The seldom-seen squiggles of Kurt Vonnegut
04.22.2014
07:22 am

Topics:
Art
Books
Literature

Tags:
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” 1985
 
Anyone with any familiarity with Kurt Vonnegut’s literary output probably knows that the man liked to doodle. His whimsical self-portrait, the one that emphasized his mustache, is very familiar, making an appearance in his 1973 masterpiece Breakfast of Champions and many other places. Breakfast of Champions, of course, featured all manner of little drawings as a non-textual means of furthering the story.

Next month a handsome coffee table book, Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, from the Monacelli Press, featuring hitherto unavailable artworks, will go on sale (the list price is $40, but you can pre-order it for $25.40). The book will feature 145 selections of his work.
 
Kurt Vonnegut
 
Vonnegut was a fervent believer in the importance of art as a means of enhancing everyday life, and these interesting drawings are the proof. He used pen and (quite clearly) magic marker for these artworks. They remind me most of all of Joan Miró (esp. the Janus-like piece from 1987) and Saul Steinberg (esp. the one with the wavy hair from the same year).
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” no date
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” no date
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” 1980
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Self-Portrait,” 1985
 
More of Vonnegut’s amusing art after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Philip Roth to John Updike: FTFY! Updike to Roth: LOL! STFU.
04.21.2014
07:43 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
John Updike
Philip Roth


 
I love it when great writers get mad at each other. The modernists were a notably prickly lot that didn’t fit well together (I can hardly imagine a conversation that D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf would have). By contrast, our own era features major novelists who seem quite chummy. People have been known to mix up the “Jonathans,” meaning Franzen, Lethem, Ames, Safran Foer, et al. Mainly writers today all seem to attend the same convivial conferences and NPR radio shows, and nobody seems in dire conflict with another. Nobody much likes Rick Moody, from what I can tell, but other than that the big writers seem to get along.

The heavyweights of the postwar era were a contentious bunch. Norman Mailer had feuds running with William Styron, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal (whom he punched on one memorable occasion), and so on. Philip Roth and John Updike were not notable enemies, but seeing as how they were basically vying for the title of “Greatest Super-Prolific Major Post-War American Author,” it’s not super surprising that they duked it out on a couple of occasions.

In 1996 Roth’s reputation took a hit when his ex-wife, the English actress Claire Bloom, published a memoir of their tempestuous five-year-long marriage (and much longer relationship) called Leaving a Doll’s House. Needless to say, Roth doesn’t come off looking too good in the book. Three years later, Roth was still bristling at the apparent presumption of guilt John Updike had communicated in an essay about literary biography in The New York Review of Books.

Roth wrote in to complain, resulting in one of those exquisite disputes that happen often in the pages of The New York Review of Books. Letters going each way, eye squarely on the reader, outraged rhetorical high dudgeon in abundance…. But this one would be short and sweet. Roth offered to rewrite a key sentence—on the Internet, you could distill part of his lengthy, indeed overlong missive as the common Internet acronym, the breezy and condescending “FTFY”: “Fixed that for you!” Updike didn’t take the bait, deciding that his original sentence was good enough, thank you very much.

Check it out (emphasis added):
 

To the Editors:

In your February 4, 1999, issue, John Updike, commenting on Claire Bloom’s 1996 memoir Leaving the Doll’s House, writes: “Claire Bloom, as the wronged ex-wife of Philip Roth, shows him to have been, as their marriage rapidly unraveled, neurasthenic to the point of hospitalization, adulterous, callously selfish, and financially vindictive.” Allow me to imagine a slight revision of this sentence: “Claire Bloom, presenting herself as the wronged ex-wife of Philip Roth, alleges him to have been neurasthenic to the point of hospitalization, adulterous, callously selfish, and financially vindictive.” Written thus, the sentence would have had the neutral tone that Mr. Updike is careful to maintain elsewhere in this essay on literary biography when he is addressing Paul Theroux’s characterization of V.S. Naipaul and Joyce Maynard’s characterization of J.D. Salinger. Would that he had maintained that neutral tone in my case as well.

Over the past three years I have become accustomed to finding Miss Bloom’s characterization of me taken at face value. One Sara Nelson, reviewing my novel American Pastoral, digressed long enough to write: “In her memoir, Leaving the Doll’s House, Roth’s ex, Claire Bloom, outed the author as a verbally abusive neurotic, a womanizer, a venal nutcase. Do we believe her? Pretty much:Roth is, after all, the guy who glamorized sex-with-liver in Portnoy’s Complaint.” Mr. Updike offers the same bill of particulars (“neurasthenic…, adulterous, callously selfish, and financially vindictive”) as does Ms. Nelson (“neurotic, a womanizer, a venal nutcase”). Like her, he adduces no evidence other than Miss Bloom’s book. But while I might ignore her in an obscure review on the World Wide Web, I cannot ignore him in a lead essay in The New York Review of Books.

Philip Roth
Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut

John Updike replies:

Mr. Roth’s imagined revisions sound fine to me, but my own wording conveys, I think, the same sense of one-sided allegations.

 
My favorite bit of Roth’s honed sense of outrage is the dig at “an obscure review on the World Wide Web”—somehow I don’t think that sentence would read the same way today.

Here’s a recent TV profile of Roth, complete with Roth visiting his childhood home in Newark and also briefly addressing Bloom’s memoir, which he calls “libel”:
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Classical music’s greatest shitty reviews


 
I’ve long felt that dismissive asshole music writers can be every bit as valuable as thoughtful and rigorous ones. Yes, a think piece on why it’s important that so-and-so’s reunion album is held as a disappointment by the cognoscenti and what that consensus might say about the cultural priorities of a generation can be thought provoking and illuminating, and I’m absolutely going to read that piece. But sometimes I only need to hear from the smugging, brickbat-lobbing prick who’ll just flat out tell me that a record is dog shit and that my money would be better spent on maybe a nice lunch. When the ‘zine explosion hit in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I always particularly enjoyed titles like Forced Exposure, Your Flesh, and Motorbooty, some of whose writers would just absolutely SAVAGE a band for being even slightly sub-par—not because I had any particular hardon to see sincere creative strivers get slammed, but because these mags’ ranks were swelling with Bangs/Meltzer aspirants who did their best to be really damn clever with their invective. I succumbed to that temptation, myself, in my youth as an embryonic writer. Not gonna lie, ill-tempered nastiness could be (oh, who am I kidding with the past tense, still is) a great deal of fun, so long as it wasn’t a crutch, and I got validation for it from readers who found such caustic bastardy engaging and funny.

But a book I picked up back in the early oughts revealed to me a tradition for brutal critical smartassery reaching back long before the rock era. Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective, originally published in 1953, but revived with new editions in 1965 and 2000, contains hundreds of pages of critical blasts, going as far back as the turn of the 19th Century, at works that later became untouchables in the classical music canon. I’m normally one to seek out the oldest edition of a book I can affordably get my hands on, but in the case of the Lexicon, the 2000 publication not only holds the advantage of still being in print, it has a wonderful foreword by Peter “P.D.Q. Bach” Schickele, from whence:

It is a widely known fact—or, at least, a widely held belief—that negative criticism is more entertaining to read than enthusiastic endorsement. There is certainly no doubt that many critics write pans with an unbridled gusto that seems to be lacking in their (usually rarer) raves, and these critics often become more famous, or infamous, than their less caustic colleagues.

Most of us feel constrained, in person, to say politely pleasant things to creative artists no matter what we think of their work; perhaps this penchant of ours endows blisteringly bad reviews with a cathartic strength…

And perhaps much of the appeal of the Lexicon to a classical-music dilettante like me lies in how it’s all the more entertaining to read slams on works that are so long-embedded in our culture, so widely regarded as timeless works of surpassing genius, that it’s hard to even imagine some grump throughly torpedoing them.
 

 
On Richard Strauss’ Salome:

“A reviewer…should be an embodied conscience stung into righteous fury by the moral stench with which Salome fills the nostrils of humanity, but, though it makes him retch, he should be sufficiently judicial in his temperament to calmly look at the drama in all its aspects and determine whether or not as a whole it is an instructive note on the life and culture of the times and whether or not this exudation from the diseased and polluted will and imagination of the authors marks a real advance in artistic expression.”
—H.E. Krehbiel, New York Tribune, January 23,1907

“I am a man of middle life who has devoted upwards of twenty years to the practice of a profession that necessitates a daily intimacy with degenerates. I say after deliberation that Salome is a detailed and explicit exposition of the most horrible, disgusting, revolting, and unmentionable features of degeneracy that I have ever heard, read of, or imagined.”
—letter to the New York Times, January 21, 1907
 

 
On Claude Debussy’s La Mer:

“M. Debussy wrote three tonal pictures under the general title of The Sea… It is safe to say that few understood what they heard and few heard anything they understood… There are no themes distinct and strong enough to be called themes. There is nothing in the way of even a brief motif that can be grasped securely enough by the ear and brain to serve as a guiding line through the tonal maze. There is no end of queer and unusual effects in orchestration, no end of harmonic combinations and progressions that are so unusual that they sound hideously ugly.”
—W.L. Hubbard, Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1909

“We believe that Shakespeare means Debussy’s ocean when he speaks of taking up arms against a sea of troubles. It may be possible, however, that in the transit to America, the title of this work has been changed. It is possible that Debussy did not intend to cal it La Mer, but Le Mal de Mer, which would at once make the tone-picture as clear as day. It is a series of symphonic pictures of sea sickness.”
—Louis Elson, Boston Daily Advertiser, April 22 1907
 
More shitty reviews after the jump…
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
‘No Slam Dancing’: Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and… Jon Stewart?


Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn during a Black Flag show
 
I’ve read an absolutely embarrassing amount of books on pop music for someone who’s never read Dostoyevsky, and over the years I’ve learned to make my recommendations with care. I’ve found out the hard way that not everyone is as interested in Ronnie Spector’s autobiography as I am (ingrates), and that it’s difficult to convince someone that you don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy a book on the history of heavy metal. However, I’m completely serious when I say everyone will enjoy No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens—it’s just that universal.

To give you some background, City Gardens was a music venue in the most unlikely of places, Trenton, New Jersey, a city that’s been on the rapid decline for decades. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, riots ravaged the downtown, and even the cops were looting (for welding masks and catcher’s helmets to protect their faces from flying debris). Insurance companies began to drop businesses’ claims, deindustrialization exacerbated unemployment, and suburban flight grew in droves—Trenton, NJ remains a pretty dismal place, economically.

However, where there is a void, there is also opportunity, and a giant warehouse in a rough part of town became the site of a musical oasis, all through the tireless efforts of a few committed fans and staff. The actual City Gardens building had been re-purposed many times before, from a grocery store to a car dealership, but when it was reopened as a disco in 1980, local DJ Randy Now approached the owner, hoping to find a venue receptive to his New Wave tastes. What began as a few weekly dance nights quickly paved the way to booking some of the best bands in underground music.
 

The Descendents in front of their perilous tour bus
 
Before you write off City Gardens as just another scummy punk venue, realize two things. First, the Trenton neighborhood it called home was volatile. While slam-dancing can certainly incur some injuries, to say City Gardens was merely “violent” is an understatement. It saw a lawsuit in 1981, not a year after it began booking bands, when a woman was brutally beaten with a pool cue in inside the venue. And this is to say nothing of the skinhead riot that occurred later. The late Dave Brockie, better knows as GWAR singer Oderus Orungus, said City Gardens was so bad, they’d never go there as fans. Second, when I say “some of the best bands in underground music,” I think City Gardens’ booking philosophy is best summed up in Mickey Ween’s forward when he said, “they did not cater to the audience.”

This was not just a punk or hard rock club. For every Black Flag and Danzig (who had their very first show there), there was a Bo Diddley, Sinead O’Connor, Lydia Lunch, Iggy Pop, DEVO, Bauhaus, The Ramones (who played numerous times), Ricky Nelson, The Violent Femmes, RIcky Nelson, or Toots and the Maytals! The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart was bartending during a Butthole Surfers set with a topless dancer and some careless DIY pyrotechnics! The Beastie Boys almost didn’t play and got their tires slashed, presumably for being late! Someone threatened to break down the dressing room door to stab Jello Biafra! The chaos and sheer wildness of City Gardens is what truly made it unique, and it even hosted all ages shows!
 

Al Jourgensen of Ministry
 
Co-Author Amy Yates Wuelfing pinpoints the preposterous success of it all:

City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me. And unlike the clubs in Philly and New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.

What’s truly captivating about No Slam Dancing is the story-telling—it’s a complete oral history, meticulously collected from the memories and reflections of bands, employees, regulars, and all manner of City Gardens alumni. Over a hundred interviews were conducted to create an amazing compendium of anecdotes, and they don’t pull punches. Not everyone comes off well, and sometimes everything goes wrong, but the spirit of the moment is exciting and ambitious, and it’s all the more inspiring when you realize the entire fourteen year musical renaissance of Trenton, New Jersey was built from the ground up by Randy Now, the hobbyist DJ with a day job as a mailman. It’s an insane story, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

Below, Jon Stewart, Ian Mackaye and others talk about City Gardens in a trailer for Riot on the Dance Floor: The story of Randy Now and City Gardens.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
Norman Mailer’s novel ‘An American Dream’ retold with LEGO
04.04.2014
12:06 pm

Topics:
Books

Tags:
Norman Mailer
LEGO

111reliamogel.jpg
Norman Mailer and his “LEGO City of the Future.”

Norman Mailer’s novel An American Dream was originally serialized in Esquire magazine during 1964. The story concerned Steven Richards Rojack, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, war hero, left-wing intellectual, former politician and alcoholic TV host, who kills his wife in a fit of rage. There were obvious parallels between the author and his fictional creation, as 42-year-old Norman Kingsley Mailer was also a Harvard graduate, had served in the Second World War, was a left-wing intellectual, and had dabbled in politics. He had also stabbed his wife, Adele, in a fit of rage. Mailer commented on these similarities in 1965:

“Rojack is still considerably different from me—he’s more elegant, more witty, more heroic, his physical strength is considerable, and at the same time he is more corrupt than me.”

Mailer’s tale was a brilliantly told existentialist thriller that examined American obsessions in the second-half of the twentieth century. It was brave work to undertake, and its sensational story-line, mixing elements of biography, and real-life characters (Miles Davis was the inspiration for the jazz singer Shago Martin) together with explicit murder, sex and violence, shocked critics and readers alike. It guaranteed success for Esquire, whose sales jumped to a record 900,000 sales.

An American Dream became Mailer’s fourth published novel in 1965, and re-established him amongst the first rank of American authors. It was also made into a forgettable movie starring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh and Eleanor Parker in 1966.
 
222reliamogel.jpg
 
Mailer created a “City of the Future” (his plan for a possible New York) out of LEGO, so he may have enjoyed this short adaptation of his classic novel by Dan Finnen, that offers up the book’s choice moments.
 

 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The first screen James Bond was NOT Sean Connery, it was an American actor named Barry Nelson!


Barry Nelson, the “original” James Bond, seated at left

Although this will probably not come as too much of a surprise to fanatical James Bond fanboys, the very first time 007 was portrayed onscreen it was by an American actor named Barry Nelson! Yep, a Yank James Bond, as seen on a live 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale that was part of a CBS adventure series called Climax!

For the live CBS broadcast, Ian Fleming was paid just $1000 for the rights to his novel. Co-starring with Nelson as the villainous “Le Chiffre” was none other than Peter Lorre, whose typically weasley malevolence is the real reason to watch this (as always, Peter Lorre is great in this role). There’s a “Felix Leiter” character, but he’s the British agent and he’s called “Clarence.”

To add to this topsy-turvy Anglo-American sacrilege, Nelson’s not-so-suave Bond (he’s just terrible and horribly miscast) is referred to as “Jimmy” several times! Jimmy!    (When Casino Royale was made into the 1967 spy movie spoof, Woody Allen’s character, the wimpy nephew of David Niven’s Sir James Bond, was also called “Jimmy Bond.”)

This production was presumed to have been lost since its original 1954 live telecast, until an incomplete version on a kinescope was uncovered by film historian Jim Schoenberger in 1981 and aired as part of a TBS James Bond marathon. Eventually the entire show was located (minus a few seconds of credits) and MGM included it as a DVD extra on their release of the 1967 Casino Royale.

An urban legend persisted for years that following his death scene, Peter Lorre got up an walked to his dressing room, unaware that he was still in the shot, but this was debunked by Snopes.com. (The story had more than a grain of truth in it, this DID actually happen, but it was on a different live televised episode of Climax!)
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Life is a Cabaret: Christopher Isherwood on the real Sally Bowles, Berlin, writing and W. H. Auden
04.03.2014
08:58 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Christopher Isherwood

0101doowrehsi.jpg
 
Christopher Isherwood’s best known fictional character is Sally Bowles, who appeared in his novel Goodbye to Berlin, published in 1939. Sally was a singer in a Berlin nightclub, The Lady Windermere, off Tauentzeinstraße, and was supposedly an heiress (her father owned a mill in Lancashire), and had grand ambitions to become a star.

She had a surprisingly deep, husky voice. She sang badly, without any expression, her hands hanging down at her sides – yet her performance was, in its own way, effective because of her startling appearance and her air of not caring a curse of what people thought of her…

Sally with her emerald green nail varnish (“Divine decadence, darling”) was memorably played by Liza Minelli in the film musical Cabaret, opposite Michael York as Brian Roberts (originally Christopher or “Herr Issyvoo” in the book) and Joel Gray as the Emcee, in 1972.

Sally was more than just one of Christopher’s greatest creations, she was in fact based on the journalist and actress, Jean Ross, who had once shared rooms with Isherwood at Nollendorfstrasse 17, Berlin in the early 1930s.

As Isherwood describes Ross, in this interview on Day at Night from 1974, she was a slightly larger-than-life character, who had the looks of the Hollywood film-star Merle Oberon. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Ross was raised in England, before being sent to finishing school in Switzerland. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she had a bit part in a “Quiky Quota” movie. Ross then moved to Berlin on the promise of some more film work, but this proved to be false, so she began a new career in modeling. It was around this time in 1931 that Ross met Isherwood, as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography explains:

The two became close friends and Isherwood immortalized her as the eponymous heroine of Sally Bowles (1937), subsequently incorporated in his Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Although Ross later claimed that she was not really like Sally Bowles, most of the more outlandish anecdotes Isherwood used in his portrait were based on fact. She insisted that she was a much better singer than Sally Bowles, but her family disagreed.

An affair with a Jewish musician called Götz von Eick, who subsequently became an actor in Hollywood under the name Peter van Eyck, led to her becoming pregnant, and she nearly died after an abortion. She was visiting England when Hitler came to power and so decided not to return to Germany, settling instead in Cheyne Walk, London, where she joined the Communist Party; she remained a member for the rest of her life.

Inspired by Ross and her various wild adventures, Isherwood wrote a long short story, “Sally Bowles,” which he originally intended to include in his novel Mr. Norris Changes Trains, which was published in 1935. Isherwood sent the story to the editor John Lehmann, to be included in his literary magazine New Writing, but he thought it too long. Lehmann also had problems with certain aspects of the story—Sally’s abortion, and the possible issue of a libel suit from Jean Ross. Isherwood claimed the removal of the abortion scene would turn Sally into a “silly little capricious bitch” and would ruin the story’s finish. He also managed to convince Ross to give her permission for the story to be published, little knowing how successful and financially rewarding the fictional Sally Bowles would be.

I am a big fan of Christopher Isherwood’s writing and found him utterly charming and fascinating in this interview on Day at Night, where he talks about his time in Berlin during the thirties, his friendship with the poet W. H. Auden, his life at university and in America, his family, and how his writing is a voyage of self-discovery.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Christopher Isherwood: Revealing documentary ‘A Single Man 1906-86’

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Down the rabbit-hole with Salvador Dali’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’
04.01.2014
09:35 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Salvador Dali
Lewis Carroll

iladolxxx.jpg
 
It seems like a perfect match, the master of Surrealist painting, Salvador Dali illustrating a classic of nonsense literature, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In 1969, Dali produced thirteen illustrations for a special edition of Carroll’s book published by Maecenas Press-Random House, New York. Dali made twelve heliogravures of original gouaches for each of the book’s twelve chapters, and one engraving for the frontispiece. Dali’s work is startling and beautiful, but at times seems slightly unrelated to the original source material. Even so, they are quite delightful.
 
11iladal.jpg
 

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’

 
22iladal.jpg
 

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

 
33iladal.jpg
 

`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off).

 
More of Dali’s illustrations for ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Preposterous Korean cover art for ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’
03.27.2014
10:23 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
Anne Frank


 
I suppose the right word for describing the cover of this South Korean edition of The Diary of Anne Frank is “puzzling.”

How did they come up with this exactly? It looks like an 80s Sweet Valley High novel! Whoever bought this judging the book by its cover, I’m pretty sure came in for quite a shock.

Via Kotaku

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
‘The JG Ballard Book’ celebrates the ‘Seer of Shepperton’
03.21.2014
12:01 pm

Topics:
Books
Literature
Thinkers

Tags:
J.G. Ballard


Luca Del Baldo‘s terrific cover portrait of Ballard

This review of The JG Ballard Book is a guest post from Graham Rae

Even though writer James Graham Ballard, the so-called “Seer of Shepperton,” died in 2009, interest in his far-seeing-and-reaching futurologist oeuvre has not waned any. More specifically, his memory and legacy have been kept alive by a dedicated band of Ballardians, as his devotees are known, who converse on a Yahoo group about every JGB-related topic under the (empire of the) sun.

One such dedicated Ballardian is Canadian Rick McGrath. He runs the excellent site www.jgballard.ca, where he has all manner of material on display about the writer – interviews, non-fiction, videos, etc. Shoot on over there and have a look for yourself. Fellow Ballardian James Goddard suggested to McGrath that he might try self-publishing a book, so he put out a call for material to various JGB-interested parties round the world, being pleasantly surprised at the response he got. The JG Ballard Book, of course, is the end result, and is also a self-confessed nod to RE/Search 8/9, V. Vale’s seminal 1984 book which helped introduce Ballard to the American audience.

As I said, it’s self-published (easily available through the usual channels), being ex-adman McGrath’s first ever attempt at publishing, and I’d have to say it’s a damned fine-looking book. Starting with the great painting of Ballard on the cover by extremely talented, amiable Italian painter Luca Del Baldo, the book is jam-packed with 191 pages of well-reproduced full-color Ballard letters, interviews with hand-written corrections by the writer, bibliographies, etc; a real smorgasbord of juicy Ballardania for any fan of the writer. Color photos and cover reproductions and such jump from nearly every page of The JG Ballard Book, and it’s a real pleasure to look at from start to finish. This is a labor of love, and it really shows.

There are a huge amount of first-hand JGB reproductions here, and they’re great to see. I have a few letters from the man myself, having very occasionally corresponded with him in the 90s and noughties, and it’s always great to see his sometimes-cryptic handwriting detailing his deep-dish creative thoughts on some headscratcher existential mystery or other. Besides all the reproducing of JGB handwritten materials, there are also a lot of excellent interpretive articles by Ballard admirers in the book, focusing on some aspect of his work and discussing it at length.

Thus we have Peter Brigg examining the writer’s attempts at transcending/rearranging the human concept of time (“JG Ballard: Time Out of Mind,” a really thought-provoking piece); a discussion of why JGB has been so poorly served with his book covers and what might be done to rectify this, “Visualizing the Ballardian Image” (writer Rick Poynor reckons that ‘narrative figuration’ artist Peter Klasen’s splintered-view images, synchronous with Ballard’s writing during the 60s and 70s, would provide a great marriage of aesthetic minds); inspired-lateral-thinking piece “JG Ballard in the Dissecting Room,” where Mike Bonsall purchased a copy of the same edition of Cunningham’s anatomy book the young JGB used when studying medicine at Cambridge and points out passages in the writer’s work that could have been inspired by the dissection diagrams and explanatory texts; a travelogue of McGrath’s own visit to Ballard’s childhood Shanghai home in “JG Ballard’s Shanghai”; and many more.

Aside from analytical writings, McGrath and his fellow Ballardians (including David Pringle, JGB’s Scottish archivist, who tentatively announced last year his starting work on a definitive Ballard biography) have dug up things like rare interviews never collected anywhere before, or even expanded reprints of already-familiar Q&As. These reminded me of why I started reading Ballard in the first place. I always personally liked his interviews more than a lot of his writing, to be perfectly honest, all those amazing thought processes in full flow and flower, which is why I was so glad to see this sort of stuff included.  The old-worldview-destroying firecrackers and depth charges of deep thought peppered liberally throughout the interviews and fiction were what kept me coming back to Ballard. Stuff like this, from the 1981 short story “News From the Sun,” as singled out by Peter Brigg:

“The whole process of life is the discovery of the imminent past contained in the present. At the same time, I feel a growing nostalgia for the future, a memory of the future I have already experienced but somehow forgotten. In our lives we try to repeat those significant events that have already taken place in the future. As we grow older we feel an increasing nostalgia for our own deaths, through which we have already passed. Equally, we have a growing premonition of our births, which are about to take place. At any moment we may be born for the first time.”

You just think about that for a while. Isn’t that just great? You just feel your brain being buffeted back and forth and up and down and round and about by the strength of Ballard’s intellect and ability at getting philosophical brainteasers down on the page, and it’s just a joy to sit and think about what he has said and run it through our minds, savoring the fine seditious vintage of his brilliant intellect. Nobody else has ever, to my knowledge, written like that, and nobody ever will again. Which is why Ballard’s death left such a huge, unfillable hole in world thought and literature.

And why books like McGrath’s are such a necessity and pleasure. Unlike his American counterpart-cum-literary-outlaw hero William S Burroughs, JG Ballard seems to have already started to slide from view into obscurity. At least on the American side of the Atlantic, that is; in the UK he is still venerated by the London media and chattering classes, and quoted fairly constantly by the likes of Will Self and John Gray, a rent-a-gob duo who seem boringly terminally fixated on JGB at the expense of their own thoughts on things. Still, all in the cause of keeping Ballard’s memory alive, so it’s all well and good. (Hopefully the announced production of High Rise will remedy this also.)

Ballard’s daughter Fay likes The JG Ballard Book a great deal, which should tell you something. It’s perfect for the hardcore Ballard enthusiast, though as an introduction to the writer I think it may be a bit esoteric, as it assumes a familiarity with the subject matter under discussion. But the interviews and interpretive pieces might provide an inroad into Ballard’s work and thought for those uninitiated would-be readers who wonder what all the fuss was and is about. McGrath, bolstered by the way the volume turned out, and the good reception it has had, is already planning a second volume to be published through The Terminal Press, his own wee publishing house. If the quality of this volume is anything to go by, with the amount of uncollected Ballardania floating round the world, the Canadian may be keeping JG Ballard’s memory alive for many years to come, and that would be nothing but a good thing.
 

A 2003 BBC profile of Ballard

Previously from Graham Rae on Dangerous Minds:
Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel: Nailing a whole lot of ‘Hole’ and ‘Nail,’ an exegesis

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Page 1 of 45  1 2 3 >  Last ›