Printer Friendly

The future that had arrived.

While popularly known as a writer of science fiction, the late J. G. Ballard was a veritable philosopher of contemporary culture, whose keen observations both delineated and anticipated vast, rapid shifts in postwar technology and media--the likes of which, his stories implied, were forever altering the shape of our global environment and of the subjectivities populating it. In the pages that follow, editor Robert Weil, film director David Cronenberg, artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and poet Clark Coolidge reflect on this legendary figure's legacy in the fields of literature, cinema, and art.

WHEN J. G. BALLARD passed away at the age of seventy-eight on April 19, in London, after a lengthy battle with cancer, the reading world, admittedly a diminishing lot in an increasingly image-obsessed society, lost one of its greatest yet curiously most underappreciated geniuses. No writer, certainly no fiction writer, examined the deleterious effects of technology on mass and literary culture more prophetically than Ballard, whose first published short story, "Prima Belladonna," appeared in the British science-fiction magazine Science Fantasy in 1956 and opens The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard, a tome of ninety-eight short stories that finally made its way to America last month (in slightly augmented form), eight years after its publication in England.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Prima Belladonna," a bizarre yet strikingly tender love story about a doomed relationship between a music-store owner and a nightclub chanteuse that goes awry when the singing orchids in his store cannot bear to hear her sing, is set in a fictionalized version of Palm Springs, which is no accident. Although Ballard called the city Vermilion Sands, the California desert resort is unmistakable in appearance, and it reflects, even at this early stage, Ballard's fascination with America and his love-hate relationship with the nation that liberated his family from Lunghua, the Japanese-run prison camp in China where he and his family were interned from 1943 to 1945 and which provided a good bit of the material for his semiautobiographical novel Empire of the Sun (1984).

American Ballard fans familiar with his scathing satires of American political assassinations and conspiracy plots may be surprised to learn from his memoir, Miracles of Life, published in England in 2008, of his once deep affection for the US, epitomized in his feelings toward the thirty imprisoned American merchant seamen he encountered in Lunghua. "1 liked them immensely, for their good humor, verbal inventiveness and enormously laid-back style," he was to recall, and he devoured their copies of Life, Time, Popular Mechanics, and Collier's, feeding his adolescent imagination while imbuing it with a distinctly American sensibility. Coming from a writer whose subsequent fiction would be filled with often scabrous accounts of fatuous American politicians or tales of weapons technology gone awry, Ballard's approval of America's use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might seem contradictory, but it suggests a complicated relationship to the United States--to its ethically ambiguous technological prowess and military might--by a man who had, significantly, first experienced American troops as saviors. Unlike Harold Pinter, whose anti-Americanism was axiomatic, Ballard was very much alive to the great contradictions inherent in American culture and in the American character. His memoir's moving depiction of the Americans at Lunghua echoes more the nostalgic tone of James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, Tales of the South Pacific (1947), than it does another first, war novel, Norman Mailer's psychologically piercing and gritty The Naked and the Dead (1948). Recalling the airborne arrival of the Americans in China, Ballard wrote, "The sight of these advanced American aircraft gave me a new focus of adolescent veneration. ... They embodied the same consumer ethos as the streamlined Cadillacs and Lincoln Zephyrs, the refrigerators and radios. In a way the Mustangs and Lightnings were themselves advertisements, 400-mile-an-hour commercials that advertised the American dream and American power."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Although Ballard left China at the end of 1945 bound for England, he never forgot his euphoric interactions with these American seamen and buoyant liberators, and he believed then that America, with its consumerist abundance and optimistic spirit, was "a future that had already arrived." Never having lived in England, Ballard was struck by the pervasive gloom of postwar Britain, where, still on wartime rations, the people "behaved like a defeated population." In a country where "everything was dirty, and the interiors of railway carriages and buses were black with grime," the only hope, he perceived, came from Hollywood films, whose themes and cinematic twists he studied avidly, particularly film noirs and hard-edged thrillers, which would profoundly influence his own writing. Austerity pervaded Clement Attlee's post-war England: Ballard complained that the Leys School, the boarding school he attended from 1946 to 1949, reminded him of Lunghua ("though the food was worse"), while the ethos of King's College, Cambridge, was "homosexual, and a heterosexual like myself who brought in his girlfriends ... was viewed as letting the side down, as well as having made a curious choice in the first place."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Given his preoccupation with postwar American film culture and his fascination with American society in general, it is not surprising that so many of Ballard's early short stories take place in disguised American settings. David Pringle, a British Ballard authority who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of his stories and novels, points out that in the late '50s, Ballard, then a deputy editor and part-time writer for Chemistry & Industry, was eager for recognition beyond the two English science-fiction magazines that had published him, and deliberately chose themes and settings that would be familiar to American readers, especially to science-fiction editors. Yet the American society that Ballard confronted then as a prescient young writer had already lost the triumphalist glow he had glimpsed after World War II. A "consumer society," governed by "invisible persuaders" who were "manipulating politics and the consumer market, affecting habits and assumptions in ways that few people fully realised," had sprung up, both in America and England, and its themes would emerge in Ballard's early stories.

Not surprisingly, Ballard's first books were published in America, when Damon Knight, a science-fiction writer and an adviser to Berkley Books in New York, urged his boss to sign up four titles, the novels The Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World and two short-story collections, The Voices of Time and Billennium. The books, all published in 1962, were ignored by the mainstream press but garnered good reviews in science-fiction magazines of the day. Far more positive was the reception of The Drowned World in England the following year, when Kingsley Amis, the celebrated author of Lucky Jim, wrote a glowing review of this apocalyptic masterpiece in The Observer. Appearing the same year as Rachel Carson's nonfiction book Silent Spring, The Drowned World was in its own way an environmental thriller, an eerily prophetic, pre-Hurricane Katrina account of how a period of "geophysical upheavals" and unprecedented solar storms had caused the flooding of the major cities of America and Europe, turning them into tropical lagoons. With its deep Freudian overtones, the novel established Ballard as a writer to watch.

Despite the British embrace of The Drowned World and the American publication of two other novels {The Burning World in 1964 and The Crystal World in 1966), success and recognition eluded Ballard in the United States, where he found it increasingly difficult to secure a publisher. Given the violence and nihilism of many of Ballard's short stories from the mid-'60s, a time when gruesome images of burning Vietnamese children sprayed with napalm replaced those of American troops rescuing emaciated concentration-camp victims, this is not at all surprising. Increasingly fascinated by themes of urban violence, corporate excess, and rampant consumerism, he was convinced that America was the epicenter of this moral decay. As an outsider, not having visited the US since the early '50s, Ballard was nonetheless obsessed with American politicians, particularly the Kennedys after the 1963 assassination of the thirty-fifth president, as well as with the new breed of right-wing politicians ascendant in the American West. "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan," a provocative title even today, was particularly incendiary when it appeared in 1968. Recalling, in 1990, the origins of the story, Ballard wrote that
 the then-novelty of a Hollywood film star entering politics and
 becoming governor of California gave Reagan considerable air-time
 on British TV. Watching his right-wing speeches, in which he
 castigated in sneering tones the profligate, welfare-spending,
 bureaucrat-infested state government, I saw a more crude and ambitious
 figure, far closer to the brutal crime boss he played in the 1964
 movie The Killers, his last Hollywood role. In his commercials Reagan
 used the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to
 project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland
 and reassuring. A complete discontinuity existed between Reagan's
 manner and body language, on the one hand, and his scarily simplistic
 far-right message on the other.


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

No less shocking was Ballard's "Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy," published in 1967 in the British literary magazine Ambit, which caused a public row in England when Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston, called the story outrageous and demanded that the Arts Council of Great Britain withdraw its support for the magazine. It is hard for those who weren't alive at the time to fully appreciate the violent mood of the '60s, a time when student revolts, urban riots, and social protest spread from Berkeley to Liverpool, from Hamburg to Paris. So theatrical and incendiary was the rhetoric of the time--radical groups like the Yippies, the Black Panthers, and Weatherman were, mind you, urging anarchy in the streets--that a satire about the sexual powers of the former first lady and the media manipulation of her image should hardly have seemed aberrant, but apparently it did seem so in establishment circles in England and the US. Ballard's short stories of the time, perhaps more overtly political than those produced at any other point in his career, echoed the chaos of the era.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) was Ballard's attempt "to make sense of the sixties," a time when the Kennedy assassinations, race riots, and the Vietnam war came to dominate the airwaves despite "the determined effort by the entertainment culture to infantilise us." (A full quarter century before the spread of the Internet, Ballard presciently perceived that, as he would later put it, the "print-dominated past had given way to an electronic present, a realm where instantaneity ruled.") The chapter titles--which included "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan," "Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy," and "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race," among others--proved too much for the venerable firm of Doubleday, which had acquired the American rights but ultimately destroyed the entire printing before the book could be distributed. Book cancellations always arouse great interest in the press and in literary circles, and various stories have been floated over the decades as to what caused the publisher to trash the first printing. Writing in his 2008 memoir, Ballard speculated that Nelson Doubleday, a "close friend" of the California governor, had chanced on the Ronald Reagan story, and "within minutes the order had gone out to pulp the entire edition." Not until 1972 did these provocative, often sexually sensational stories finally see light in the United States, when they were published by Grove Press under the title Love & Napalm: Export USA, drawing a caustic rebuke in the New York Times Book Review from Paul Theroux, who charged that the "novelist

does more than botanize on the graves of mutilated peasants and famous victims--he blackmails us with our sentiment and outrages our compassion; it is the novel as a form of abuse, the dead-end of feeling."

While a few pieces in The Complete Stories from the years after the publication of The Atrocity Exhibition are based in the United States, American settings become less prominent in Ballard's fiction overall, although references to Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Warren Beatty, and Tom Cruise would still appear in "A Guide to Virtual Death," a 1992 story in which premium-television viewers are invited to have a "tele-orgasm" with their favorite Hollywood star. Even Ballard's fascination with conservative American politicians grew less intense, although a fictionalized Dan Quayle does make a surprising appearance in "The Message from Mars," published in 1992 and one of the final stories in the collection. Eager to demonstrate America's renewed space superiority, President Quayle, already in his third term (we have to believe that the Republicans were successful at overturning the amendment banning a president from serving more than two terms), convenes a group of foreign heads of state to celebrate America's triumphant landing on Mars in 2008, a signature event that, we are told, restores America's vaunted supremacy in outer space. The landing, more sensational than Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, is jubilantly celebrated, so much so that NASA announces that "three major Hollywood studios would collaborate on the most expensive film of all time," in which the astronauts would be cast as themselves. The crowd cheers wildly, surging forward, yet the pomp is short-lived when the astronauts refuse to leave the spacecraft and turn off the intrusive television cameras, "rejecting the world with a brief wave before closing the shutter for the last time," never to leave their spacecraft again. The embarrassment to President Quayle is immense, and he becomes a laughingstock--this time not because of his inability to spell. In the hands of Ballard, hubris has been punished, almost in the manner of a Greek tragedy, and the sequence or Kafkaesque events that follows only serves to reinforce Ballard's contention that the human will, no matter what, is both unpredictable and indomitable. One can only imagine what Ballard might have done with another vice president, Dick Cheney, an American politician who would have been catnip for the author's transforming imagination, had Ballard still been writing short stories during the George W. Bush years.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Even after the success of Steven Spielberg's 1987 film adaptation of Empire of the Sun, Ballard didn't frequently visit America, although he was published, often quite passionately, by a handful of venerable American editors and publishers, including Roger Straus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), V. Vale (Re/Search Publications), Gordon Van Gelder (St. Martin's Press), and, last, the British-born Frances Coady (Picador). Despite the fame that books and movies such as Empire of the Sun and Crash (published in 1973) brought Ballard, he was saddened in the last few decades of his life that many of his books received less than favorable reviews in the United States and that, somehow, the broader American public did not regard him as the literary pioneer and prophet he was. His reputation never wavered among devoted American science-fiction readers, but he felt he was "interested in the real future that I could see approaching, and less in the invented future that science fiction preferred."

As strident as some of his stories could be in their portrayal of America, there remains at times a curious ambivalence, reflected, for example, in his depiction (in "The Man Who Walked on the Moon") of Commander Scranton, an impostor astronaut who cadges drinks and small amounts of money from gullible American tourists on Copacabana Avenue in Rio de Janeiro. The narrator of this 1985 story is a British freelance journalist, who might be taken as Ballard's alter ego. Rather than expose the astronaut for the fraud that he is, the narrator becomes quite fond of his quarry and ends up embracing him, tending to him as he lies dying. In the end, the narrator becomes the very subject he hoped to mock and expose, telling yet a new generation of tourists that he is the astronaut who walked on the moon. The transformation here is stunning, and the ending redemptive; I'm led to think that the fictional Commander Scranton's personality is somehow drawn from one of those merchant marines who entertained Ballard as a boy in the camp at Lunghua.

THE APPEARANCE OF THE NEW COLLECTION is important for several reasons. The presentation of these ninety-eight tales in one volume reflects Ballard's faith in the power of the short story despite his fear that its form was no longer valued. Commenting in his 2001 introduction to the earlier, British edition, he noted that the '50s were still a time when "short stories were immensely popular with readers," observing that it was common for newspapers then to publish a short story every day. He lamented that "people at present have lost the knack of reading short stories, a response perhaps to the baggy and long-winded narratives of television serials." Arguing that many tedious novels today would have worked far better as short stories, Ballard observed, "Curiously, there are many perfect short stories, but no perfect novels."

The obituaries that followed Ballard's death have been considerable, and perhaps this is an indication that he will get the reconsideration here in the United States he has long deserved, and that many of his out-of-print novels will again come to light in new American editions. His work certainly merits serious attention from the academy, and one can only hope he will be increasingly read in high school and college class-rooms for his insights into our own computerized and technologically dependent urban sprawl, a world that often seems to have sprung sui generis from Ballard's head many years ago.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It is worth noting that, according to the Pew Research Center, "in blogs and social media" during the week following Ballard's death the writer was the third-hottest topic on the Internet, with only torture interrogation techniques and gay marriage the subjects of a greater volume of activity. The absurdity of this would not have gone unappreciated by Ballard himself. In death, his clairvoyance seems to be gaining favor.

RELATED ARTICLE: True to Form

DAVID CRONENBERG

J. G. BALLARD AND I did an onstage interview at the Cannes film festival the day after Crash was shown there in 1996, and it caused a huge controversy. It was very touching for me to read the transcript of that press conference again recently and to be reminded of the interplay between us, because I was really being attacked by a lot of people, and I had Ballard sitting up there, and we were really shoulder to shoulder. At one point a Finnish journalist jumped up and said I had destroyed the book and what I had done was an atrocity and hadn't gone far enough and the movie was terrible, and Ballard interrupted and said, "No, actually, I think the movie goes further than the book." He thought I'd used the book as a platform to push its concepts beyond what he had done a quarter century before. I thought I was just being faithful to the book, but, you know, it's a different medium. He really got that. The novel is very explicit in its sexuality, but you can't really call it pornographic--it's too clinical for that. I had nudity, but no genitalia; perhaps that's what the journalist was talking about. Obviously, if I had done that I'd have had a triple-X movie and wouldn't have been able to show it.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

But at any rate I think Ballard was talking about the film conceptually, just the way in which his ideas came together in it, presenting a kind of despairing sexuality that tries to manifest itself in new forms that connect with the technological extension of the human body--ideas that were always everywhere in his work, particularly in Crash. At one heated point during the interview, Ballard pointed out--for my sake, I'm sure--that he lived in Shepperton, which is a very quiet suburb of London, and that he wasn't looking for physical excitement in his life. He turned to me and said, "You know, this is awfully exciting for a writer, David. I think I'm going to have to go back home." Flaubert once said that the more bourgeois you can be in your life, the more radical you can be in your art--something along those lines--and certainly that was Ballard.

The other thing I have to say about Jim is that personally he was absolutely adorable. He was funny, he was smart, of course, but he was also this incredibly kind, incredibly generous, incredibly sweet person, and that's really what I think most about when I think about him--and his physical presence, he had a wonderful voice--just a lovely guy. When I miss him, and I do, that's what 1 miss. I really felt at Cannes that we were under fire, and he was steadfast, he was a colleague at arms, and that forms a very strong bond. He never wavered.

--AS TOLD TO TOM VANDERBILT

RELATED ARTICLE: Projected Visions

DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER

IN MANY OF J. G. BALLARD'S NOVELS, the characters are left to wonder if they should stay or leave: "Are you going to stay on here?" (1) When one is immersed in an overwhelming and intense environment like that of The Crystal World (1966), The Drowned World (1962), or The Burning World (1964)--or even that of an extreme high-rise, an abandoned highway, or a decaying leisure zone--whether to stay or leave becomes a very important question. All the more so when the environment itself slowly produces a new psycho-geographic condition, seeming to contaminate all thoughts, dreams, and desires. The same questions arise in certain aesthetic experiences. How do we digest and metabolize intense perceptions, uncomfortable visions, and disorienting situations? How do such extreme conditions match or produce our interior landscapes?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A few days after Ballard died, I was reminded of the way in which he disturbed my sense of beauty forever. I then tried to imagine what a "Ballard Park" might look like. It would, of course, have a drained pool, a deserted highway, and sand dunes--but also concrete fragments, mutating plants, rotten cars, a mixture of precious objects and trash. If our past has been partly Kafkaesque, our present and future are Ballardian. While Charles Baudelaire rendered the newly desperate, synesthetic, and erotic urban condition of the nineteenth century, Ballard identified and visualized our current landscapes and their complex distortions to come. He told of drastic changes in climate and of the endless cultural and industrial colonization of the planet, mapping the resulting violent and psycho-aesthetic effects. Like Marguerite Duras, another writer who came of age in Asia, Ballard was probably deeply "tropicalized" by his childhood in Shanghai during World War II. This was where he saw his first vacant pools, threadbare evening dresses, and abandoned airfields and hotels. Somewhere between Joseph Conrad, the 1968 film The Swimmer, and Robert Smithson's Hotel Palenque, 1969-72, lay Ballard's completely different aesthetic, one that allowed for our own contemporary attraction and ambivalence toward environments that are very far from classical or pastoral beauty. I have come to realize that many of my own photographs have been informed and even generated by the strange impression I get when I find myself in front of a Ballardian site or in a Ballardian moment. "Hello America." (2)

(1.) J. G. Ballard, The Drought (London: Harper Perennial, 2008), 15. Originally published as The Burning World (1964).

(2.) J. G. Ballard, Hello America (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981).

DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER IS AN ARTIST WHO LIVES AND WORKS IN PARIS AND RIO DE JANEIRO.

RELATED ARTICLE: After Tomorrow

CLARK COOLIDGE
 From his balcony Mallory watched
 the ancient biplane circle the
 rusty gantries of Cape Kennedy.

--J. G. Ballard, "Memories of the Space Age" (1982)


I FIRST ENCOUNTERED J. G. BALLARD in the epigraph to an essay by Robert Smithson. "Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space," which appeared in the November 1966 issue of Arts Magazine, begins with a brief but intriguing quote from "The Overloaded Man," a story in Ballard's 1962 collection The Voices of Time: "Without a time sense consciousness is difficult to visualize." Such titles weren't easy to find in the San Francisco area of the late '60s, but I did manage to track down a tattered copy along with the novels of his early elemental-cataclysm tetralogy: The Wind from Nowhere (1962), The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). These works would open realms I had never come across in fiction.

I had spent my junior high school years in the early '50s devouring hundreds of science-fiction stories. Starting with the Robert Heinlein juveniles (Red Planet [1949], Farmer in the Sky [1950], etc.), I soon moved on through the gamut of originators: Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Henry Kuttner, et al. But by the middle of that decade the genre had lost its juice and I switched to the Modern Novel syllabus--though I do recall the lucid confusion of first coming across Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis) in a sci-fi anthology! I couldn't have realized at the time that my interest in sci-fi was flagging just as the great first wave of American sci-fi writers was running out of steam. By the '60s they seemed to have been replaced--on bookstore shelves at least--by Conan-style sword & sorcery and the dynastic sagas of Dune, fantasies that had very little to do with the initial sci-fi impulse. Then Ballard snapped on the floods, almost single-handedly reviving both the genre and my interest in it.

Over a seventy-eight-year life span, Ballard published eighteen novels, more than a hundred short stories in twenty-odd collections, numerous essays (ninety of them collected in A User's Guide to the Millennium [1996]), a book of self-quotations, a book of conversations, and a straight-talking terminal autobiography, Miracles of Life (2008). His last four books have yet to find an American publisher.

Unlike the work of his sci-fi precursors, Ballard's fiction takes place not in the future but in what he liked to call a sort of "visionary present," and it paints the quotidian world in the spectra of unease, if not disease. Through the direct gaze of simple syntax and a few hard nouns, Ballard seems a stranger in a familiar landscape, tingeing things with the rainbows of a just-navigable hallucination. The early transition from his pubertal liberation in a Japanese prison camp outside Shanghai ("two and a half largely happy years," as he describes them in his memoirs) to the ruined cities and ruined psyches of a "victorious" England must have felt like a descent into the atmosphere of an uncharted planet. Yet his works project an obsessive clarity by way of a narrative that serves an accumulation of vivid images that imprint strongly on the reader's memory tissue. As master, and victim, of this clear enigma, he elevated the pulp sci-fi genre to high art, though a Ballard hero is often little more than eyes, a name, and some abbreviated experience. All the analogies seem broken into wayward substances--via the infinite series of mirrored surfaces clotting the image receptors in Crash (1973), or literally so in The Crystal World, where time itself becomes a fluid that is drying up, precipitating out matter previously held in suspension.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Ballard's first four novels were written in the third person. Then, beginning with Crash, he turned increasingly to the first person, his last four novels--Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000), Millenium People (2003), and Kingdom Come (2006)--employing that voice. It's interesting to note, however, that he wrote Empire of the Sun (1984), his great autobiographical novel, in the third person. I have long felt that the fictional third-person protagonist is by nature hallucinatory in its sometimes glaring distancing effect: You see your body enter a room, embrace a lover, even give up the ghost, as in astral projection or some near-death experiences. Ballard animates, populates, then fully inhabits this realm. Even his first-person-past settings can have a similar effect.

Some high points, if forced to pick: The Crystal World, culmination and apotheosis of his early dystopian period, like an eerie variant on Conrad's Heart of Darkness in which Marlow never does find Kurtz but wanders lost in the closing lattices of our draining time pool. Crash, his masterpiece of obsessive focus, which had been building up throughout the stories in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), suddenly masochistically erotic with its gyres of hurtling metal reflection and swollen flesh. I got an erection reading Crash in the bathtub and thought, Hey, this is not exactly my thrill of choice--or is it?! He does make you feel the tug. Empire of the Sun, his most purely autobiographical novel, the memory of all that finally emerging in full prismatic bloom. And I thought it revealing of Steven Spielberg's limitations that he left out of his otherwise worthy take on Empire, which Ballard evidently approved of, the fact that the boy hero increasingly falls in love with death in all its seductive attributes. Of the short stories, I should probably point to "The Terminal Beach," "Cage of Sand," and "Memories of the Space Age" as the essence of his rusty-gantry (like some "fossil of the future") and empty-swimming-pool mode ("I'm never happier than when I can write about drained swimming pools and abandoned hotels")--not forgetting the explosive miniatures of The Atrocity Exhibition.
 I believe in the death of tomorrow, in the exhaustion of time, in our
 search for a new time within the smiles of auto-route waitresses and
 the tired eyes of air-traffic controllers at out-of-season airports.

--J. G. Ballard, "What I Believe" (1984)


I SHUT MY EYES and Ballard keeps coming at me with his ultramoderne rooms and jagged shards of airfoil. From the deserted hotel of The Drowned World to the collapsed plazas of the Metro-Centre mall in Kingdom Come, the Ballard hero finds himself once again abandoned in the overlit decor and stray apparatus of a diminished civilization. Most of the others are now elsewhere as he roams and reports from those spectral bleaks, holding fast to a wan normalcy. He leaves us with a strange but habitable world, just a few suburban fences over from our own backyard. Who or what has he almost glimpsed? Could it be that at last even the future has passed him by?

CLARK COOLIDGE IS A POET LIVING IN PETALUMA, CA. (SEE CONTRIBUTORS.)

ROBERT WEIL, EXECUTIVE EDITOR AT W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, EDITED THE COMPLETE STORIES OF J. G. BALLARD (NORTON, 2009). (SEE CONTRIBUTORS.)
COPYRIGHT 2009 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:J. G. Ballard
Author:Ballard, J.G.
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
Words:5047
Previous Article:Relocating the past.
Next Article:Henrik Olesen: talks about "Better Sleep with a Sober Cannibal than a Drunken Christian," 2009.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters