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J.G. Ballard: Quotes Excerpts: On the Future

Does the future still have a future? [Daily Telegraph, 1993]

The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology. [letter, 2003]

People as a whole really aren’t interested in the future any longer. [Frieze, 1996]

Some people have suggested that mental illness is a kind of adaptation to the sort of circumstances that will arise in the future. As we move towards a more and more psychotic landscape, the psychotic traits are signs of a kind of Darwinian adaptation. [BBC Radio, 1998]

Yet I can remember when people throughout the world were intensely interested in the future, and convinced that it would change their lives for the better. In the years after the Second World War, the future was the air that everyone breathed. Looking back, we can see that the blueprint of the world we inhabit today was then being drawn—television and the consumer society, computers, jet travel and the newest wonder drugs transformed our lives and gave us a powerful sense of what the 20th century could do for us once we freed ourselves from war and economic depression. In many ways, we all became Americans. [Introduction to Myths of the Near Future, 1994]

It was an excess of fantasy that killed the old United States, the whole Mickey Mouse and Marilyn thing, the most brilliant technologies devoted to trivia like instant cameras and space spectaculars that should have stayed in the pages of Science Fiction . . . some of the last Presidents of the U.S.A. seemed to have been recruited straight from Disneyland. [Hello America, 1981]

The future is probably going to be something like Las Vegas. [Friends, 1970]

Whereas the 20th century was mediated through the car, the 21st century will be mediated through the home, and . . . home means work. [Spike, 2001]

The ultimate crime-based society is one where everyone is criminal and no one is aware of the fact. [Cocaine Nights, 1996]

Our governments are preparing us for a future without work, and that includes the petty criminals . . . The psychopath, with his inward imagination, will thrive. He is already doing so. [GQ, 1996]

Sadly, at some point in the 1960s our sense of the future seemed to atrophy and die. Overpopulation and the threat of nuclear war, environmentalist concerns for our ravaged planet and unease at an increasingly wayward science together made everyone fearful of the future. [Introduction to Myths of the Near Future, 1994]

Nobody is interested in the future at all. I think the future has been annexed into the present. Occasionally a futuristic image is trotted out, ransacked like an image of the past and absorbed into the ongoing continuum that represents present-day life. [C21, 1991]

One of the reasons we’ve turned our backs against the future at present is that we unconsciously sense that the logics that will dictate our lives in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years will be completely unlike those which rule our lives today and have ruled our lives in the past. We may move into a very indeterminate, seemingly dangerous and chaotic era where all the old certainties and the social cement that held society together will have gone. [C21, 1991]

The Arab world, the Moslem world, may well take the place of the Communist world as the great bogeyman of the future. [JGB News, 1993]

A titanic battle is about to begin, a Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies. Everything is for sale now, even the human soul has a barcode. [Super-Cannes, 2000]

An institutionalized paranoia seems a bleak future for the human race. [letter, 1967]

We now live in the present, unconsciously uneasy at the future, and this short-term viewpoint does have dangers. We know that, as human beings, we are all deeply flawed and dangerous, but this self-knowledge can act as a brake on hope and idealism. [intv. Hans Obrist, 2003]

On the whole, people had shown less resourcefulness and flexibility, less foresight, than a wild bird or animal would. Their basic survival had been so dulled, so overlaid by mechanisms designed to serve secondary appetites, that they were totally unable to protect themselves. They were the helpless victims of a deep-rooted optimism about their right to survival, their dominance of the natural order which would guarantee them against everything but their own folly, that they had made gross assumptions about their own superiority. [Wind From Nowhere, 1962]

These days one needed a full-scale emergency kit built into one’s brain, plus a crash course in disaster survival, real and imagined. [Concrete Island, 1985]

The superheroes of the future will be people who’ll challenge this condominium of boredom, and we’ll find that our Bonnies and Clydes will emerge to challenge the suburban values. [JGB News, 1993]

We’re driven by bizarre consumer trends, weird surges in the entertainment culture, mass paranoias about new diseases that are really religious eruptions. How to get a grip on all this? We may need to play on deep-rooted masochistic needs built into the human sense of hierarchy. [Super-Cannes, 2000]

I’ve always suspected that the Soviet Union was the last of the old style authoritarian tyrannies. The totalitarian systems of the future will be obsequious and subservient, plying us with drinks and soft slippers like a hostess on an airliner, adjusting our TV screen for us so that we won’t ask exactly where the plane is going, or even whether there is a pilot on board. [intv Zinovy Zinik, 1998]

In a sense, we’re policing ourselves and that’s the ultimate police state, where people are terrified of challenge. [1997]

There is a deep underlying unease about the rate of social change, but little apparent change is actually taking place. [Atrocity Exhibition, 1990]

People realize that they’re living in a totally valueless world—that morality is coming to an end, in the sense that the moral institutions that have underpinned society and given it some sort of fleeting purpose are being dismantled. [21C, 1997]

We seem to be in the trough of a wave; there’s a huge wall rushing towards us with a white crest, and I just hope that we can ride to the top of it and maybe see something—a larger, more interesting world—on the other side. On the other hand, we may be swamped. We’re living in very interesting times but, at the same time, deeply uncertain ones. [21C, 1997]

How do you energize people, give them some sense of community?. . . [By] all activities that aren’t necessarily illegal, but provoke us and tap our need for strong emotion, quicken the nervous system and jump the synapses deadened by leisure and inaction. [Cocaine Nights, 1996]

It’s no coincidence that religious leaders emerge from the desert. Modern shopping malls have much the same function. A future Rimbaud, Van Gogh, or Adolf Hitler will emerge from their timeless wastes. [Atrocity Exhibition, 1990]

There are hints that a benign version of a Sadeian society is still emerging, of tormentors and willing victims. [Literary Review, 2001]

You’ve got to set something like Crash against what I think of as the normalizing of the psychopathic—something that’s been happening for most of this century, but has really gathered force during the past 30 or 40 years, annexing more and more kinds of deviant behavior into the realm of the acceptable. Particularly in the sexual field, where people are now tolerant of sexual deviance in ways they weren’t in my parents’ generation. [Frieze, 1996]

People want to save the whale and the seal because they know that sooner or later the human being is probably going to be next on the list. [Mississippi Review, 1991]

I think the main threat in the future is not to personal relationships, which will thrive despite easier divorce and the breakdown of the extended family, etc. I think the danger our children and grandchildren face lies in the decline and collapse of the public realm. Politics, the Church, the monarchy are all slowly sinking back into the swamp from which they rose in the first place. We stand on the shore, watching as they wave their rattles and shout their promises, while the ooze sucks at their feet. When the clamor at last subsides we will return to our suburbs, ready to obey the traffic lights and observe the civic codes that keep the streets safe for children and the elderly. But a small minority will soon be bored, and realize that in a totally sane society madness is the only freedom. So random acts of violence will break out in supermarkets and shopping malls where we pass our most contented hours. Surprisingly, we will deplore these meaningless crimes but feel energized by them. [Literary Review, 2001]

Bourgeois life—in the sense of suburban norms—will be completely maintained. Yet at the same time there will be huge dislocations that will come from any quarter. They might be terrorist outrages that paralyze the motorway network of the whole of Western Europe. They might be social in the sense that some fanatical pressure group will man the barricades and disrupt ordinary life; or aesthetic—a decision to embrace a new kind of fashion. A preference for the color blue rather than the color red may have huge planetary consequences we can’t conceive of at the moment. [Blitz, 1984]

There were times in its history when the United States came close to suggesting what a utopian project might be, but the less appealing sides to American life now seem to be in the ascendant—there’s a self-infantilism strain that gives America the look of Peter Pan’s Never-never land. However, the future may well be a marriage between Microsoft and the Disney Company—an infantilized entertainment culture imposed on us by the most advanced communications technology. [intv. Hans Obrist, 2003]

We may see ourselves at the turn of the century, each of us the star of a continuous television drama [webcam-ed], soothed by the music of our own brain waves, the center of an infinite private universe . . . Childhood, marriage, parenthood, even the few jobs that still need to be done, will all be conducted within the home. [Vogue, 1977]

This is the trouble, always: enlightened legislation or enlightened social activity of whatever kind does play into the hands of people with agendas of their own—with secret agendas . . . If you legalize euthanasia, you provide a field day for people who like killing other people . . . and they’ll find plenty of reasons for doing so. [KGB, 1995]

We’re looking at the situation where bourgeois society is controlling everything, without exception. One looks at certain publications [that] interview young designers, artists, photographers. It asks them what they want and they say money and fame. Someone of 19 who can only sum up his own ambition in terms of money and fame—for god’s sake that’s the end, that’s the death of the spirit. [New Musical Express, 1985]

“A User’s Guide to the Millennium” would be a good title for my work as a whole. Picturing the psychology of the future is what it’s all been about. [Independent, Nov 10, 2001]

The world’s turning into a madhouse, one half of society gloating righteously over the torments of the other. Most people don’t realize which side of the bars they are. [“The Insane Ones,” 1962]

No longer will it be Orwell’s vision of a boot stamping on a human face. We’ll have something highly subservient and ingratiating, where the tyranny is imposed for our own good . . . The New Totalitarians come forward, smiling obsequiously like head-waiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit . . . So one gets this smiling tyranny, which is something my characters rebel against. [Independent on Sunday, 2003]

I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again. . . the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul. [RE/Search #8/9, 1984]

I think we’re all perhaps innately perverse, capable of enormous cruelty, yet paradoxically our talent for the perverse, the violent, and the obscene may be a good thing. We may have to go through this phase to reach something on the other side. It’s a mistake to hold back and refuse to accept one’s nature. [Atrocity Exhibition, 1990]

The fact is, we’re novelty-seeking creatures. Novelty is as important as Vitamin C. [Independent, Sep 14, 2000]

The planet’s mineral, energy and agricultural resources have been efficiently, and even ruthlessly, exploited. . . They have harnessed the energy of the atom, deciphered the molecular codes that oversee their own reproduction . . . Despite these achievements the peoples of this planet have in other respects scarcely raised themselves above the lowest levels of barbarism. The enjoyment of pain and violence is as natural to them as the air they breathe. War above all is their most popular sport, in which rival populations, and frequently entire continents, attack each other with the most vicious and destructive weapons, regardless of the death and suffering that follow. These conflicts may last for years or decades. Nations nominally at peace devote a large proportion of their collective incomes to constructing arsenals of lethal weapons . . . [“Report From an Obscure Planet,” 1992]

It’s always been assumed that the evolutionary slope reaches forever upwards, but in fact the peak has already been reached, the pathway now leads downwards to the common biological grave. It’s a despairing and at present unacceptable vision of the future, but it’s the only one. [“The Voices of Time,” 1960]

Women have always been suppressed, and never given the chance to flourish intellectually. When the first female Darwin or Freud appears it will have an astonishingly liberating force, and could change the world in an almost religious way. Perhaps this is the messiah we’re unconsciously waiting for. [Literary Review, 2001]

Perhaps the future belongs to magic, and it’s we women who control magic. [Rushing to Paradise, 1994]

Bourgeois life is crushing the imagination from this planet. In due course this will provoke a backlash, since the imagination can never be wholly repressed. A new Surrealism will probably be born. [S.F. Eye, 1991]

The consumer conformism “the suburbanization of the soul” on the one hand and the gathering ecological and other crises on the other do force the individual to recognize that he or she is all he or she has got. And this sharpens the eye and the imagination. The challenge is for each of us to respond, to remake as much as we can of the world around us, because no one else will do it for us. We have to find a core within us and get to work. Don’t worry about worldly rewards. Just get on with it! [Rolling Stone, 1987]

Already we can see, a little sadly perhaps, the beginnings of a world without play. [Guardian, July 31, 2004]

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