Monday, April 20, 2009

J. G. Ballard, R.I.P.

J. G. Ballard, author of Crash, High Rise, and The Atrocity Exhibition, among other works, died from prostrate cancer. His works were originally categorized "sci-fi" during the era of New Wave Science Fiction, but when Star Wars killed off the New Wave, his works were adopted by Universities - as were other New Wave writers like James Tiptree Jr., Samuel Delaney, and Harlan Ellison. It's a shame that he (and the other writers) are remembered only within literature departments, because they were - and are - visionaries.

In the most honorable tradition of writing, he found a seam, planted a mine, and slipped away.

It's easy, from the perspective of the present, to minimize just how revolutionary all this was - we now live, after all, in Ballard's world. Ballard, though, produced work that not only challenged his audiences but also actively provoked them, in some cases literally moving people to vandalism, as when he staged a 1970 exhibition of crashed cars at a London art gallery. This show, intended to illustrate the fetishization of machinery and violence, was a seminal moment for Ballard: It led to the publication of "Crash" in 1973.

"The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century," the author wrote in a 1974 introduction to the French edition of the novel, "has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermonuclear weapons systems and soft drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudoevents, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century - sex and paranoia."