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Chapter 1: The Atrocity Exhibition Excerpt

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Note: The commentary is by Ballard, and unique to the RE/Search edition
Apocalypse

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 Missilebizarre images, with their fusion of Eniwetok and Luna Park, Freud and Elizabeth Taylor, reminded her of slides of exposed spine levels in Travis’s office. They hung on the enameled 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.’

Commentary:”Eniwetok and Luna Park” may seem like a strange pairing, the H-bomb test site in the Marshall Islands with the Paris fun fair loved by the surrealists. But the endless newsreel clips of nuclear explosions that we saw on TV in the 1960s (a powerful incitement to the psychotic imagination, sanctioning everything) did have a carnival air, a media phenomenon which Stanley Kubrick caught perfectly at the end of Dr. Strangelove. I imagine my mental patients conflating Freud and Liz Taylor in their Warhol-like efforts, unerringly homing in on the first signs of their doctor’s nervous breakdown. The Atrocity Exhibition’s original dedication should have been “To the insane.” I owe them everything.
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