Monday, April 20, 2009

J.G. Ballard 1930-2009

The greatest living writer of our time has passed.

There is nothing else to say.

And now he belongs to the ages.


Ballardian contains many pertinent links remembering Ballard; Simon Sellars writes:

Ballard articulates clearly to me the implications of living in an age of total consumerism, of blanket surveillance, of enslavement designed as mass entertainment. But he also speaks to me of resistance through irony, immersion, ambivalence, imagination -- of remixing, recycling, remaking, remodelling.

His work embraces dystopian scenarios, including the archetypal non-space often characterised as a deadening feature of late capitalism. But this is not simply a call for nihilism. Ballard's characters are not disengaged from their world. Rather, they embody a sense of resistance that derives from full immersion, a therapeutic confrontation with the powers of darkness, whereby merging with dystopian alienation negates its power. This is predicated on concurrency: Ballard's writing turns objectivity into subjectivity, opens up gaps where there is room for new subjects. His scenarios are what I term 'affirmative dystopias', neither straight utopia nor straight dystopia, but an occupant of the interstitial space between them, perpetual oscillation between the poles – the 'yes or no of the borderzone', to use a phrase from his work.

Here, dystopia becomes the real utopia, and utopian ideals, typically represented as a stifling of the imagination, the true dystopia. He reinhabits the frame to present a clearinghouse in which corporate and national governance is overthrown and regoverned as a 'state of mind'.

To read and to understand Ballard, then, is to be gloriously, finally liberated.

To James Graham Ballard: thank you.

From Iain Sinclair:

“Everything that everybody else was bored by or appalled by, he was excited by. He wasn’t really interested in English literary parties and kept himself outside that.

“He was bored by the heritage of Central London and, unlike other writers, never wanted to talk about what he was writing. He preferred to talk about ideas, or some weird news cuttings he had brought along.

“Living out in Shepperton for so long, he was one of the first to understand that the psychosis of suburbia was a fascinating thing to pursue.

“He loved the edges of cities: shopping complexes, motorways and airports. He was very taken up with Watford because of its multi-storey car parks.

“Where other people were terrified by the consumerist culture he saw it as exciting, something he could manipulate, shredding it and making his own world out of it.”
One of my first addictive tastes of Ballard was The Crystal World, one of the quartet of disaster novels described here by Tim Martin:

From the peerless science fiction of his stories in the Sixties, to the later dystopian satires on middle-class England, Ballard's fictions circled relentlessly around the most troublesome of modern preoccupations: tribalism, self-immolation, the fiction of belonging. Assisted by a peculiarly unliterary style that was heavy on aphorism and jargon and light on character and dialogue, Ballard created a literary microcosm all his own: a place where everyday life is a nest of competing psychopathologies, where human dreams and desires are reflected in their physical environments and where the workings of the mind become indistinguishable from external reality.

Ballard's work seized upon the vocabulary of marketing and the media, mixing them with techniques learnt from surrealism to create a new kind of fiction. His first quartet of novels told the story of four apocalypses, as the Earth was variously reclaimed by air, water, drought and a strange creeping crystallisation. In each novel, the world's changed circumstances were mirrored in the mental landscapes of Ballard's small group of characters. These complicated, troubling works, which included The Drowned World and The Burning World, began the games of repetition and identity that would resurface in all Ballard's subsequent writing, as well as giving first proof of his uncanny capacity for prediction.

Surreal though the early novels undoubtedly were, they paled beside The Atrocity Exhibition, a collection of stories and fragments that may prove to be Ballard's most influential work. Ostensibly a fever-dream taking place in the mind of a deranged psychiatrist, this was a work of violent postmodernism, drawing on the war in Vietnam, the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination and the world of advertising to create a terrifying and uproarious new form of satire. Prescience was everywhere at work: he noted Ronald Reagan's habit of using "the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring", while a frightening comic piece about focus groups analysing the "optimum sex-deaths" of female celebrities in automobile accidents not only looked forward to his later novel Crash but ensured that the newspapers besieged Ballard for comment when Diana died.

How JG Ballard cast his shadow right across the arts (Guardian)

JG Ballard remembered (Sameer Rahim, UK Telegraph)

J.G. Ballard, 'Empire of the Sun' Author, dies at 78 (Huffington Post)

J.G. Ballard (Scriptorium)


John Powers said...

I know this is just a brief break from your blogging vacation. But it's a reminder to me that you are a brilliant online writer. You really get hypertext and have penetrating observations to share. I miss you.

yellowdog granny said...

R.I.P. read that this am and was saddened..

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