The Drowned World – J G Ballard

Book Review

I have a complicated relationship with the novels of J G Ballard. I am drawn to his concepts; they always sound like stories I will love, but there is something in his style that deeply unsettles me. I come away feeling defensive, as though I have been spoken to in an arrogant and assertive manner, and sometimes even physically sick, but somehow I always end up reading more.

Now I have read The Drowned World, I believe I have identified the root of this strange feeling. I tried hard to find a particular quote from C G Jung at this point: I know it is in Memories, Dreams, Reflections but short of re-reading the whole book I couldn’t find what I was looking for in time for this review. Somewhere in that book, Jung refers to the voice of the unconscious mind coming across as pompous and blunt. That is what I think J G Ballard’s trick is; he speaks from, and to, the unconscious mind.

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The Spell of the Sensuous – David Abram

As we have evolved, the way we understand the world around us has changed. Nature plays a less obvious part in our lives than it once did, and we pay far more attention to technological devices and man made structures. The Spell of the Sensuous aims to explore the reasons for this, and to demonstrate how we might improve our lives by reconnecting with the natural world. It is a book that successfully merges anthropology, philosophy and ecology, and I expect it will hold the intrigue of anyone with an interest in one or more of these disciplines.

A particular curiosity of mine concerns perception, and how it alters the way we experience, so I was delighted to see the book began with that aspect. Abram considers the feeling of connectedness we get when we truly immerse ourselves in our surroundings, becoming conscious of everything our senses are telling us as we do in the practice of mindfulness. He argues that we are in essence inseparable from the things we perceive, and are in a reciprocal dance with the earth, plants and animals. He relies heavily on the ideas of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as support; a philosopher I hadn’t studied before but found intriguing. Early on in the book we are given the most convincing explanation for a belief in animism I have come across.

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