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J.G. Ballard: Conversations Reviews

Back to J.G. Ballard: Conversations

 

Never has Ballard sounded so concerned, fatherly, or political. (In an earlier, 1984 RE/Search interview, Ballard impishly exclaims, “I want more nuclear weapons!”) The interviews [in the new RE/Search book] make it abundantly clear that while Ballard has always proclaimed the death of reason and the visceral origins of technology, he now sees these developments as almost wholly negative.”

— San Francisco Bay Guardian

 

J.G. Ballard is the Dr Moreau of British fiction, creator of controlled environments and out-of-control dystopias…Ballard understands the transformation technology may effect on human desire.”

–The Observer

‘Sex times Technology equals The Future,’ proposed J.G. Ballard in 1972. For those who can’t wait: be forewarned: the future never comes. With its promise of arousal and endlessly deferred climax, the formula, as quoted in a fabulous if messily designed [?] new volume of interviews called JG Ballard Conversations (RE/Search Publications, $19.99).

A recurring theme, wistfully expressed, through these conversations spanning two decades with RE/Search publisher Vale, Survival Research Laboratories’ Mark Pauline, SPK founder turned film composer Graeme Revell, and more, is the decline in literacy and ever-shortening attention spans in the Internet age of instant gratification.

Ballard himself confesses to having little interest in music, yet for much of the 1970s and early 1980s, he was regularly featured in the UK music weekly NME, where the adjective ‘Ballardian’ was applied to the gear-crashing rhythm of David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” Martin Hannett’s production of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, the machine grind of DAF, and so on. But the most significant explorations of the terrains mapped in Ballard’s fiction (and retrospectively in the dialogues of J.G. Ballard Conversations) happened in Industrial Culture. Daniel Miller aka The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle’s grisly pathologies of the British suburban hinterland, SPK’s information overloads, and the short-circuitng noise of Non’s “Rise” stand as powerful testaments to the legacy of Ballard’s impact. Not forgetting, of course, the writer’s longstanding relationship with his most sympathetic publisher, Vale, at RE/Search, whose roots are in the West Coast punk-and-after journal Search & Destroy (issue #10 featured a J.G. Ballard interview).

Ballard’s influence persists through Matmos’s queasy 2001 album “A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (Matador) and J.G. Thirlwell’s score for Jonathan Weiss’s 2001 experimental film version of The Atrocity Exhibition (Reel23 DVD).”

–Wire

It’s a finely produced book in a new handbag ? or manbag ? size, and certainly one that any Ballard obsessive, and you know who you are, will want to own. Ballard comes across as a warm, private man and a highly prescient writer: recent news images of 100-mile traffic jams outside Houston as people fled hurricane Rita, or passengers on a flaming jetliner witnessing their predicament unravelling live on televisions inside their own aircraft, appear to have come straight out of his fiction. This is, for me, where the Ballard Paradox comes into play: his futures share so much with our present, that they can now feel a little old-fashioned, making even his earlier writing seem increasingly less like science fiction as time marches on.

The interviews date from 1983 to 2004, during which time Ballard’s opinions and obsessions ? power, celebrity, media domination, war, politics and the future (and what else is there?) ? have remained fairly constant in a changing world, perhaps because he was already into his 50s when the first interviews took place. Our man in Shepperton reveals a solid grasp of the broad sweep of both historical and contemporary geopolitical affairs, as well as the human, and inhuman condition. On a more personal note you’ll find insights into the origins of Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard’s childhood experiences in a Japanese POW camp (the basis for Empire pf the Sun, his experience of success and Hollywood following Steven Spielberg’s film of that “breakthrough” book. And he likes cats. A lot. It’s also interesting to discover that while Ballard has always been something of a respected, almost canonical, late 20th century author in the UK, his earlier books were difficult to obtain for American readers, where he has developed a cult following akin to that of William S Burroughs, largley thanks to the work of Re/Search. While not a Ballardophile myself, reading these interviews has driven me to dig out some of his short story collections, so the programme works.

–Strange Attractor

Conversations has a dozen new and unpublished interviews from various contributors. In a recent discussion with Vale, Ballard looks behind the enemy line and predicts ‘a crisis will arise that will seed the neo-con mentality, and what at present seems a rather strange aberration on the part of America’s ruling elite, will come to seem completely acceptable in a surprisingly short space of time.’ But he finds some hope in the internet’s uncensored world, and that ‘if we’re entering a New Dark Age, the internet could help keep the lights on!’ In another conversation he discusses the ascendant ‘New Religiosity’ and the ‘new blueprint for a kind of militaristic religion’…”

–Pataphysics

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