Wednesday, April 22, 2009


J.G. Ballard (1930-2009)

Hot on the freshly cold heels of the genius writer Philip José Farmer comes news that yet another titan of the literary world has just departed this world forever... J.G. Ballard, of course, certainly one of the finest authors of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. Ballard was brilliant, no doubt about that: he possessed one of the clearest prose styles of any writer, a style not just clear but unexpectedly ecstatic in a glacial sort of way. Some of his short stories are among the best ever written. His collection Vermilion Sands in particular is one of the highest achievements of the form. In fact one of the tales from that volume, 'The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D', is probably my favourite short story ever...

As for his novels, they are overwhelmingly intense. I still haven't read his famous trilogy of early disaster novels, The Drowned World, The Drought and The Crystal World, but last year I did finally get round to tackling his cult book, The Atrocity Exhibition, an experimental novel that reads more like a collection of very strange and bewildering (though certainly powerful and affecting) linked stories -- except that the stories aren't really linked in a normal sense: they are more like amplified feedback, psychotic recursions of each other, overloaded with specific obsessions that not only echo the obsessions of the reader but sometimes impose them retroactively... After reading The Atrocity Exhibition I started dreaming about 'rectilinear geometries' in an all too familiar way, even though I'd never given them much thought before!

Ballard's core beliefs should be extremely nihilistic but he never regarded them in that way. I find his concept of the 'death of affect' very disturbing, also his assertion that science has become the ultimate pornography, and that pornography is always a powerful catalyst for social change. Ballard claimed to be an 'early warning system' for the breakdown of normality and for those imperceptible moments when the present becomes the future, but he heralded those dislocations with too much glee to justify the 'warning' part of his own label: he was more of a salesman for the warped psychology of the future... And yet nothing will ever erode the staggering importance, the extreme malignity and the utter originality of his novel Crash! and its relevance to the world we live in. The featured photograph is my tribute to that masterpiece. The cost of the picture was £2.05 (£1 for the toy car, 85p for the firelighters stuffed inside the chassis and 20p for the box of matches to ignite the wreck). The wreck itself was created by bashing the car with a pebble found on the beach.

Here's some music to accompany the photo...

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