A Ballad For Ballard
I do like 'poetic' titles, ones that are easy on the eye and carry a sense of what is to follow, yet I have searched for a better title since the weekend.JG Ballard
, who died last Saturday aged 78, maybe deserves a 'love song', if only because, as the many tributes
that have since poured out demonstrate, his bleak dystopian writing has affected so many creative people.
The author of over 25 books, it wasn't until Steven Spielberg filmed the autobiographical Empire Of The Sun
in 1982 that he moved beyond being a 'cult' writer. Until then, words such as sardonic, absurdist, comically satiric, bizarre mixture of fact and fiction
, coupled with his relentless intelligence
- words from the back cover of the only Ballard novel I have to hand, Rushing To Paradise
, restricted his readership.
His visionary and consistent contemplation of humanity's rush to be at one with technological advances lead him to be compared to HG Wells. Indeed, where writers have often been described as Wellsian, they may now be considered to be Ballardian, a word to be found in certain dictionaries.
Until I fairly recently found my secondhand copy of his 2001 novel Rushing To Paradise
, I had more or less forgotten that many years ago I had been disturbed by his account of a London community marooned on a concrete island by the building of inner city ring roads. I think the book, in my long lost archives, was in fact Concrete Island
, but may have been Crash
, filmed by David Cronenberg.
I didn't like that particular movie, but then other movies I have enjoyed, Cronenberg's Dead Ringers
, David Lynch's Blue Velvet
, and TV series, Twin Peaks
, and early Quentin Tarantino movies, do owe a lot to their perceptions of Ballard's take on contemporary urban life.
To quote the great man, he was interested in "the evolving world, the world of hidden persuaders, of the communications landscape developing, of mass tourism, of the vast conformist suburbs dominated by television - a form of science fiction, and it was already here
In many senses, I too have these interests, worrying about how humanity seeks dominion over everything, yet manifestly fails. Much of my writing, an externalisation of these concerns, owes much to Ballard.
And just yesterday, I discovered that maybe, just maybe, there are others out there and maybe they've given me an alternative and probably better title.
On a bridge above the toll road that almost encircles Jakarta there is a hoarding for yet another dormitory suburb. The sales pitch is that it offers A Touch Of Reality
, as if to acknowledge that what has been on offer until now has been mere fantasy.
As Ballard has said
, "In a sense, fakes are the only authenticity remaining to us
Jakarta is ringed with dormitory towns which tart up their commercial estates with turrets, cupolas, statuary and other ornamentation, in multifarious pastel shades as if to disguise the paucity of architectural imagination. These aren't the grand mansions with Doric (Ironic?) pillars which line busy roads so that passers by can ogle the occupants' ostentatious display of their accumulated wealth.
These are nothing but functional boxes designed to house functionaries.
The shopping malls offering 'recreational facilities' in place of the parks and green spaces they've been built upon, the immense growth in private transport forced to navigate along roads in an appalling state of repair, the élitist apartment blocks safeguarded against the underemployed hoi polloi
housed in the clusters of shacks just below, the zoo-like behaviour of electoral candidates - surely these are all present day manifestations of Ballard's perception.
(Incidentally, are there any Brits who are surprised that a local bank, Bank Ifi
, has failed? Who among us would contemplate entrusting their savings to a bank which actually admitted to dodgy dealings? On second thought, it's the iffy banks which have caused the current economic malaise.)
Just as in Disneyland, much of humanity can only handle reality in small doses. JG, I salute you and thank you for allowing us to see.
.......................................You can download JG's last short story - The Dying Fall - here.