J G Ballard

I can’t be bothered getting indignant at all the bourgie-wourgie tributes to Ballard because this kind of assimilation to the cosy is what the English always do with their writers if they survive to old age, no?

As Max Beerbohm hypothesised about another literary radical: “Byron!–he would be all forgotten to-day if he had lived to be a florid old gentleman with iron-grey whiskers, writing very long, very able letters to The Times about the Repeal of the Corn Laws.”

The class-ridden posturing and genre turf wars which are starting to spring up in the wake of Ballard’s death are not very interesting, but it is worth having a laugh when Martin Amis tells us  that Ballard “had no ear for dialogue”. (The war against cliché is going well, then, I see. My money was always on cliché.)

“Cardboard characters” is another one doing the rounds. One of the things I love most about Ballard’s writing is that he deliberately abandons the pretence that one set of puppets made of lifelike painted plaster, ears for dialogue, middle-class adultery and career politics are better or more well-rounded than those which he constructed from a sort of papier-mâché of scientific journal articles, celebrity magazines, pornography and surrealist art.

Currently reading through the two-volume Collected Short Stories, which I bought on Sunday; almost all of which I read as a teenager, but which I don’t own and haven’t revisited since. The early stories are mostly better than I remembered.

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6 responses to “J G Ballard

  1. Drawing a long bow to say “who are all these bourgeois fuddy-duddies to laud my old pal Jimmy?”. It’s a bit like expecting the crusty art establishment not to embrace Francis Bacon because he’s “dangerously gay”. Of course they very much mostly will, and mostly do, because his legacy is one of slightly unsettling, but hardly toppling, the mainstream, and his success is that his “outsider” ideas are now absorbed.

  2. Well, yeah. k-punk kind of specialises in drawing long bows. It was the Telegraph article that really got to me: sneering at the chattering classes for their ‘hypocrisy’ in admiring a good writer (which they should have been tut-tutting at, if they were acting like good little straw men). Now that’s some convoluted posing.

    The flip side of this is that I’ve been dismayed at how many Ballardians want to hold him up as offering “resistance to capitalism” or some such. Even as an angry lefty teenager I wouldn’t have believed that.

    And surely one of the points of Ballard is that after a certain date – 1963, say – épater le bourgeois became a loser’s game, as the bourgeiois were all too busy trying to épater one another…

  3. Yeah, the Telegraph article is weird there, seems to be saying “but-but-but JGB was my genius outsider — stop liking him, you’re not cool enough!” …

    Anyone who’s read any of JGB’s recent novels (which I like by the way) knows that they’re only a step away from a Ballard-flavoured Clive Cussler or Ian Fleming type of thing. In fact, James Bond, standing as he does at the intersection of a lot of violence, technology, girls in bikinis, holidays in the south of France, and stiff upper lip, is as Ballardian as it gets, so what’s the problem again for the unashamedly middlebrow reader?

    I don’t see how anyone who liked cars and seaside villas and the trappings of UMC richesse in his novels as much as Ballard could really be seen as anti-capitalist.

  4. You’re right… but a lot of people seem to have to be able to read something as anticapitalist (which is all too easy – “Don’t you see, it’s a critique of global capitalism, it’s showing us how nightmarish and empty it all is” blah blah blah) before they can possibly approve of it. Still, after all these years.

    What I find vexing about this is when I discovered Ballard (just before Empire of the Sun, so mid-to-late-80s) he was one of the writers I used to escape from my previous oh-I’m-so-alienated-from-nasty-modern-life posturing. There are still a lot of fans out there who have used his work to go in exactly the opposite direction.

  5. Most of Amis’s response to Ballard’s death seems to consist of patched together excerpts from his circa mid-70s reviews of Ballard’s books. Not really surprising given he apparently departed company with his brain some time ago.

  6. Or indeed “parted company”.

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