WHERE WILL IT END?: J.G BALLARD, interviewed by V. Vale, introduced by Michael Moorcock (Arthur No. 15/March 2005)

V. Vale, with J.G. Ballard


This feature was originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March, 2005).

Where Will It End?
From his home in an English suburb, controversial novelist J. G. Ballard wonders if there is something fundamentally flawed about the American take on reality. Interview by V. Vale, with an introduction by Michael Moorcock.

Born in 1930, J.G.Ballard spent his formative years in a Shanghai civilian prison camp, experiences which form the basis of his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, filmed by Steven Spielberg. In England he abandoned his medicine degree at Cambridge to become a technical journalist. His first stories in New Worlds, Science Fantasy and Science Fictions Adventure from 1956 including “The Voices of Time,” “Vermilion Sands” and “Chronopolis” are in The Complete Short Stories of J.G.Ballard (2002). Three novels, The Drowned World (predicting climate change), The Crystal World and The Drought increasingly reflected his interest in surrealist painting. The Terminal Beach in Science Fantasy (1964) marked a new phase, dispensing altogether with the conventions of science fiction.

Appearing in New Worlds, which by then I was editing, “The Assassination Weapon” (1966) was the first of Ballard’s “condensed novels” where iconographic personalities and events became the basis of narrative. Other stories included “The Atrocity Exhibition Weapon,” “You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe” and “Plan For The Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy” in New Worlds and, increasingly, in literary magazines such as Ambit and Transatlantic Review. His work encountered considerable hostility in the United States, where its irony went largely undetected. Doubleday, the publisher of The Atrocity Exhibition, ordered all copies pulped after it was printed. It eventually appeared from Grove Press in 1970. Meanwhile, “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” became the basis of a UK court case, while his “Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race,” “lost” by his U. S. agent, eventually appeared in New Worlds and Evergreen Review.

He remains a seminally controversial writer hugely admired by the likes of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, Angela Carter, Iain Sinclair and most of the best science fiction writers. Described as pornographic and psychotic when first reviewed, Crash (1973) was filmed by David Cronenberg starring James Spader in 1996. Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975) continued similar themes of our psychological and sexual relationship with contemporary phenomena and iconography. The Unlimited Dream Company (1979) and Hello America (1981) are enjoyable satires; his autobiographical The Kindness of Women (1991) was a sequel to Empire of the Sun. Recent novels like Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000) and Millennium People (2003) continue to develop techniques describing his unique experience and his notion that contemporary bourgeousie have become the new slave class. Today he lives in the same London suburb where he settled some 45 years ago and, as a widower, raised three children, eschewing electronics and still working at his typewriter. Combining the creative insight and originality of a modern William Blake, Ballard is our greatest living visionary writer. —Michael Moocock


The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted by V. Vale by telephone following the Nov. 2, 2004 United States elections. The interview appeared in J. G. Ballard Interviews, available from http://www.researchpubs.com. J. G. Ballard Quotations is also available from the same excellent publisher.

V. Vale: I wanted to get your “take” on the neo-cons and Bush, and your perspective on what happened with this election in November, 2004.
J. G. Ballard: I’m sure you and your readers have had an absolute Niagara of comment on the subject, so I don’t want to give anything but one European’s perspective on it. But there’s no doubt that most people over here on this side of the Atlantic were hoping for a Kerry victory. There’s something very frightening about Bush and the neo-con group. Donald Rumsfeld is quite a scary figure—putting it mildly.

One feels that Bush and his closest advisers are entirely driven by emotions. They’re no longer driven by a reasoned analysis of where the world is going, and what the U.S. response should be. They’re driven by this visceral need to express their anger—you know, their anger and, really, rage at the world. One feels, listening to people like Rumsfeld, Bush himself, and one or two of the others like Richard Perle, that the world is seen as an extremely hostile place. And moreover, they want it to be a hostile place.
They need enemies who can be challenged and then destroyed. This is a kind of psychology that people in Europe are very familiar with, going back to the psychology of people like Hitler and his henchman, and then to Stalin and the whole paranoid stance that both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes had towards their enemies. If they didn’t have enemies, they would soon invent enemies. Because they’re absolutely hung up—and I suspect Bush and the neo-cons, to a surprising extent, in a great democracy like the U.S., are hung up on this need to hate and this need to destroy. And of course it’s frightening, because where will it end? Today Iraq, tomorrow Iran, and the day after, hmmm… maybe France, you know, because given their mindset, there will be no shortage of enemies.

I think there’s nothing particularly extreme about saying this. I think it’s what people over here perceive of as part of the dangers of this situation. Nobody thinks there is a connection between the 9/11 attack and Saddam Hussein. There’s no connection at all—it’s quite the opposite. Hussein was running a secular regime. Bush and Rumsfeld have created a kind of unstable regime dominated by religious fanatics in Iraq, of the Khadafi kind they thought they were getting rid of!

So it is unnerving. It leads us to question many other areas of the American world view. Is there something fundamentally flawed about the American take on reality? Continue reading

IAIN SINCLAIR on J.G. BALLARD's favorite artwork

Another piece by Iain Sinclair, this one regarding his friend, the late visionary author J.G. Ballard (wiki).

From today’s The Guardian, on the occasion of the new Ballard exhibition at the London Gagosian…

delvaux

PAUL DELVAUX: Le canapé bleu, 1967 (Oil on canvas/55 1/8 x 70 7/8 inches)


Crash: JG Ballard’s artistic legacy

Shortly before JG Ballard’s death last year, Iain Sinclair made a pilgrimage to the author’s Shepperton semi, a shrine to his surreal tastes and happy family life. A new exhibition of his favourite paintings and of art work he has inspired honours this distinctive vision

Coming away from the official path, on a walk from the mouth of the Thames to Oxford in October 2008, I diverted through Shepperton. Light rain misted my spectacles. An uncertain detour was blocked by a two-tonne Jaguar saloon, white and racing green: XJ MOTOR SERVICES. The upstream settlement has evident 21st-century loot, as well as Edwardian weekend villas and chalets. There is a blue plaque to the literary giant they choose to commemorate: THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK LIVED HERE, 1823-1866. Modernist white cubes with big windows are attracted by reflections of light on water. Natural metaphors for unnatural liquidity in a time of recession.

I head for the station. That’s where JG Ballard met me when I visited him. I never saw the inside of his house. We drove to a riverside pub and sat under whirring fans. I wondered why, after his great success with Empire of the Sun, he didn’t relocate to one of those balconied, sharp-angled properties that were so attractive to the convalescing architects and blocked advertising men who populate his books. Foolish thought. Ballard was a working writer, first and last; the where of it was not to be disturbed. Fixed routines served him well; so many hours, so many words. Breakfast. Times crossword. Desk overlooking a natural ­garden. Stroll to the shops to observe the erotic rhythms of consumerism. Lunch standing up with The World at One on the radio. Back to the study. Forty-minute constitutional down to the river. TV chill-out meditation: ­Hawaii Five-O and The Rockford Files rather than Kenneth Clark.

The interior landscape of the suburban semi was a mirage. The more you studied it, the cannier the decision to settle the family in Shepperton, all those years ago, appeared. It was far enough out of London to limit the pests, the time-devourers. When journalists gained access they were mesmerised by the reproduction Delvaux canvases propped on the floor, the ­aluminium palm tree, the lounger in the front room; dutifully they repeated the standard questions about surrealism and how The Drowned World was saturated in Max Ernst. The house in Old Charlton Road was a premature ­installation; a stage set designed to confirm the expectations of awed pilgrims. But it was also a home in which the widowed author brought up three children who are always laughing in family snapshots.

Ballard may be the first serious ­novelist whose oeuvre is most widely represented in books of interviews. And whose future belongs as much in white-walled warehouse galleries as the diminishing shelves of public libra­ries. He was so generous to those who found his phone number, so direct: he rehearsed polished routines – and ­always agreed, with unfailing courtesy, that the world was indeed a pale Xerox made in homage to the manifold of his fiction. A late moralist, he practised undeceived reportage, not prophecy: closer to Orwell than HG Wells. Closer to Orson Welles than to either. Closer to Hitchcock. Take out the moving ­figures on staircases that go nowhere and stick with hollow architecture that co-authors subversive drama.

CHRIS BURDEN: L.A.P.D. Uniform (1994, Fabric, leather, wood, metal and plastic
88 x 72 x 6 inches Ed. of 30)


Spurning critical theory, Ballard joined his near-namesake Baudrillard as the hot topic for air-miles academics. Off-highway universities, indistinguishable from hospitals or hotels, approve infinite theses. A hall of mirrors in which students, who have lost the habit of literature, recognise, in the Shepperton master’s exquisitely calibrated prose, intimations of a hybrid form capable of processing autopsy ­reports and invasion politics into accidental poetry. The incantatory manifesto, “What I Believe”, deploys Ballard’s favourite device, the list, as he curates a museum of affinities: “I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dalí, ­Titian, / Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, / Redon, Dürer, ­Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, / the Watts Towers, Böcklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists / within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.”

It was almost dark when I got there, after walking down a street occupied by Indian ­restaurants, Chinese take­aways, charity and novelty shops. A man spotted me as I lined up the shot.

“A writer bloke is supposed to live in that house. We’ve been out here 25 years and I’ve never set eyes on him, tell the truth. But he’s on the box….”

Read on at The Guardian

Chambo's Internet Activity Pages for August 25, 2009

• GREAT BALLS OF FIRE: Did you miss the Perseid meteor shower peak-hour blowout that happened back on August 12? We went camping up on Mount Pacifico here in the Southern CA San Gabriels the weekend after and caught a couple fleeting shooting stars, but the main event was completely obscured by the impenetrable orange-grey dome that covers the Los Angeles sky each night. Luckily this “Jeff Sullivan” guy on Flickr recorded a good portion of the night with his HD camera. [via Bad Astronomy/Discover]

• PACIFIC SCI-FI:
We are slowly working our way through Simon Sellars most recent contribution to Ballardian, a website “exploring tropes and motifs found in the work of J.G. Ballard.” Sellars’ essay — “Extreme Possibilities: Mapping “the sea of time and space” in J.G. Ballard’s Pacific fictions” — is an in-depth look at themes of dystopia/utopia in works such as “My Dream of Flying to Wake Island” and Rushing to Paradise, tales set on uninhabited Pacific islands. Sellars brings anarchist philosopher-poet Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) and literary critic Fredric Jameson into the discussion, along with a variety of photographs and video documenting the nuclear testing that gives much of these works their apocalyptic tint. [Ballardian]

• TO DEET OR NOT TO DEET: Last week a bunch of people picked up the story that the noxious insect repelling chemical was maybe bad for you, as in neurotoxically bad. O RLY? That shit melts plastic and “stained” the frames of my spectacles — of course it’s bad for you. But you know what else I think is bad for me? Having mosquitos and no-see-ums eating my eyeballs alive when I’m up in Tahoe, exploring high altitude bogs in the Desolation Wilderness. And also BUG GIRL says that maybe these studies aren’t that useful anyway: “The results in this paper are preliminary, need to be confirmed, and even IF confirmed, remain irrelevant to the average person who might want to use DEET.” Whatever: DEET ’em if you got ’em, I guess. Or better yet let’s see what NANCE has to say about hexing them skeeters … [Bug Girl’s Blog]

• ON YARD EGGS AND CITY CHICKENS:
The urban homesteaders at Homegrown Evolution are talking chicken at their newly launched L.A. Urban Chicken Enthusiasts online forum. And if you’ve got an extra 20 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you can go hang out with them at Project Butterfly in downtown Los Angeles TODAY (that’s Tuesday, August 25, 2009) and they’ll teach you how to make sauerkraut and a “self-irrigating pot.” [Homegrown Evolution]

Ballardian: "Michael Jackson's Facelift"

michael_jackson2

To commemorate the alleged death of the reclusive Hoosier sex wizard Michael Jackson, the dude at Ballardian has updated one of J.G. Ballard’s 1970 “surgical fictions,” a cut-and-pasted thing called “Princess Margaret’s Facelift,” originally published in New Worlds but most readily found in the appendix of modern editions of The Atrocity Exhibition. As Ballard told Penthouse back in ’70 (when porn mags were quite literally worth reading, from time to time):

“I feel a tremendous rapport with pop artists and in a lot of my fiction I’ve tried to produce something akin to pop art. For instance, I’ve just published a piece in New Worlds called ‘Princess Margaret’s Facelift’, in which I’ve taken the text of a classic description of a plastic surgery operation, a facelift, and where the original says “the patient”, I’ve inserted “Princess Margaret”. So I’ve done precisely what the pop painters did, using images from everyday life — Coca-Cola bottles, Marilyn Monroe — and manipulated them. The great thing about pop painters is their honesty. They’ve turned their backs on the traditional subject matter of the fine arts — which had hardly changed since the Renaissance — and looked at their own environment and decided: yes, the shine on domestic hardware, like the refrigerator or the washing machine, the particular gleam on the mouldings of a cabinet, the moulding of doorhandles, are of importance to people, because these are the visual landscapes of people’s lives, and if we’re going to be honest we’re going to use reality material instead of fiction. I want to do the same.”

So you can see how this might work with the legendary plastic surgery hobbyist and “dancing king,” yes? What with his multi-decade transmogrification from “ebony” to “ivory” to some sort of troubled anime being. Click here to read “Michael Jackson’s Facelift” over at Ballardian — complete with more creepy plastic surgery photos and annotations from other Ballard interviews — or take a gander after the jump.

Continue reading

J.G. Ballard, 1930-2009

ballardw-palm72

Various British news sources are reporting the sad news that visionary author J. G. Ballard died this morning. From The Guardian:

JG Ballard, novelist and short-story writer, has died after a long battle with illness, his agent has said.

The 78-year-old author, who was best known for the award-winning Empire of the Sun, a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1984, and his controversial novel, Crash, later adapted into film by David Cronenberg.

His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said it was “with great sadness” that Ballard had passed away this morning after several years of ill health.

In early 2005, Arthur published a recent interview with Ballard by longtime enthusiast and counterculture historian V. Vale, whose Re/Search publishing house was just then releasing a new collection of Ballard interviews (J.G. Ballard: Conversations). Author Michael Moorcock, Ballard’s friend and sometime editor, graciously supplied Arthur with a short introduction for the piece.

Here is what Mike wrote:

J.G. BALLARD: Our Greatest Living Visionary Writer
by Michael Moorcock

(originally published in Arthur No. 15/March 2005)

Born in 1930, J.G.Ballard spent his formative years in a Shanghai civilian prison camp, experiences which form the basis of his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, filmed by Steven Spielberg. In England he abandoned his medicine degree at Cambridge to become a technical journalist. His first stories in New Worlds, Science Fantasy and Science Fictions Adventure from 1956 including “The Voices of Time,” “Vermilion Sands” and “Chronopolis” are in The Complete Short Stories of J.G.Ballard (2002). Three novels, The Drowned World (predicting climate change), The Crystal World and The Drought increasingly reflected his interest in surrealist painting. The Terminal Beach in Science Fantasy (1964) marked a new phase, dispensing altogether with the conventions of science fiction.

Appearing in New Worlds, which by then I was editing, “The Assassination Weapon” (1966) was the first of Ballard’s “condensed novels” where iconographic personalities and events became the basis of narrative. Other stories included “The Atrocity Exhibition Weapon,” “You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe” and “Plan For The Assassination of Jaqueline Kennedy” in New Worlds and, increasingly, in literary magazines such as Ambit and Transatlantic Review. His work encountered considerable hostility in the United States, where its irony went largely undetected. Doubleday, the publisher of The Atrocity Exhibition, ordered all copies pulped after it was printed. It eventually appeared from Grove Press in 1970. Meanwhile, “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” became the basis of a UK court case, while his “Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race,” “lost” by his U. S. agent, eventually appeared in New Worlds and Evergreen Review.

He remains a seminally controversial writer hugely admired by the likes of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, Angela Carter, Iain Sinclair and most of the best science fiction writers. Described as pornographic and psychotic when first reviewed, Crash (1973) was filmed by David Cronenberg starring James Spader in 1996. Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975) continued similar themes of our psychological and sexual relationship with contemporary phenomena and iconography. The Unlimited Dream Company (1979) and Hello America (1981) are enjoyable satires; his autobiographical The Kindness of Women (1991) was a sequel to Empire of the Sun. Recent novels like Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000) and Millennium People (2003) continue to develop techniques describing his unique experience and his notion that contemporary bourgeousie have become the new slave class.

Today he lives in the same London suburb where he settled some 45 years ago and, as a widower, raised three children, eschewing electronics and still working at his typewriter. Combining the creative insight and originality of a modern William Blake, Ballard is our greatest living visionary writer.

66-11newworlds250jgbbookb72jgbbookd72

J.G. Ballard, 2004: "A soft totalitarianism prevails, as obsequious as a wine waiter."

From a 2004 interview with Jeannette Baxter in The Guardian, touching on themes from Ballard’s latest novel, Millennium People

JGB: I suspect that many of the great cultural shifts that prepare the way for political change are largely aesthetic. A Buick radiator grille is as much a political statement as a Rolls Royce radiator grille, one enshrining a machine aesthetic driven by a populist optimism, the other enshrining a hierarchical and exclusive social order. The ocean liner art deco of the 1930s, used to sell everything from beach holidays to vacuum cleaners, may have helped the 1945 British electorate to vote out the Tories.

… There is something deeply suffocating about life today in the prosperous west. Bourgeoisification, the suburbanisation of the soul, proceeds at an unnerving pace. Tyranny becomes docile and subservient, and a soft totalitarianism prevails, as obsequious as a wine waiter. Nothing is allowed to distress and unsettle us. The politics of the playgroup rules us all.

The chief role of the universities is to prolong adolescence into middle age, at which point early retirement ensures that we lack the means or the will to enforce significant change. When Markham [not JGB] uses the phrase “upholstered apocalypse” he reveals that he knows what is really going on in Chelsea Marina. That is why he is drawn to Gould, who offers a desperate escape.

My real fear is that boredom and inertia may lead people to follow a deranged leader with far fewer moral scruples than Richard Gould, that we will put on jackboots and black uniforms and the aspect of the killer simply to relieve the boredom. A vicious and genuinely mindless neo-fascism, a skilfully aestheticised racism, might be the first consequence of globalisation, when Classic Coke and California merlot are the only drinks on the menu. At times I look around the executive housing estates of the Thames Valley and feel that it is already here, quietly waiting its day, and largely unknown to itself.”

Q: Am I right in thinking that one critique which your latest novel throws up is that, in the glare of the consumerist spectacle, we have lost all sense of critical distance to the realities of capitalism and globalisation? I’m thinking specifically here of the reality of terrorism. John Gray propounds a similar thesis in Straw Dogs (your chosen book of the year for 2003) when he suggests that al-Qaida is “a byproduct of globalisation, it successfully privatised terror and projected it worldwide.” What’s your feeling on this?

JGB: I agree with John Gray, and was very impressed by both Straw Dogs and his al-Qaida book. What is so disturbing about the 9/11 hijackers is that they had not spent the previous years squatting in the dust on some Afghan hillside with a rusty Kalashnikov. These were highly educated engineers and architects who had spent years sitting around in shopping malls in Hamburg and London, drinking coffee and listening to the muzak. There was certainly something very modern about their chosen method of attack, from the flying school lessons, hours on the flight simulator, the use of hijacked airliners and so on. The reaction they provoked, a huge paranoid spasm that led to the Iraq war and the rise of the neo-cons, would have delighted them.

COURTESY ANDREW M.!