coping with reality

October 13, 2017

I take for granted that for the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is part of the basic process of coping with reality, just as actors need to act all the time to make up for some deficiency in their sense of themselves. Years ago, sitting at the café outside the American Express building in Athens, I watched the British actor Michael Redgrave (father of Vanessa) cross the street in the lunchtime crowd, buy Time at a magazine kiosk, indulge in brief banter with the owner, sit down, order a drink, then get up and walk away – every moment of which, every gesture, was clearly acted, that is, stressed and exaggerated in a self-conscious way, although he obviously thought that no one was aware who he was, and he didn’t think that anyone was watching him. I take it that the same process works for the writer, except that the writer is assigning himself his own roles. I have a sense of certain gathering obsessions and roles, certain corners of the field where the next stage of the hunt will be carried on. I know that if I don’t write, say on holiday, I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy, as I gather people do who are not allowed to dream.

J G Ballard
Paris Review (winter 1984)

a first draft in longhand

October 9, 2017

Claude Raguet Hirst - Wheel of Fortune

Every day, five days a week. Longhand (writing) now, it’s less tiring than a typewriter. When I’m writing a novel or story I set myself a target of about seven hundred words a day, sometimes a little more. I do a first draft in longhand, then do a very careful longhand revision of the text, then type out the final manuscript. I used to type first and revise in longhand, but I find that modern fiber-tip pens are less effort than a typewriter. Perhaps I ought to try a seventeenth-century quill. I rewrite a great deal, so the word processor sounds like my dream…

J G Ballard
Paris Review (winter 1984)

The Violation

September 29, 2017

My room is dominated by the huge painting, which is a copy of The Violation by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux. The original was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and I commissioned an artist I know, Brigid Marlin, to make a copy from a photograph. I never stop looking at this painting and its mysterious and beautiful women. Sometimes I think I have gone to live inside it and each morning I emerge refreshed. It’s a male dream.

J G Ballard
Writer’s Rooms
The Guardian 9th March 2007

12th to 15th June

Past couple of days, glorious sunshine. The waterlogged moor thankful for it. Mornings misty, muggy and mysterious. Me, a little sun-tanned; a little stupid.

The proliferation of pornography around us, may, as Jim Ballard once joyfully suggested, be mankind’s way of stimulating a flagging birth rate across the western world: the internet acting as a conduit channeling all imaginable forms of erotica into our homes – this to encourage procreation.

Ummmm.

I feel poor Jim was wrong (after all he was wrong in so much else, wasn’t he?), and that the glut of pornography we experience currently simply encourages more solitary pursuits, especially amongst the male of the species. It tends to divide and isolate, not combine.

Jimbo was a strange one (but then aren’t we all?), with his head full of surrealism, ‘the People’s Guro’ and patron saint of grunge simultaneously, his writing this sallow wash of light exposing multiple futures that would have been equally at home on Green Party election posters or within the manifesto for the ‘Born Again Nihilist Party’.

In my mind’s eye I see him smoking a hookah or three in Zanzibar surrounded by fleshy sensualists.

Jim loved women – correction – he enjoyed casual sex with numerous women, and drank often to excess, he created a fetish of automobile accidents and mutilation – no mean feat in itself! And his writing was (and still is) an unexpected diet of loco weed, peyote cactus and magic mushrooms – yes, truly, Jimbo was ‘the Benign Catastrophist’; he saw the in-built self-destructiveness of what was to become New Labour and Cameron’s Conservatism and a new moneyed-society where the creation of wealth is far more important than the individual.

‘Civilised life,’ he told Susie Mackenzie in an interview, ‘you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.’

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It strikes me that over recent years our politicians have looked on social dependency as an evil. A social evil. It should be eliminated because it is ‘evil’; and ‘austerity’ was (is) seen as the ideal way to eradicate it – in the same way as insecticide eliminates vermin from the world. Oh, if only there were a simple pharmacological answer. A chemical that would act on the brain to either a) drop all these unfortunate people with their various mental and physical disabilities into the wastebin (unnoticed); or b) cause them all to ‘man up’ and become real ‘go-getters’. Any poor bastard who happens to be out of work is a scrounger – the only thing worse than a scrounger, is a foreign scrounger! An immigrant! Social evils to be removed. Hence Brexit and a national election without winners. Balzac, you may recall, depicted the world of his own time in ‘The Human Comedy’. We, boys and girls, are now living in that world. But I don’t hear any laughter.

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

Tolkien’s “infantilism”

September 11, 2016

lor

The critical rubbishing of Tolkien began with Edmund Wilson’s extended sneer about “juvenile trash” in 1956. Younger readers today may need reminding that Wilson was a pathologically ambitious critic who championed modernism in literature (and Stalinism in politics). In his pompous obsession, as a contemporary put it, “with being the Adult in the room” – and maybe, oddly enough, his priapism too – Wilson is a good exemplar of what Ursula Le Guin called “a deep puritanical distrust of fantasy” on the part of those who “confuse fantasy, which in the psychological sense is a universal and essential faculty of the human mind, with infantilism and pathological regression.”

Le Guin is undoubtedly right about Wilson and others of his ilk, but in a demonstration of the durability and ubiquity of this accusation, Tolkien’s “infantilism” (along with “nostalgia”, to which we shall return later) was recently revived by Michael Moorcock . Perhaps, therefore, it is no coincidence that Moorcock has now mostly abandoned his science fiction/fantasy – part of whose real appeal was precisely their rather adolescent charm (my, what a long sword you have!) – to write supposedly Adult novels. In any case, many science fiction writers are indeed committed modernists; and not a few are poorly placed to finger infantilism – witness in both respects, for example, the toys-for-boys technological fetishism of J.G. Ballard.

As Tolkien noted, the connection between children and fairy-stories is an accident of history, not something essential; “If a fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults.” But being Grown-Up is a recurring theme in modernism, with its teleological fantasy of collectively progressing towards the truth, and its mythoclasm as a necessary destructiveness in order to get there. The Lord of the Rings and its readers are thus doubly stigmatized, both individually/psychologically and collectively/socially. Tolkien’s enormous popularity then requires such risible explanations as Robert Giddings’s “PR men”, at whose behest the reading public apparently took him up solely because it was told to do so.

It is true, however, that modernist hostility to Tolkien need not be of the left. Private Eye sneered that Tolkien appeals only to those “with the mental age of a child – computer programmers, hippies and most Americans” (see Craig 1992). And despite his trumpeted sensitivity to elite literary contempt for the reading public, the populist Oxford professor John Carey (1977) repeated the charge of childishness, and attacked Tolkien for his lack of interest in “the writers who were moulding English literature in his own day – Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence” – as if English literature, to quote Brian Rosebury (1992:133), were “a single substance, appropriated for a definite period, like the only blob of Plasticene in the classroom, by an exclusive group (however gifted)…”

Patrick Curry
Tolkien and his critics

fertilizing…

April 5, 2016

crash2

The car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event.

J G Ballard
Crash

Bury the dead

February 27, 2016

burythedead_Amber Michael

They bury the dead so quickly. They should leave them lying around for months.

J G Ballard
Crash

key to a new sexuality…

February 26, 2016

car

The lungs of elderly men punctured by door-handles; the chests of young women impaled on steering-columns; the cheek of handsome youths torn on the chromium latches of quarter-lights. To Vaughan, these wounds formed the key to a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology. The images of these wounds hung in the gallery of his mind, like exhibits in the museum of a slaughterhouse . . . .

J G Ballard
Crash

threat of extinction…

February 13, 2016

Pornography

A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.

J G Ballard
News From the Sun