Tuesday, April 28, 2009

JG Ballard

Great sadness in the GoH household this week, with the news that JG Ballard died last Sunday. Although not entirely unexpected – last year's autobiography Miracles of Life was quite matter of fact about the prognosis for his prostate cancer – it is difficult to imagine the world without his singular, visionary talent.

The tributes have been many and mostly fulsome about the impact of his work and his influence across the arts. To me the talk about Ballard's influence in music, television, film, architecture and visual art misses the point of his unique genius. Sure, you can read the short stories and novels and see elements of contemporary society reflected and dilated, but it is not that the world somehow took those images and became Ballardian – his true brilliance was the way that he foresaw and understood the implications of technology and what the developing consumer society meant for those implicated in its demented ecosystem. What he did above all else was look at our world and see clearly the effects and repercussions of our warped ideologies, principles and faiths on the human species.

Some of my favourite excerpts from the tributes are below, but in addition there is also a new short story, an interview with his partner Claire Walsh and of course the obituary.

Martin Amis – Ballard will be remembered as the most original English writer of the last century. He used to like saying that writers were "one-man teams" and needed the encouragement of the crowd (ie, their readers). But he will also be remembered as a one-man genre; no one else is remotely like him.

Neil Gaiman – As the years continued, I remained fascinated with Ballard, and with the strange way that Ballard's most outre work from the late 60s and early 70s, odd un-stories with titles like Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan, or books like Crash, on the sexual fetishism of car crashes and beautiful women who die in them, seemed to have somehow predicted the future that we were in, the world of postReagan image control and the psychofallout of a dead Diana, better than any of the SF writers who thought they really were predicting the future.

Alex Clark in Granta – Ballard was a true subversive: he took our ideas of how societies are supposed to work and threw a new shape on them.

Chris Petit in Granta – Conventionally described as a dystopian, he always struck me as more interesting than that, a combination of amoral diagnostician, terminal patient and an optimist in love with the modern world. No one has written with more loving care about twentieth century technology and design, or the anatomy of celebrity.

Michael Moorcock on Ballardian – Jimmy remained a private, modest and rather shy man, a loyal friend who, in spite of being admired by some of our best known literary writers, avoided what he called ‘the literary crowd’ even more than sf conventions, living quietly at home in Shepperton which famously remained unchanged since the mid-60s, with his typewriter in one corner of the room and commissioned copies of lost Delvaux masterpieces in another, while a unicycle stood in his hallway.

And finally my favourite JG Ballard quote: "Sex times technology equals the future."

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