(réf. Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines n° 5. Montpellier: Presses universitaires de Montpellier, 1994)
J. G. Ballard's The Day of Creation:
Finally, on the sixth day, God made animals and man. There is no obvious reference to this, but it is nevertheless in the same chapter (p. 7) that the three main characters, Mallory, Sanger and Noon, who each embody one aspect of Mallory's personality, meet, never to part, until the end of the novel. In this sense, psychologically, man, such as he is described in the Bible, "both male and female" (Genesis 1, 27), one but multiple and complex also appears there.
Yet, it seems difficult to assimilate Mallory to God, since he merely watches the river coming into existence. Even though lie claims that lie created it, there is no conscious act on his part, nor any clear motive for it. And unlike God, who "rested on the seventh day in order to look at the rushes" (p. 57), as Sanger puts it, Mallory immediately sets to work to destroy the new spring and the river, his antagonism contrasting God's love for His creation.
The figure six is recurrent throughout the novel. It is obsessively repeated, and points to the absence of the seventh day.
Before coming to Port-la-Nouvelle, Mallory had spent six months in northern Nigeria (p. 40); the spring appears six months after his arrival (p. 41); the bole of the tree was six feet in diameter (p. 37); it took Mallory six weeks to complete his barrage (p. 207); important events usually occur at six days' intervals (pp. 21, 71, 72, 96, 193, 209, 247 etc.); and Noon grew into a woman in six months.
All this calls attention to the symbolic meaning of six. Contrary to seven, which indicates divine perfection and wholeness, six represents the opposition of the creature to the creator, and the struggle between good and evil (2), as illustrated in the Book of Revelation with the number of the Beast: "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six" (Revelation, 13, 18).
The relation between Dr. Mallory (whose nickname is Doc Mal) and evil is further enhanced when he is urged by one of Mrs. Warrender's women to go back to his cabin in those words: "Doctor, you stay on the dance floor. Or you go below ... Where you belong, Dr Mal! " (p. 178, italics mine).
Another point is that he is also often associated with the north which in the Bible is seen as the seat of Evil, as the origin of false gods and idolaters" (3): Port-la-Nouvelle is in the
2. See ALLENDY R., Le symbolisme des nombres, Paris, 1948, quoted
in CHEVALLIER J. & GHEERBRANDT A., Dictionnaire des symboles, Paris:
Laffont, 1969, reprinted 1989, p.888-889.
northern province of the country, Noon is from a northern tribe, the source of the river is in the north etc.
Since Doctor Mallory's creation is under the auspices of six and the north, it cannot be good, it is not complete, probably because Mallory himself is psychologically ailing and not whole.
Two chapters bear titles explicitly referring to Genesis: chapter 8, The Creation Garden, and chapter 15, The Naming of New Things. But there again, their contents belie the allusion to divine work.
In The Creation Garden , Mallory is exhilarated with "the fresh, Edenic air, almost believing that [he] had planted and watered a forgotten corner of the original creation garden" (p. 55). And yet, "man-made rubbish" is already there, with the river "sweeping with it a freight of uprooted saplings, rafts of brushwood, and a legion of beer bottles and aerosol cans" (p. 54). Destruction and the garbage of civilisation are inseparable from his river, from the very moment of its creation.
The Naming of New Things refers to the second biblical account of the creation of the world, when "God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them" (Genesis, 2,19).
In this chapter, Noon learns to speak, thanks to "a parcel of educational cassettes ... popular guides to political philosophy, colonial history and third-world resources. For Noon these cassettes became her guides in a basic English language course, the first tuition of any kind she had ever received" (p. 105).
Her painstaking attempts at repeating fragments of the Marxist-oriented jargon produce some ludicrous pieces of dialogue like: "For Heaven's sake, Noon ... Let's agree on this. Left equals 'solidarity." Right equals 'exploitation.' Okay?" (p. 106).
Yet, the naming of new things really refers to Mallory: from this chapter on, Noon will call him "Doc Mal" (p.105-106), instead of "N'Doc," thus unambiguously establishing his negative character, which in time will seep into his garden of Eden.
When Mallory and Noon sail out, the banks of the river are described in truly Edenic terms:a "maiden world" (p. 103), a "riverside garden" (p. 104), an "Edenic paradise" (p. 109) and Mallory, who has abandoned his clothes and is unaware of his nakedness is a sort of Adamic figure in it. But it soon deteriorates. The river's "lavish parades of flora and fauna" appear later as "no more than cunning decoys" (p. 125). The stones on its banks become "the
elements of a kit from which a creator might select the fossil bed of a new world" (p. 127). In short, it is a sham, a parody of Eden doomed to destruction.
From then on, the water flows more slowly. It turns into a "maze" of channels (p. 165) and lagoons, whose "pus-like surface" (p. 181) breeds illness and death (4). Rubbish, "old tyres, pieces of beach furniture, ammunition boxes and radio spare parts" (p. 192) litter its bed. By chapter 28, aptly titled Doc Mal, il is a "poisoned paradise" (p.203). The fishermen and nomads who had settled on its banks and diverted part of its waters to irrigate their fields are slowly dying from "the Mallory's poisoned waters" (p. 199), "a brackish fluid, ... home to myriads of fever-carrying flies and mosquitoes, and contaminated with the human wastes with which they fertilised their crops" (p. 200) (5).
Dr. Mallory's Eden is a grotesque, lethal counterpart of God's, because it is only the projection of a psychological disorder. His adventure bas in fact both the mythical quality of an initiatory journey and the psychological dimension of a quest for self. What Joseph Campbell defines as "creative" mythology is a way of attempting this:
4. The river is then reminiscent of Bachelard's description of the combination of stagnnant water and night:
5. It is ironic to note that this description of the river carrying rubbish
appears in the chapter titled The Gardens of the Sahara. The conjunction
of life and death destroys the hopeful note of a greening desert.
This definition is very close to Jung's statement that
Dr. Mallory's creation of the river, and his exploration of it with Sanger and Noon is an attempt of this kind, what he refers to as "my endless talk of remythologising myself and making a new life somewhere else, as if somewhere else existed" (p. 75).
The account he gives of his career emphasises his permanent obsession not to reap the reward of his long medical studies. For ten years, he would not practise medicine, and worked for a pharmaceutical company, as what he calls "a drug company salesrnan beginning to believe [his] own patter" (p. 40). Then, he joined the World Health Organisation (8) and deliberately dedicated himself to pointless work: he was to "isolate a suspected outbreak of smallpox a disease which WHO had eliminated from the world" (p. 40) and he found a perverse pleasure in finding "fulfilment in an unnecessary struggle against an imaginary disease" (p. 40). He was later sent to the nameless country of the novel "that lay between the borders of Chad, the Sudan and the Central African Republic, in the heart of the African continent, a land as close to nowhere as the planet could provide" (p. 16). There, he embarked on a drilling project, in an attempt to revive the town of Port-la-Nouvelle whose population had fled, driven away by the advancing desert and perpetual war between the central government and Marxist guerillas. He failed in this too, until at last, he unexpectedly struck waters releasing the spring and creating the river.
Psychologically, Mallory had reached a dead-end, the spiritual desert of this nowhere-land, slowly drained of its life by the Sahara, through his "wilful refusal to accept the possibilities that [his] own talents had earned" (p.128). Significantly, his adventure takes place in Africa, the dark continent, the land of the origin of man.
When he starts to drill for waters the symbol of spiritual regeneration (9), he has to dig deep down into the earth, where the secret waters of the unconscious lie. When the source
7. JUNG C.G, Psychology and Alchemy,
in Collected Works, London: Routledge & Kegan, 1953, reprinted 1974,
appears, Mallory describes it using traditional mythical images of reawakened dark chthonic powers: "a sleeping leviathan" (p. 18), "the petrified heart of an extinct bull" (p. 36), "a minotaur" (p. 46), "an underworld deity" (p. 37), or a "llong-dead god of the earth" (p. 37).
All these archetypal images point to the inadvertently released flow of the unconscious, as well as to the start of a mythical self-exploratory journey. Since Mallory had already worked for some time on his dry wells, it is not surprising that he mentions that the big tree "failed to put up any great fight, but lay passively against the tractor's scoop" (p. 37). What Mallory had been confusedly trying to achieve occurred spontaneously when he opened the Pandora's box of his unconscious, the river, "immersing [his] mind in its amniotic dream" (p. 90).
After the surge of the water, his first reaction was to block up the spring. He soon realised that it was hopeless, and set forth upstream to the source of the river, at last acknowledging the spiritual necessity of the quest: "I realised that I could no longer hope to defeat the river by tackling it here at its mouth I needed to trace its course ... and then find its source ... Besides, I now wanted to explore the river, which I had brought into the light from its subterranean tunnels" (p. 90).
Mallory was not consciously aware of his motives when he first started to drill, which explains his fear when the water finally gushed forth. Yet, he later appropriated the river, obsessively repeating that he had "created" it (p. 9, 45, 54, 73, 77 etc.), "conjured" it up (p. 47), "made" it (p. 61), "helped to create" it (p. 141), "invented" it (p. 141, 253), or even "imagined" it (p. 254). His extreme psychological confusion is apparent in the vagueness of his vocabulary.
Mallory's identification with the river, both in mind and body, is however clearly established, and what he terms as his "duel" with it is the key to the exploration.
When Sanger informs Mallory that he bas registered the new river with the National Geographic Society, and called it the Mallory (p. 65), the doctor's reaction is ambiguous, part pride, part hostility for his namesake. After he nearly drowns in his attempt to destroy it, he realises that there is a close, intimate bond between the river and himself. He concludes that "it was not the Mallory that [he] had wanted to kill, but [himself], and that the river was in fact trying to save [him]" (p.73), thus overcoming his originai perception of the river as a threat, and acknowledging its potential healing powers.
In the course of the exploration, the identification becomes more explicit, as does the morbidity of his motives. The river is associated with blood, arteries and life. When the nomads divert it (see above: the poisoned Eden), Mallory's life is literally drained from his riverine body, but this is his own doing: the poison flows from his own mind (p. 216).
infecting the river too. When it begins to weaken, Mallory confesses: "From the very start, from the earliest days at Port-la-Nouvelle, I had been wounding myself, and my attempt to kill the river was no more than a surrogate suicide" (p. 231).
Once he understands this, and comes to terms with his self-destructive impulse, lie can resume his journey.
Traditionally, the heroic journey into myth or self is a solitary enterprise. Yet, the hero needs a guide and protector, often a female figure, and/or an oracle to steer him through the obstacles he is to meet on the way. Similarly, self-exploration requires the intervention of both the anima (or animus), which is the image of the opposite sex in consciousness and acts as an initiator, and the persona, which is the social mask covering one's individual nature. Noon and Sanger respectively embody those aspects (10).
At first, Sanger and Mallory seem to have nothing in common. But many similarities or inversions appear in their characters. Mallory dreams of a "green Sahara" (p.15) while Sanger works for a charity called "Sahara Green." Although Mallory claims that he despises the media world Sanger belongs to, he too had a communication job as "publicity manager and Fleet-Street lobbyist" for a pharmaceutical company. He shunned social success while Sanger was once famous, but came to Africa on a last-chance pathetic mercy-mission, hoping to get back on his feet professionally. Mallory's absurd work with WHO is paralleled by Sanger's: the natives have fled, and they would not have eaten the rice he brought them anyway, because it is not part of their diet; then, he offers to cover Captain Kagwa's campaign on what he pompously calls his local television station, whose "antenna has a ten-mile radius" (p. 41) allowing it to broadcast only to the desert.
Like Mallory, Sanger is associated with religious references. The logo of his charity organisation looks like "a religious symbol" (p. 28), and his video-recorder is "handled with the respect due to an ancient tabernacle" (p .43). He is even called "our saviour" by Captain Kagwa (p. 28).
But like Mallory, Sanger is a fake: "h had the reassuring but devious manner of a casino operator turned revivalist preacher" (p. 28), and his gesture, which Mallory misinterpreted as a "stylised religious greeting" was in fact simply a "clapperboard signal" (p. 28). He is all appearance, and on closer inspection, his teeth are riddled with caries (p. 32) and he looks worn and shabby.
Sanger repeatedly addresses Mallory using the first person plural: "Are you still hoping to destroy our third Nile?" (p. 140); "You and I can deal with the Sahara later" (p.32);
10. See CAMPBELL J. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Jung C.G. Collected Works, vol. 9, part 11, AION, London and Henley: Roudedge & Kegan, chapter III.
or, after Noon vanished "We've lost her" (p. 239, italics mine in all quotations). He thus makes it clear that Mallory's adventure is also his own, and that whatever happens to the doctor also happens to him.
Mallory's physical degradation parallels Sanger's, but for the latter, it includes extreme myopia, verging on blindness (p. 163). This is fitting, since the hero's guide in mythology is often a blind man endowed with oracular powers, spiritual vision replacing ordinary sight. Sanger occasionally displays such powers (p. 233-234) (11) and he is aware of the real nature of Mallory's quest, and of his psychological imbalance: "You're a small man, Mallory, and a small man's madness can take dangerous forms" (p. 156).
As a media man, Sanger is associated with cameras and television screens, and their substitutes, Sunglasses. The eye, be it the natural organ of sight, or the "Cyclopean third eye of the camera" (p. 242), is a universal symbol of intellectual perception. Another point, which is capital in the context of a psychological quest, is that Sanger's sophisticated technology produces only images (no sound-track is ever mentioned), which can be read as symbols, both mythical and archetypal. Lastly, his using a closed-circuit video system in his work enhances the limited scope, the intimate purpose of his film-making, and accounts for his not needing an audience at all.
Although he records Mallory's evolution he never takes part in the action, but comments on it and influences (12). He defines the social function of television in terms which also apply to psychological introspection: "television doesn't tell lies, it makes up a new truth. In tact the only truth we have left. [It helps] people to remake nature into a form that reflects their real needs" (p. 57).
Although he loathes television (he calls television film-makers "the conmen and carpetbaggers of the late twentieth century" (p. 53), Mallory gradually feels compelled to acknowledge its power. First, on Captain Kagwa (13) in his absurd pursuit of fame. Then on Noon, who discovers the pleasure of being filmed and then watching herself on Sanger's screens (p. 142). She also eagerly watches "Hollywood melodramas of the nineteen-forties, which described the adventures of an African warrior queen" (p. 157-158). It made
11. Conversely, Mallory's intuitions often turn out to be wrong: he expected
Noon (chapter 29) and Sanger (p. 179) to die, but both will survive.
Mallory very bitter, since "the more improbable the picture of Africa, the greater was Noon's fascination" (p. 157) (14) it. Noon's passion for the camera, as a way to provide both art image of herself and a fiction to identify with, illustrates her breathtaking evolution and, maturation: she actually stepped from the Stone Age into the electronic age in a few months.
Before the river appeared, Mallory never could come to terms with his social role, his persona, and remorselessly thwarted it. Similarly, he maintained his anima, his dark female side, in a state of primitive under-development. His creating the river allowed him to confront them, and gave them the opportunity to express themselves.
Sanger's role becomes clear for Mallory when he accidentally sees himself on the television screen aboard the brothel ship.(15) Instead of the heroic figure he expected, the uncompromising eye of the camera/Sanger shows him an ordinary pathetic being, about to lose his sense of purpose: 'The pearly rectangle ... shrank me down to size, like everything else on which the camera turned its eye, and stripped away the irrelevancies of emotion, pain, and motive" (p. 220).
The closer Mallory and Sanger come to the source, the more Sanger takes the upper hand. Despite his physical weakness and his blindness, he urges Mallory on, until the latter finally yields to his vision, operating yet another turnabout: the once dominant Mallory now relies on the once helpless Sanger (p. 247), and he admits his own intellectual blindness: "Sanger, be my eyes ..." he pleads. And Sanger relentlessly spurs him on, stopping only a few paces from the source, with this warning that they have reached the object of their quest: "Prepare yourself, Mallory ... now we reach our climax, returning to that primitive fount from which all the rivers of the earth have sprung, the moment when consciousness moved into the daylight, from the reptile to the mammalian brain" (p. 249).
Mallory's other companion, Noon's mysterious silent figure, plays a part which is just as important. Like Mallory, she is intimately connected with the river, but unlike him, she is not the river. She has a thorough, instinctive, protective knowledge of it. She is the necessary link between the river/the unconscious and Mallory who, although he conjured it,
14. Once again, there is an ironical echo of this cheap fascination in Mallory
when he confesses that the desert people of the poisoned valley regarded
him "as their rain-king" (p. 208).
does not know it. Therefore, she acts as his guide (16) and protector (p. 82), a silent (17) pilot, both literally when "unerringly she would pick out the best course" (p. 151) and metaphorically when she impatiently urges him on or expresses her disapproval of his attempts to interfere with the river. And Mallory accepts her guidance, aware that there is "some secret at the Mallory's source, and [that] Noon alone would guide [him] towards it" (p. 151).
Noon's evolution is illustrated in the changes in her physical appearance. When she first walks out of the jungle, she is a small, hostile twelve-year-old girl who still sucks her thumb in her sleep (pp. 99, 112). As soon as the river comes into existence, she abandons land for water, actually living on it, first in her coracle, and then on the Salammbo (18). As they sail upstream, she returns to primitive nudity, like Mallory. But while he is always covered with oil from the engine, blood or mud, she is pictured swimming in the river, lithe and sleek, an image of innocence and purity.
In the six months of the journey, the child grows into a woman. But her growth is not linear: she evolves, then regresses, seeming to hover between childhood and womanhood. She becomes "a coquettish water-nymph, a child-siren" (p. 107) and, as she grows physically "she was still a child but her legs were longer, less bony, and her hips had begun to swell" (p. 124) her erotic appeal increases. Mallory desires her, not as a middle-aged man infatuated with a teenager, but as one yearning for "the young woman ... waiting in the wings of her child's slim body" (p. 137). He is often puzzled by the variations in her physical appearance and maturity (p. 165, 191, 194, 220 etc.), which indicates the chaotic progress of his relationship to his anima. Lastly, his sexual desire for Noon (he never uses the word "love") and their eventual intercourse represent his acceptance of his mature anima, and the symbolic death and rebirth implied in initiation.
16. Mallory often presents himself as a pig in Noon's care (see p. 11, "this
child auxiliary had driven me all the way from my cell ... like a drover
steering a Farce and ill-trained pig"; and p. 97: "Signalling to me with
a series of guttural whoops and whistles, like those used by Port-la-Nouvelle's
pig-farmers") and J. Campbell demonstrates in Creative Mythology (p.
205-206) that the pig is the emblem of the Great Mother, the goddess-guide
who leads the hero "to the mysteries beyond the plane of death," quoting
among other examples "the abduction of Persephone to the Netherworld by Hades,
where it is told that a herd of swine went down too, when the earth opened
to receive her." Noon's role as a guide and initiator is thus established
from the start.
Mallory had hoped that his union with Noon would take place in the Edenic landscape of the lower reaches of the river (p. 165), but it occurred aboard the derelict brothel-boat, restored to its former use for the benefit of Harare's soldiers.
The ship is persistently associated with images of death: it is "a gliding sepulchre of polished bone" (p. 209), "its white timbers ... resembling a marquetry of bones ... a floating crematorium" (p.216) etc.
Mallory's intercourse with Noon, in the sordid small cubicle, with its flaking plaster and garish crumbling erotic frescoes in this context represents an initiatory rite, the symbolic death of the hero, as well as the long-awaited reconciliation with and acknowledgement of the female aspect of his psyche. After this final ordeal, his rebirth can take place, and Mallory actually describes himself as rising from the dead, "like a talcumed corpse springing through the lid of a coffin" (p. 226).
Mallory's death-like pallor is only due to disintegrating plaster from the walls but still, his emerging white from inside the boat (a womb image) is a symbol of his illumination and spiritual regeneration. Significantly, in the next chapter, the Diana is destroyed and the Mallory bursts forth through the grotesque dam Mallory had painfully built across it, "like the straining brassiere of an overweight madame," sweeping along all the accumulated rubbish and sickness, preserving only Sanger, Mallory, and Noon. She leaves his side then, since he does not need her anymore, but she still guides him, preceding him on the river (19).
Mallory's new state of awareness is also perceptible on Noon. She was a black girl, but from the moment she uttered her name (noon is midday), she had held the potential illumination and glare of midday light, when no shadows are cast. After her intercourse with Mallory, her skin grows lighter, whiter, which means that she has gone through the same trial as him. He repeatedly notes that all pigment seemed "leached" from her skin (p.235) and describes her new pallor from an ashen colour to chalky white (p. 240-241), "as if she were a plague-ridden princess who had somehow survived her own funereal pyre" (p. 235). In the course of her sexual initiation, she bas indeed survived the confrontation with Mallory's self-destructive fire, she has become a grown woman and passed from darkness to light in the process. Her mission with Mallory is over, she disappears (20) but he will
19. The ultimate evidence of her friendly watch over Mallory is "the prints
of her feet, the scarred right instep like a diagonal arrow" (p. 250). Those
evoke the track followed by the hunter, here, in a spiritual sense, Mallory,
since the footsteps vanish near the source. And the scar indicates that the
old wound in his psyche is now healed, but remembered.
henceforth feel her friendly presence around him. He has reached "the realm after death" (p. 239), the source of the river, and come to the end of what he calls his "heroic voyage against self-doubt and the fall of night, in search of a private myth" (p. 245).
The Day of Creation then does not only relate the adventure of Dr. Mallory who copied God's creation of the world with his short-lived river flowing in the desert. Rather, the creation of the river should be seen as a metaphor for Mallory's heroic mythical journey into the unconscious. It is outside time (21) and space (22), and follows the traditional pattern of mythical quests. The universal symbols involved point to an exploration of the psyche, the aim of which is self-knowledge through Mallory's healing or harmonious recreation. In the course of his journey to the source of the river, he symbolically learnt to recognise and to reconcile opposite but not necessarily antagonistic concepts which are part of universal founding myths and of the psyche: light and darkness, good and evil, life and death, male and female, intellect and instinct, etc. Thus, the real day of creation in Ballard's novel is not the apparition of the spring, but the end of the journey, when Mallory finally reached the source and saw that, at long last, Noon's "eyes were those of a woman of [his] own age" (p. 250). A new, aware, mature, symbolically reborn Mallory had been created.
21. See for example p. 96: "We were entering a world without time"; p. 98:
"the river ... a tunnel leading out of the night and into the dream"; p.
123: "a reverie of great rivers had overwhelmed me, moments marked by the
measures of dream and myth" etc.
(réf. Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines n° 5. Montpellier: Presses universitaires de Montpellier, 1994)