Friday, 24 April 2009

My Favourite Writer J.G. Ballard Dies.

On Sunday 19th April J.G. Ballard died. I have read Ballard since my teens and he has become my favourite author. I have now completely immersed myself into his imaginative landscape, an imaginative landscape not of the far future or the distant past but the here and now. He has taught me that mystery, strangeness, even beauty and transcendence can be found in the geography of London’s utterly banal and alienated outer suburbs-a world of business parks, shopping centres and motorways. Rather then escaping to elsewhere, to a galaxy far, far away, Ballard brought science fiction down to earth without abandoning its visionary potential.

His style is not bleak realism that rubs your nose in despair, but enhanced hyper-realism closer to lucid dreaming or trance states. His protagonists populating his fictions seek transformation or psychological fulfilment not through extraversion-a sane and gregarious hero figure conquering his enemies and getting the girl-but by going inward, deep into the inner space of their minds, embracing obsession near to the threshold of madness. (and some times stepping over that threshold into genuine insanity.) The imagination is brought into the foreground, the source of personal liberation, highly appealing to my introverted and “stay at home’ personality.

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-story car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels…

But here we come to another important facet of J.G. Ballard; his critique of late-capitalism. Ballard’s fictions are ambivalent: on the one hand he reached out to the deviant and most alienated side of our society, the revitalising effects of violence or extreme sexuality, the leeching away of emotion to allow the imagination full reign-the death of affect. But on the other hand he understood the dangers residing in our modern day dystopias, high rises, gated communities and shopping malls, sapped of all human agency and community. J.G. Ballard was not left wing as such and leaves us with no social solution for our predicament. It’s difficult at times to reconcile my leftist hunger for class struggle and collectivism, albeit of the autonomist persuasion, with what seems on the service a middle-class individualist outlook. But his novels and stories depicted nightmares of capitalism, ruthlessly dissecting the psychopathology of corporatism and consumerism-offering a psychological or artistic solution not a political one. Anyway like all great artists he went beyond mere ideology, a subversive act in itself.

I suppose another factor in my love of J.G. Ballard was he lived very nearby. He was not a distant literary figure living the high life, but was almost a neighbour. It was only a few years ago I found out his address by looking in the local phone book (yes, there it was in the local phone book!) I would never intrude on his privacy but I did take a walk from Walton where I live to Shepperton to view his house. And it’s as ordinary as everyone says it is. It would be really great if a J.G. Ballard fan bought the house and turned it into a sort of Ballard museum by keeping it exactly as it is.

I will miss J.G. Ballard. I never knew him but his writing has lodged itself into my brain like no other writer. He has literally changed my mental map, no cliché. J.G. was never a believer in God or an afterlife but let’s hope like a "second Adam," he has found at last "the forgotten paradises of the reborn sun."

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