19
Apr
09

r.i.p. j g ballard

ballard-memories_of_space

knew this was coming, but very sad nonetheless — one of my favorite writers, one of a kind, and definitely one of the most cogent commentators on our times

go here for links.

04/22/09 ADDENDUM:

Summing up from John Clute and Simon Reynolds

Simon’s piece is the only one I’ve seen so far that resonates with me, pehaps because I too discovered Ballard as a teenager devouring science fiction in any form, and loved his uniqueness and irresistibly evocative post-apocalyptic mise-en-scene.

“High-Rise” and “Concrete Island” share with the earlier, more overtly SF-oriented catastrophe novels a similar psychological narrative: the protagonist who finds himself perversely attracted to the cataclysm, feels at home in the drastically altered landscape it’s created. “The Drowned World” — easily the best of the disaster tetralogy, although I’m biased perhaps because it was my initiating dose of Ballard — takes place in what now seems like an uncomfortably possible near-future where sea levels have risen in sync with temperature. The setting is a London half-submerged by water and encroached by tropical jungle. While the surviving remnants of humanity are gradually migrating to the Arctic Circle, Ballard’s protagonist is last seen heading in the opposite direction, toward the uninhabitable Equatorial zones.

Ballard has argued that the devastated but dreamlike landscapes of these four ’60s novels are “far from being pessimistic” but are actually “stories of psychological fulfilment. The characters at last find themselves.” In a 1977 essay on the catastrophe subgenre written for an SF encyclopedia, Ballard ventured that SF was just a “minor offshoot of the cataclysmic tale” that had existed for millennia. He claimed that these fictions spoke to primal and antisocial urges, citing both the rattle smashing of the infant child and “psychiatric studies of the fantasies and dream life of the insane” that ” show that ideas of world destruction are latent in the unconscious mind.” But he also argued that doomsday novels were positive expressions. On the one hand, they involved a form of imaginative adaptation (he cited Conrad’s dictum “immerse yourself in the most destructive element — and swim!”) in preparation for the worst the 20th century had up its sleeve. On the other hand, they used the imagination to create “alternatives to reality” and thus represented a legitimately angry and subversive response to “the inflexibility of this huge reductive machine we call reality.”

More on loving the apocalypse soon.

BTW, if you’ve never read Ballard, you could do worse than checking out the Vermilion Sands short story collection first.

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