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‘The JG Ballard Book’ celebrates the ‘Seer of Shepperton’
03.21.2014
12:01 pm

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Books
Literature
Thinkers

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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
Shooting on movie adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s ‘High-Rise’ to begin in June
02.06.2014
03:28 pm

Topics:
Literature
Movies

Tags:
J.G. Ballard

High-Rise
 
Late last year I was casting about for a good book to read, and I inquired on Facebook which J.G. Ballard book is the right one to start with. (I read The Atrocity Exhibition many years ago.) DM’s own Tara McGinley weighed in with alacrity, urging me to try High-Rise, which I directly went and did. I found it just tremendous, and I kept running into Ballardian resonances of the novel while I was reading it, news stories and the like. It’s a marvelous, anomic novel, counterintuitive in all its surface premises and yet emotionally and psychologically true every step of the way.

According to Wikipedia, “For over 30 years, British producer Jeremy Thomas has wanted to do a film version of the book. It was nearly made in the late 1970s, with Nicolas Roeg directing from a script by Paul Mayersberg.” Instead Thomas ended up producing David Cronenberg’s 1996 adaptation of Ballard’s Crash instead.

Ballard fans can rejoice (or cringe) at the news that a high-profile version of High-Rise is officially in the works. Director Ben Wheatley, whose last two efforts were A Field in England and the pitch black comedy Sightseers, today tweeted that principal photography on High-Rise is now set to begin in June. Wheatley is also directing the first two episodes of the upcoming season of Doctor Who, so he is being entrusted to introducing audiences to Peter Capaldi in the main role.

Starring as Dr. Robert Laing in High-Rise is Tom Hiddleston, best known for playing Loki in the Avengers movie franchise. This adaptation of High-Rise is likewise being produced by Jeremy Thomas.
 

 
High-Rise is a formidable challenge for any director, and we’ll just have to wait and see how well it comes out. Certainly, if we can judge by the poster art, we have substantial reason for optimism.

Here’s a peculiar “adaptation” of High-Rise by Mike Bonsall executed in Google SketchUp:
 

 
via Den of Geek

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘The Art of Tripping’: A Who’s Who of creative drug users

The Art of Tripping
 
The title of The Art of Tripping, a documentary about the visionary uses of narcotics that aired on Channel 4 in the UK in 1993, has a slippery double meaning. The surface notion is the idea of a guide to tripping well, of tripping with style, but that’s not what it refers to. More literally, the documentary addresses the artistic uses of drugs, art produced by tripping.

“Devised and directed” by Storm Thorgerson, well known as one of the members of the legendary Hipgnosis artistic team, The Art of Tripping is a satisfyingly intelligent narrative that brings the viewer through two centuries of the effects of mind-altering substances on highly creative minds. Hail Britannia: I’m trying to imagine CBS coming up with a program like this, without success. Even PBS wouldn’t likely go out of its way to praise the salutary uses of mescaline, although I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that point. The narrator is Bernard Hill, who does an excellent job of imitating a certain kind of louche academic type who might plausibly have created the documentary you’re watching (even though he didn’t).
 
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
 
The documentary takes you from the days of Coleridge more than 200 years ago up through De Quincey, Rimbaud, Modigliani, and Picasso before getting to the golden age of chemically enhanced literature and painting following World War II. Be warned: this is a high-minded documentary, and the focus is entirely on authors and painters. You won’t hear anything about Jimi Hendrix here. The doc has a highbrow bias but is no less witty for that: many interviews are digitally fucked-with in appropriate ways, including a Picasso expert whose bit is presented in a cubist style and a commentator on LSD whose outline is briefly replaced with footage of an underwater vista, and so forth. In the familiar effort to make sure everything stays amiably “visual,” there’s also a metaphor in which the narrator ascends a creaky elevator to the rooftop of a building—the resolution of that metaphor could not be more cheesy or perfunctory.

Most notable for the purposes of DM is its lengthy succession of prominent talking heads, from Allen Ginsberg and J.G. Ballard to Hubert Selby Jr. and Paul Bowles. Where such personages were unavailable for reasons of death, Hill “interviews”  De Quincey, Edgar Allan Poe, Anaïs Nin, Andy Warhol, and a few others who are embodied by actors who quote diaries and other literary works in order to “answer” the questions.
 

Paul Bowles
 
All of the great druggie classics of the postwar era are explored. Allen Ginsberg reads some bits of “Laughing Gas” from Kaddish and Other Poems, while Paul Bowles discusses the practice of ingesting kif in Tangier and reads a druggy bit from his book Let It Come Down. J.G. Ballard calls Naked Lunch “a comic masterpiece … a kind of apocalyptic view of the postwar world.” Amusingly, Ballard later says that “taking LSD was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life.” Of course, a few years after this documentary aired, Ballard wrote Cocaine Nights, which would obviously have fit this show to a T.
 
J.G. Ballard
J.G. Ballard
 
The show is chronological, so if you’re looking for Aldous Huxley or Ken Kesey or Jay McInerney, it won’t be too hard to find. My favorite bit comes towards the very end, when Lawrence Sutin, author of Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick, describes Dick’s disturbingly high intake of amphetamines:
 

At his peak, in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, by his own testimony he was taking a thousand amphetamines a week. White crosses and whatever speed, street drugs he was taking. The testimony of the roommate who I interviewed was that he would go to the refrigerator, in which was a large jar of white crosses, and simpy dip his hand in, take a handful, and swallow them, so if you ask how he fared with all this, the answer was: badly.

 

 
via {feuilleton}
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Myths of the Near Future: A young J.G. Ballard wins university writing prize, 1951
07.02.2013
07:23 am

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
J.G. Ballard


 
Graham Rae writes:

In 1951, a 20-year-old J.G. Ballard was studying medicine at Cambridge University in an odd, physician-heal-thyself way to deal with the death and decay and destruction he had witnessed during his famous Shanghai childhood. Whilst there he won a (shared) ten quid Crime Story prize in Varsity, the student paper, writing a story about “Malayan terrorism.” The scan here is from the May 1951 issue.

During the closing stages of his literary career Ballard would again write about terrorism, giving a certain circularity to his writing efforts.

With special thanks to David Pringle, JGB’s archivist, for retrieving this classic wee snippet from the Cambridge University library.

Below, the 1991 Ballard documentary, Shanghai Jim:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Red States vs Blue States: Guess who wins in number of per capita auto fatalities?
11.20.2012
09:24 am

Topics:
Current Events

Tags:
J.G. Ballard
Red States
Blue States


 
With all of the red state vs blue state data that’s been parsed—and is still being parsed—post Election 2012, one of the more fascinating examples of all that number crunching comes, not from Nate Silver, but via a former federal auto safety researcher named Louis V. Lombardo and public safety watchdog group Fair Warning:

The nation’s red and blue states often are miles apart in social attitudes and, of course, political outlook.

It turns out that they also divide into distinct camps when it comes to a grimmer measure — fatal traffic accidents.

To an extent that mystifies safety experts and other observers, federal statistics show that people in red states are more likely to die in road crashes. The least deadly states – those with the fewest crash deaths per 100,000 people – overwhelmingly are blue.

In the absence of formal definitions for red or blue states, we labeled as red the states that favored Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and as blue those that supported the reelection of President Obama.

The 10 states with the highest fatality rates all were red, while all but one of the 10 lowest-fatality states were blue. What’s more, the place with the nation’s lowest fatality rate, while not a state, was the very blue District of Columbia.

Massachusetts was lowest among the states, with 4.79 road deaths per 100,000 people. By contrast, red Wyoming had a fatality rate of 27.46 per 100,000.

They even got a pull quote from What’s the Matter with Kansas? author Thomas Frank, who deemed the study “amazing” and added:

“This is someplace where you would not expect to see a partisan divide.”

What if it’s not a partisan divide at all and something closer to variance in regional IQs? I’d love to see those red state vs blue state stats, wouldn’t you?

Of course there are other factors to take into consideration, such as driving distances, seasonal weather conditions and the fact that many red states have more lax speed limits (Texas, for instance, has a toll road where you can drive 85mph). What time states makes bars shut also comes to mind. So would the proximity to hospitals… population density…

But still, think about it: Voting Republican (and all that implies about intelligence)... Significantly increased per capita auto fatalities... it would seem to me that factoring in IQs might shed at least some additional light on this subject.

There are a lot of ways you could slice and dice something like this, of course, but the most basic factors (as opposed to ideology or a specific belief in, say, Creationisn) would obviously be the most relevant. They might never be able to “prove” a statistical connection—perhaps thick people make better drivers and it’s the red state Democrats doing the bulk of the car crashing, the study obviously didn’t drill down that far, and I doubt they asked these dead people who they were planing to vote for—but it’s probably worth the effort to factor in IQs.

I do wonder what J.G. Ballard would make of all this!
 

 
Thank you kindly, Em!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
J.G. Ballard’s Crash!  (A Film By Harley Cokeliss)

image
 
And speaking of David Cronenberg...the Canadian wasn’t the first director to take a stab at J.G. Ballard’s novel.  The San Diego-born (but London educated) Harley Cokeliss directed a version of his own in ‘71.

Since Crash, the novel, was still two years down the road, Cokeliss based the film on some fragments found in Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition.  And, perhaps even more suited to the role than James Spader, Ballard himself starred as the film’s lead.  From the Ballardian:

With his brooding, hypermasculine presence, Ballard plays a version of Atrocity’s ‘T’ character alongside the actor Gabrielle Drake, her own role a composite of the book’s archetypal ’sex-kit’ women.  The film was a product of the most experimental, the darkest phase of Ballard’s career.  It was an era of psychological blowback from the sudden, shocking death of his wife in 1964, an era that had produced the cut-up ‘condensed novels’ of Atrocity, plus a series of strange collages and ‘advertisers’ announcements.’

The Ballardian link includes a scene-by-scene description of the hard-to-see short, but, since it’s a recent addition to YouTube, you can start watching it right now below:

 
Crash! Part II

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Hitchens on J.G. Ballard
01.13.2010
08:06 pm

Topics:
Books
Heroes
Thinkers

Tags:
Christopher Hitchens
J.G. Ballard

image
 
Wonderful short essay from Christopher Hitchens, writing about British novelist J.G. Ballard on the occasion of the publication of The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard.

From The Atlantic:

For all that, Ballard is arguably best-known to a wide audience because of his relatively ?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Notes From The J.G. Ballard Memorial
12.03.2009
02:50 pm

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
J.G. Ballard

image
 
Spotted at the Ballardian, Rick McGrath‘s great, first-person account of what went down at the recent memorial for J.G. Ballard on what would have been the “Bard of Shepperton’s?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Cash For Clunkers, Stat!
08.04.2009
11:15 am

Topics:
Economy

Tags:
J.G. Ballard
Automobiles

image
 
Let’s hope Congress throws a bone to that Cash For Clunkers program, fast!  In what feels like a further sign-of-our-Ballardian-times, My Interesting Files has posted these photos of unsold cars from around the world.  The sheer acreage of unclaimed autos is staggering.  As are the numbers behind them: Sales of new cars in the UK have slumped to a 12-year low, and the number of cars rolling off production lines fell, at the tail of last year, 47.5% to just 53,823.

image
 
Unsold Cars From Around The World

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment