The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Monday, September 18, 2006


The South Bank Show this evening profiled and interviewed J.G. Ballard. In discussing the film of Crash, Ballard noted that at Cannes the Spanish, Italian and French critics all got what it was about, while Alexander Walker (film critic of the Evening Standard) stormed out, and the film was banned in Norway. It was those viewers from Catholic countries, with an appreciation of original sin, the notion that fundamentally we are all rather perverse (and, Bragg interjected, have a death at the centre of their religion - right, said Ballard [and Protestants don't?]) who were equipped to deal with it.

They didn't go on - at least I don't think they did - to consider what Protestantism has at its centre instead. I guess, unequivocal salvation or damnation, with no grey area in which perversity can take place. The notion of perfection, the city on the the hill. As I've mentioned before, Garner has stated he thought the English people cut themselves off from an imaginative tap-root with Protestantism.

One of the things I find very interesting is an idea that can follow from this: that even if you don't consider yourself to have religious faith, the matrix of thought laid down by a religious tradition will continue to operate long after the practice of that religion had faded. Over recent years I've become aware of how important a weak but persistent ambience of Scottish Calvinism in my background has been to shaping my world-view. I escaped, thankfully, the genuinely traumatising blood-and-hellfire sermons of my father's youth.


I was most relieved to see Martin Amis admitting he didn't get what Crash was about until his third or fourth reading of it, in preparation for reviewing the Cronenberg film, and that in his 1970s review of it, he used sarcasm to cover his ignorance.


At 18 September 2006 at 01:22 , Blogger The Silver Eel said...

However, while understanding what he is saying, I disagree with Ballard that the world used to be 'more real', and has been overtaken by the unreal, thanks to the inescapable influence of media. We always idealise (although, to be fair, Ballard is more kinna making an observation) the past, particularly that of our forbears. I don't believe that experience was (or is) any less 'unreal' when viewed through the prism of religion, for example. The pulpit was previous generations' equivalent of TV, advertising and movies all rolled into one, and without the options of denial or simply turning off. The media may have changed over the centuries, but the manipulation hasn't. One has always had to fight for one's mind in one way or another.

This is exactly what Davy, which I have just finished reading for the third time, is about.

At 18 September 2006 at 22:17 , Blogger Joe said...

Yes, decades after rejecting organised religion in general and Christianity in particular I too still find it infects some of my world view. Watching a documentary recently on the creation of battalions of new saints for the Catholic church and the faitful praying to them my Scottish protestant upbringing kicked in making me think "oooh, wicked idolatory!"

Interesting how some commentators link the protestant-catholic divide along rational-imaginative lines. The early (and many later) Gothic novels in Britain would often involve dark and supertitious events which were usually located in other countries which were normally catholic, largely rural and viewed as backwards such as Spain or parts of Italy.

Keith Roberts' Pavane, interestingly, paints an alternate history where catholicism holds sway and no protestant revolution takes place in England, leading to a society far more scientifically behind the actual historical one.

At 26 September 2006 at 11:15 , Blogger Yvonne said...

Tolkien once said that Catholicism was like an enormous tree growing through time - some branches might need pruning occasionally, but in general it was a rich and diverse growth. Whereas the Protestants tried to chop down the tree and return to the original sapling.

I too, despite moving to an older tree with more branches, find myself occasionally encrusted with lichen from the old tree. I realised this when I got a delicious frisson from gambling.


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