Discipline and Murder: Panoptic Pedagogy and the Aesthetics of Detection in J.G. Ballard’s Running Wild


University of Suceava


My essay proposes a reading of J.G. Ballard’s 1988 novella Running Wild as a cautionary crime story, a parable about the self-fulfilling prophecies of contemporary urban fears and about the “prisons” they create in a consumerist, technology- and media-dominated civilization. Interpreted in the light of Foucault’s concept of panopticism, Ballard’s gated community as a crime setting reveals how a disciplinary pedagogy meant to obtain “docile bodies,” masked under the socially elitist comfort of affluence and parental care, “brands” the inmate-children as potential delinquents and ultimately drives them to an act of “mass tyrannicide.” Ballard uses the murder story as a vehicle for the exploration of the paradoxical effects of a regime of total surveillance and of mediated presence, which, while expected to make “murder mystery” impossible, allows for the precession of the representation to the real (crime). The essay also highlights the way in which Ballard both cites and subverts some of the conventions of the Golden Age  detective fiction, mainly by his rejection  of the latter’s escapist ethos and by the liminal character of his investigator, at once part of a normalizing panoptic apparatus and eccentric to it, a “poetic figure” (Chesterton) relying on imagination and “aestheticizing” the routines of the detection process.


Keywords: J.G. Ballard, Running Wild, gated community, Michel Foucault, Panopticon, surveillance, crime scene, video, forensic psychiatrist, tyrannicide, visibility, escapism