A possible answer to one of Professor Pulizzi’s closing questions struck me a few minutes after class concluded today. Why does Ballard feature women the way he does in The Atrocity Exhibition? They’re often portrayed as passive, mutilated and part of experiments. Perhaps Ballard is commenting on the strong impact of media on the major role women play in the development of life, biologically speaking. Women carry and bear children through an extremely vulnerable state of development. However, once the natural development of a human being ceases in the womb, and the child leaves a woman’s body, he/she is subject to other elements of development such as exposure to mass media. Perhaps the text is suggesting that the progressing role of media is becoming the dominant cognitive developer for humans, the main source of nourishment for the mind, as opposed to direct social interaction. The text isn’t necessarily saying that women are becoming obsolete due to extensive media exposure, but represents the deteriorating, direct social bond between humans through the novel’s various assaults on women. The novel represents this through women in particular because women participate in everyone’s first relationship, everyone’s first encounter with another human being.
Deconstruction of identity ironically plays a major role in The Atrocity Exhibition. Ballard uses the prevalence of comparing women characters’ and celebrities’ bodies to and with each other (68) to divert focus from each woman’s individuality. The novel’s narrator and characters also often isolate specific body parts, disregarding the idea of a person as a whole. The constant emphasis on plastic models and mannequins also creates an anonymous representation of humans (64). One of the protagonists, first named Travis, undergoes several name changes that include Travers, Talbot, and Traven, constructing a disjointed and unclear portrayal of the character. Even the titles of each paragraph in chapters 10-12 and 14 lack concrete and complete ideas of the content that follows each title. This constant breakdown and inattention to individual identity emphasizes the disturbing tendency of media to focus only on the shallow appearance and aesthetic features of people rather than exploring a deeper, more complex aspect of their character. The images portrayed on television screens display two-dimensionally, and so the people shown in a way lose the depth of their physical identity as well.
The significance of Julio Cortázar’s title of his short story “Blow-Up” sparked a variety of possible meanings while I was reading the text. Although the text mentions a few variations of the word “blow” (“blowing” on 118, 119 and “blown” on 119), the title’s form of the word “blow” appears in a simile: “The kid had ducked his head like boxers do when they’ve done all they can and are waiting for the final blow to fall” (128). The “final blow” takes the form of a photograph, a depiction that traps the kid’s stance and expression in a representation of frozen time. “Blow-Up” also refers to the narrator’s blown up version of that particular photograph, although he refers to the magnified copy as an “enlargement” (126). The title also corresponds to the overwhelming burgeoning of one of the photo’s figures: the clown-man reflected in the kid’s eyes. The narrator imagines the man’s image as expanding until he “blotted out the island” (131).
Cortázar allows these various connections to the term “blow-up” to emphasize the outbreak of possible interpretations from a single source. The term indicates movement, but the results of the action “blow” can produce many outcomes, such as stagnancy after the final blow of a fight, or adoration or helplessness as shown through the narrator’s photo enlargement.