J.G. Ballard’s “Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy” is a text divided into seven sections. Each section heading is a fragment from two sentences, which tell the reader what is happening within the text. When put together, the section headings read:
In his dream of Zapruder frame 235 Tallis was increasingly preoccupied by the figure of the President’s wife. The planes of her face, like the cars of the abandoned motorcade mediated to him the complete silence of the plaza, the geometry of a murder.
However, the reader is not immediately able to make sense of the narrative, because the latter is disrupted: Interspersed between each section heading are fragments that read like texts from scientific reports.
For example, under the heading, “In his dream of Zapruder frame 235” is the following text:
Motion picture studies of four female subjects who have achieved worldwide celebrity (Brigitte Bardot, Jacqueline Kennedy, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Princess Margaret), reveal common patterns of posture, facial tonus, pupil and respiratory responses. Leg stance was taken as a significant indicator of sexual arousal. The intra-patellar distance (estimated) varied from a maximum 24.9 cm (Jacqueline Kennedy) to a minimum 2.2 cm (Madame Chiang)
Since Tallis appears to be the main character of the piece, a reader may choose to read these fragments as the thoughts inside Tallis’ mind (as I did). That the fragments employ the diction of scientific reports (“zygomatic arch” instead of “cheek bone”; “tabes dorsalis”, instead of “slow degenteration of the nerves due to syphilis”); tells me that Tallis is likely a scientist himself, one who is not only knowledgeable about scientific terms, but one who is given to studying (or obsessing over) the cult of celebrity; sex and death and assassination fantasies; automobiles, and automobile crashes. Tallis conflates these seemingly disparate phenomena, linking assassination fantasies with female celebrities whose lives were being increasingly featured by mass media; connecting the cleaning of automobiles with sexual arousal and climax; the making of pornographic films with car crashes, aggressive behavior, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy (or the footage thereof) in his automobile (where he stood beside his wife) with the “liberation of aggressive and polymorphously perverse drives.”
That Tallis’ mind is made to “speak” in the language of scientific journals, and use this language to link seemingly disparate topics (the pedestrian--such as automobiles--with the shocking, i.e., violence, pornography, sexual perversity; assassination) suggests that Tallis is mad; his thinking, disrupted by powerful images propounded by mass media. Such diction places the pedestrian at the same level as the sensational, which is the very movement (of mass media) that the text critiques.
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