Rhizomatic Maps and Arboreal Tracings: The Atrocity Exhibition, Tripticks and the Mass Media

Robert Shepherd


J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and Ann Quin’s Tripticks (1972) are products of the cultural moment when the impact of the newly emergent mass media began to be felt by the peoples of the “western” world. Consequently, it is no surprise that both novels show a profound thematic preoccupation with the discourses of the mass media, and that references to advertising, Hollywood films, television and magazines abound within each text. In addition to sharing similar thematic concerns, both The Atrocity Exhibition and Tripticks also make use of fragmentary narratives to reflect the shattered workings of their principal characters’ minds.  Consequently, given these thematic and formal concerns, this essay argues that the concept of the Rhizome, as described by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980), is a productive model for looking at the fragmentary narratives that constitute both The Atrocity Exhibition and Tripticks. In particular, this paper will argue that the fifth and sixth principles of the rhizome that Deleuze and Guattari describe – decalcomania and cartography – are highly pertinent concepts for looking at both novels.  It will thus be argued that both novels can be said to function by juxtaposing qualities we might readily associate with the concept of the rhizomatic map, to those more readily connected to what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the arboreal tracing, and that such a narrative strategy functions to delineate the impact of the mass media on both the individual and society as a whole.  The essay will conclude by arguing that both The Atrocity Exhibition and Tripticks ultimately need to be understood as cartographic maps, in the Deleuzian sense of the term, for attempting to negotiate the mass media age.


J. G. Ballard; Ann Quin; Rhizomes; Mass Media; Deleuze and Guattari

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