J.G. Ballard arrived in the future ahead of the game and sent back postcards that we’re still making sense of… which makes me wonder why visual representations of his work have become so standardised. It seems to suggest that we now own Ballard in the sense that his ideas and their ramifications have been fully grasped, processed, digested… filed away? Given the nature of his explorations I find this concerning. So here is my attempt at something slightly different… not so much an interpretation, as a conversation, looking less at his overarching ‘oeuvre’ and more at his books as separate entities, ‘fragments of JGB’ if you like. Is it Ballardian..? Does it matter..? You decide.
The Atrocity Exhibition
Ballard’s experimental masterpiece bends time and fragments space in search of an impossible union. He renders a series of composite identities that merge and shatter. I found myself in pursuit of Karen Novotny, or was it Coma..?
Meanwhile, as our desires become ever more entangled with our machines, Ballard’s ode to the ‘death of affect’ continues its profane screech from the hymn sheet of psychopathology. ‘The sheen of moisture on the skin around her mouth was like the bloom on a morning windshield.’
The Drowned World
Science fiction for JG Ballard was always more about inner than outer space, and his drowning world feels more like a home-coming than the end of days… A return along the amnionic corridor, ‘back down to the spinal levels into the drowned seas of the lowest layers of your unconscious’.
Ballard’s cartography of disintegration charts a series of psychotic events in a closed vertical space. As the ground falls away the sky becomes limitless… In the High-Rise opportunism and psychosis are interchangeable.
When absurdity becomes a thing of necessity we head out to the concrete island. We’ve all been there, maybe we’re still there. Maybe we don’t want to leave…
The Unlimited Dream Company
William Blake collides with the Marquis de Sade to produce an ‘epic poem’ of transgressive proportions. What happens in suburbia quite often stays in suburbia… but not always…
The Crystal World
Time is leaking from the planet… or perhaps the holographic foundations of reality are re-asserting themselves, which might represent some form of return. In Ballard’s world a disaster is not necessarily disastrous…
Is this where we’re headed..? A leisure-based dystopia that needs crime and transgressive behaviour in order to overcome its own emptiness, to feel something..? In a sun-baked Estrella de Mar Ballard doesn’t just take a beach stroll, he dismantles moral imperatives.
‘My novels offer an extreme hypothesis which future events may disprove — or confirm. They’re in the nature of long-range weather forecasts.’ Written at a time when people still went shopping and Brexit wasn’t even a whisper, Ballard’s final novel makes links between consumerism and extremism via the malleability of human identity. In these media-satutrated times whose voice is really in control..?
JG Ballard at his most poetic. There’s a cutting edge to some of these stories but Vermillion Sands is still a place you want to visit: The Singing Statues, Venus Smiles, Prima Belladonna and The Cloud Sculptors Of Coral D.
The Overloaded Man / Low Flying Aircraft
I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that Ballard was at his best in ‘short story mode’…
So I did something Kafkaesque too.