|RE/SEARCH Newsletter #41, October 2005|
|HERE’S THE NEWS FROM SAN FRANCISCO….
**Dear Friends: Please note that our email address has changed to:
1. Sat, Nov 12, 7pm-2AM Squidlist Celebration at Varnish Gallery, 77 Natoma St (off 2nd St, between Misson and Howard, downtown), San Francisco. Squidlist is the backbone of Bay Area CounterCulture, Underground and Emerging Artist and communications and socializing. They also host the RE/Search website. Tomorrow night you can meet the unusual, intelligent and talented folk who bring you this amazing community service for free via email. Surprise entertainment involving the adjoining parking lot has been hinted at, if not outright promised. And probably several hundred of the most interesting folk in the Bay Area will all be congregated here at the amazingly beautiful Varnish Gallery, with a Dario Argento-ish view of San Francisco through its wall of glass. There is a cover charge of $10 to defray the expenses of the planned activities and hosting, but since the evening lasts from 7pm-2AM — that’s eminently reasonable for 7 hours of fun…
2. CounterCulture Hour this Sat, Oct 8, 2005, 6:30pm, Cable Channel 29 (Sorry, San Francisco only, but watch for video releases on our website.) Tonight’s episode was filmed at the RE/Search headquarters, sparked by a surprise visit from Lydia Lunch, first-generation Punk Rock Original who now resides in Barcelona, Spain (we’re envious–Barcelona boasts the amazing constructions of Antonio Gaudi, V. Vale’s favorite architect). For those unfamiliar with Lydia Lunch, she is truly a Renaissance woman who from age 16 has produced poetry, fiction, Spoken Word, music collaborations, films, books, a magazine (Sex and Guts, produced in collaboration with Mike Ryan, assistant editor of the RE/Search J.G. Ballard Quotes book), and beautiful, haunting black-and-white photographs. Lydia has lectured, given workshops, and done performances all over the planet. She has a lot to say! (and for more info, google “Lydia Lunch”). The Counter Culture Hour is hosted by V. Vale and Produced by Marian & Marian (Marian Wallace and Marian Wilde). Another very “inspiring” interview!
3. Leslie Hodgkins, M.A., is a San Francisco writer and musician who currently works at Black Oak Books on Broadway near Columbus Ave in San Francisco, a used bookstore which occasionally yields surprising treasures (aka “finds”). Below is a review graciously written by an Australian writer, and what follows is a slightly-edited response from Leslie Hodgkins.
Ballard on Ballard: RE/Search Reactivates: A Review of J.G. Ballard Quotes and Conversations – Reviewed by Andrea Simonis (10-12-05) on www.ballardian.com.
Review of JG Ballard: Conversations (ed. V Vale, 2005) and JG Ballard: Quotes (selected and edited by V Vale & Mike Ryan, 2004). Published by RE/Search Publications.
V Vale has been an underground publishing icon in San Francisco for quite some time, kicking off with late-70s ‘punk tabloid’ Search and Destroy(America’s equivalent of Sniffin’ Glue, the legendary British punkzine) and founding RE/Search Publications from there. RE/Search is quite the exotic beast, with a backlist of large-format books covering William Burroughs, Brazilian psychedelic lounge music, piercing and scarification, ‘angry’ female performance artists, ‘industrial culture’, and reprints of memoirs of sideshow freaks and sado-masochistic rituals.
In the 1980s RE/Search was also responsible for two lovingly detailed volumes on JG Ballard; for many admirers of Ballard’s work, the RE/Search editions have long been the ultimate reference. The first volume, simply entitled JG Ballard, was refreshingly free of the academic jargon that renders inscrutable most other works on the writer; instead, Vale and his RE/Search team compiled a portrait of Ballard that located him within a steaming cauldron of pop-culture references and real-world applications, detecting the Ballardian effect in music, film, politics and mythology. But the real goldmine was the 40-odd pages of interviews, in which Vale and people like industrial musician Graeme Revell quizzed Ballard on all this and more.
All parties clearly enjoyed each other’s company; there was a palpable sense of Ballard letting his hair down and relaxing before the critical gaze of a new and unknown source–an American audience–for Ballard was considered pretty much a cult author in the US before RE/Search came along. Vale upped the ante with RE/Search�s subsequent publication of The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard’s then-out-of-print classic collection of experimental short stories, first assembled in the 1960s. The RE/Search reprint added a few new ‘Atrocity’ pieces, enlisted Phoebe Gloeckner to provide some surreal, provocative illustrations of internal organs and medical processes, and topped it off with annotations by Ballard himself�it still holds up as a beautiful piece of independent publishing, 15 years on.
In 2005 things are very different. The world has cottoned on to Ballard: he’s critically accepted; films have been made of his books; he’s won awards; he’s quoted in major newspapers; he’s about as ‘cult’ and as ‘underground’ as Sir Michael Phillip Jagger. But unlike Jagger, Ballard’s world view is still sublime, still relevant, and still has the capacity to jiggle the old grey matter. Back in the 1960s, if you’d asked most science fiction ‘heads’ which writer’s vision would reign supreme in the early 21st century � Ballard’s or Arthur C Clarke’s � it�s unlikely the majority would have picked the ‘difficult’ and ‘experimental’ Jimmy Ballard. But think of the death of Princess Di; September 11; reality TV; the London bombings; the breakdown of civilisation after Hurricane Katrina…if you know Ballard then you understand this is his world.
And that’s probably why Vale has decided to revive the seemingly dormant RE/Search empire with the publication of two new Ballard books: JG Ballard: Quotes and JG Ballard: Conversations. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate how this maverick futurist has stood the test of time. JG Ballard: Conversations consists of lengthy interviews with Ballard, conducted by the RE/Search crew and derived from all the untranscribed recordings RE/Search made with Ballard from 1983 to the present. Now, when writers begin to pontificate and interpret their own work, there is a risk that they will ruin everything. Samuel Beckett, for example, was wise enough to keep his mouth shut. Thomas Pynchon just refuses to even come out, wherever he’s hiding. Their work has benefited from this, retaining a certain aura of mystery that opens it to various readings and reinterpretations. But Ballard’s interviews and occasional essays are often as devious and slippery as his fiction. They have offered a fascinating complement to his work, and a glimpse into his creative process.
With Conversations, though, you need to bear in mind that these really are ‘conversations’, rather than interviews. They read like straight transcripts, with all the meanderings of real conversations, and that is both a strength and a weakness: it’s a lovely indicator of the character, warmth and empathy of the man, but it doesn’t really throw any new light on Ballard’s previous utterances. Although the future (our present, that is) has become Ballardian in many ways, it would be unfair to judge Ballard’s work in terms of how accurately he predicted things; that was never the point. Nonetheless, some of the man’s judgments are a little naive. For example, he states that Bush is not a media manipulator, that there’s no media image of Bush, and that he doesn’t engage our emotions (p. 204-5); the most sophisticated thing Ballard has to say about the War on Terror is that the media is manipulating you. Elsewhere, the writer admits he doesn’t follow politics, saying that when the papers called him wanting to know his thoughts on 9/11, he didn’t have any thoughts (p. 53). These are quibbles, though; Ballard is always immensely readable, whether in conversation or in his writing, and at all times he comes across as the ideal quirky, weird uncle we would all love to have (in the dark hidden folds of our reptilian sub-cortex, of course).
Although it’s fair enough that RE/Search wouldn’t want to commission new interviews, a slightly frustrating aspect of Conversations is the fact that the questions are coming from the usual suspects: Vale, Revell, Mark Pauline–the same voices heard in RE/Search’s original Ballard volume. It would have been interesting to read the fruits of contemporary writers and artists grappling with Ballard, although a bonus is the conversation with David Pringle, the writer’s longtime ‘archivist’ and Number One Fan.
For the ultimate Ballardian experience, the Quotes volume is the pick, being a concentrated compendium of Ballard’s observations and admonishments, mixing quotes from interviews and excerpts from his fiction: dense, poetic, and oblique aphorisms that don’t stray too far from familiar Ballardian territory: flight, art, the Space Age, gated communities, car crashes, airports, photography. These are the subjects Ballard feels most comfortable with, and his observations are truly insightful. ‘One wonders,’ Ballard muses, ‘if photography is the Cyclops eye of the late 20th century, recording everything but seeing nothing’. Quotes is fantastic for dipping into: on the toilet, on the bus, at the office, in bed, on a plane � anytime you need a fix � and both Quotes and Conversations are in a handy, slightly-less-than-A5 format, perfect for slipping into your handbag and whipping out as required. Vale calls Quotes a ‘handbook for deciphering the future’, and that’s pretty accurate. JG Ballard’s imagination can still kick you in the guts and is perhaps best read in compressed chunks like these; Atrocity Exhibition, after all, was the ultimate example of packing dense meaning into tiny frames.
All up, Vale and RE/Search have done a fine job with these publications. They’re shot through with striking urban and industrial-landscape photography and some interesting cover choices: garish and colourful, evoking old-skool 50s sci fi (for such a forward-thinking, prescient writer, these covers are perhaps a little odd). But all you really need to know is that both books are infused with that unmistakable Vale touch: unpretentious, eclectic, smart. Over the years, Ballard has had a fine shadow in Vale; let’s hope it’s not so long before RE/Search is activated again. [end]
And here is Leslie Hodgkins’ response (slightly edited) to the above review from those wonderful folk in Australia:
Dear Simon Sellars,
Thanks immensely for sending us the review which we easily could have missed.
Respectfully, I must offer an opinion counterpointing the review by Andrea Simonis. I focus on the paragraphs critiquing J.G. Ballard Conversations.
Andrea Simonis refers to Ballard’s “naive political” judgements, citing Ballard’s characterization of “Bush” as a politician who “doesn’t engage our emotions” with no “media image.” But Simonis has missed the context of that statement entirely. First of all, the interview was conducted in 1990, so the reference is to **George Bush Sr.** (G.W.’s dad) and the point is brought up by Ballard for the sole purpose of contrasting the then-new President to his predecessor Ronald Reagan (a favorite target of Ballard for decades). So, Ballard was referring to the dad, not the son now in office.
If you are interested in Ballard’s appraisal of the NEW Bush administration and the neo-cons in power, go to the very beginning of the book. In the very first interview conducted by Vale in 2004, the first question posed to Ballard is, “I wanted to get your take on the neo-cons and Bush, and your perspective on what happened in the last election…” Ballard gives just that over the next dozen or so pages of the book, elucidating his opinion of just how Bush uses the media to create an image of himself as a war president and religious zealot.
Bush may be perceived by his supporting electorate as a **religious leader.** While this opinion of Bush is not completely original–it is obvious after all–in the political climate of 2004. However, it holds a good deal of meaning for those familiar with Ballard’s stories. The collection “War Fever” immediately comes to mind, particularly the stories “A Secret History of World War Three” and “The Object of the Attack.” Both are stories about politics as media manipulation and the uses of religion, celebrity, technology and militaristic fanaticism as means for manufacturing deceptive new dictators and false prophets. Almost all of these stories were written in the early to mid-eighties, even though the book wasn’t published until 1990. Ballard is entirely aware of George W. Bush’s status as this kind of dangerous and slippery character.
As for Ballard’s thoughts on 9/11, his perspective is acute. I felt that there was a great deal of irony in Ballard’s initial response. When queried by the media for his thoughts, he claims “he didn’t have any” which implies for one that it was an event so unprecedented that it sends the mind reeling, and the only sincere way to respond is with baffled silence.
Also, considering Ballard’s status as a subversive eccentric, having the media call up at such a time can be a little like being baited for a witch hunt–which happened when the media asked Stockhausen for his opinion on 9/11. Nevertheless, Ballard’s opinions are abundant, and he goes on to explain 9/11 and terrorist acts as “the End of the Enlightenment” and sees them through the lens of Freud’s concept of the death drive (see pages 53-55). This opinion is truly and deeply pessimistic, because Ballard is insisting that what drives us to such extremes may be something that is fundamentally part of all human subjectivity. To wit, that a blame cannot merely be cast on the oppressors of the world, because the oppressed suffer from the same mechanism; that when humans appear driven to these extremes of collective pathological behavior, the death drive offers perhaps the only clear explanation.
There may be a frighteningly symbiotic relationship between a dictator and [his] subjects–just as deadly as between any enemies, to put it bluntly–so that when things get this bad, we may fatalistically rejoice in our own destruction as much as the destruction of others…
The problem of writing any review, under a deadline, is that it is difficult to find the time to “peruse” a book–in the original sense of paying attention to the extreme details. In this case, it is possible that the reviewer did not clearly distinguish the difference between the careers of George Bush Senior and his son, “G.W.” In this age of information overload, where the average U.S. high school student does not know who Eisenhower is, such an error is readily explainable. [Additionally, since the conversations were arranged in a loose reverse-chronological order–the newest interviews at the front, and as you read, the interviews date from earlier and earlier years–it is understandable that this error could have easily happened.]
Our position is: we appreciate any review. And contrary to the assertion of reviewer Simonis, we are positive that the average person in America has never heard of J.G. Ballard; often, even among “well-read” demographic-types, Ballard’s name is barely recognized by Americans. He does not do “live” U.S.A. book tours, appear on Oprah, et al — and Americans simply do not read his articles and quotations which pepper the outpourings of the official British fifth estate in papers such as the Guardian. Ballard as famous as Mick Jagger–not.
Honestly, we want to end this by thanking Andrea Simonis for obviously devoting a considerable amount of time and energy and enthusiasm into penning the first review received in Australia to date of the RE/Search non-identical twin volumes: J.G. Ballard Quotes and J.G. Ballard Conversations books… We also thank Simon Sellars who, totally unpaid, has produced a first-rate website devoted to the ideas and thoughts of J.G. Ballard.
–Leslie Hodgkins for the RE/Search staff
4. Excerpt from a recent letter from J.G. Ballard RE the above!
“Nov 6, 2005
Many thanks for the reviews and the newsletter, all very interesting. I’m glad the special JGB evening went well — my thanks to everyone involved…
I’m grateful to Leslie Hodgkins and his very sharp reply on the Bush business. Reading [Andrea Simonis’s] review, which was largely sympathetic, I first wondered how I could have been so wrong over Dubbya. Of course, it was Daddy I was talking about. Interesting that — too much reviewing is done in the time it takes to boil an egg…
My heartfelt thanks to Richard Young [our new RE/Search intern from Hawaii, who proposed inviting J.G. Ballard to speak at the University of Hawaii], but long flights leave me paralysed from the waist down, and I’ll have to decline. A trip to Hawaii would be wonderful (I was there in 1939, staying at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with my parents, if it still exists).
Meanwhile, best to you all, Marian and Valentine — Jim”
5. We had to move everything off our office floor to make way for new carpeting (to replace the wrecked slog caused by a flood pouring through our ceiling from the apartment above, whose tenant changed her deadbolt without giving a key to the building manager) and are almost finished pulling our office back together, thanks to the help of new interns Sean, Kristin, and Richard–besides Kiowa, Leslie, Margo and Doug. It’s been a lot of work, and reminds us that in about a year SRL founder Mark Pauline has to move his legendary “shop” where SRL has been headquartered for some 24 years. Blame the anti-artist unreal-estate conspiracy. RE/Search is just beginning to plan a fund-raiser benefit for the SRL Move to New Quarters… scheduled date: Sat, Feb 11, 2006 in San Francisco at the Hayes Valley Market. Watch for it — it’s still in the planning stage…
Sadly, we missed the FREE appearance of one of our absolutely favorite filmmakers ever, DAVID LYNCH, at U.C. Berkeley (V. Vale’s alma mater) last Sunday, 7pm. Lynch spoke at Wheeler Auditorium, talked about his films, and reportedly charmed his audience. He also had a reunion with Adrienne Cardwell, the daughter of Herb Cardwell who shot the first half of Lynch’s groundbreaking classic, Eraserhead. Sadly, Herb Cardwell passed away at the extremely early age of 38…
Now, if you got this far and would like to support RE/Search, please order our new J.G. BALLARD CONVERSATIONS book atwww.http://www.researchpubs.com! We think you will be pleased, reading a very limited edition filled with amazing thought and ideas. And, it has beautiful photos, too… And as of now, we only have one box left of J.G. Ballard Quotes – get it while you can! We still have in stock the **rare autographed flexibind edition of J.G. Ballard Quotes**–yes, signed by the U.K. visionary himself… as well as the unsigned Library edition (only 100 made). Email or telephone 415-362-1465 to order!
6. Yes, you heard it right: Patti Smith at the Victoria Theater, 16th St near Mission, on Sunday, Nov 13, doing a rare poetry reading. Be there early to get seats enabling you to see Patti Smith in a truly intimate setting.
Nov. 2005 RE/Search eNewsletter written by V. Vale & contributors. Newsletter and website powered by laughingsquid.com
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