J. G. Ballard
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
James Graham Ballard (born November 15, 1930 in Shanghai - 19 April 2009) was a British writer. He was a prominent member of the New Wave in science fiction. His best known books are the controversial Crash, and The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash was made into film by David Cronenberg.
The adjective "Ballardian", defined as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in JG Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments", has been included in the Collins English Dictionary.
His work was most recently celebrated in the exhibition J. G. Ballard. Autopsy of the new millennium.
Those who know Ballard from his autobiographical novels will not be prepared for the subject matter that Ballard most commonly pursues, as his most common genre is dystopia. His most celebrated novel in this regard is Crash, in which cars symbolise the mechanisation of the world and man's capacity to destroy himself with the technology he creates; the characters (the protagonist, called Ballard, included) become increasingly obsessed with the violent psychosexuality of car crashes in general, and celebrity car crashes in particular. Ballard's disturbing novel was turned into a controversial – and likewise disturbing – cerebral film by David Cronenberg.
Particularly revered among Ballard's admirers is his short story collection Vermilion Sands, set in an eponymous desert resort town inhabited by forgotten starlets, insane heirs, very eccentric artists, and the merchants and bizarre servants who provide for them. Each story features peculiarly exotic technology such as poetry-composing computers, orchids with operatic voices and egos to match, phototropic self-painting canvasses, etc. In keeping with Ballard's central themes, most notably technologically mediated masochism, these tawdry and weird technologies service the dark and hidden desires and schemes of the human castaways who occupy Vermilion Sands, typically with psychologically grotesque and physically fatal results. In his introduction to Vermilion Sands, Ballard cites this as his favorite collection.
In a similar vein, his collection Memories of the Space Age explores many varieties of individual and collective psychological fallout from –and initial deep archetypal motivations for– the American space exploration boom of the 1960s and 1970s.
In addition to his novels, Ballard made extensive use of the short story form. Many of his earliest published works in the 1950s and 1960s were short stories.
Critique and influence
Ballard's fiction is sophisticated, often bizarre, and a constant challenge to the cognitive and aesthetic preconceptions of his readers. As Martin Amis has written: "Ballard is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different - a disused - part of the reader's brain." Because of this tendency to upset readers in order to enlighten them, Ballard does not enjoy a mass-market following, but he is recognised by critics as one of the UK's most prominent writers. He has been influential beyond his mass market success; he is cited as perhaps the most important forebear of the cyberpunk movement by Bruce Sterling in his introduction to the seminal Mirrorshades anthology. Also, his parody (or psychoanalysis) of American politics, the pamphlet "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" (subsequently included as a chapter in his experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition), was photocopied and distributed by pranksters at the 1980 Republican National Convention. In the early 1970s, Bill Butler, a bookseller in Brighton, was prosecuted under United Kingdom obscenity laws for selling this pamphlet.
Lee Killough directly cites his seminal Vermilion Sands short stories as the inspiration for her collection "Aventine", also a backwater resort for celebrities and eccentrics where bizarre or frivolous novelty technology facilitates the expression of dark intents and drives.
Ballard has had a notable influence on popular music, where his work has been used as a basis for lyrical imagery, particularly amongst British post-punk groups. Examples include albums such as Metamatic by John Foxx, various songs by Joy Division (most famously "The Atrocity Exhibition" from Closer), the song "Down in the Park" by Gary Numan and "Warm Leatherette" by The Normal. Songwriters Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley credit Ballard's story, "The Sound-Sweep," with inspiring The Buggles' hit, "Video Killed the Radio Star", and Buggles' second album included a song entitled "Vermillion Sands." The 1978 post-punk band Comsat Angels took their name from one of Ballard's short stories.
An earlier recording of Ballard speaking in an interview is sampled in the Manic Street Preachers' song 'Mausoleum' from the 1994 album The Holy Bible. In the sample, Ballard, probably referring to his novel, Crash, states : "I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, I wanted to force it to look in the mirror..."
Jawbox frontman J. Robbins has cited J.G. Ballard as his favorite writer, and used the phrase "concrete island" in the Jawbox song "Grip". The Jawbox song "Motorist" is also heavily influenced by the Ballard novels, Crash and Concrete Island.
The 2002 album Bitterness, Spite, Rage & Scorn by British garage rock band Dan Melchior's Broke Revue includes the song "Me and JG Ballard", a narrative about Melchior and Ballard (both residents of Shepperton, UK) unknowingly mirroring each others actions ("Me and JG Ballard, we walk down different streets/Going to the supermarket for something to eat/JG Ballard gets there first, buys some frozen peas/They were the last packet and there’s none there left for me").
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke posted extracts from Ballard's anti-consumerist novel Kingdom Come on the band's blog, Dead Air Space, in the months leading up to the release of their 2007 album, In Rainbows.
Andrew Eldritch, frontman of rock group The Sisters of Mercy has posted his favourite works of Ballard on his site, which contains Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, High Rise, Low-Flying Aircraft, The Unlimited Dream Company and Myths Of The Near Future. Some of Eldritch' lyrics can be compared to Ballard's world of technology, dystopia and deranged eroticism. (Crash and Burn and Doktor Jeep).
- The Wind From Nowhere (1961)
- The Drowned World (1962)
- The Burning World (1964) (also The Drought) (1965)
- The Crystal World (1966)
- The Atrocity Exhibition (1969) (also Love and Napalm: Export USA) (1972)
- Crash (1973)
- Concrete Island (1974)
- High Rise (1975)
- The Unlimited Dream Company (1979)
- Hello America (1981)
- Empire of the Sun (1984, fictionalised autobiography of his adolescence in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai)
- The Day of Creation (1987)
- Running Wild (1988)
- The Kindness of Women (1991, follow up to Empire Of The Sun covering his early adulthood)
- Rushing to Paradise (1994)
- Cocaine Nights (1996)
- Super-Cannes (2000)
- Millennium People (2003)
- Kingdom Come (2006)
Short story collections
- The Voices of Time and Other Stories (1962)
- Billennium (1962)
- Passport to Eternity (1963)
- The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (1963)
- The Terminal Beach (1964)
- The Impossible Man (1966)
- The Venus Hunters (1967)
- The Overloaded Man (1967)
- The Disaster Area (1967)
- The Day of Forever (1967)
- Vermilion Sands (1971)
- Chronopolis and Other Stories (1971)
- Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories (1976)
- The Best of J. G. Ballard (1977)
- The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard (1978)
- Myths of the Near Future (1982)
- The Voices of Time (1985)
- Memories of the Space Age (1988)
- War Fever (1990)
- The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard (2001)
- When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) dir. Val Guest
- Crash! (1971) dir. Harley Cokliss
- Empire of the Sun (1987) dir. Steven Spielberg
- Crash (1996) dir. David Cronenberg
- The Atrocity Exhibition (2001) dir. Jonathan Weiss
- Aparelho Voador a Baixa Altitude (2002), dir. Solveig Nordlund. Portuguese adaptation of the short story "Low Flying Aircraft".
- Thirteen to Centaurus (1965) dir. Peter Potter (BBC Two)
- Home (2003) dir. Richard Curson Smith (BBC Four)