Notes on Ballard

In Memory of J G Ballard, who died three years ago today, on 19th April 2009

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
J. G. Ballard

James Graham “J. G.” Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction. His best-known books are Crash (1973), adapted into a film by David Cronenberg, and the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun (1984), made into a film by Steven Spielberg, based on Ballard’s boyhood in the Shanghai International Settlement and internment by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War.

The literary distinctiveness of his work has given rise to the adjective “Ballardian“, defined by theCollins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”

Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2006, from which he died in London in April 2009.

In 2008, The Times included Ballard on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″.

Below: J G Ballard at home in Shepperton, in front of Paul Delvaux’s ‘The Mirror’ (as reproduced by Brigid Marlin) – Ballard commissioned Brigid to recreate two of Paul Delvaux’s paintings that were destroyed during World War II – to the viewer’s left can also be seen the 1971 screenprint ‘B.A.S.H.’ by his friend Eduardo Paolozzi

“I don’t think you can go through the experience of war without one’s perceptions of the world being forever changed. The reassuring stage set that everyday reality in the suburban west presents to us is torn down; you see the ragged scaffolding, and then you see the truth beyond that, and it can be a frightening experience.”

“I would guess that a large part of the furniture of my fiction was provided ready-made from that landscape: all those barren hotels and deserted beaches, empty apartment blocks… the whole reality of a kind of stage set from which the cast has exited, leaving one with very little idea of what the actual play is about. All of that comes straight from the landscape of wartime Shanghai…”

“I have people coming here expecting the air to be heavy with the fumes of illicit substances, a miasma of child molesting, degradations… and in fact they find, I hope, a perfectly straightforward man who’s brought up three children who are happy, successful adults. I think there is a complete separation between what one writes and imagines, and what one is.”

“At the age of 16 I discovered Freud and the Surrealists, a stick of bombs that fell in front of me and destroyed all the bridges I was hesitating to cross…”

“Sadly, the only surrealists around these days are psychopaths. But we all need to fight off the growing suburbanization of the soul. I want the sane to become surrealists.”

“Everything happened during the sixties. The Kennedy assassination was the key event, the catalyst that got it all moving. Thanks to TV, mass communications, and all the rest, you got strange overlaps between the assassinations and Vietnam and the space race and the youth pop explosion and psychedelia and the drug culture. It was like a huge amusement park going out of control. And I thought, well, there’s no point in writing about the future. The future’s here. The present has annexed the future onto itself.”

Ballard signalled his allegiance to Surrealism in his novels, and in his essay ‘The Coming of the Unconscious’ published in New Worlds in 1966, he goes so far as to specify six key Surrealist paintings with a “direct bearing on the speculative fiction of the immediate future” by Giorgio De Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, Oscar Dominguez and Max Ernst, listed twice for ‘The Elephant of Celebes’ (1921) and ‘The Eye of Silence’ (1943-44). In 1966 he insisted that his publisher use Ernst’s ‘The Eye of Silence’ as the cover image for the hardback edition of his novel ‘The Crystal World’

In 1966 Ballard wrote ‘Terminal Documents’ for Ambit #27, a Review of the Works of William S Burroughs, in which he nails his colours to the mast by describing him as “The first mythographer of the mid-20th century, and the lineal successor to James Joyce…”

The full text can be found on Rick McGrath’s excellent online encyclopaedia of all-things Ballard:

As late as The Paris Review of 1984 he said “I admire Burroughs more than any other living writer, and most of those who are dead.”

The complete Interview can be read online here:

There is an in-depth examination of the association between the two men and their attitudes towards each other’s work on Reality Studio here:

In an email exchange with Reality Studio, Our Reporter Matthew Levi Stevens told critic and cult author Keith Seward of his Contact with the ‘Oracle of Shepperton’:

‘I interviewed J G Ballard over the phone once for a fanzine, and he was really very amusing and an absolute gent – even though I was only about 15-16 at the time, he was perfectly happy to talk to me. Once we got on to Burroughs and Surrealism he really warmed up, so it was a great conversation. I met him once-or-twice in later years, and he was always very polite, friendly – referred to me once as “the schoolboy reporter” (even though I was about 18-19 by then!) Even though he seemed quite comfortable with the attentions of Graeme Revell and the SPK people – also the ‘grindcore’ band ‘God’, who gave him a demo-tape at one of his book-signings – he didn’t seem to have much time for Genesis P-Orridge. At WSB’s launch @ The October Gallery, the three of us intersected in our circulating – Gen was crowing about having signed some book deal or other (I think for “a book on Sex & Power”, to be written with Kathy Acker? They were involved at the time…), and at one point he turned, drink in hand, and confided “Of course, a publisher’s advance isn’t real money”, to which Mr Ballard replied “Oh, it can be Genesis, it certainly can be…”, and shot me an amused look.’

Later, in the Margin Notes for the new edition of ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ published by Re/Search in 1990, Ballard wrote:

“There is a British pop group called God. At a recent book signing the lead singer introduced himself and gave me a cassette. I have heard the voice of God.”

The ultimate online resource for ‘All-Things-Ballardian’ has to be the excellent ‘Ballardian: The World of J G Ballard’, which can be found here:

“There’s no music in my work,” states J. G. Ballard. He smiles, quoting the Futurist manifesto, “The most beautiful music in the world is the sound of machine guns.”

So let us give you a song to end on:

In 1977, a young Daniel Miller had just split up with his girlfriend and read ‘Crash’. He felt that Ballard’s writing “took him five minutes into the future”; it would be a major influence in the music he would produce as The Normal – his debut single (with which he incidentally founded Mute Records) citing Ballard as a major inspiration to the chilly, minimal electro-pop of ‘T.V.O.D.’ & ‘Warm Leatherette’

‘Sex times Technology equals The Future’ – J G Ballard, at the time of writing ‘Crash’ (1972)

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