J. G. Ballard

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J. G. Ballard
JGBallard.jpg
Ballard in 1993
Born James Graham Ballard
(1930-11-15)15 November 1930
Shanghai International Settlement, China
Died 19 April 2009(2009-04-19) (aged 78)
London, England
Occupation novelist, short story writer
Alma mater

University of Cambridge

Queen Mary, University of London[1]
Genre Science fiction
transgressive fiction
Literary movement New Wave
Notable works Crash
Empire of the Sun

James Graham "J. G." Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

Ballard came to be associated with the New Wave of science fiction early in his career with apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels such as The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ballard focused on an eclectic variety of short stories (or "condensed novels") such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), which drew closer comparison with the work of postmodernist writers such as William S. Burroughs. In 1973 the highly controversial novel Crash was published, a story about symphorophilia and car crash fetishism; the protagonist becomes sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car crashes. The story was later adapted into a film of the same name by David Cronenberg.

While many of Ballard's stories are thematically and narratively unusual, he is perhaps best known for his relatively conventional war novel, Empire of the Sun (1984), a semi-autobiographical account of a young boy's experiences in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War as it came to be occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army. Described as "The best British novel about the Second World War" by The Guardian,[2] the story was adapted into a 1987 film by Steven Spielberg.

The literary distinctiveness of Ballard's work has given rise to the adjective "Ballardian", defined by the Collins English Dictionary as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments."[3] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry describes Ballard's work as being occupied with "eros, thanatos, mass media and emergent technologies".[4]

Life[edit]

Shanghai[edit]

Ballard's father was a chemist at a Manchester-based textile firm, the Calico Printers' Association, and became chairman and managing director of its subsidiary in Shanghai, the China Printing and Finishing Company.[4] His mother was Edna, née Johnstone.[4] Ballard was born and raised in the Shanghai International Settlement, an area under foreign control where people "lived an American style of life".[5] He was sent to the Cathedral School in Shanghai. After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Ballard's family were forced to evacuate their suburban home temporarily and rent a house in central Shanghai to avoid the shells fired by Chinese and Japanese forces.

After the Japanese attack on Hong Kong, the Japanese occupied the International Settlement in Shanghai. In early 1943, they began to intern Allied civilians, and Ballard was sent to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center with his parents and younger sister. He spent over two years, the remainder of World War II, in the internment camp. His family lived in a small area in G block, a two-story residence for 40 families. He attended school in the camp, the teachers being camp inmates from a number of professions. These experiences formed the basis of Empire of the Sun, although Ballard exercised considerable artistic licence in writing the book, notably removing his parents from the bulk of the story.[6][7]

It is has been supposed that Ballard's exposure to the atrocities of war at an impressionable age explains the apocalyptic and violent nature of much of his fiction.[8][9][10] Martin Amis wrote that Empire of the Sun "gives shape to what shaped him."[9] However, Ballard's own account of the experience was more nuanced: "I don't think you can go through the experience of war without one's perceptions of the world being forever changed. The reassuring stage set that everyday reality in the suburban west presents to us is torn down; you see the ragged scaffolding, and then you see the truth beyond that, and it can be a frightening experience."[10] But also: "I have—I won't say happy—not unpleasant memories of the camp. [...] I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on—but at the same time we children were playing a hundred and one games all the time!"[5]

Britain and Canada[edit]

In late 1945, after the end of the war, his mother returned to Britain with Ballard and his sister on the SS Arawa. They lived in the outskirts of Plymouth, and he attended The Leys School in Cambridge. After a couple of years his mother and sister returned to China, rejoining Ballard's father, leaving Ballard to live with his grandparents when not boarding at school. In 1949 he went on to study medicine at King's College, Cambridge, with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist.

At university, Ballard was writing avant-garde fiction heavily influenced by psychoanalysis and surrealist painters. At this time, he wanted to become a writer as well as pursue a medical career. In May 1951, when Ballard was in his second year at King's, his short story "The Violent Noon",[11] a Hemingwayesque pastiche written to please the contest's jury, won a crime story competition and was published in the student newspaper Varsity.

Encouraged by the publication of his story and realising that clinical medicine would not leave him time to write, Ballard abandoned his medical studies, and in October 1951 he enrolled at Queen Mary College to read English Literature.[12] However, he was asked to leave at the end of the year. Ballard then worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency and as an encyclopaedia salesman. He kept writing short fiction but found it impossible to get published.[13]

In spring 1954 Ballard joined the Royal Air Force and was sent to the Royal Canadian Air Force flight-training base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. There he discovered science fiction in American magazines. While in the RAF, he also wrote his first science fiction story, "Passport to Eternity", as a pastiche and summary of the American science fiction he had read.

Ballard left the RAF in 1955 after thirteen months and returned to England.[14] In 1955 he married Helen Mary Matthews and settled in Chiswick, the first of their three children being born the following year. He made his science fiction debut in 1956 with two short stories, "Escapement" and "Prima Belladonna",[15] published in the December 1956 issues of New Worlds and Science Fantasy respectively. The editor of New Worlds, Edward J. Carnell, would remain an important supporter of Ballard's writing and would publish nearly all of his early stories.

From 1957, Ballard worked as assistant editor on the scientific journal Chemistry and Industry. His interest in art led to his involvement in the emerging Pop Art movement, and in the late fifties he exhibited a number of collages that represented his ideas for a new kind of novel. Ballard's avant-garde inclinations did not sit comfortably in the science fiction mainstream of that time, which held attitudes he considered philistine. Briefly attending the 1957 Science Fiction Convention in London, Ballard left disillusioned and demoralised and did not write another story for a year. By the late 1960s, however, he had become an editor of the avant-garde Ambit magazine, which was more in keeping with his aesthetic ideals.

Full-time writing career[edit]

In 1960 Ballard moved with his family to the middle-class London suburb of Shepperton in Surrey, where he lived for the rest of his life and which would later give rise to his moniker as the "Seer of Shepperton".[16][17] Finding that commuting to work did not leave him time to write, Ballard decided he had to make a break and become a full-time writer. He wrote his first novel, The Wind from Nowhere, over a two-week holiday simply to gain a foothold as a professional writer, not intending it as a "serious novel"; in books published later, it is omitted from the list of his works. When it was successfully published in January 1962, he resigned from his job at Chemistry and Industry, and from then on supported himself and his family as a writer.

Later that year his second novel, The Drowned World, was published, establishing Ballard as a notable figure in the fledgling New Wave movement. Collections of his stories started getting published, and he began a period of great literary productivity, while pushing to expand the scope of acceptable material for science fiction with such stories as "The Terminal Beach".

In 1964 Ballard's wife Mary died suddenly of pneumonia, leaving him to raise their three children – James, Fay and Bea Ballard – by himself.[18] Ballard never remarried; however, a few years later his friend and fellow author Michael Moorcock introduced him to Claire Walsh, who became his partner for the rest of his life (in fact he died at her London residence),[19] and is often referred to in his writings as "Claire Churchill".[20][21] After the profound shock of his wife's death, Ballard began in 1965 to write the stories that became The Atrocity Exhibition, while continuing to produce stories within the science fiction genre.

The Atrocity Exhibition (1969) proved controversial – it was the subject of an obscenity trial, and in the United States, publisher Doubleday destroyed almost the entire print run before it was distributed – but it gained Ballard recognition as a literary writer. It remains one of his iconic works, and was filmed in 2001.

Another chapter of The Atrocity Exhibition is titled "Crash!", and in 1970 Ballard organised an exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory, simply called "Crashed Cars". The crashed vehicles were displayed without commentary, inspiring vitriolic responses and vandalism.[22] In both the story and the art exhibition, Ballard explored the sexual potential of car crashes, a preoccupation which culminated in the novel Crash in 1973.

The main character of Crash is called James Ballard and lives in Shepperton, though other biographical details do not match the writer, and curiosity about the relationship between the character and his author increased when Ballard suffered a serious automobile accident shortly after completing the novel.[22] Regardless of real-life basis, Crash, like The Atrocity Exhibition, was also controversial upon publication.[23] In 1996, the film adaptation by David Cronenberg was met by a tabloid uproar in the UK, with the Daily Mail campaigning actively for it to be banned.[24]

Although Ballard published several novels and short story collections throughout the seventies and eighties, his breakthrough into the mainstream came only with Empire of the Sun in 1984, based on his years in Shanghai and the Lunghua internment camp. It became a best-seller,[25] was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.[26] It made Ballard known to a wider audience, although the books that followed failed to achieve the same degree of success. Empire of the Sun was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987, starring a young Christian Bale as Jim (Ballard). Ballard himself appears briefly in the film, and he has described the experience of seeing his childhood memories reenacted and reinterpreted as bizarre.[6][7] Ballard continued to write until the end of his life, and also contributed occasional journalism and criticism to the British press. Of his later novels, Super-Cannes (2000) was particularly well received,[27] winning the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize.[28] Ballard was offered a CBE in 2003, but refused, calling it "a Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up our top-heavy monarchy".[29] In June 2006, he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, which metastasised to his spine and ribs. The last of his books published in his lifetime was the autobiography Miracles of Life, written after his diagnosis.[30] His final published short story, "The Dying Fall", appeared in the 1996 issue 106 of Interzone, a British sci-fi magazine. It was reproduced in The Guardian on 25 April 2009.[31]

Posthumous publication[edit]

In October 2008, before his death, Ballard's literary agent Margaret Hanbury brought an outline for a book by Ballard with the working title Conversations with My Physician: The Meaning, if Any, of Life to the Frankfurt Book Fair. The physician in question is oncologist Professor Jonathan Waxman of Imperial College, London, who was treating Ballard for prostate cancer. While it was to be in part a book about cancer, and Ballard's struggle with it, it reportedly was to move on to broader themes. In April 2009 The Guardian reported that HarperCollins announced that Ballard's "Conversations With My Physician" could not be finished and plans to publish it were abandoned.[32] In 2013, a 17-page untitled typescript listed as "Vermilion Sands short story in draft" in the British Library catalogue and edited into an 8,000-word text by Bernard Sigaud appeared in a short-lived French reissue of the collection (ISBN 978-2367190068) under the title "Le labyrinthe Hardoon" as the first story of the cycle, tentatively dated "late 1955/early 1956" by Sigaud and others.[33][34][35][36]

Archive[edit]

In June 2010 the British Library acquired Ballard's personal archives under the British government's acceptance in lieu scheme for death duties. The archive contains eighteen holograph manuscripts for Ballard's novels, including the 840-page manuscript for Empire of the Sun, plus correspondence, notebooks, and photographs from throughout his life.[37] In addition, two typewritten manuscripts for The Unlimited Dream Company are held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.[38]

Dystopian fiction[edit]

With the exception of his autobiographical novels, Ballard most commonly wrote in the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre. His most celebrated novel in this regard is Crash, in which cars symbolise the mechanisation of the world and man's capacity to destroy himself with the technology he creates. The characters (the protagonist, called Ballard, included) become increasingly obsessed with the violent psychosexuality of car crashes in general, and celebrity car crashes in particular. Ballard's disturbing novel was turned into a controversial—and likewise disturbing—cerebral film by David Cronenberg.

Particularly revered among Ballard's admirers is his short story collection Vermilion Sands, set in an eponymous desert resort town inhabited by forgotten starlets, insane heirs, very eccentric artists, and the merchants and bizarre servants who provide for them. Each story features peculiarly exotic technology such as poetry-composing computers, orchids with operatic voices and egos to match, phototropic self-painting canvases, etc. In keeping with Ballard's central themes, most notably technologically mediated masochism, these tawdry and weird technologies service the dark and hidden desires and schemes of the human castaways who occupy Vermilion Sands, typically with psychologically grotesque and physically fatal results. In his introduction to Vermilion Sands, Ballard cites this as his favourite collection.

In a similar vein, his collection Memories of the Space Age explores many varieties of individual and collective psychological fallout from—and initial deep archetypal motivations for—the American space exploration boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition to his novels, Ballard made extensive use of the short story form. Many of his earliest published works in the 1950s and 1960s were short stories.

Television[edit]

On 13 December 1965, BBC Two screened an adaptation of the short story "Thirteen to Centaurus" directed by Peter Potter. The one-hour drama formed part of the first season of Out of the Unknown and starred Donald Houston as Dr Francis and James Hunter as Abel Granger. In 2003, Ballard's short story "The Enormous Space" (first published in the Science fiction magazine Interzone in 1989, subsequently printed in the collection of Ballard's short stories War Fever) was adapted into an hour-long television film for the BBC entitled Home by Richard Curson Smith, who also directed it. The plot follows a middle class man who chooses to abandon the outside world and restrict himself to his house, becoming a hermit.

Influence[edit]

Ballard is cited as an important forebear of the cyberpunk movement by Bruce Sterling in his introduction to the seminal Mirrorshades anthology. Ballard's parody of American politics, the pamphlet "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan", which was subsequently included as a chapter in his experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition, was photocopied and distributed by pranksters at the 1980 Republican National Convention. In the early 1970s, Bill Butler, a bookseller in Brighton, was prosecuted under UK obscenity laws for selling the pamphlet.

According to literary theorist Brian McHale, The Atrocity Exhibition is a "postmodernist text based on science fiction topoi."[39][40]

In Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard hailed Crash as the "first great novel of the universe of simulation."[41]

Lee Killough directly cites Ballard's seminal Vermilion Sands short stories as the inspiration for her collection Aventine, also a backwater resort for celebrities and eccentrics where bizarre or frivolous novelty technology facilitates the expression of dark intents and drives. Terry Dowling's milieu of Twilight Beach is also influenced by the stories of Vermilion Sands and other Ballard works.

Ballard also had an interest in the relationship between various media. In the early 1970s, he was one of the trustees of the Institute for Research in Art and Technology.

In popular music[edit]

Ballard has had a notable[42] influence on popular music, where his work has been used as a basis for lyrical imagery, particularly amongst British post-punk and industrial groups. Examples include albums such as Metamatic by John Foxx, various songs by Joy Division (most famously "Atrocity Exhibition" from Closer), "High Rise" by Hawkwind, "Miss the Girl" by The Creatures (based on Crash), "Down in the Park" by Gary Numan, "Chrome Injury" by The Church, "Drowned World" by Madonna and "Warm Leatherette" by The Normal. Songwriters Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley credit Ballard's story "The Sound-Sweep" with inspiring The Buggles' hit "Video Killed the Radio Star",[43] and the Buggles' second album included a song entitled "Vermillion Sands." The 1978 post-punk band Comsat Angels took their name from one of Ballard's short stories.[44] The Manic Street Preachers include a sample from an interview with Ballard in their song "Mausoleum".[45] Klaxons named their debut album Myths of the Near Future after one of Ballard's short story collections. The Sound of Animals Fighting took the name of the song "The Heraldic Beak of the Manufacturer's Medallion" from Crash. The song "Neural Highways" from Anarchist Republic of Bzzz is a reference to "Atrocity Exhibition", and so are several songs of the band ITHAK (both projects being led by Seb el Zin).

Awards and honours[edit]

Works[edit]

Novels[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

Interviews[edit]

  • Re/Search No. 8/9: J.G. Ballard (1985)
  • J.G. Ballard: Quotes (2004)
  • J.G. Ballard: Conversations (2005)
  • * Extreme Metaphors (interviews; 2012)

Adaptations[edit]

Films[edit]

Television[edit]

  • "Thirteen to Centaurus" (1965) from the short story of the same name – dir. Peter Potter (BBC Two)
  • Crash! (1971) dir. Harley Cokliss[53]
  • "Minus One" (1991) from the story of the same name – short film dir. by Simon Brooks.
  • "Home" (2003) primarily based on "The Enormous Space" – dir. Richard Curson Smith (BBC Four)

Radio[edit]

In June 2013, BBC Radio 4 broadcast adaptions of The Drowned World and Concrete Island as part of a season of dystopian fiction entitled Dangerous Visions.[54]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Alumni and Fellows". Sed.qmul.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  2. ^ "Empire of the Sun (1984)". Ballardian. 2006-09-16. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  3. ^ "About". Ballardian. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  4. ^ a b c Will Self, ‘Ballard, James Graham (1930–2009)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2013, accessed 3 Jan 2013, (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Pringle, D. (Ed.) and Ballard, J.G. (1982). "From Shanghai to Shepperton". Re/Search 8/9: J.G. Ballard: 112–124. ISBN 0-940642-08-5.
  6. ^ a b Ballard, J.G. (4 March 2006). "Look back at Empire". The Guardian. Retrieved on 25 April 2009.
  7. ^ a b "J.G. Ballard". Jgballard.ca. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  8. ^ Cowley, J. (4 November 2001). "The Ballard of Shanghai jail". The Observer. Retrieved on 25 April 2009.
  9. ^ a b Hall, C. "JG Ballard: Extreme Metaphor: A Crash Course in the Fiction Of JG Ballard". Retrieved on 25 April 2009.
  10. ^ a b Livingstone, D.B. (1996?). "J.G. Ballard: Crash: Prophet with Honour". Retrieved 12 March 2006.
  11. ^ "Collecting "The Violent Noon" and other assorted Ballardiana". Ballardian. 2007-02-05. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  12. ^ "Notable Alumni/ Arts and Culture". Queen Mary, University of London. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  13. ^ David Pringle (19 April 1997). "Obituary:JG Ballard". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  14. ^ London Gazette, 1 July 1955.
  15. ^ Bruce Weber (21 April 2009). "J.G Ballard, Novelist, Is Dead at 78". New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  16. ^ Clark, Alex (9 September 2000). "Microdoses of madness". Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  17. ^ Smith, Karl. "The Velvet Underground of English Letters: Simon Sellars Discusses J.G. Ballard". thequietus.com. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  18. ^ The autobiographical novel The Kindness of Women gives a different, fictionalised account of her death.
  19. ^ "Author J. G. Ballard dies at 78", Deseret News, 20 April 2009, p. A12
  20. ^ Moorcock, Michael (25 April 2009). "My friend J.G. Ballard, the homely visionary". The Times (London). Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  21. ^ Mendick, Robert (20 April 2009). "Partner tells of unconvential life with literary giant JG Ballard". Evening Standard. Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  22. ^ a b Ballard, J.G. (1993). The Atrocity Exhibition (expanded and annotated edition). ISBN 0-00-711686-1.
  23. ^ Francis, Sam (2008). "'Moral Pornography' and 'Total Imagination': The Pornographic in J. G. Ballard's Crash". English 57 (218): 146–168. doi:10.1093/english/efn011. 
  24. ^ Barker, Martin; Arthurs, Jane; Harindranath, Ramaswami (2001). The Crash Controversy: Censorship Campaigns and Film Reception. ISBN 978-1-903364-15-4. Retrieved 15 September 2009. 
  25. ^ Collinson, G. "Empire of the Sun". BBC Four article on the film and novel. Retrieved on 25 April 2009.
  26. ^ a b "James Tait Black Prizes Fiction Winners". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  27. ^ Moss, Stephen (13 September 2000). "Mad about Ballard". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  28. ^ [1][dead link]. Retrieved on 25 April 2009.
  29. ^ Lea, Richard; Adetunji, Jo (19 April 2009). "Crash author JG Ballard, 'a giant on the world literary scene', dies aged 78". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  30. ^ Wavell, Stuart (20 January 2008). "Dissecting bodies from the twilight zone: Stuart Wavell meets JG Ballard". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 21 January 2008. 
  31. ^ Ballard, JG. The Dying Fall, The Guardian, 25 April 2009.
  32. ^ Thompson, Liz (16 October 2008). "Ballard and the meaning of life". BookBrunch. Retrieved 20 April 2009. [dead link]
  33. ^ Beckett, Chris (2011). "12". ""The Progress of the Text: The Papers of J. G. Ballard at the British Library",". Electronic British Library Journal. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  34. ^ Horrocks, Chris, "Disinterring the Present: Science Fiction, Media Technology and the Ends of the Archive", 'Journal of Visual Culture, 2013 Vol 12(3): 414–430
  35. ^ "Near Vermilion Sands: The Context and Date of Composition of an Abandoned Literary Draft by J. G. Ballard". Bl.uk. 2003-11-30. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  36. ^ King, Daniel (February 2014). ""‘Again Last Night’: A previously unpublished Vermilion Sands story", SF Commentary 86". pp. 18–20. 
  37. ^ "Archive of JG Ballard saved for the nation.". The British Library. 10 June 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  38. ^ "Manuscripts for The Unlimited Dream Company". Harry Ransom Center. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  39. ^ Brian McHale, Postmodernist Fiction ISBN 978-0-415-04513-1
  40. ^ Luckhurst, Roger. "Border Policing: Postmodernism and Science Fiction"[dead link] Science Fiction Studies (November 1991)
  41. ^ Baudrillard, Jean (1981). Simulacra and Simulation. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-472-06521-9. 
  42. ^ "What Pop Music Tells Us About J G Ballard". BBC News. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 3 October 2009. 
  43. ^ "The Buggles 'Video Killed The Radio Star'". Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  44. ^ "Путеводитель по миру шоппинга – скидки, распродажи, акции - В мире модных брендов 23". Gothtronic.com. 2013-11-21. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  45. ^ "What pop music tells us about JG Ballard". BBC News. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  46. ^ "The Man Booker Prize Archive 1969-2012". Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  47. ^ Lynne Williams (12 September 1997). "Honorary Degrees". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 12 January 2013. 
  48. ^ "Golden Pen Award, official website". English PEN. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  49. ^ "2009 Honorary Graduates". Royal Holloway University of London. 7 July 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2013. 
  50. ^ a b c None of the "complete" collections are in fact fully exhaustive, since they contain only some of the Atrocity Exhibition stories.
  51. ^ http://www.reel23.com/
  52. ^ Aparelho Voador a Baixa Altitude at the Internet Movie Database
  53. ^ Sellars, S. (10 August 2007). "Crash! Full-Tilt Autogeddon". Ballardian.com. Retrieved on 25 April 2009.
  54. ^ Tim Martin (14 June 2013). "Do have nightmeres". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

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