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Critique on J.G. Ballard by Graeme Revell

Back to RE/Search #8/9: J.G. Ballard

Ballard has gone by far the furthest in adapting the new language of science and technology to positive ends. For him the choice was simple: either to use this new lexicon of symbols or remain mute. Psychologization is a reciprocal movement. The preoccupations of the psyche become reflected in the entire architecture of the urban landscape. But more importantly, ‘internal space’ itself becomes populated by the signposts of the media-technological milieu. The dimensions of time, nostalgia, dream and imagination are expressed in the obsessive language of technology, to the point of a ‘death of affect’ (or emotional expression). Yet for Ballard this abandonment of sentiment and emotion is no cause for regret; rather it has cleared a space for the free play of our perversions and especially our apparently unlimited capacity for abstraction.

This exterior world used to represent for us reality, and our mental universe the imaginary. We speak in these terms out of habit. But the equilibrium has changed radically, even to the point of total inversion.

‘. . . Our universe is governed by fictions of all kinds: mass consumption, publicity, politics considered and managed like a branch of publicity, instantaneous translation of science and techniques into a popular imagery, confusion and telescopage of identities in the realm of consumer goods, right of pre-emption exercised by the television screen over every personal reaction to reality. We live at the interior of an enormous novel. It becomes less and less necessary for the writer to give fictional content to his works. The fiction is already there. The work of the novelist is to invent reality . . .’—Introduction to French ed. of Crash, by J.G. Ballard

In fact, the little reality remaining to us is inside our heads. For many, this collapse of the humanist universe represents another Fall of mankind, a disastrous descent into a nightmarish technocracy, a world without feeling, without standards. But it is Ballard’s most valuable contribution to modernity that he has given us an alternative, a method for manipulating the new colonizers of our ‘interior space’ to our own ends.

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