“Even Ballard didn’t go as far as describing consumer riots over 2$ waffle makers at Wal-Mart” – Ashley Benigno
This most recent Thanksgiving weekend was violent even by Black Friday standards, including at least once incident of one shopper using pepper spray on fellow consumers. As Ashley points out, that’s a grimly Ballardian reality. This weekend I’ve come across some other WTF moments that seem like they were lifted directly from a Ballard novel:
In contrast to the rural decencies of Tolkien, Moorcock’s writing belongs to an urban tradition, which celebrates the fantastical city as a place of chance and mystery. The wondrous spaces of M John Harrison, China Miéville, Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe and Alan Moore are all part of this, as are Iain Sinclair’s London, Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One, the part-virtual cyberpunk mazes of William Gibson and the decadent Paris of the Baudelarian flâneur. Like these other urban fantasists, Moorcock delights in a kind of sublime palimpsest, in imagining an environment that through size, age, scale or complexity exceeds our comprehension, producing fear and awe. Crucially, the city isn’t a place of moral clarity.
Moorcock’s dislike of authoritarian sentiment has led him in many directions: Jerry Cornelius’s ambiguity is sexual, social and even ontological; one of Moorcock’s most popular heroes, Elric, was written as a rebuke to the bluff, muscular goody-goodies that populate so much fantasy fiction. Elric, a decadent albino weakling, is amoral, perhaps even evil. As a not-so-metaphorical junkie, Elric allowed Moorcock to revel in unwholesomeness, and helped return fantasy to its roots in the late romanticism of the decadents, a literary school close to Moorcock’s heart. In a recent introduction to The Dancers at the End of Time, which is set in a decadent far future, Moorcock claims to have sported Wildean green carnations as a teenager, not to mention “the first pair of Edwardian flared trousers (made by Burton) as well as the first high-button frock coat to be seen in London since 1910”. Elric, much less robust than his creator, who admits his dandyish threads gave him “the bluff domestic air of a Hamburg Zeppelin commander”, is part Maldoror, part Yellow Book poseur and part William Burroughs; within a few years of his first appearance in 1961, British culture suddenly seemed to be producing real-life Elrics by the dozen, as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and others defined an image of the English rock star as an effeminate, velvet-clad lotus-eater. Moorcock was very popular among musicians, and it’s tempting to see him as co-creator of the butterfly-on-a-wheel character, which still wanders the halls of English culture in guises ranging from Sebastian Horsley to Russell Brand. I ask him whether he felt at the time that the 60s rockers were living out a role he’d imagined. He’s too modest to agree, but tells an anecdote that seems to sum up psychedelic London’s openness to fantasy of all kinds. “I’m in the Mountain grill on the Portobello Road, where everyone used to meet to get on the tour buses. I’m sitting there, and this bloke called Geronimo is trying to sell me some dope. He says ‘have you heard about the tunnel under Ladbroke Grove?’. He starts to elaborate, about how it’s under the Poor Clares nunnery, and you can go into that and come out in an entirely different world. I said to him, ‘Geronimo, I think I wrote that’. It didn’t seem to bother him much.”
A press release from the BL touting the news contained something that caught my eye. Listing Ballard’s achievements, the Library tells us he “predicted the rise of terrorism against tourists, the alienation of a society obsessed by new technology and ecological disasters such as the melting of the ice caps”.
It was echoed in a tweet, from the Library’s Head of Media Relations, Strategic Marketing and Communications Miki Lentin.
“Ecological crisis, technological fetishism…JG Ballard archive acquired by British Library”
Sort of like Mystic Meg, then.
But is this really true? While disasters recur in Ballard’s fiction, the reason they are so vivid, Shaun again reminds us, is “because it’s what we really wanted all along”. They weren’t ecological predictions, or warnings. They explored our desire for apocalypse. If they predicted anything, it was the media’s desire for eco-porn, and our thirst for the End Times.
Readers of Ballard’s memoir, Miracles of Life (a book with a slightly but not entirely misleading title) will soon enough discern that he built on his wartime Shanghai traumas in three related ways. As a teenager in post-war England he came across first Freud, and second the surrealists. He describes the two encounters as devastating in that they taught him what he already knew: religion is abject nonsense, human beings positively enjoy inflicting cruelty, and our species is prone to, and can coexist with, the most grotesque absurdities. What could have been more natural, then, than that Ballard the student should devote himself to classes in anatomy, spending quality time with corpses, some of whom, in life, had been dedicated professors in the department. An astonishing number of his shorter works follow the inspiration of Crash, also filmed, this time by David Cronenberg, in morbid and almost loving accounts of “wound profiles,” gashes, fractures, and other inflictions on the flesh and bones. Fascinated by the possibility of death in traffic, and rather riveted by the murder of John Kennedy, Ballard produced a themed series titled The Atrocity Exhibition, here partially collected, where collisions and ejaculations and celebrities are brought together in a vigorously stirred mix of Eros and Thanatos. His antic use of this never-failing formula got him briefly disowned by his American publisher and was claimed by Ballard as “pornographic science fiction,” but if you can read “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race” or “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” in search of sexual gratification, you must be jaded by disorders undreamed-of by this reviewer. Both stories, however, succeed in being deadpan funny.
Three years have passed since the collapse of the Tower of Pisa, but only now can I accept the crucial role that I played in the destruction of this unique landmark. Over twenty tourists died as the thousands of tons of marble lost their grasp on the air and collapsed to the ground. Among them was my wife Elaine, who had climbed to the topmost tier and was looking down at me when the first visible crack appeared in the tower’s base. Never were tragedy and triumph so intimately joined, as if Elaine’s pride in braving the worn and slippery stairs had been punished by the unseen forces that had sustained this unbalanced mass of masonry for so many centuries.
The novelist JG Ballard, who conjured up a bleak vision of modern life in a series of powerful novels and short stories published over more than 50 years, died today after a long battle with cancer.
His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said tonight that it was “with great sadness” that the 78-year-old author passed away yesterday morning after years of ill health.
Hanbury, who worked with Ballard for more than 25 years, said he was a “brilliant, powerful” novelist. “JG Ballard has been a giant on the world literary scene for more than 50 years. Following his early novels of the 60s and 70s, his work then reached a wider audience with the publication of Empire of the Sun in 1984 which won several prizes and was made in to a film by Steven Spielberg.
Ballard has written some of the key transhumanist texts and they’re incredibly valuable because he never consciously allied himself with any particular futurist ideology. Crash is a frightening look at the kind of posthuman future we don’t want. The people in Crash have embraced the posthuman notion that we’re inseparable from our machines. They’re effectively cyborgs, just without the cool Gibsonian neural interfaces. Ballard leaves it to the reader to decide whether they represent an improvement; he simply reports.
Gibson was an impressive guy from the start. He was tall, with an unusually thin and somewhat flexible-looking head. When I met him at one of the con parties, he said he was high on some SF-sounding substance I’d never heard of. Perfect. He was bright, funny, intense, and with a comfortable Virginia accent.
In 2007, Burial’s last album was a hot topic in certain areas of the blog world, with Burial, as an entity, often bracketed with kode9, many thinking the two producers were one and the same – hence the photo heading this post. People really were straining to find the appropriate terms to describe this strange, otherworldly music, and often the conclusion reached was: it’s Ballardian. I became interested in tracking this meme because, as Steve suggests, Crash would invariably be the book that got referenced, yet I couldn’t really hear Crash’s themes in the music of either kode9 or Burial. It seemed that Crash was beginning to function as a default Ballardian reference, like 1984 standing in for ?Orwellian’. […]
Regarding ?The Sound-Sweep’, I too have been very influenced by the musique concrete aspects of this story, and I have to thank Paul Williams for turning me onto the noise in Ballard’s work. Once I looked for it I found it was everywhere in his writing, and Goodman’s views on this have inspired me also. Given Goodman’s interest in this story of Ballard’s, and the fact that in the Rupture interview he said he is also listening to lots of non-dance music, I also wonder if one day he will produce work in beatless, psychoacoustic, macrocosmic, musique concrete idioms. I think those results would be very interesting indeed.