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‘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 | Leave a comment
J. G. Ballard: Undermining bourgeois certainties and ‘Empire of the Sun’
02.17.2014
10:15 am

Topics:
Books
Heroes
Thinkers

Tags:
J. G. Ballard

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Writing is a very peculiar existence, J. G. Ballard told an audience during an interview for his novel Empire of the Sun, at the ICA London, in 1984.

”Unlike playwrights, composers, sculptors and painters who can go to first nights and gallery openings and alike, the writer never sees his audience. I mean, I have never in my life seen anybody reading one of my books.”

Ballard’s knowledge of his audience came from the letters he received, mainly written by teenage Science Fiction fans. He believed his audience was limited as the reading of such speculative or “imaginative fiction—which is not popular on the whole—is a very solitary business.”

”It’s an extreme fiction made out of extreme metaphors, and I think only people with that taste for extreme solutions are going to be drawn to imaginative fiction. Let’s face it, if Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland were published for the first time now they would meet with rather a mixed response. Imaginative fiction is not popular as a whole, I don’t think.”

Ballard devoted his whole career to imaginative fiction, and was more influenced by the Surrealists than his favorite novelists Graham Greene and William Burroughs.

”I have a great built in hostility towards the realistic social novel because it does tend to accept society as it finds it. I feel it is particularly dangerous in sort of puritanical, northern European countries like this one, where there’s a polite distaste for going too far—for going anywhere at all practically.

“I have devoted my career, for what it’s worth, to undermining the bourgeois certainties wherever I can, and the bourgeois novel is target number one on my list. I see the writer’s role as important but I recognize, and one has got to be a realist, most people prefer cosy certainties of life to permanent revolution, as the Surrealists called it, but that doesn’t discourage me at all.”

Empire of the Sun was the first of Ballard’s fictional autobiographies, loosely based on his childhood experiences as a prisoner-of-war at Lunghua Civilian Assembly in Shanghai during World War II. The novel was his most successful and was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987. In this interview with Matthew Hoffman, Ballard briefly discusses this book, his career as a writer up to 1984, as well as giving his views on America and the rise of China.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘A Field in England’: Director Ben Wheatley talks about his head-trip Civil War movie

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There’s an horrific scene in Ben Wheatley’s latest film, the truly excellent A Field in England, which proves the merit of the old adage that the most gruesome moments in any movie are more effectively achieved when they are suggested rather than revealed.

In this particular scene, the character Whitehead (superbly played by Reece Shearsmith) is tortured by the diabolical O’Neill (another excellent performance from Michael Smiley). Rather than showing what happens, Wheatley audaciously keeps any physical violence out-of-vision, leaving only Shearsmith’s terrifying screams to suggest the worst, the very worst. It is one cinema’s genuinely horrific and visceral moments, and yet nothing is ever seen.

A Field in England confirms Ben Wheatley as the most talented and original film-maker to come out of Britain since the glory days of Ken Russell, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and John Boorman in the swinging sixties.

Unlike most young directors who show flair with one type of genre film before going on to make variations of the same time-and-again, Wheatley has shown with his first four films that he is an immensely talented and important film-maker, whose movies defy easy categorization yet engage their audience with intelligent and sometimes disturbing ideas.

His first major film Down Terrace was a blackly comic tale of murder and violence set in a working class family home, which Wheatley co-wrote with the film’s star Robin Hill. It was described as being like The Sopranos as directed by Mike Leigh. It’s a nice soundbite but doesn’t quite encapsulate the thrilling intelligence that was at work behind the camera.

Wheatley’s next film was the brutal, disturbing but utterly brilliant Kill List, which contained one of the most harrowing endings ever committed to celluloid. Kill List was written by Wheatley and his wife, the writer Amy Jump, and starred Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley.

Having shown his aptitude for gangster and horror films, Wheatley then made the black comedy Sightseers, written by the film’s lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, in conjunction with Amy Jump.

Wheatley’s latest film A Field in Englandwas also written by Jump, and together this talented duo have created an intelligent head trip, a radical genre-bender, that mixes alchemy and the occult, with history, horror, psychedelia and folk tales. Starring The League of Gentleman‘s Reece Shearsmith, along with Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, and a terrifying Michael Smiley, A Field in England is certainly one of the best films of 2013-14.

Without giving too much away, the movie centers around four men escaping from a battle during the English Civil War (1642-1651), when the forces of democracy or Parliament (the Roundheads) fought against the Royalist armies (the Cavaliers) for control of England. The main players in this war were the Cavalier, King Charles I and the Roundhead, Oliver Cromwell, and the poor canon fodder in-between.

Wheatley’s interest in this momentous period of English history came through his work with the Sealed Knot Society, a group of individuals who specialize in reconstructing battles from the English Civil War.
 
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‘A Field in England’ is in cinemas now, or can be watched from Drafthouse Films here.
 

 
The interview with Ben Wheatley follows after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Mind Warriors: Douglas Rushkoff interviewed by Greg Barris
02.05.2014
11:33 am

Topics:
Thinkers

Tags:
Douglas Rushkoff
Greg Barris
Mind Warriors


 
Dangerous Minds pal Greg Barris is a man who spins a lot of plates in the air at once. He’s a stand-up comic, actor, writer,  former restaurateur and he is the creator, host and promoter of Heart Of Darkness, a monthly psychedelic showcase of comedy, live music and fringe science that happens in New York City (and occasionally in Los Angeles). PAPER magazine describes him as “the perfect combination of very good looking, hilarious and super-weird.”

Greg’s new project is a series of video interviews taped in front of a live audience at his Heart of Darkness events and we’re pleased to premiere it here on Dangerous Minds. The first episode of Mind Warriors (“Bringing you the most cutting edge information from the edge of the universe (that’s two edges)”) features author and cultural critic Douglas Rushkoff discussing his most recent book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now.

The full episode of the podcast can also be found on SoundCloud.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The most bored teenagers in America watch bogus Creationism vs. Evolution speech


 
Aside from this utterly hilarious 90s-era Creationism vs. Evolution school assembly speech (Come on, who came up with these graphs?), it’s the cutaway shots of the totally bored teens that are the true gems in this mess. One male teen in the audience is so bored that he actually starts to nibble on his hand to pass the time. Others bite their nails, yawn, give the side-eye to one another and so forth…

They definitely don’t want what he’s selling. You can’t blame them with lines like, “That stupid theory of evolution that’s included in the books as if it is a fact and it’s nothing but a Pagan religion.”
 

 
Via Christian Nightmares and Everything Is Terrible

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Slavoj Žižek: Ayn Rand’s ‘John Galts’ are the idiots who crashed the economy & they’ll do it again


 
I had to laugh at the way Slavoj Žižek so masterfully ended his Guardian op ed piece, “Who is responsible for the US shutdown? The same idiots responsible for the 2008 meltdown.”

Žižek’s subtitle is “In opposing Obamacare, the radical-populist right exposes its own twisted ideology” and in the essay, he poses a provocative question that I’ve been wondering about a lot myself recently: “Barack Obama is accused of dividing the American people instead of bringing them together. But what if this, precisely, is what is good about Obama?”

I’d like to read Žižek—or Jonathan Chait, Brian Beutler, Alex Pareene, Michael Tomasky, Charles Hugh Smith, Frank Rich or the great Charles P. Pierce—taking on this topic in further detail once the dust has cleared.

The conclusion Žižek draws at the close, though, is simply sublime:

One of the weird consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown and the measures taken to counteract it (enormous sums of money to help banks) was the revival of the work of Ayn Rand, the closest one can get to an ideologist of the “greed is good” radical capitalism. The sales of her opus Atlas Shrugged exploded. According to some reports, there are already signs that the scenario described in Atlas Shrugged – the creative capitalists themselves going on strike – is coming to pass in the form of a populist right. However, this misreads the situation: what is effectively taking place today is almost the exact opposite. Most of the bailout money is going precisely to the Randian “titans”, the bankers who failed in their “creative” schemes and thereby brought about the financial meltdown. It is not the “creative geniuses” who are now helping ordinary people, it is the ordinary people who are helping the failed “creative geniuses.”

John Galt, the central character in Atlas Shrugged, is not named until near the end of the novel. Before his identity is revealed, the question is repeatedly asked, “Who is John Galt?” Now we know precisely who he is: John Galt is the idiot responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown, and for the ongoing federal government shutdown in the US.

Standing ovation!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Ignoramuses are holding America back’ says Richard Dawkins


 
I have to tread a bit lightly here since every blood relative of mine is a Creationist, so I’l just link to what Richard Dawkins has to say about American science being held back by religious myths and sidestep whatever familial shit I might personally step in.

On Monday, Dawkins and Steven Pinker appeared on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Secular Coalition for America.

Via Raw Story:

A reporter asked Dawkins about the fact that more than 40 percent of Americans believe the Christian creation myth, that God created the world in seven days.

“This country is, without a doubt, the leading scientific nation in the world, beyond the shadow of a doubt,” Dawkins replied. “I can’t help wondering how much more advanced this country would be if you were not held back by this astonishing burden of 40 percent of the people who literally think the world, the universe is less than 10,000 years old.”

“I mean,” he said, “that is a staggering piece of ignorance. It’s a scandal.”

Believing that the world is less than 10,000 years old, Dawkins said, “is not a small error. It’s a gigantic, ridiculous error.”

The problem, he said, is based in part on the fact that school boards are elected in local elections, and that “in particular districts, it may be that the electors are electing ignoramuses.”

I’m more partial to the way Charles P. Pierce writes the plural form“ignorami.” That has an even meaner sounding ring to it and I appreciate that.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Bo Diddley’s Guide To Survival: ‘If you don’t have no money, just smell right’
09.23.2013
04:22 pm

Topics:
Music
Thinkers

Tags:
Bo Diddley

bo knows blah blah blah
 
From @chunklet on Twitter comes this wonderful but unsourced (and possibly unsourceable?) news clipping detailing pioneering rock guitarist Bo Diddley’s views on weighty matters such as romance, cuisine, pharmacology and cows.

Alcohol and Drugs  Only drink Grand Marnier, and that’s to keep the throat from drying up in a place where there’s a lot of smoke. As for drugs: a big NO!

Food  Eat anytime, anything you can get your hands on. I mean it!

Health  Whenever you get to feeling weird, take Bayer aspirin. I can’t stand taking all that other bullshit.

Money  Always take a lawyer with you, and then bring another lawyer to watch him.

Defense  I can’t go around slapping people with my hands or else I’d go broke. So I take karate, and kick when I fight. Of course, I got plenty of guns - one real big one. But guns are for people trying to take your home, not some guy who makes you mad. I used to be a sheriff down in New Mexico for two and a half years, so I know not to pull it right away.

Cows  If they wanna play, and you don’t wanna make pets out of ‘em, and you can’t eat ‘em - then get rid of ‘em!

Women  If you wanna meet a nice young lady, then you try to smell your best. A girl don’t like nobody walking up in her face smelling like a goat. Then, you don’t say crap like “Hey, don’t I know you?” The first thing you ask her is: “Are you alone?” If she tells you that she’s with her boyfriend, then you see if the cat’s as big as you. If you don’t have no money, just smell right. And for God’s sake don’t be pulling on her and slapping on her. You don’t hit the girls! If you do this, you can’t miss.

Hearing  Just don’t put your ears in the speakers.

I think we can all agree that a girl don’t like nobody walking up in her face smelling like a goat, and it really can’t be said often enough.
 
bo diddley's guide to survival
 
While you’re busy rethinking your life, enjoy some Bo Diddley…
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘The Ultimate Revolution’: Aldous Huxley lectures at Berkeley, 1962
09.23.2013
08:18 am

Topics:
Drugs
Literature
Thinkers

Tags:
Aldous Huxley


Image via OzHouse

Novelist, essayist, spiritual seeker, intellectual, humanist, and advocate for careful experimentation with psychedelic drugs.

Aldous Huxley loved California.

He enjoyed the open-mindedness, interest in Eastern religions, and cultural curiosity he encountered in America, along with the companionship of colleagues like Alan Watts, Christopher Wood, and Esalen founders Michael Murphy and Dick Price. Alan Watts and Felix Greene called Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Christopher Isherwood – all passionately interested in the Vedanta philosophy of Swami Prabhavananda – “the British mystical expatriates of southern California.”

On March 20, 1962 Huxley gave a lecture, “The Ultimate Revolution,” at the University of California at Berkeley. He warned his listeners about totalitarianism and how future oligarchs will ensure that people enjoy their servitude. Maybe we should add “prophet” to his list of accomplishments.

Huxley, “The Ultimate Revolution,” full lecture:

 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Happy birthday John Cage!
09.05.2013
08:57 am

Topics:
Art
Dance
Music
Queer
Thinkers

Tags:
John Cage


 
John Cage, the musician, musical theorist, artist, composer, philosopher, avid mycologist, writer and one of the leading lights of the 20th century avant garde was born on September 5, 1912. Cage’s iconoclastic approach to music—and everything else he did—is neatly summed up in this short comment:

After I had been studying with him for two years, [Austrian composer Arnold] Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”

Superb! I hate to admit it, but I’d rather read John Cage than actually listen to his music. Like most people, the only song of his that I can sing in the shower is “4′33″ although I have a shelf full of his books, books about him and anthologies of his interviews.

I do have a slightly funny John Cage anecdote: Sometime in the mid-1980s, Cage, along with Winona Ryder and several other cultural notables, was photographed for an ad campaign for The GAP. These black and white ads were in magazines and on bus shelters in major cities. New York was just plastered with them at the time (Sadly I can’t find Cage’s ad on Google Images).

Part of the pay, apparently, was a rather large GAP gift certificate and on a day that I happened to be in a GAP store on Seventh Ave and 23rd Street—and had literally just passed his ad on the way into the store—John Cage decided that he was going to spend his. I heard him explaining this to the employees—that he had $1000 to spend—and could they please assist him spending it? They at least seemed to recognize Cage from his GAP ad, if not his actual achievements and the staff was happy to help out the cool old guy in the ad.

Cage didn’t stay long because he seemed to know exactly what he wanted. I recall that he walked out with a winter corduroy coat, a big stack of black “pocket tee” shirts, some denim shirts and some blue jeans. His style of shopping was extremely utilitarian. He left nothing to chance…

Below, the fascinating ‘American Masters’ documentary on John Cage, ‘I Have Nothing to Say and I Am Saying It’:
 

 
Below, a seldom-seen cable access program with Cage with his friend, writer Richard Kostelanetz. The pair discuss James Joyce and more:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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