Simon Sellars on Ballard’s work
His work embraces dystopian scenarios, including the archetypal non-space often characterised as a deadening feature of late capitalism. But this is not simply a call for nihilism. Ballard’s characters are not disengaged from their world. Rather, they embody a sense of resistance that derives from full immersion, a therapeutic confrontation with the powers of darkness, whereby merging with dystopian alienation negates its power.
This is predicated on concurrency: Ballard’s writing turns objectivity into subjectivity, opens up gaps where there is room for new subjects. His scenarios are what I term ‘affirmative dystopias’, neither straight utopia nor straight dystopia, but an occupant of the interstitial space between them, perpetual oscillation between the poles — the ‘yes or no of the borderzone’, to use a phrase from his work.
An excerpt from Mark Dery‘s interview with JGB
MD: One would imagine the crash as the car’s desperate attempt to establish — if only for a fleeting moment — a sort of selfhood, even at the expense of its experience.
JGB: Exactly. Very strange, that; paradoxical. Also, there is a deep melancholy about fields full of old machinery or wrecked cars because they seem to challenge the assumptions of a civilisation based on an all-potent technology. These machine graveyards warn us that nothing endures.
Dery on Ballard the postmodernist
Long before deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida were slinging around references to the “decentered” self, Ballard is talking, in his trenchant introduction to Crash (1973), about “the most terrifying casualty of the century: the death of affect” and about “the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods.” Before postmodernists like Jean Baudrillard were announcing the Death of the Real and its unsettling replacement by uncannily convincing media simulations, Ballard is claiming that “we live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind” — advertising, “politics conducted as a branch of advertising,” P.R. “pseudo-events,” et al. — where “Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of a dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality.” And before neo-Marxists like Fredric Jameson and Mike Davis were pondering the deeper meanings of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Frank Gehry’s Hollywood library, Ballard is pondering the psycho-spatial effects of the built environment: the experience of swooping around a freeway cloverleaf; of walking through a cavernous, empty multistory parking garage; of waiting, alone, in an airport departure lounge; of walking the privately policed streets of an obsessively manicured exurban community. How, Ballard wonders, is our sense of our selves as social beings and moral actors — our very understanding of what it means to be a self — being transformed (deformed?) by the whip-lashing hyperacceleration of technology and the media, the blurring of the distinction between real and fake? Ballard was the first to ask how we became posthuman.
David Cronenberg on turning Crash into a film
The weird thing about Crash is that at first it’s a complete turn-off, and then gradually you find yourself being turned on by things you never thought you’d be turned on by, in language that you never imagined you’d be turned on by. That’s the art of it. Somehow, you’re getting the pure experience, from the narrator’s point of view, of this strange eroticism. It’s disturbing, just becuase it’s so abnormal and perhaps even dehumanized, although no one but a human could think such thoughts.
I tried to do the same thing in the movie by creating a style that was sensual in some ways, and having very attractive people in the film, becaus I knew that, conceptually, many people would resist it. So to balance that, I tried to make it somewhat sensual and textural without making it deliriously luscious, you know. I tried to do the same thing cinematically that I felt Ballard was doing literarily.
James Campbell visits JGB’s home in Shepperton
As a housekeeper, however, Ballard, who lives alone, resides in the era before the term “mod con” was invented. A 20-year-old Ford Granada of indistinct hue slumps on the narrow driveway, jammed up against the front entrance. Indoors, the curtains, neither open nor closed, are held in limbo by a giant dehydrated plant that has collapsed on to the table, blocking all but the most determined approach. Lost amid the mini-jungle of its dried-up fronds is a dust-covered Collins Dictionary. Ballard’s electrical fixtures would interest the curator of the Design Museum. On a cold day, the rooms are warmed by small heaters positioned in the middle of the floor. The sleek stylist of western consumerism never got round to installing central heating.
An obituary at The Guardian
An extract from Empire of the Sun, 1984
An extract from Crash, 1973
Vaughan died yesterday in his last car crash. During our friendship he had rehearsed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filled with airline passengers. The crushed bodies of package tourists, like a hemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughan had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughan’s body she placed a gloved hand to her throat.
Could she see, in Vaughan’s posture, the formula of the death which he had devised for her? During the last weeks of his life Vaughan thought of nothing else but her death, a coronation of wounds he had staged with the devotion of an Earl Marshal. The walls of his apartment near the film studios at Shepperton were covered with the photographs he had taken through his zoom lens each morning as she left her hotel room in London, from the pedestrian bridges above the westbound motorways, and from the roof of the multistorey car park at the studios. The magnified details of her knees and hands, of the inner surface of her thighs and the left apex of her mouth, I uneasily prepared for Vaughan on the copying machine in my office, handing him the packages of prints as if they were the installments of a death warrant. At his apartment I watched him matching the details of her body with the photographs of grotesque wounds in a textbook of plastic surgery.