Monday, April 20, 2009

The Death of a Visionary

Author JG Ballard has died aged 78 after several years of illness. His literary agent of over 25 years Margaret Hanbury called him :
... a giant on the world literary scene for more than 50 years. ... His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels which have been published all over the world and saw Ballard gain cult status.
Best known for his novel Crash and Empire of the Sun (which was based on his childhood in a Japanese prison camp in China) Ballard began writing short stories while stationed in Canada with the RAF, influenced by the science-fiction he first encountered there.

In The Times writer Iain Sinclair gives a fascinating insight into his friend's psyche. Describing him as :
... a charming, classic English gentleman with a generous heart, a cynical take on the world and a huge sense of humour ...
He notes that :
Everything that everybody else was bored by or appalled by, he was excited by. ... Living out in Shepperton for so long, he was one of the first to undersand that the psychosis of suburbia was a fascinating thing to pursue. ... He loved the edges of cities: shopping complexes, motorways and airports. He was very taken up with Watford because of its multi-storey car parks. Where other people were terrified by the consumerist culture he saw it as exciting, something he could manipulate, shredding it and making his own world out of it.
In the same paper, Ben Hoyle notes that :
Not many writers are so distinctive and influential that their name becomes an adjective in its own right. J. G. Ballard, who died yesterday morning after a long battle with cancer at the age of 78, was one of them. ... Ballardian” is defined in theCollins English Dictionary as: “adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.
Author Martin Amis says of him :
He is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different, disused part of the reader's brain.
There are some touching tributes from readers on the Ballardian website.


Anonymous said...

His autobiobraphy is also very good. And it was a sad shock to come to the last pages and have him write that he was suffering from terminal cancer.

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Ballardian? It's not in Webster's. Or Oxford's. Or on Collins English Dictionary FREE.

Yusuf Martin said...

I read all his works when I was younger and going through a SF phase.

Yusuf Martin said...

Ballardian: The Dictionary Definition
Author: Simon Sellars • Nov 8th, 2005 •

Category: Ballardosphere, dystopia

The Collins English Dictionary now carries a definition for ‘Ballardian’:

(adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments

Anonymous said...

- It's me again -

Hmm.. checked out Webster ( -- not there. Checked out Oxford ( -- not there. Checked out Collins English Reference ( - not there either.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- what's your point/problem? Ben Hoyle (the author of that article) and Yusuf (above) both managed to find "Ballardian" in the print version of Collins. So maybe it's in the print version and not the online version. Why don't you run to the library right now, check it out, and update us within the next twenty minutes? Or are you suggesting that Ben Hoyle and Yusuf are both lying about it? And in any case, even if they *were* both lying for some mysterious reason I can't think of, what would your point be? The existence of the adjective "Ballardian" is hardly the main thrust of Ben Hoyle's article, and I think the point would still stand -- that Ballard's name is strongly associated with dystopian settings -- even if people were using the word without it being in the dictionary. People use lots of words that aren't in dictionaries.

I'm sorry to hear of Ballard's death, though I suppose he had a good, long life. I've only read _Empire of The Sun_, which I enjoyed; I'll have to check out some of his other books.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

am pretty sure anyway it would be in the Oxford english dictionary - the big big one. i haven't access so if anyone can check it out ...

and the fact that the word IS in general currency (i've heard it by different people in different contexts)

also, remember that dictionaries are always a step or two behind the language as it is spoken and that they DESCRIBE language already in use.

Anonymous said...

Here’s an excerpt from an old interview Ballard did I found exceptionally interesting:

When critics look at both your work and Burroughs', they often point to the severity and even a sense of dissociation. Sometimes they even call your works antisocial. Do you see any truth in that?

Severity, yes. Honesty is what I prefer to call it. That has a much more satisfying ring to it. Burroughs called his greatest novel "Naked Lunch," by which he meant it's what you see on the end of a fork. Telling the truth. It's very difficult to do that in fiction because the whole process of writing fiction is a process of sidestepping the truth. I think he got very close to it, in his way, and I hope I've done the same in mine.

The bourgeois novel is the greatest enemy of truth and honesty that was ever invented. It's a vast, sentimentalizing structure that reassures the reader, and at every point, offers the comfort of secure moral frameworks and recognizable characters. This whole notion was advanced by Mary McCarthy and many others years ago, that the main function of the novel was to carry out a kind of moral criticism of life. But the writer has no business making moral judgments or trying to set himself up as a one-man or one-woman magistrate's court. I think it's far better, as Burroughs did and I've tried to do in my small way, to tell the truth. So I don't object to the charge of severity at all.

Here’s the link:


Anonymous said...

Preeta -

_My_ problem? you're the one who's taking offence at my stating a plain and obvious fact.