High-Rise

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The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve, not the collective body of tenants, but the individual resident in isolation.

High-Rise is a 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard about a London tower block whose affluent residents, after all the apartments are rented, gradually descend into barbarism, vandalizing the building and remaining in it all day and forming groups to violently attack other floors and defend their own. In 2015 it was adapted into a film directed by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons

Chapter 1[edit]

  • Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.
  • At first Laing found something alienating about the concrete landscape of the project — an architecture designed for war, on the unconscious level if no other.
  • The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve, not the collective body of tenants, but the individual resident in isolation.
  • At times he felt that [his fellow tenants] were all waiting for someone to make a serious mistake.
  • The internal time of the high-rise, like an artificial psychological climate, operated to its own rhythms, generated by a combination of alcohol and insomnia ... All the residents he had met, upon learning he was a physician, at some point brought up their difficulties in sleeping. At parties people discussed their insomnia in the same way they referred to the other built-in design flaws of the building. In the early hours of the morning the two thousand tenants subsided below a silent tide of Seconal.
  • 'It's almost as if these aren't the people who really live here'.
  • The high-rises seemed almost to challenge the sun itself.

Chapter 2[edit]

Within half an hour almost all of the women were drunk, a yardstick Laing had long used to measure the success of a party.
  • Somehow the high-rise played into the hands of the most petty impulses.
  • The spectacular view always made Laing aware of his ambivalent feelings for this concrete landscape. Part of its appeal lay all too clearly in the fact that this was an environment built, not for man, but for man's absence.
  • Within half an hour almost all of the women were drunk, a yardstick Laing had long used to measure the success of a party.

Chapter 3[edit]

  • A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere ... [They] were people who were content with their lives in the high-rise, who felt no personal objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and data-processing organizations, and if anything welcomed these invisible intrusions, using them for their own purposes. These people were the first to master a new type of late twentieth-century life, they thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed.
  • The more arid and effectless life became in the high-rise, the greater the possibilities it offered. By its very efficiency, the high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the first time it removed the need to repress every kind of anti-social behaviour, and left them free to explore any deviant or wayward impulses. It was precisely in these areas that the most important and most interesting aspect of their lives would take place. Secure within the shell of the high-rise, like passengers on board an automatically piloted airliner, they were free to behave in any way they wished, explore the darkest corners they could find. In many ways, the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly 'free' psychopathology.
  • But even before they sat down together on her bed Laing knew that, almost as an illustration of the paradoxical logic of the high-rise, their relationship would end rather than begin with this first sexual act.
  • ...[T]he elevators pumping up and down in their long shafts resembled pistons in the chamber of a heart. The residents moving along the corridors were the cells in a network of arteries; the lights in their apartments the neurones of a brain.
  • 'You think that we're secretly enjoying all this?'

    'Don't you? I'd guess so, doctor. Togetherness is beating up an empty elevator. For the first time since we were three years old what we do makes absolutely no difference.'

Chapter 4[edit]

  • For some time now he had known he was developing a powerful phobia about the high-rise. He was constantly aware of the immense weight of concrete stacked above him, and the sense that his body was the focus of the lines of power running for the building, almost as if [the architect] had deliberately designed his body be held within their grip. At night as he lay beside his sleeping wife, he would often wake from an uneasy sleep into the suffocating bedroom, conscious of each of the 999 other apartments pressing on the walls and ceiling, forcing the air from his chest.

Chapter 5[edit]

  • He felt excited in a confused way.
  • Living in high-rises required a special type of behavior, one that was acquiescent, restrained, even perhaps slightly mad. A psychotic would have a ball here, he reflected. Vandalism had plagued these slab and tower blocks since their inception. Every torn-out piece of telephone equipment, every handle wrenched off a fire-safety door, every kicked-in electricity meter represented a stand against decerebration.
  • ... their territorial instinct, in its psychological and social senses, had weakened to the point where it was ripe for exploitation.
  • Their real opponent was not the hierarchy of residents in the heights far above them, but the image of the building in their own minds, the multiplying layers of concrete that anchored them to the floor.

Chapter 7[edit]

  • Without realizing it, [the architect] had given these people a means of escaping into a new life, and a pattern of social organization that would become the paradigm of all future high-rise blocks.
  • ... [I]n Anne's world it was not only necessary for work to be done, but be seen to be done.
  • At times Royal suspected that his neighbours unconsciously hoped that everything would decline even further.

Chapter 8[edit]

  • Royal liked ... that [the birds] had all flown here from the same archaic landscape, responding to the same image of the sacred violence to come.
  • Above all, he looked down on them for their good taste.
  • In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future, boxed up in these expensive apartments with their elegant furniture and intelligent sensibilities, and no possibility of escape.

Chapter 9[edit]

  • 'They're all making their own films down there,' Anne told him, clearly fascinated by her heady experience of the lower orders at work and play. 'Every time someone gets beaten up about ten cameras are shooting away.'
  • In the future, violence would clearly become a valuable form of social cement.

Chapter 10[edit]

  • 'A low crime-rate, doctor', she told him amiably, 'is clearly a sign of social deprivation.'
  • Not for the first time Laing reflected that he and his neighbours were most eager for trouble as the most effective means of enlarging their sex lives.
  • [There was a] falling interest in civilized conventions of any kind. None of his neighbors cared what food they ate. Neither Laing nor his friends had prepared a decent meal for weeks, and had reached the point where they opened a can at random when they felt hungry. By the same token no one cared what they drank, interested only in getting drunk as quickly as possible and blunting whatever sensibilities were left to them.
  • The degree of vandalism was deliberately excessive, almost as if it served a more important secondary role, disguising the calculated way in which the residents of the high-rise, by ripping out all the phone lines, were cutting themselves off from the outside world.

Chapter 11[edit]

  • 'It's a mistake to imagine now we're all moving towards a state of happy primitivism. The model here seems to be less the noble savage than our un-innocent post-Freudian selves, outraged by all that over-indulgent toilet-training, dedicated breast-feeding and parental affection – obviously a more dangerous mix than anything our Victorian forebears had to cope with. Our neighbours had happy childhoods to a man and still feel angry. Perhaps they resent never having had a chance to become perverse.'

Chapter 12[edit]

Hours on the gymnasium exercycles had equipped them for no more than hours on the gymnasium exercycles.
  • Hours on the gymnasium exercycles had equipped them for no more than hours on the gymnasium exercycles.
  • Even their insistence on educating their children, the last reflex of any exploited group before it sank into submission, marked the end of their resistance.
  • ... only in the darkness could one become sufficiently obsessive, deliberately play on all one's repressed instincts.

Chapter 13[edit]

  • The untruth of the accusation, which they all knew well, only served to reinforce it ... By the logic of the high-rise those most innocent of any offence became the most guilty.

Chapter 14[edit]

  • Without knowing it, [the architect] had constructed a giant vertical zoo. All the events of the past few months made sense if one realized that these brilliant and exotic creatures had learned how to open the doors.
  • ... [F]or all their descent into barbarism, the residents of the high-rise remained faithful to their origins and continued to generate a vast amount of refuse.
  • Now the new order had emerged, in which life in the high-rise revolved around three obsessions — security, food and sex.
  • The darkness was more comforting, a place where real illusions might flourish.

Chapter 15[edit]

  • Let the psychotics take over. They alone understood what was happening.

Chapter 16[edit]

Sometimes he found it difficult not to believe that they were living in a future that had already taken place, and was now exhausted.
  • Even the run-down nature of the high-rise was a model of the world into which the future was carrying them, a landscape beyond technology where everything was either derelict or, more ambiguously, recombined in unexpected but more meaningful ways. Laing pondered this — sometimes he found it difficult not to believe that they were living in a future that had already taken place, and was now exhausted.
  • Ironically, the standard of cuisine in the apartment building had begun to rise during these days of its greatest decline, as more and more delicacies came to light.
  • He enjoyed watching Steele at work, obsessed with these expressions of mindless violence. Each one brought them a step closer to the ultimate goal of the high-rise, a realm where their most deviant impulses were free at last to exercise themselves in any way they wished. At this point physical violence would cease at last.

Chapter 19[edit]

'If you can smell garlic, everything is all right.'
  • 'One rule in life,' he murmured to himself. 'If you can smell garlic, everything is all right.'