The Atrocity Exhibition

Atrocity Exhibition 4thApocalypse. A disquieting feature of this annual exhibition – to which the patients themselves were not invited – was the marked preoccupation of the paintings with the theme of world cataclysm, as if these long-incarcerated patients had sensed some seismic upheaval within the minds of their doctors and nurses. As Catherine Austin walked around the converted gymnasium these bizarre images, with their fusion of Eniwetok and Luna Park, Freud and Elizabeth Taylor, reminded her of the slides of exposed spinal levels in Travis’s office. They hung on the enamelled walls like the codes of insoluble dreams, the keys to a nightmare in which she had begun to play a more willing and calculated role. Primly she buttoned her white coat as Dr Nathan approached, holding his gold-tipped cigarette to one nostril. ‘Ah, Dr Austin . . . What do you think of them? I see there’s War in Hell.’

—J. G. Ballad, The Atrocity Exhibition

The Atrocity Exhibition (aka Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A., coll., 1969) is a collection of experimental short stories – or ”condensed novels” – by J. G. Ballard.


The Atrocity Exhibition

One chapter of is entitled “Crash!” and inspired Ballard to organise an exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory in 1970, which he called “Crashed Cars”. This preoccupation with sex, death and the motorcar culminated in his most extreme novel Crash (1973).

It was filmed by Jonathan Weiss in 2001

  • ‘‘The Atrocity Exhibition’’ (First published in New Worlds, Vol. 50, # 166, September 1966).
  • ‘The University of Death’’ (Transatlantic Review, No. 29, London, Summer 1968).
  • ‘‘The Assassination Weapon’’ (New Worlds,Vol. 50, # 161)
  • ‘‘You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe’’ (Ambit # 27, Spring 1966)
  • ‘‘Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown’’ ( New Worlds, July 1967)
  • ‘‘The Great American Nude’’ (Ambit # 36 Summer 1968)
  • ‘‘The Summer Cannibals’’ (New Worlds # 186 January 1969)
  • ‘‘Tolerances of the Human Face’’ (Encounter Vol. 33, No. 3, September 1969)
  • ‘‘You and Me and the Continuum’’ (Impulse, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1966)
  • ‘‘Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy’’ (Ambit # 31, Spring 1967)
  • ‘‘Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A.’’ (Circuit #6, June 1968)
  • ‘‘Crash!’ (ICA-Eventsheet February 1969)
  • ‘‘The Generations of America’’ (New Worlds # 183, October 1968)
  • ‘‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’’ (Brighton: Unicorn Bookshop, 1968)
  • ‘‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’’ (Ambit # 29, Autumn 1966)


  • ‘‘Princess Margaret’s Facelift’’ (New Worlds # 199, March 1970)
  • ‘‘Mae West’s Reduction Mammoplasty’’ (Ambit # 44, Summer 1970)
  • ‘‘Queen Elizabeth’s Rhinoplasty’’ (TriQuarterly No. 35, Winter 1976)
  • ‘‘The Secret History of World War III’’ (Ambit # 114, Autumn 1988)
‘‘The meanderings of a diseased mind’’

Unicorn BooksThe story ‘‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’’ was originally published as a pamphlet by the Unicorn Bookshop and became embroiled in the prosecution of the proprietor, Bill Butler, in

Scottish poet and broadcaster George McBeth was called as a witness for the defence and argued in support of the literary merits of Ballard’s story:

… here he is concerned with American politics and society and the ways in which, as he sees it, the feelings of sexual desire and love can only be aroused by violence and violent stimuli. He believes American society is sick and he is criticising the sickness in this work. … America is a most highly developed society where advertising is crucial and so is the projection of images. … This [piece] shows how human feelings of sex and love can be manipulated by violence. [It] shows the connection between the different kinds of violence, for example car crashes, Vietnam and racial violence

—— George McBath

In 1970, the pamphlet was added as an appendix to Doubleday‘s first American edition of the collection, retitled as Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A., and which itself was itself subject of an obscenity trial: this edition was destroyed prior to release.

‘‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’’ prompted Doubleday in 1970 to pulp its first American edition of The Atrocity Exhibition. Ronald Reagan’s presidency remained a complete mystery to most Europeans, though I noticed that Americans took him far more easily in their stride. But the amiable old duffer who occupied the White House was a very different person from the often sinister figure I described in 1967, when the present piece was first published. The then-novelty of a Hollywood film star entering politics and becoming governor of California gave Reagan considerable air time on British TV. Watching his right-wing speeches, in which he castigated in sneering tones the profligate, welfare-spending, bureaucrat-infested state government, I saw a more crude and ambitious figure, far closer to the brutal crime boss he played in the 1964 movie, The Killers, his last Hollywood role. In his commercials Reagan used the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring. A complete discontinuity existed between Reagan’s manner and body language, on the one hand, and his scarily simplistic far-right message on the other. Above all, it struck me that Reagan was the first politician to exploit the fact that his TV audience would not be listening too closely, if at all, to what he was saying, and indeed might well assume from his manner and presentation that he was saying the exact opposite of the words actually emerging from his mouth. Though the man himself mellowed, his later presidency seems to have run the same formula

—— J. G. Ballard, interview for Re/Search Publications


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