, in fact, a suburb invented by the advertising industry, a place where there are none “…cinemas, churches or civic centres, and the endless billboards advertising a glossy consumerism sustained the only cultural life.[…] a place where it was impossible to borrow a book, attend a concert, say a prayer, consult a parish record or give to charity. In short, the town was an end state of consumerism.” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

The huge silver dome of the shopping center, the Metro-Centre, is the real literary center of the new metropolis that surrounds Greater London. Temple dedicated to consumerism, the shopping center around which the novel revolves is a complex of shops, hotels and sports centers, owner of a local soccer team, provided with a television studio that broadcasts on a cable TV channel that exceeds the ratings of BBC 2 and which dispenses advice on purchases and various household chores, where local problems are discussed, gently encouraging racism towards immigrants. The soul of the Metro-Centre’s cable TV station is David Cruise, a former actor with a slimy air, whose popularity constantly feeds on the need to access goods for every person who resides in the new towns of the surroundings. The entire neighborhood is permanently connected to David Cruise’s broadcasts, whose face is also projected by the stadium’s giant screens.

In an urban space characterized by boredom, the deterritorialized power of Kingdom Come is based on the economy of debt and desire, on a “metaphysics of having” with which consumers are driven to constantly change goods purchased a few months before, for to have in exchange the latest models produced and launched on the market, in a social relationship “de-proletarianized” and transversal, atomicized in a combinatory sense and based on the Ethics of the indebted man, who knows no boundaries, nor State, nor production dualism (active/inactive, occupied/not occupied, productive/non-productive). Debt and dependence on goods and the Metro-Centre, powered by cable TV, is the real device of a biopower that reconfigures sovereign, disciplinary and biopolitical power. The biopower that unfolds in Kingdom Come originates from a pure feeling moved by the powers of belief and desire of possession, by greed, by affections and passions that invest and redesign life and disciplines, immediately becoming political.

In this metaphysics of affective forces, time takes on the full meaning of becoming, whose duration exists through the events in which the polarization between actual and virtual becomes the force itself (Energy, affective force), in close relationship with sensation: production of power to be subjects and objects of affection. The feeling is urged to manifest itself through duration, through the activation of a memory that prevents a before and after of the moments, making the present reborn unceasingly, preserving “what is no longer in what is still”. The power of being a subject and an object of affection acquires a temporal foundation, time becoming no longer a way of being but being itself. The affective force is crystallized and reproduced through the spectacle of goods and communication technologies that mobilize its spontaneity and receptivity, transforming the strength-time relationship into industrial production, through a distance action based on images.

The Metro-Centre is a unique and identical space, without clocks, without a past and without a future, where the only reference to real-time is marked by football matches projected through the ubiquitous monitors. Space and time are reduced to a primitive function, to a continuous and original quasi-sensation through which to believe and desire becomes the origin of the judgment and evaluation of every notion of value, a spontaneous force, always in action, which reiterates the dead instant in the next living instant, in a continuous-present. The shopping center thus assumes the function of a cathedral that resolves in elementary domain the empty entity of the unique time in multiple realities, in elementary desires whose extension and duration are the apparent quantities translated into the “language of the senses” of desire and belief.

“And we could do nothing other than to say that after having objectified our efforts, our desires, our desire acts in the notion of force, we have objectified our faculty of rejecting our voluntary ego in this strange notion of Time, a sort of universal Desire, without end and without object, common to all particular desires. “(Gabriel Tarde, L’opposition universelle)

On both sides of the immense atrium of the Metro-Centre the huge face of David Cruise, the sales messiah, is the constant and reassuring presence, mediated by maxi-screens, whose contents are the expression of a virtual policy that has no link with reality, redefining the very concept of reality:

(David Cruise)…I don’t want to blow the Metro-Centre’s trumpet, but consumerism is about a lot more than buying things. […] It’s our main way of expressing our tribal values, of engaging with each other’s hopes and ambitions. What you see here is a conflict of recreational cultures, a clash of very different lifestyles. On the one side are people like us—we enjoy the facilities offered by the Metro-Centre, and depend on the high values and ideals maintained by the mall and its suppliers. Together they probably do a better job of representing your real interests than your Member of Parliament. […] On the other side are the low-value expectations of the immigrant communities. Their suppressed womenfolk are internal exiles who never share the dignity and freedom to choose that we see in the consumer ideal. ” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

The spectacular dimension reproduced in the novel is of the “integrated” type, the absolute master of memory, in the sense that it is rooted in reality itself as it speaks of it, reconstructing it as it speaks, organizing appearances. The circular movement of information is based on the mobilization of emotions through an uninterrupted flow in which the images of the goods are juxtaposed. The spectators, reduced to a state of contemplative passivity, witness the affirmation of the appearance of social life, mediated through images that invite one to attend sporting events or to go to the realm of freedom, the Metro-Centre. The identification of the diversity of immigrants, of Muslims, is used as an element of substantialization of the identity of the loyal clientes of the shopping center, it returns to a public of classless the last frontier of generalized alienation in a social environment where nothing more it is sacred, in which daily life is the battlefield between the denied living totality and the economic power that denies it.

The Kingdom Come’s shopping mall is not an anthropological non-place, a space where identities intersect without entering into a relationship, but it is the environment from which a geophilosophy that riterritorializes unravels, like an imperial spatium in a line of immanence attributed to contemplation of goods, with which an intersubjectivity of communication is founded. The Metro-Centre is the place of an ideal city-state, a concept of habit in power, where the subjects associate and unite in sharing the taste of opinion, that of the empire of signs and of the exhibited goods. The show of the goods is the event that actualizes the becoming of the subjectivity of the consumer. Consumerism teaches that “everything good has a barcode. The great dream of the Enlightenment, that reason and rational self-interest would one day triumph, led directly to today’s consumerism.” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

I stood in the sunshine fifty yards from the South Gate entrance, watching the shoppers cross the wide apron that surrounded the mall, a vast annular plaza in its own right. In a few moments they would be bathed in a light more healing than anything on offer from the sun. As we entered these huge temples we became young again, like children visiting the home of a new schoolfriend, a house that at first seemed forbidding. Then a strange but smiling mother would appear and put the most nervous child at ease with a promise that small treats would appear throughout the visit. 

All malls subtly infantilized us, but the Metro-Centre showed signs of urging us to grow up a little. Uniformed stewards stood by the entrance, checking bags and purses, a response to the tragedy in which my father had died. An elderly Asian couple approached the entrance, and were quickly surrounded by volunteers in St George’s shirts. No one spoke to the couple, but they were stared at and shouldered about until a Metro-Centre security man intervened.” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

The scenario that Pearson finds at Brooklands is far from serene. A burned car and the home of a damaged immigrant welcome him as soon as he arrives in the suburb where the flag of Saint George, the British national symbol, flies everywhere. Bands of ultras march in SS style wearing the T-shirt of the local team, which reproduces the red cross on a white background. The symbol is also displayed on clothes by elderly inhabitants who exhibit it to foreigners as a warning and belonging to a group. Shortly afterwards, at his father’s house, where he finds the same T-shirts with the symbol of the cross of Saint George, the surprising discovery of a library with biographies of Peròn, Göring, Mussolini, Oswald Mosley, texts on Adolf Hitler, guides illustrated with Nazi badges and a text on the history of the British Union of Fascists, will push Richard Pearson to question himself on the drift undertaken by his father, and on the cause of his tragic death.

Mr Pearson, people don’t riot in Surrey. They’re far more polite, “and far more dangerous” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

By the consumerist culture of postmodernity, the principle according to which everyone is free to consume and to access goods, a sort of “to each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, implies the consequence that everyone “must” consume, bringing freedom to be a compulsive phenomenon. The reduction to the infantilism of consumers is the condition for reproducing the most “ancient” and uncontrollable emotions, to create the expectation that to break the boredom will be something that is about to happen, something for which we cannot wait, in a vortex that increasingly exalts desires, in search of ever stronger emotions, with disruptive effects on the psychology of individuals, accompanied by totalitarian delirium from the production of signs based on the codes of mass violence, the refusal of otherness, on accumulation of an emotional capital to invest in the figure of a leader.

Richard, think about it for a moment. People come in here looking for something worthwhile. What do they find? Everything is invented, all the emotions, all the reasons for living. It’s an imaginary world, created by people like you. A madman walks in with a gun and thinks he’s in a shooting gallery. Perhaps he is, inside his head.”[…] Half the goods we buy these days are not much more than adult toys. The danger is that consumerism will need something close to fascism in order to keep growing. Take the Metro-Centre and its flat sales. Close your eyes a little and it already looks like a Nuremberg rally. The ranks of sales counters, the long straight aisles, the signs and banners, the whole theatrical aspect.”[…] Consumerism creates huge unconscious needs that only fascism can satisfy. If anything, fascism is the form that consumerism takes when it opts for elective madness. You can see it here already.”[…] He hasn’t arrived yet. He’ll appear, though, walking out of some shopping mall or retail park. Messiahs always emerge from the desert. Everybody will be waiting for him, and he’ll seize his chance. (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

Social exploitation and liberation of instincts as a condition for psychic control; the game of power and roles in Kingdom Come is a dice game that nobody can really control. Richard Pearson, entering more and more into the socio-psychic dimension of Brooklands, within the narrow circle of power that directs and manages the groups of volunteers and ultras, will discover that there is no real preordained plan of what appears to be a pocket revolution or a large-scale social experiment, a cleverly conspiracy managed from above, but an accomplice interdependence in which he will find himself to be an agent. A voluntary madness, before the final epilogue. A madness that is the only thing left to the classless and identity-less inhabitants of Brooklands.

People still think the Nazi leaders led the German people into the horrors of race war. Not true. The Germans were desperate to break out of their prison. Defeat, inflation, grotesque war reparations, the threat of barbarians advancing from the east. Going mad would set them free, and they chose Hitler to lead the hunting party. That’s why they stayed together till the end. They needed a psychopathic god to worship, so they recruited a nobody and stood him on the high altar. The great religions have been at it for millennia.” […] Vast systems of psychopathic delusion that murdered millions, launched crusades and founded empires. A great religion spells danger. Today people are desperate to believe, but they can only “reach God through psychopathology. ”[…] People feel they can rely on the irrational. It offers the only guarantee of freedom from all the cant and bullshit and sales commercials fed to us by politicians, bishops and academics. People are deliberately re-primitivizing themselves. They yearn for magic and unreason, which served them well in the past, and might help them again. They’re keen to enter a new Dark Age. The lights are on, but they’re retreating into the inner darkness, into superstition and unreason. The future is going to be a struggle between vast systems of competing psychopathies, all of them willed and deliberate, part of a desperate attempt to escape from a rational world and the boredom of consumerism.”  (J.G.Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

What emerges is a conception of authority in which the individual will is governed through its own thought, subordinated on the basis of obedience and self-censorship:

What we want is an aesthetics of violence. We believe in the triumph of feelings over reason. Pure materialism isn’t enough, all those Asian shopkeepers with their cash-register minds. We need drama, we need our emotions manipulated, we want to be conned and cajoled. Consumerism fits the bill exactly. It’s drawn the blueprint for the fascist states of the future. If anything, consumerism creates an appetite that can only be satisfied by fascism. Some kind of insanity is the last way forward. All the dictators in history soon grasped that—Hitler and the Nazi leaders made sure no one ever thought they were completely sane.” (James G. Ballard, Kingdom Come: A Novel)

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Quest’ opera è distribuita con licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione – Non commerciale – Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia.


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