Monday, March 31, 2008

Ballardian quotes

Left: James Graham Ballard, year unknown, from Ballardian.

My favorite writer, JG Ballard, is very ill. I am wishing him the very best.

Some random quotes from a recent BBC interview by James Naughtie:

[The post-war British] behaved like a defeated population. I wrote in The Kindness of Women that the English talked as if they had won the war, but acted as if they had lost it. They were clearly exhausted by the war and expected little of the future. Everything was rationed — food, clothing, petrol — or simply unobtainable. People moved in a herd-like way, queuing for everything. Ration books and clothing coupons were all-important, endlessly counted and fussed over, even though there was almost nothing in the shops to buy. Tracking down a few lightbulbs could take all day. Everything was poorly designed — my grandparents’ three-storey house was heated by one or two single-bar electric fires and an open coal fire. Most of the house was icy, and we slept under huge eiderdowns like marooned Arctic travellers in their survival gear, a frozen air numbing our faces, the plumes of our breath visible in the darkness.
I’d been to the United States and I’d seen that already, by the early 60s, we were getting the first supermarkets, motorways, we were getting, you know, consumer society, television and the like, we were turning into a kind of — media landscape — and I thought; this is interesting, because we’re all going to be Americanised, sooner or later, whether we like it or not, and science-fiction was above all, it was American, it described an Americanised future.

JN: To that extent it was right.

JGB: Yes it was right. It was right.
I’ve always been drawn to consumerism and Americanisation of daily life but I’ve always been aware, you know, there’s a sort of — dark side to the sun, and in the case of Kingdom Come — which describes, really, a sort of high-point reached by consumerism in this country, a year or two ago — I suggest that, you know, consumerism, could evolve into something very close to fascism.
[War brings] the sense that reality is a stage set that can be cleared at any moment; that came over very strongly, because children are very reliant on stability and convention, they take for granted that their parents are maintaining this friendly place called home. I think the experience of war is to undermine all that. I’ve always been a little sceptical about what I’m told — there’s nothing new about that nowadays — nobody trusts a politician. And I think I’m sceptical about consumerism because it’s really all we’ve got left — the main pillars of British society have always been: the monarchy, the Church of England, the class system, you know, respect for the Armed Forces, and so on. And they’ve all, these pillars have all been knocked down: politicians are distrusted, we think of them really as a collection of — many of them anyway — as a collection of rogues, the Church of England has lost a lot of its authority, so has the monarchy. So what we have: consumerism. I’m not sort of suspicious of consumerism, but the problem arises is when it’s all there is left. I mean, if you go out in the London suburbs, away from our great museums and Houses of Parliament and art galleries, theatres and the like, into a world where all you have are retail outlets, you suddenly, think my god, how can you live here? In fact I do live here. It’s that sense that there’s nothing other than a new range of digital cameras, or what have you, to sustain one’s dreams…

In a 1996 interview with Scottish journalist Damien Love for The List magazine, he discusses his novel Cocaine Nights, which he describes as "Kafka with unlimited Chicken Kiev":
Well, I the author am not suggesting that we all go out and… burgle our neighbour’s houses, or take up drug trafficking, and the very next day we’ll all be practising our violins and forming chess clubs. But I’m saying that it’s possible that we’re too obsessed with security. Although, anyone who has just been burgled is going to think me an idiot. Quite rightly. But, it’s a matter of realising that, you know, certain things have to be bought at a price, and maybe the price is too high. Maybe, to make a pearl, you need a bit of grit in the oyster shell. I think, probably, that the proposition I’ve put forward in the novel is probably correct.
As living standards continue to rise, as they have done since the war — and, I’m sure living standards will, on the whole, continue to rise — people have got more to lose. You know, they’ve packed their homes with high-tech electronic gear. It’s worth burgling the average suburban house, now. Many of them are equipped like TV studios, not to mention things like jewellery. So, one gets this strangely interiorised style of living, where you switch off the outside world, rather like it was some threatening television programme. You do this by treble locking your front door and switching on the alarm system, and then you retreat and watch videos of the World Cup. And that’s not a good recipe for healthy society. Looked at objectively, one could say that cinema, the visual arts, the ‘entertainment’ culture generally, are in a worse state than they have ever been this century. The cinema is a shadow of what it was in the forties. There’s scarcely a novelist worth reading. There’s scarcely a painter or sculptor worth looking at. I’m too old to know if the music scene has the vitality that it had back in the 60s, but I don’t imagine that it has. And, you know, we’re in a culture of substitutes — Elizabeth Hurley. They had Marilyn Monroe, we’ve got Elizabeth Hurley. Something’s gone wrong. Is it that we’re engineering a new kind of life for ourselves that has echoes of those that I describe in this book?
I mean, it’s silly to say this, because I’m not inviting anyone to come and steal my car or burgle my house; but one always assumes that totalitarian states will be imposed from the outside on the average citizen, that they’ll be sort of horrific and threatening. But in a way, I’ve often thought that the totalitarian systems of the future will be actually rather kind of subservient and ingratiating, and will be imposed from within. We’ll define the terms of the TV mono-culture which we now inhabit, and it’s a pretty empty place. I can imagine, 50 to 100 years from now, social-historians looking back at the closing years of the 20th century and saying, ‘My God, it opened with the flight of the Wright Brothers; halfway through they went to the moon; they discovered scientific miracle upon miracle. And then they ended with people sitting in their little fortified bungalows while the tele-surveillance cameras sweep the streets outside, and they watch reruns of The Rockford Files.’

It’s a nightmare vision.
Thanks to Ballardian for these interviews.