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J.G. Ballard, R.I.P.


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#1 dirac

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 03:46 PM

J.G. Ballard has died at age 78.

The author of 15 novels and scores of short stories, Ballard grew up amongst the expatriate community in Shanghai.

During World War II, at the age of 12, he was interned for three years in a camp run by the Japanese along with his parents and younger sister.


Related story.

Surreal though the early novels undoubtedly were, they paled beside The Atrocity Exhibition, a collection of stories and fragments that may prove to be Ballard's most influential work. Ostensibly a fever-dream taking place in the mind of a deranged psychiatrist, this was a work of violent postmodernism, drawing on the war in Vietnam, the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination and the world of advertising to create a terrifying and uproarious new form of satire. Prescience was everywhere at work: he noted Ronald Reagan's habit of using "the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring", while a frightening comic piece about focus groups analysing the "optimum sex-deaths" of female celebrities in automobile accidents not only looked forward to his later novel Crash but ensured that the newspapers besieged Ballard for comment when Diana died.



#2 papeetepatrick

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 04:46 PM

The author of 15 novels and scores of short stories, Ballard grew up amongst the expatriate community in Shanghai.


Thanks for posting this, which includes info that I didn't know that is relevant to my friends I wrote about in the General Reading forum--who are also in the English expat community of Shanghai--and very much involved with Ballard and fictions which are quite a bit more sci-fi than I'm myself interested in (Lovecraft, etc., whom I've never gotten to). I read some of the more recent Ballard from the 90s and 00s--'Cocaine Nights' and 'Super-Cannes', and think they are both extremely good. He's quite the cult. Cronenberg's film of Ballard's 'Crash' I also think is excellent, with James Spader, Rosanna Arquette, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas and Deborah Kara Unger. That's a more famous book, I think, but I haven't read it. Very hypnotic stuff, the business parks of 'Eden-Olympia' as in 'Super-Cannes', where people have to fight their tendency to overachieve, and always sinister. Not for everybody, and not that much of it for me, but they're special and original.

#3 dirac

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 05:28 PM

Thanks, Patrick. I also saw the movie of "Crash" without reading the book. I wasn't really tempted because I had trouble with the crash-sex-death nexus -- it may be prosaic of me, but I just don't see anything sexy about car smashups. Maybe a look at The Atrocity Exhibition would help.

I loved "Empire of the Sun" - the book, that is. (The movie has a splendid first half and then goes downhill.)

Of course, Ballard is one of those writers where it almost doesn't matter whether you like him or dislike him - even if you don't care for his writing it has influenced many other people whose work you probably do like.

#4 papeetepatrick

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 07:52 PM

I had trouble with the crash-sex-death nexus -- it may be prosaic of me, but I just don't see anything sexy about car smashups.


Oh, believe me, I don't find it sexy either. I can't quite put my finger on it, because the movie was definitely creepy, maybe it's that it really was pornographic in a subtle way--not that that sounds like something that would be admirable, but on the other hand, there was a skill about even some of the most disgusting scenes that made them work for me at a distance in a way that they normally wouldn't have. There was more than usual 'loveless sex' sensation, I think. And I guess I must be thinking that this is Cronenberg's glinting, cold technique. Is it the 'unbearable' that Cronenberg is interested in? If so, I found 'Dead Ringers' even more so--I mean I can hardly even bear to remember it, so I know what you're talking about. The same coldness is always in the Ballard novels, but...it's interesting, Cronenberg may be even colder. There is, for example, some fetishy stuff in 'Super-Cannes', but there is also surprising heroism by one of the same female characters involved in the kinky sex (his characterrs are often cartoonish when you look back on them after some years), whereas in Cronenberg's film of 'Crash', I don't remember a single hint of humanity; it was all like some fulfillment of Foucault's futurized 'world of bodies and pleasures'. And in 'Cocaine Nights', a kind of definite moral line is finally drawn when the 'charming, entertaining criminal' gets into snuff films. On the other hand, at the end of 'Crash', the film, there is horrible physical injury, but little sense of any presence of grief, loss, even punishment is absent--it is more like a statistic. So, to me, Cronenberg does seem attracted to a severely amoral universe, if he can take Ballard even one revolution higher. And there's more than enough of that in 'History of Violence' as well, although that's a great film IMO.


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