a fascinating paradox

May 15, 2017

Ballardian: (adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

“J.G Ballard is a great writer who has never written a great novel.” So observed Germaine Greer, making a criticism that even some of Ballard’s die-hard admirers have on occasion conceded. Her charge draws focus upon a fascinating paradox that flows through the main artery of Ballard’s career, namely that his greatness hinges less on his talent as a stylist, more upon the potency of his ideas. Too often the prose feels clunky, the novels weighed down by 2D characterisations, their plotting reminiscent of the Boy’s Own comics he devoured as a child. Yet across eighteen novels, 95+ short stories and numerous essays, the visions continued to manifest themselves, eventually earning him the moniker ‘the seer of Shepperton’. Martin Amis nailed the contradictions in Ballard’s work in his review of The Day Of Creation(1987), observing that the text was ‘occasionally boring and frequently ridiculous’ and yet it would ‘still come and haunt you’. Amis concluded ‘Ballard’s novels go to work on you after you’ve finished.’ And go to work they did. Ballard’s influence remains inescapable, energising the post-war imagination in a way few of his contemporaries can claim. Beginning with the explosion of creativity he experienced in the late-1960s (The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, High Rise, Concrete Island) Ballard established a sphere of influence that has impacted upon culture enormously, be it music (Punk, New Wave, Dubstep) literature (Will Self, Martin Amis, John Gray), filmmaking (David Cronenberg, Brad Anderson), as well as reframing how the 21st Century media landscape is latterly understood. In 2005 he was finally admitted into that exclusive group of artists whose surnames enter the language as adjectives, ‘Ballardian’ now taking its place in the Collin’s Dictionary alongside ‘Kafkaesque’, ‘Pinteresque’ and ‘Lynchian’.

Richard Kovitch
Millennium Man

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