J. G. Ballard

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We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind… The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
Our lives today are not conducted in linear terms. They are much more quantified; a stream of random events is taking place.

James Graham Ballard (15 November 193019 April 2009) was a British novelist and short story writer who was a prominent member of the New Wave in science fiction. His best known books are the controversial Crash, and the autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, both of which have been adapted to film.

Quotes[edit]

I feel that the surrealists have created a series of valid external landscapes which have their direct correspondences within our own minds.
I define Inner Space as an imaginary realm in which on the one hand the outer world of reality, and on the other the inner world of the mind meet and merge.
Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.
I think the key image of the 20th century is the man in the motor car. It sums up everything: the elements of speed, drama, aggression, the junction of advertising and consumer goods with the technological landscape.
The uneasy marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an increasingly surreal world.
The art of Salvador Dalí, an extreme metaphor at a time when only the extreme will do, constitutes a body of prophecy about ourselves unequaled in accuracy since Freud's "Civilization And Its Discontents".
Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer's role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there.
My novels offer an extreme hypothesis which future events may disprove — or confirm. They're in the nature of long-range weather forecasts.
Twenty years ago no one could have imagined the effects the Internet would have...
  • Our lives today are not conducted in linear terms. They are much more quantified; a stream of random events is taking place.
    • Conversation with George MacBeth on Third Programme (BBC) (1 February 1967)], published in The New S.F. (1969), edited by Langdon Jones.
  • I feel that the surrealists have created a series of valid external landscapes which have their direct correspondences within our own minds.
    • Conversation with George MacBeth on Third Programme (BBC) (1 February 1967), published in The New S.F. (1969), edited by Langdon Jones.
  • I think the new science fiction, which other people apart from myself are now beginning to write, is introverted, possibly pessimistic rather than optimistic, much less certain of its own territory. There's a tremendous confidence that radiates through all modern American science fiction of the period 1930 to 1960; the certainty that science and technology can solve all problems. This is not the dominant form of science fiction now. I think science fiction is becoming something much more speculative, much less convinced about the magic of science and the moral authority of science. There's far more caution on the part of the new writers than there was.
    • Conversation with George MacBeth on Third Programme (BBC) (1 February 1967), published in The New S.F. (1969), edited by Langdon Jones.
  • I define Inner Space as an imaginary realm in which on the one hand the outer world of reality, and on the other the inner world of the mind meet and merge. Now, in the landscapes of the surrealist painters, for example, one sees the regions of Inner Space; and increasingly I believe that we will encounter in film and literature scenes which are neither solely realistic nor fantastic. In a sense, it will be a movement in the interzone between both spheres.
  • All over the world major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or ancient Egypt, is reassimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonise past and future. The same trend can be seen in personal relationships, in the way people are expected to package themselves, their emotions and sexuality in attractive and instantly appealing forms.
  • A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status — all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).
    • Interview in Penthouse (September 1970).
  • Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.
    • "Fictions of Every Kind" in Books and Bookmen (February 1971).
  • A lot of my prophecies about the alienated society are going to come true … Everybody's going to be starring in their own porno films as extensions of the polaroid camera. Electronic aids, particularly domestic computers, will help the inner migration, the opting out of reality. Reality is no longer going to be the stuff out there, but the stuff inside your head. It's going to be commercial and nasty at the same time, like "Rite of Spring" in Disney's Fantasia … our internal devils may destroy and renew us through the technological overload we've invoked.
    • Interview in Heavy Metal (April 1971).
  • I think the key image of the 20th century is the man in the motor car. It sums up everything: the elements of speed, drama, aggression, the junction of advertising and consumer goods with the technological landscape. The sense of violence and desire, power and energy; the shared experience of moving together through an elaborately signalled landscape.
    We spend a substantial part of our lives in the motor car, and the experience of driving condenses many of the experiences of being a human being in the 1970s, the marriage of the physical aspects of ourselves with the imaginative and technological aspects of our lives. I think the 20th century reaches its highest expression on the highway. Everything is there: the speed and violence of our age; the strange love affair with the machine, with its own death.
    • Narration for Crash! (1971), a short film by Harley Cokeliss.
  • The uneasy marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an increasingly surreal world. More and more, we see that the events of our own times make sense in terms of surrealism rather than any other view — whether the grim facts of the death-camps, Hiroshima and Viet Nam, or our far more ambiguous unease at organ transplant surgery and the extra-uterine foetus, the confusions of the media landscape with its emphasis on the glossy, lurid and bizarre, its hunger for the irrational and sensational. The art of Salvador Dalí, an extreme metaphor at a time when only the extreme will do, constitutes a body of prophecy about ourselves unequaled in accuracy since Freud's "Civilization And Its Discontents". Voyeurism, self-disgust, the infantile basis of our fears and longings, and our need to pursue our own psychopathologies as a game — these diseases of the psyche Dali has diagnosed with dismaying accuracy. His paintings not only anticipate the psychic crisis which produced our glaucous paradise, but document the uncertain pleasures of living within it. The great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century — sex and paranoia — preside over his life, as over ours.
  • Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.
  • By the time I came to England at the age of sixteen I'd seen a great variety of landscapes. I think the English landscape was the only landscape I'd come across which didn't mean anything, particularly the urban landscape. England seemed to be very dull, because I'd been brought up at a much lower latitude — the same latitude as the places which are my real spiritual home as I sometimes think: Los Angeles and Casablanca. I'm sure this is something one perceives — I mean the angle of light, density of light. I'm always much happier in the south — Spain, Greece — than I am anywhere else. The English one, oddly enough, didn't mean anything. I didn't like it, it seemed odd. England was a place that was totally exhausted.
    • Interviewed by James Goddard and David Pringle (1975).
  • I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that's my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again … the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.
    • Interview (30 October 1982) in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984).
  • Everywhere — all over Africa and South America … you see these suburbs springing up. They represent the optimum of what people want. There's a certain sort of logic leading towards these immaculate suburbs. And they're terrifying, because they are the death of the soulThis is the prison this planet is being turned into.
    • Interview (30 October 1982) in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984).
  • A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.
  • The American Dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It's over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam.
    • Interview in Metaphors No. 7, (1983).
  • The residents had eliminated both past and future, and for all their activity, they existed in a civilized and eventless world.
  • In a totally sane society, madness is the only freedom.
    • Running Wild (1988).
  • Art is the principal way in which the human mind has tried to remake the world in a way that makes sense. The carefully edited, slow-motion, action replay of a rugby tackle, a car crash or a sex act has more significance than the original event. Thanks to virtual reality, we will soon be moving into a world where a heightened super-reality will consist entirely of action replays, and reality will therefore be all the more rich and meaningful.
  • For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope that the human talent for self-destruction can be successfully controlled, or at least channelled into productive forms, but I doubt it. I think we are moving into extremely volatile and dangerous times, as modern electronic technologies give mankind almost unlimited powers to play with its own psychopathology as a game.
    • "JG Ballard: Theatre of Cruelty" interview by Jean-Paul Coillard in Disturb ezine (1998).
  • Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer's role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there.
    • As quoted in The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993) by Robert Andrews.
  • For me the intentions of background music are openly political, and an example of how political power is constantly shifting from the ballot box into areas where the voter has nowhere to mark his ballot paper. The most important political choices in the future will probably never be consciously exercised. I'm intrigued by the way some background music is surprisingly aggressive, especially that played on consumer complaint phone lines and banks, airplanes and phone companies themselves, with strident non-rhythmic and arms-length sequences that are definitely not user-friendly.
    • As quoted in Elevator Music (1994) by Joseph Lanza.
  • I began to become an adult when I was 24 and got married and had children. That matures you, but I wouldn't say I was fully an adult until I was in my forties. The trouble with the whole adult debate is that if you're asking 18-year-olds to go out and fight wars for you then you can't deny them adult rights even though in sorts of other ways they wouldn't qualify until they were about 25. These days adolescence stretches much further into adulthood than it used to. There's no longer any encouragement to be mature.
    • As quoted in Elevator Music (1994) by Joseph Lanza.
  • The cine-camera and television set allow us to perceive slow motion. The concept of anything other than real time had never occurred to anybody until the first slow-motion movies were shown, and this radically altered people's perceptions of nature.
  • The bourgeois novel is the greatest enemy of truth and honesty that was ever invented. It's a vast, sentimentalizing structure that reassures the reader, and at every point, offers the comfort of secure moral frameworks and recognizable characters. This whole notion was advanced by Mary McCarthy and many others years ago, that the main function of the novel was to carry out a kind of moral criticism of life. But the writer has no business making moral judgments or trying to set himself up as a one-man or one-woman magistrate's court. I think it's far better, as Burroughs did and I've tried to do in my small way, to tell the truth.
  • Dalí went on shocking the bourgeoisie till the end. The others, Ernst, Magritte, were all accepted into the critical fold as serious painters. Only Dalí held out till the end. He just didn't give a damn.
    • As quoted in "The benign catastrophist" by Susie Mackenzie in The Guardian (6 September 2003).
  • In wartime Shanghai I saw so many horrors... Civilised life is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is, we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.
    • As quoted in "The benign catastrophist" by Susie Mackenzie in The Guardian (6 September 2003).
  • Some people didn't like the novel, it is in some ways extremely bleak. But if you are dealing with the kind of subjects I am — trying to demystify the delusions we have about ourselves, to get a more accurate fix on human nature — then people are unsettled. And the easiest way to deal with that is to say it's weird or it's cold.
    • On his novel Crash, as quoted in "The benign catastrophist" by Susie Mackenzie in The Guardian (6 September 2003).
  • The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.
    • As quoted in J. G. Ballard Quotes : Does The Future Have A Future? (2004) edited by V. Vale and Mike Ryan.
  • The notions about the benefits of transgression in my last three novels are not ones I want to see fulfilled. Rather, they are extreme possibilities that may be forced into reality by the suffocating pressures of the conformist world we inhabit. Boredom and a deadening sense of total pointlessness seem to drive a lot of meaningless crimes, from the Hungerford and Columbine shootings to the Dando murder, and there have been dozens of similar crimes in the US and elsewhere over the past 30 years.
    These meaningless crimes are much more difficult to explain than the 9/11 attacks, and say far more about the troubled state of the western psyche. My novels offer an extreme hypothesis which future events may disprove — or confirm. They're in the nature of long-range weather forecasts.
  • People, particularly over-moralistic Americans, have often seen me as a pessimist and humourless to boot, yet I think I have an almost maniacal sense of humour. The problem is that it's rather deadpan.
    • As quoted in "Age of unreason" by Jeannette Baxter in The Guardian (22 June 2004).
  • Twenty years ago no one could have imagined the effects the Internet would have: entire relationships flourish, friendships prosper…there’s a vast new intimacy and accidental poetry, not to mention the weirdest porn. The entire human experience seems to unveil itself like the surface of a new planet.
    • As quoted in "Age of unreason" by Jeannette Baxter in The Guardian (22 June 2004).
  • Along with our passivity, we're entering a profoundly masochistic phase — everyone is a victim these days, of parents, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, even love itself. And how much we enjoy it. Our happiest moments are spent trying to think up new varieties of victimhood...
    • As quoted in "Age of unreason" by Jeannette Baxter in The Guardian (22 June 2004).

Crash (1973)[edit]

The crash was the only real experience I had been through for years.
  • My brief stay at the hospital had already convinced me that the medical profession was an open door to anyone nursing a grudge against the human race.
  • After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.
  • After the commonplaces of everyday life, with their muffled dramas, all my organic expertise for dealing with physical injury had long been blunted or forgotten. The crash was the only real experience I had been through for years.
  • We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind — mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
    • "Introduction" to the French edition (1974) of Crash (1973); reprinted in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984).
  • Science and technology multiple around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute.
    • "Introduction" to the French edition (1974) of Crash (1973); reprinted in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984).

Empire of the Sun (1984)[edit]

In a real war no one knew which side he was on, and there were no flags or commentators or winners.
In a real war there were no enemies.
He welcomed the air raids, the noise of the Mustangs as they swept over the camp…
  • Real war was the thousands of Chinese refugees dying of cholera in the sealed stockades at Pootung, and the bloody heads of Communist soldiers mounted on pikes along the Bund. In a real war no one knew which side he was on, and there were no flags or commentators or winners. In a real war there were no enemies.
    • p. 6.
  • His eyes measured the little chamber. How two people could survive in so small a space was as difficult to grasp as the conventions in contract bridge. Perhaps there was some simple key that would solve the problem, and he would have the subject of another book.
    • p. 8.
  • The Chinese enjoyed the spectacle of death, Jim had decided, as a way of reminding themselves of how precariously they were alive. They liked to be cruel for the same reason, to remind themselves of the vanity of thinking the world was anything else.
    • p. 40.
  • The two parachutes fell towards the burial mounds. Already a squad of Japanese soldiers in a truck with a steaming radiator sped along the perimeter road, on their way to kill the pilots. Jim wiped the dust from his Latin primer and waited for the rifle shots.
    The halo of light which had emerged from the burning Mustang still lay over the creeks and paddies. For a few minutes the sun had drawn nearer to the earth, as if to scorch the death from the fields.
    Jim grieved for these American pilots, who died in a tangle of their harnesses, within sight of a Japanese corporal with a Mauser and a single English boy hidden on the balcony of this ruined building. Yet their end reminded Jim of his own, about which he had thought in a clandestine way ever since his arrival at Lunghua.
    He welcomed the air raids, the noise of the Mustangs as they swept over the camp, the smell of oil and cordite, the deaths of the pilots, and even the likelihood of his own death. Despite everything he knew he was worth nothing. He twisted his Latin primer, trembling with a secret hunger that the war would so eagerly satisfy.
  • He waited for the roll-call to end, reflecting on the likely booty attached to a dead American pilot. Soon enough, one of the Americans would be shot down into Lunghua Camp. Jim tried to decide which of the ruined buildings would best conceal his body. Carefully eked out, the kit and equipment could be bartered with Basie for extra sweet potatoes for months to come, and even perhaps a warm coat for the winter. There would be sweet potatoes for Dr. Ransome, whom Jim was determined to keep alive. He rocked on his heels and listened to an old woman crying in the nearby ward. Through the window was the pagoda at Lunghua Airfield. Already the flak tower appeared in a new light. For another hour Jim stood in line with the missionary widows, watched by the sentry. Dr. Ransome and Dr. Bowen had set off with Sergeant Nagata to the commandant's office, perhaps to be interrogated. The guards moved around the silent camp with their roster boards, carrying out repeated roll-calls. The war was about to end and yet the Japanese were obsessed with knowing exactly how many prisoners they held. Jim closed his eyes to calm his mind, but the sentry barked at him, suspecting that Jim was about to play some private game of which Sergeant Nagata would disapprove.
    • p. 201.

Cocaine Nights (1996)[edit]

Our governments are preparing for a future without work, and that includes the petty criminals.
  • Selfish men make the best lovers. They're prepared to invest in the women's pleasures so that they can collect an even bigger dividend for themselves.
    • "Paula Hamilton".
  • Our governments are preparing for a future without work, and that includes the petty criminals. Leisure societies lie ahead of us... People will still work — or, rather, some people will work, but only for a decade of their lives. They will retire in their late thirties, with fifty years of idleness in front of them. … But how do you energize people, give them back some sense of community? A world lying on its back is vulnerable to any cunning predator. Politics are a pastime for a professional caste and fail to excite the rest of us. Religious belief demands a vast effort of imaginative and emotional commitment, difficult to muster if you're still groggy from last night's sleeping pill. Only one thing is left which can rouse people, threaten them directly and force them to act together. … Crime, and transgressive behavior — by which I mean all activities which aren't necessarily illegal, but provoke us and tap our need for strong emotion, quicken the nervous system and jump the synapses deadened by leisure and inaction.
    • "Dr. Sanger".
  • Town-scapes are changing. The open-plan city belongs in the past — no more ramblas, no more pedestrian precincts, no more left banks and Latin quarters. We're moving into the age of security grilles and defensible space. As for living, our surveillance cameras can do that for us. People are locking their doors and switching off their nervous systems.
    • "Bobby Crawford".
  • Everywhere you look — Britain, the States, western Europe — people are sealing themselves into crime-free enclaves. That's a mistake — a certain level of crime is part of the necessary roughage of life. Total security is a disease of deprivation.
    • "Paula Hamilton"

A User's Guide to the Millenium (1996)[edit]

Human beings today … are surrounded by huge institutions we can never penetrate...
  • Human beings today … are surrounded by huge institutions we can never penetrate: the City [London's Wall Street], the banking system, political and advertising conglomerates, vast entertainment enterprises. They've made themselves user friendly, but they define the tastes to which we conform. They're rather subtle, subservient tyrants, but no less sinister for that.
    • "Kafka in the Present Day", originally published in [London] Sunday Times (1983).
  • The history of psychiatry rewrites itself so often that it almost resembles the self-serving chronicles of a totalitarian and slightly paranoid regime.
    • "Magnetic Sleep", review of From Mesmer to Freud by Adam Crabtree, originally published in [London] Daily Telegraph (1994).
  • Perhaps our own fin-de-siècle decadence takes the form, not of libertarian excess, but of the kind of over-the-top puritanism we see in political correctness and the assorted moral certainties of physical fitness fanatics, New Agers and animal-rights activists.
    • "Back to the Heady Future", review of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, originally published in the [London] Daily Telegraph (1993).
  • The technological landscape of the present day has enfranchised its own electorates — the inhabitants of the marketing zones in the consumer society, television audiences and news magazine readerships, who vote with money at the cash counter rather than with ballot paper at the polling boot. These huge and passive electorates are wide open to any opportunist using the psychological weaponry of fear and anxiety, elements that are carefully blanched out of the world of domestic products and consumer software.
    • "The Consumer Consumed", originally published in Ink (1971).
  • Lysenkoism: A forlorn attempt not merely to colonize the botanical kingdom, but to instill a proper sense of the puritan work ethic and the merits of self-improvement.
    • "Project for a Glossary of the Twentieth Century" originally published in Zone (1992).
  • Psychiatrists — the dominant lay priesthood since the First World War...
    • "The Lure of the Madding Crowd", review of The Faber Book of Madness, edited by Roy Porter, originally published in The Independent on Sunday (1991).
  • I find wholly baffling the widespread belief today that the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs was an immoral act, even possibly a war crime to rank with Nazi genocide.
    • "The End of My War", originally printed in the [London] Sunday Times (1995).

Quotes about Ballard[edit]

Ballard is an iconoclast and absurdist. Influenced by the Surrealists, who used the unconscious to wage war on society and art, he strives to codify the experiences of the senses, to anatomize the mythologies of the psyche. ~ Linda S. Kauffman
  • Over the last 50 years, Ballard's indiscriminate and unflinching gaze has worked hard to penetrate the myriad surface realities of our disturbed modernity and to tap into its unconscious energies.
  • A story by J. G. Ballard, as you know, calls for people who don't think. One begins with characters who regard the physical universe as a mysterious and arbitrary place, and who would not dream of trying to understand its actual laws. Furthermore, in order to be the protagonist of a J.G. Ballard novel, or anything more than a very minor character therein, you must have cut yourself off from the entire body of scientific education. In this way, when the world disaster — be it wind or water — comes upon you, you are under absolutely no obligation to do anything about it but sit and worship it. Even more further, some force has acted to remove from the face of the world all people who might impose good sense or rational behavior on you, so that the disaster proceeds unchecked and unopposed except by the almost inevitable thumb-rule engineer type who for his individual comfort builds a huge pyramid (without huge footings) to resist high winds, or trains a herd of alligators and renegade divers to help him out in dealing with deep water.
  • Ballard has never been a typical sci-fi writer. Science fiction was born of mid-twentieth century optimism; it reflected an interest in technology, the future, outer space, which quickly bored him. … Ballard is an iconoclast and absurdist. Influenced by the Surrealists, who used the unconscious to wage war on society and art, he strives to codify the experiences of the senses, to anatomize the mythologies of the psyche.
  • Referring to the death, 20 years ago, of his close friend, the psychologist Chris Evans, his voice drops to a whisper. This may seem like a contradiction in a man who has written some of the most apocalyptic visions of human demise. As a writer, he has often said, he has followed Conrad's dictum — immersed himself in destruction and swum.
  • Jim the man and Ballard the writer is a walking paradox, a ragbag of contradiction. Jim is quiet spoken, Ballard outspoken. Jim is moderate, Ballard frequently obscene. Jim can see meaning in the smallest thing. … Sometimes I think if Jim were running the universe what a benign place it would be. Yet the world of his characters is anything but benign. They are affectionless individuals who insist on the meaninglessness of life.
    • Susie Mackenzie, in "The benign catastrophist" in The Guardian (6 September 2003).
  • The NME online has reported the demise of JG Ballard with the headline: 'Klaxons, Joy Division inspiration JG Ballard dies'
    It is not hard to imagine the ghost of Ballard smiling ruefully, as if this confirmed his every pessimistic thought about the bland inanity of modern culture. He's hardly dead five minutes and he is already being mislabelled for the culturally illiterate, suffering the same fate as Philip K Dick, the wildly original and imaginative science fiction novelist forever misremembered as "author of Bladerunner".
  • When J. G. Ballard, who passed away Sunday, at the age of seventy-eight, was trying to place “Crash,” his dystopian masterpiece of “auto” eroticism, with a publisher, he received a note with a rejected manuscript: “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish.”
    He regarded it as a sign of "complete artistic success."
  • He turned a mirror on our Super-Cannes world and revealed transparent dysfunctional creations playing out bit parts in a play with no author. It was a dirty job but someone had to do it.

External links[edit]

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