April 20, 2009


JG Ballard dies after battle with prostate cancer: Tributes have been paid to JG Ballard, the acclaimed author, who died after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. (Murray Wardrop, 20 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The son of a managing director of a Manchester textile firm, James Graham Ballard was born on November 15, 1930 in Shanghai, China.

He was educated at the Cathedral school in Shanghai but his comfortable colonial lifestyle came to an abrupt end in 1942 when, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Ballard was interned with his parents and his younger sister by the Japanese in Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre.

The three subsequent years which he spent in captivity form the basis of his semi-autobiographical 1984 novel Empire of the Sun, which was adapted into a British Academy Award-winning film starring Christian Bale.

After returning to Britain in 1946, Ballard attended the Leys School in Cambridge, before going on to read medicine at King's College, Cambridge with the view to becoming a psychiatrist.

During this time he immersed himself in experimental and German Expressionist films of the 1920s, French films of the 1940s, and Hollywood Noir thrillers.

At the same time, he developed an early interest in psychoanalysis, devouring the works of Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung.

He also began writing avant-garde fiction which was heavily influenced by surrealist painters such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Paul Delvaux.

In 1952, Ballard abandoned his medical studies and after brief stints reading English Literature at the University of London and then joining the RAF, he began writing full-time. In 1954 he married Helen Mary Matthews, with whom he had three children.

His first novel, The Drowned World, was published in 1962, followed by The Drought, The Wind from Nowhere and The Crystal World, which strengthened his reputation for bleak but beautiful chronicles of a post-Hiroshima age and as a notable figure in the fledgling New Wave movement.

After the death of his wife, in 1964, Ballard retreated to Shepperton by the River Thames to raise his three children – James, Fay and Bea – but continued to write prolifically, with a seeming obsession with disaster, depravity and dystopia.

He once called himself "an architect of dreams, sometimes nightmares".

-OBIT: Literary giant JG Ballard dies of cancer aged 78 (Robert Mendick, 20.04.09, Evening Standard)
Close friend and fellow author Iain Sinclair said today: "He was a charming, classic English gentleman with a generous heart, a cynical take on the world and a huge sense of humour."

Science fiction writer Michael Moorcock said: "Together with Barry Bayley, who died last year, we 'plotted' the revolution in science fiction which led to the so-called New Wave."

Author Toby Litt said: "He opened up subjects that seemed peripheral or uninteresting - urban spaces, motorways, airports, high rises. He showed what can happen there."

His insight that the only reason people are attracted to cars is because they've eroticized death and destruction is obviously right, and Empire of the Sun is a great novel, but he's not otherwise readable. Of course, he's hardly the only author who's only good book is his own coming-of-age roman a clef.

-OBIT: Author J.G. Ballard Dies at 78 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, April 20, 2009)
-REVIEW: of J. G. BALLARD Quotes, Edited by V. Vale and Mike Ryan (JOHN STRAUSBAUGH, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: COCAINE NIGHTS by J. G. Ballard (A.O. Scott, NY Times)

THE British writer J. G. Ballard is one of the leading purveyors of what Leslie Fiedler, writing about Paul Bowles, once called ''highbrow terror-fiction.'' Over the years, Ballard has attracted a devoted cult of readers who prefer their sex and violence with a thesis. Perhaps the best known of his efforts is a novel called ''Crash,'' which argued that car accidents are irreducibly erotic and, conversely, that good sex is like a car wreck. The book spawned an interesting movie of the same name (directed by David Cronenberg) and a rather shocking interpretation of the death of the Princess of Wales (offered in the pages of The New Yorker by, of all people, Salman Rushdie). But Ballard is most famous for the anomalous ''Empire of the Sun,'' a luminous and heartbreaking novelistic memoir of his boyhood in a World War II Japanese prison camp, which was made into the only Steven Spielberg movie other than ''Jaws'' that's worth watching twice.

-REVIEW: of SUPER-CANNES by J. G. Ballard (Geoff Nicholson, NY Times Book Review)
-ARCHIVES: J.G. Ballard (NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: Ballard (NY Review of Books)
-OBIT: JG Ballard (1930-2009) (New Statesman, 20 April 2009)
-PROFILE: JG Ballard (Jason Cowley, August 1998, Prospect)
The near future, JG Ballard once wrote, provides a better key to the present than does the past. For much of his career, certainly until the publication, in 1984, of Empire of the Sun, a fictionalised account of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai, Ballard was marginalised as a maverick science fiction specialist. He was seen as a writer trapped in a circle of generic obsession, a futurologist whose exotic preoccupations were out of step with the bland realism of the postwar period. He contributed to the hard-edged science fiction magazine New Worlds and organised exhibitions of crashed cars at the Arts Laboratory. He was, in short, not one of us; not strictly a literary writer; not someone really worth taking seriously. Yet he was not strictly a science fiction writer, either. He wasn't interested in space travel or in the far future; rather, he explored inner space, a huge subterranean realm of unconscious motivation and psychic disturbance.

-PROFILE: Partner tells of unconvential life with literary giant JG Ballard (Robert Mendick, 20.04.09, Evening Standard)
FOR 40 years, author J G Ballard and his partner Claire Walsh enjoyed an unconventional relationship, living in separate homes several miles apart.

But in the last months of his life as he lay dying of cancer, the novelist finally moved in with Ms Walsh, swapping his suburban home in Shepperton for her flat above a boarded-up shop in Goldhawk Road in west London.

Today Ms Walsh told the Evening Standard of her devotion to Ballard, author of the bestseller Empire of the Sun, and how she cared for him in the weeks and months before his death yesterday at the age of 78.

-OBIT: J.G. Ballard: Chronicler of all our dystopias (The Australian, April 21, 2009)
THE young J.G. Ballard revealed in his most popular novel, Empire of the Sun, was far more in awe of Japanese kamikaze pilots than he was interested in being liberated from his internment camp.

Similarly, the adult Ballard found the enslavement of man to his own devices - concrete, technology, cameras and crashing cars - monstrous and terrifying, yet fascinating and ceaselessly inspiring. There was little that Ballard would dismiss out of hand as horrible or uninteresting. Drawn to the dark and the lurid, he once set up a 75-hour installation project at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London called The Assassination Weapon (1969), which narrated in film the journey of a deranged hydrogen-bomb pilot accompanied by the sound of a car crash.

His dispassionate visions of modernity and apocalyptic imagery earned him the rare honour of seeing his name adjectivised: the Collins English Dictionary describes "Ballardian" as resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

-What pop music tells us about JG Ballard (Stephen Dowling, 4/20/09, BBC News Magazine)

Producer Trevor Horn's 1979 single Video Killed the Radio Star ushered in the MTV age - it was the first song played on MTV when it launched in 1981. Horn admits the song - about a radio star whose career is cut short by TV - is based on a Ballard short story The Sound Sweep, in which a mute boy obsessed with collecting music discovers an opera singer hiding in a sewer. It taps into Ballard's interest in the hold of mass media on people's lives, especially the influence of television, beamed into the same suburban homes that used to listen in their millions to radio.

-ESSAY: A fascist's guide to the Premiership: The notion of being British has never been so devalued. Sport alone seems able to be the catalyst of significant social change. Could consumerism evolve into fascism? (J G Ballard, 04 September 2006, New Statesman
The notion of being British has never been so devalued. Sport alone seems able to be the catalyst of significant social change. Football crowds rocking stadiums and bellowing anthems are taking part in political rallies without realising it, as would-be fascist leaders will have noted.

-REVIEW: The ultimate sacrifice.: At a certain intensity, the will to suicide becomes a deranged affirmation of life. J G Ballard sees similarities between the Japanese soldiers he met as a boy and the terrorists of al-Qaeda: a review of Kamikaze: Japan's suicide gods by Albert Axell and Hideaki Kase (J G Ballard, 09 September 2002, New Statesman
If the future is a marriage between Microsoft and the Disney Corporation, what can the rest of us do about it? Reading this strangely moving account of the kamikaze pilots, one dimly senses that the fightback may have already begun, launched more than 60 years ago when Japanese carrier planes bombed Pearl Harbor. The wartime newsreels that show waves of suicide pilots ("hashi-crashies" and "screwy-siders", to the American servicemen I met soon after) diving into aircraft carriers near Okinawa uncannily evoke the images of al-Qaeda terrorists flying their hijacked Boeings into the World Trade Center. There are the same horrific fireballs, and the same mystery of how human beings - so intelligent, gifted and far-sighted - could lock themselves into such insane confrontations.

Anyone, civilian or combatant, who saw Japanese soldiers in action during the Second World War, knew that life and death existed for them in a very different realm. The horrendous atrocities carried out by the Japanese armies were sanctioned by an officer corps inured to violence and death by centuries of civil strife, and who almost welcomed the prospect of death - their own or their captives' - as a means of testing their own integrity and will.

-TRIBUTE: Generous spirit behind visions of a bleak future (David Sexton, 20.04.09, Evening Standard)
At the time, Ballard's readers could have had little idea of the source of Ballard's peculiar imagination. That all changed when, in 1984, he published his marvellous, wholly realistic novel, Empire of the Sun, describing his three-year internment as a boy in 1943-45, thriving in a brutal and illogical world, during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.

At once it was obvious that this was the experience that had shaped all his fiction. Why had he waited so long to tackle it directly? Ballard himself said it had taken him 20 years to forget Shanghai and then 20 years to remember it - and, interestingly, that he felt he had had to wait for his own children to become grown-ups first, being "too protective of them to expose them in my mind to the dangers I had known at their age".

Some of Ballard's fans, such as Martin Amis, actually felt betrayed by the disclosure - "the shaman had revealed the source of all his fever and magic".

-TRIBUTE: How JG Ballard cast his shadow right across the arts: JG Ballard's influence on culture went far beyond literature. We look at his lasting impact on film, pop, architecture, TV and visual art (Peter Bradshaw, Deyan Sudjic, Dave Simpson, Iain Sinclair and Mark Lawson, 20 April 2009, The Guardian)
-AN APPRECIATION: Visionary with a sharp edge: J.G. Ballard didn¡¦t settle for challenging his readers. He sought to provoke them ¡X usually with success. (David L. Ulin, 4/20/09, Los Angeles Times)
If J.G. Ballard -- the visionary British novelist who died Sunday of prostate cancer at age 78 -- ends up being remembered, it will likely be as a science fiction writer who aspired to use genre as a vehicle for art. That's true enough, in a certain small-bore manner, but it's ultimately reductive, a way of categorizing Ballard that his entire career stood against.

-TRIBUTE: J G Ballard: the prophet who stayed one step ahead (Tim Martin, 4/21/09, Daily Telegraph)
-TRIBUTE: J.G. Ballard was a man of the Right — not that the Right really wanted him: [T]he great writer, who died this week, always espoused the pessimism about the human condition that is the mark of a true conservative. He even wanted American missiles stationed in his garden (Rod Liddle, 22nd April 2009, Spectator)
-TRIBUTE: Appreciation: J G Ballard: His writings were a lifelong experiment in imaginative alchemy, the transmutation of senseless dross into visions of beauty (John Gray, 23 April 2009, New Statesman)
-TRIBUTE: Ballard: explorer of catastrophe: The author of Empire of the Sun and Crash was no dystopian prophet; he used disaster to reimagine the world. (James Heartfield, 4/21/09, spiked)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2009 6:46 AM
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