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The Fourfold Symbolism of Ballard by David Pringle

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

The psychological future in Ballard’s work is mediated not by water but by sand. In his stories dominated by this symbol—for example, ‘Deep End’ (1961), ‘The Cage of Sand’ (1962), ‘The Day of Forever’ (1966), ‘The Dead Astronaut’ (1968), all the tales in the collection Vermilion Sands and, of course, The Drought—Ballard presents a picture of a future in which human beings have become ever more ‘mental’ creatures. As this ‘intellectualization’ of the human race proceeds, men and women remove themselves further and further from their biological roots. They become lethargic and affectless as the life force itself seems to dry up. A sandy desert becomes the appropriate symbol of this emotional and spiritual state. In The Drought industrial waste is imagined as having caused a tough polymeric film to form on the surface of the sea. This prevents the evaporation of water to form rainclouds, and thus the entire land surface of the globe turns into a parched desert. Sand, dust and ash dominate the landscape. Perhaps Ballard sees sand as an apt symbol of the future because it is dry and lifeless, and also because it is essentially formless. Sand dunes drift around, ever changing shape, and obliterating the particularity of the objects they cover—houses, roads, machines (Ballard is particularly fond of the image of the automobile buried in the sand). The future, Ballard suggests, will obliterate us in a similar way. Sand is a symbol of entropy, the shape-destroyer, and entropy can be taken as a metaphor both on the individual and the social level.

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