‘The Problem of This Trash Society’: Anthropogenic Waste and the Neoliberal City in Super-Cannes, Millennium People and Kingdom Come

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This essay examines the role of waste objects in J.G. Ballard’s critique of neoliberalism in Super-Cannes, Millennium People and Kingdom Come.1 It focuses on the ways in which waste matter resists the reader’s—and characters’—gaze, obstructs the flow of capital, and/or enlivens them to the eerie underside of the streamlined systems that make up the societies in these texts. To approach these questions, I combine historical materialist, Structural anthropological, and New Materialist approaches to waste. Waste, I argue, requires a multi-dimensional framework that takes into account the interrelation of socio-economic, psycho-pathological and tribal ramifications as well as an understanding of its relationship to the natural world. It is ultimately more fruitful to examine Ballard’s waste objects both as allegories and as elements enmeshed in a wider framework (one that often eludes the imperialist aspirations of the human beings involved) than to choose one interpretative mode over the other. It allows us to consider the extent to which both the plotlines of Ballard’s novels and the ideas they put forth are contingent upon not only the circulation of objects between people—their ‘social life’, as Appadurai would term it—but their interrelation with the environment of which they are a part. In his exploration of capital, power, and the built environment, Ballard seizes upon the fact that matter—both manufactured and natural—exists even when we are not looking at it, and that this life beyond the social has significant repercussions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages26
JournalC21 Literature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.


  • waste
  • anthropocene
  • capitalocene
  • neoliberalism
  • J.G. Ballard;
  • New Materialism;
  • historical materialism
  • discard studies


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