Ballard, J. G. (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
J. G. Ballard 1930–-
(Full name James Graham Ballard) English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Ballard's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 6, 14, and 36.
One of the most innovative and respected contemporary science fiction authors, J. G. Ballard explores in his work the interior landscape of isolated humans in a postmodern world transformed by science and technology. The inner space he chronicles lies between the external world of reality and the internal world of the psyche. His characters interact with an Earth made surreal by environmental degradation, media intrusion, and perversity, and they typically appear in the midst of a quest and strive for an individually defined transcendence. Ballard's best-known works—including The Crystal World (1966), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973), Hello America (1981), and Empire of the Sun (1984)—illuminate the many paradoxes and underlying debasements of contemporary life.
Ballard's birth and early life in Shanghai, China, profoundly shaped his worldview and fiction. His parents were members of the privileged British colonial class and provided a luxurious home for the young Ballard and his sister. With the advent of World War II, however, the family's life changed drastically: They were interned in a Japanese prison camp from 1942 to 1945. Ballard found some aspects of his life in the camp enjoyable despite the atrocities and hardships he endured there; he chronicled the experiences of those war years in the autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun. Upon his release, Ballard resumed his studies. He attended the Leys School, Cambridge, from 1946 to 1949 and then studied medicine at King's College, Cambridge, where he considered becoming a psychiatrist. After two years, he left King's College without taking a degree and moved to London University, where he studied English. In 1954 Ballard joined the Royal Air Force and was sent to Canada for his training. He married Helen Mary Matthews in 1955 and started work as an editor of technical journals, writing stories for science fiction magazines on the side. While on holiday, Ballard wrote The Wind from Nowhere (1962), the first of his four science fiction novels classified as catastrophe stories. He followed with The Drowned World (1962) and The Burning World (1964), later edited and reissued as The Drought (1965). Ballard's wife died suddenly in 1964, leaving him with three young children to raise. Two years later, he published The Crystal World, the last of his four catastrophe novels. Ballard's work moved into a different phase with the publication of The Unlimited Dream Company (1979), Hello America, and Empire of the Sun, the last of which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Guardian Fiction Prize and was nominated for a Booker Prize. Aside from volumes of short stories, essays, and criticism, Ballard's later works have primarily been novels, including The Day of Creation (1987), Running Wild (1988), The Kindness of Women (1991), Rushing to Paradise (1994), and Cocaine Nights (1996).
Ballard's writing embodies his belief that science fiction is the only genuine literature of the twentieth century—that is, the only fiction to have responded imaginatively to the revolution and moral crises wrought by advances in science and technology. In terms of the internal and external landscapes examined, his work is composed of three phases. Phase I contains descriptions of imaginary places inspired by the Surrealist painters and ends with The Crystal World. Phase II begins with The Impossible Man and Other Stories (1966) and examines landscapes of technology and the communications industry. Phase III contains fiction set in actual geographic locations, beginning with The Unlimited Dream Company. Ballard's first four novels introduce symbols that reappear throughout his work: water signifies the past; sand, the future; concrete, the present; and crystal, eternity. Tornadic winds in The Wind from Nowhere, melting ice caps in The Drowned World, desertification in The Burning World, and a strange, malignant mutation in The Crystal World depict the destruction of known civilization and the retreat of small bands of survivors to the few areas left on Earth that can support “normal” life. In each work, however, a single character turns away from survival and toward a transcendent union with the destructive element.
The second phase of Ballard's fiction comes to full flower in the short stories of The Atrocity Exhibition. This work is concerned with the dehumanizing, violent, perversely erotic elements that Ballard sees as intrinsic to the technologies of the late twentieth century. One of the stories from this collection led to the novel Crash. The characters in Crash pursue sexual satisfaction, mutilation, and violent death by planning and taking part in ever more devastating automobile wrecks. They exemplify the dysfunctional yet enticing relationship people share with the technology that surrounds them. The influence of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is apparent in the character of Maitland in Concrete Island (1974). His car crashes through a barrier on a freeway and tumbles down an embankment, a desolate, solitary area apart from the world. For a while he shares the space with two people already there, a hobo and a prostitute, but eventually he is left alone. Rather than attempting to escape his dismal surroundings, he adapts to his changed circumstances. High-Rise (1975) is set in an expensive, self-contained residential building replete with recreational facilities, shopping malls, and a stratified society that echo the external world. Feuds break out between floors, and the inhabitants eventually revert to savagery. The novel ends eerily with the sight of a nearby apartment block tower going dark, with the residents presumably heading down the same anarchic path.
The third phase of Ballard's work begins with The Unlimited Dream Company, set in his own English suburb of Shepperton. In this novel the narrator drowns in a plane crash but survives in another form and haunts the residents of his former home with dreams. Hello America is also concerned with a dream: the enduring dream of the promise of America. It projects into the near future, envisioning a United States without people. Most have migrated to Europe or Asia because of the depletion of energy resources and ecological change. Las Vegas is the one place where people are still living, but life there is directed by a psychopath and consists primarily of various sophisticated technologies employed in the service of entertainment, mass media, and celebrity images from the twentieth century. In Empire of the Sun, Jim, the autobiographic protagonist, acts heroically on many occasions, but accepts his incarceration as part of his struggle to survive. He correctly identifies the atomic blast he sees from a distance as a harbinger of death, symbolic of the brutality and senselessness he has observed throughout the majority of his childhood in war-torn Asia. In Running Wild, on the other hand, the children from Pangbourne Village are watched and protected so relentlessly that they rebel against their parents and other adults and slay them. Ballard briefly revisits 1930s Shanghai in The Kindness of Women, another autobiographic novel in which the author moves selectively forward through nearly fifty years, recording the obsessions and experiences that have informed and influenced his best fiction. Rushing to Paradise examines self-deception carried to a violent extreme with the introduction of a program of eugenics designed to eliminate reproductive males. In Cocaine Nights, which begins like a mystery, Ballard presents a leisure class so bored that people in the community become complicit in acts of violent and illicit behavior.
Initial critical response to Ballard's work, particularly the extremes of his second phase, was mixed, but examined retrospectively his work has gained admiration for its philosophical and intellectual rigor, powerfully imaginative language, and singular vision. His four catastrophe novels, of which The Crystal World is generally regarded as the best, received favorable comment from both Graham Greene and Kingsley Amis. While The Atrocity Exhibition is noted as one of Ballard's most controversial works, Empire of the Sun is considered his most accessible, particularly as popularized by Steven Spielberg's movie version. Crash, Concrete Island, and High-Rise positioned Ballard in the forefront of the British New Wave school of science fiction. They also earned him a cult following and a literary tie to William S. Burroughs, whose work has exerted a noticeable influence on Ballard's. The surreal nature of Ballard's literature is also compared to the paintings of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, and Salvador Dali. Critics note that Ballard's fiction lacks the narrative thread, strong characterization, and dialogue generally associated with the science fiction genre. His characters are flat, their relationships with one another left unexplored, while their place in relation to the universe, time, or technology is examined in depth. As commentators observe, his landscapes, both internal and external, become characters themselves, and the humans who inhabit his fiction become one with the topography. Especially in the early works, Ballard's fiction is notably composed of psychic myths, echoing Jungian psychology, with the antagonist a shadow-self of the protagonist. As commentators note, Ballard tells the same story repeatedly, using a vast array of landscapes, with the ultimate destination of his characters always being transcendence achieved through a spiritual quest. Even if they are seen moving toward certain death, they go resignedly, even happily, because they completely understand the altered reality of their circumstances. In contrast to William Golding and Joseph Conrad, Ballard believes that civilization can never triumph over nature and that such a struggle is doomed. Like Jim in Empire of the Sun, Ballard's characters understand that survival requires complete surrender to the demands of power. Ballard's prescience regarding society in the last forty years of the twentieth century is considered a hallmark of his work. Long before the trend was noticeable, Ballard discerned the interactions among the cultures of consumption, image-driven power, and the entertainment industry in which the contemporary world is awash. Ballard's literary supporters assert that his singular achievements as a writer fully justify his growing stature among postmodern literary figures.
Billennium (short stories) 1962
The Drowned World (novel) 1962
The Voices of Time and Other Stories (short stories) 1962
The Wind from Nowhere (novel) 1962
The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (short stories) 1963
Passport to Eternity (short stories) 1963
The Burning World [expanded and published as The Drought, 1965] (novel) 1964
The Terminal Beach (short stories) 1964
The Crystal World (novel) 1966
The Impossible Man and Other Stories (short stories) 1966
The Day of Forever (short stories) 1967
The Disaster Area (short stories) 1967
The Overloaded Man (short stories) 1967
Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan (short stories) 1968
The Atrocity Exhibition [published as Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A., 1972] (short stories) 1970
Chronopolis and Other Stories (short stories) 1971
Vermilion Sands (short stories) 1971
Crash (novel) 1973
Concrete Island (novel) 1974
High-Rise (novel) 1975
Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories (short stories) 1976...
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SOURCE: “Return to the Source,” in New Statesman & Society, September 11, 1987, p. 26.
[In the following review, Priest offers praise for The Day of Creation.]
One of the familiar smaller pleasures of a J. G. Ballard novel is the way in which the chapters are named, a surreal blend of fanciful Freud and boys' action/adventure stuff. For example, five consecutive chapters in The Day of Creation are called ‘Piracy’, ‘Out of the Night and Into the Dream’, ‘The Naming of New Things’, ‘The Helicopter Attack’ and ‘Escape’. Readers who discovered Ballard's work through his 1984 novel Empire of the Sun might have been slightly disconcerted there by the same kind of thing (‘The Refrigerator in the Sky’ and ‘The Bandits’), but Ballard veterans usually turn to the Contents page first for a quick preview of the happy and fruitful madness to come.
Empire of the Sun was the anomaly in Ballard's career. Because it had autobiographical content it seemed to reveal the source of practically everything else the author had written, but Empire was of familiar type and was thus enjoyed by more people, probably, than had read all his other books put together. It was a WWII novel, perhaps the last great one to be written by a participant in the war. But it was not like his other novels (which I preferred): Crash, The Unlimited Dream...
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SOURCE: “Stranger than Fiction,” in New Statesman & Society, November 9, 1990, p. 38.
[In the following review of War Fever, Diski finds Ballard's stories “stiff” and unimaginative in light of more extraordinary events precipitating the end of the Cold War.]
Last December, I was on a plane to New York. Halfway through the flight, the man sitting next to me explained that he had been on a geographical survey in the Hindu Kush for the previous three months without access to news, and wanted to know if anything had happened recently. Well, yes, it had, as a matter of fact; the Berlin Wall had become nothing more than a slab of soon-to-be demolished concrete, and in the 12 weeks he had been analysing minerals up his mountain, the central political reality of the second half of the twentieth century had been blown away.
The geologist stared at me for a moment and decided to go to sleep. I suppose he thought that if all that could happen in three months, maybe everything would be back to normal by the time we touched down at Kennedy. Which is to say that if science fiction is to hijack our imaginations, it's got to do something more than play with predictions or offer weird scenarios of what might be. The present, thank you very much, is quite strange enough already.
In this collection of stories [War Fever], J G Ballard is more concerned with inner...
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SOURCE: “An Interview with J. G. Ballard,” in Mississippi Review, Vol. 20, Nos. 1–2, 1991, pp. 27–40.
[In the following interview, Ballard discusses the negative impact of technology, violence, and mass culture in Western society; comments on science fiction, literary realism, and his own writing; and shares his feelings about the landscape and livability of various cities in Europe and the United States.]
J. G. Ballard's fiction stands at the forefront of postmodern aesthetics. His surreal journeys into the hi-tech, televisual and concrete environments that constitute a present time for us stand as some of the most provocative and imaginative works of the past thirty years.
Ballard's writing career began in a number of science fiction magazines in the late 1950s. Most notable were his contributions to Michael Moorcock's landmark New Worlds, a magazine which helped define a new science fiction sensibility for readers and writers on both sides of the Atlantic. After moving from the overtly sci-fi nature of his early works, Ballard, in the early 1970s, wrote a series of novels that stand as some of the most pertinent insights into our contemporary media-drenched, imagistic epoch.
Crash, Concrete Island, and especially The Atrocity Exhibition are perfect examples of Ballard's vision—highly technical and affectless worlds ruled by the...
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SOURCE: “J. G. Ballard and the Transformation of Utopia,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, March, 1991, pp. 53–70.
[In the following essay, Wagar discerns underlying elements of idealism and a longing for psychic transformation and transcendence in Ballard's fiction. According to Wagar, Ballard's work, despite its dark glorifications of nihilistic or amoral behavior, embodies a positive contribution to anti-capitalist utopian aspirations.]
1. TOPOGRAPHY AND UTOPOGRAPHY.
As the work of J. G. Ballard unfolds, it becomes more and more evident that his fictions are fundamentally topographic: explorations of landscape, both external and internal. In 1974, speaking to Robert Louit, Ballard divided his work, down to that time, into two halves. In the first half, through The Crystal World (1966), he had offered descriptions of “imaginary places,” under the direct inspiration of the surrealist painters; in the second half, beginning with The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), his attention shifted to “the landscape of technology and the communications industry.” He found a whole new stock of visual stimuli in photography, the cinema, and television (“Some Words” 52).1
At a still later date, the landscape of technology lost some of its fascination for Ballard, and he began writing novels more strictly geographical, set in...
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SOURCE: “The Sage of Shepperton,” in New Statesman & Society, September 27, 1991, p. 52.
[In the following review, Kimberley offers a positive assessment of The Kindness of Women.]
There is only one rule in literature: beware of sequels and autobiographies. The Kindness of Women appears to be both, and yet manages to be stimulating and substantial. JG Ballard never was one to abide by the rules.
Ever since he published Empire of the Sun in 1984, Ballard has enjoyed status and esteem within the somewhat circumscribed world of English literary culture. It is as if that novel, with its themes of boyhood, war, the end of Empire, had tapped into the mainstream, thereby allowing us to forget the aberrant imagination that had produced Ballard's work until that point.
Yet, although Empire of the Sun did embrace themes that could be labelled Bookerish, their imaginative transformation was quite in line with every novel Ballard had written. Shanghai in the second world war might have been twinned with the Shepperton of Ballard's Low-Flying Aircraft (1978). The narrator Jim was simply a younger brother of the haunted figures who wander through all his fiction. And the Japanese soldiers were no more or less alien than the haunted Man Fridays who shadow Ballard's Crusoes in every novel.
Empire of the Sun gave Ballard...
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SOURCE: “After the Sun Had Set,” in The Spectator, September 28, 1991, pp. 41–2.
[In the following review of The Kindness of Women, Montrose finds shortcomings in Ballard's “lacklustre” autobiographical novel.]
In the final chapter of The Kindness of Women, JG Ballard's alter ego, Jim, has flown to Los Angeles for the première of what, in autobiography, would be Empire of the Sun (director S. Spielberg), but here, this being autobiographical fiction, is the film (director anonymous) of an unnamed book. He has been sought out by Olga Ullanova, his governess in Shanghai 50 years earlier, who urges him to write another novel about the city. She greets his response doubtfully:
England? … Is it so interesting? …
The question goes unanswered, but Ballard presumably thought so: at any rate, the sequel now appears. Olga's misgivings are understandable: Empire of the Sun's subject matter conferred an enormous advantage. That its successor represents a distinct flop is due not to any shortage of exploitable material, however, but to authorial selection and treatment.
The opening chapters are set in Shanghai before, during and after the war. Many details are different this second time around, though not for any obvious reason other than to facilitate the main business:...
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SOURCE: “Ballard/Crash/Baudrillard,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 19, No. 3, November, 1992, pp. 354–60.
[In the following essay, Ruddick examines Jean Baudrillard's commentary on Crash—which Ruddick contends is a misreading of Ballard's work—and Ballard's misdirected attack on postmodern criticism in response to Baudrillard's essay.]
Ballard's novel Crash (1973), in its author's words the “first pornographic novel based on technology” (“Some Words” 49), is an extreme fiction.1 Ballard tells a prepublication anecdote about it that is both credible and revealing:
One of the publisher's readers was either a psychiatrist or the wife of a psychiatrist, and she wrote the most damning and vituperative reader's report [the publisher] ever received. It included the statement: “The author is beyond psychiatric help.”
This reader's reaction, based on a confusion between fiction and reality—between the narrator and the author—might be dismissed as naive, were it not for the fact that Ballard invites such confusion. The narrator-protagonist of Crash is named “James Ballard,” although this is not finally confirmed until the beginning of Chapter 8. This investiture of the narrator with the authority of the author through the name of...
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SOURCE: “J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Senses: Perversion and the Failure of Authority,” in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Vol. 108, No. 3, May, 1993, pp. 519–32.
[In the following essay, Foster, an associate professor of English at Southern Methodist University, contends that Ballard's presentation of extreme perversity and violence—particularly as found in Running Wild, The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, and Empire of the Sun—represents a stark critique of modern consumer and technological society which illustrates the objectification of the human body as an instrument of sexual pleasure and destruction.]
When Charles Manson invited America's youth to kill their parents, he was less interested in resisting authority than in removing the figures of an authority that was already dead. The fathers had died, but they did not know it, as one of Freud's patients dreamed.1 In The Dead Father, by Donald Barthelme, the Dead Father continues to burden the roving band of children long after he has ceased to function as leader, protector, or wise man, because he does not yet know he is dead: “Dead, but still with us, still with us, but dead” (3). In the end, normally, the fathers die, fatherhood goes on, and the satisfactions the children had to put off while awaiting maturity are once more delayed, held in reserve for the next generation....
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SOURCE: “Petition, Repetition, and ‘Autobiography’: J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 35, No. 4, Winter, 1994, pp. 688–708.
[In the following essay, Luckhurst examines the interrelationship between Ballard's fiction and autobiography, as evident in Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women. According to Luckhurst, the numerous retellings, inversions, and variations of key events in Ballard's fiction and autobiography further problematize interpretation of Ballard's oeuvre, rather than serving as a mechanism for “decoding” or “decrypting” his work.]
The reception of J. G. Ballard's work has always bewilderingly bifurcated between pronouncements that Ballard is “our best novelist” (Kimberley 52) and dismissal of his clumsy, embarrassing, and possibly insane works. This divergence of evaluation can more than probably be attributed to Ballard's association with science fiction and the need for critics to distance themselves from the stereotypical portrait of the average “fan” as dysfunctional male adolescent. Curiously, however, if “mainstream” criticism associates him with the genre, the institutions of science fiction have always treated Ballard's membership with suspicion. In a strange effect, Ballard is situated within the SF/mainstream binary only as he is projected onto the other...
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SOURCE: “Images from the Disaster Area: An Apocalyptic Reading of Urban Landscapes in Ballard's The Drowned World and Hello America,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1, March, 1994, pp. 81–97.
[In the following essay, Rossi provides comparative analysis of The Drowned World and Hello America, focusing on Ballard's portrayal of post-apocalyptic London, New York, and Las Vegas as physical and metaphorical “Dead Cities,” and the interplay of historical and trans-historical themes in the texts.]
J. G. Ballard has dealt at least twice with the apocalyptic1 image of the Dead City. This somewhat disturbing landscape is the background of his novels The Drowned World and Hello America. The two mark different points on the axis of time—namely, 1962 and 1979, respectively—cutting a segment on the line of Ballard's evolution as a writer, but also defining a period of literary history during which many significant events took place, both inside and outside SF. Between 1962 and 1979 Ballard wrote important works such as The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, and The Crystal World; SF literature “came of age” thanks to P.K. Dick, K.W. Jeter, Thomas Disch, Ursula Le Guin, and Brian Aldiss; and, as for North American literature, the postmodernist wave reached its zenith.
If the task of historians of SF and genre...
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SOURCE: “J. G. Ballard: Time out of Mind,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring, 1994, pp. 43–59.
[In the following essay, Brigg examines Ballard's preoccupation with time in “The Voices of Time,” The Crystal World, Hello America, and “News from the Sun.” Brigg contends that these works exemplify Ballard's conception of time as a subjective, man-made perception of the external world—rather than an absolute measure of reality—in which his characters explore the inner space between universal and personal time.]
… instead of treating time like a sort of glorified scenic railway, I'd like to see it used for what it is, one of the perspectives of the personality, and the elaboration of concepts such as the time zone, deep time and archaeopsychic time.
—J. G. Ballard, “Which Way to Inner Space”
The full implications of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' discovery of human subjectivity are only now beginning to unfurl. While it is a commonplace to assert that each man sees the world in his own way, there remains an unwritten and unstated assumption that the world remains an objective entity and that one is reasonable or sane if one “sees it the way it is.” But in the cloudy chaos of our times, in the shadows of missiles and technological future shocks, the real implication—that there are as...
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SOURCE: “Repetition and Unreadability: J. G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter, 1995, pp. 292–304.
[In the following essay, Luckhurst analyses Ballard's “signature” style, as exemplified in the stories of Vermilion Sands. According to Luckhurst, Ballard “seduces” the reader with his distinct idiom, his use of incongruous similes, and textual repetitions which, taken together, comprise the indefinable essence of his work.]
I will begin with a narrative of seduction. Martin Amis, in his long career of reviewing Ballard, began by condemning the “vicious nonsense” of Crash and has always sniped at Ballard's sham portentousness. In a television discussion, he dismissed Ballard's claim that science fiction is the literature of the twentieth century by pointing out that SF, for all its self-promotion, has remained “a minority pursuit—like train-spotting” (a very English insult). By the time he reviewed The Day of Creation, however, this dismissal had modulated: “Ballard's novel is occasionally boring and frequently ridiculous. … You finish the book with some bafflement and irritation. But this is only half the experience. You then sit around waiting for the novel to come and haunt you. And it does.” In the preface to Einstein's Monsters, Amis even had to admit that he had begun to write like...
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SOURCE: “Crime or Banishment,” in The Spectator, September 21, 1996, pp. 51–2.
[In the following review, Barrow praises Cocaine Nights as “a wonderfully readable and self-confident book.”]
This is the first book I have read by this prolific and popular author. I am therefore unable to say if this is ‘vintage’ Ballard or a dazzling new departure for him, or indeed just how it fits into the massive and star-spangled Ballard oeuvre. I can only say that it is a wonderfully readable and self-confident book, soothingly written yet brimming over with frightening ideas.
Cocaine Nights is set on the Costa del Sol and to some extent takes the lid off the ‘retirement complexes wedged into that overheated strip of land. A well-known English travel writer arrives in the area to try and help his younger brother, who has mysteriously claimed responsibility for the murder of several people in a housefire, though nobody, not even the police, believe him to be guilty of this horrific crime.
Action is divided between two different resorts. Estrella de Mar, where the murders have taken place, is a suspiciously lively place, full of alert and over-active inhabitants engaged in a tireless sporting and cultural programme, and apparently unconcerned about the criminal activities going on around them: nobody, quite literally, gives a hoot when a rape takes place...
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SOURCE: A review of Cocaine Nights, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 2, Summer, 1997, pp. 266–67.
[In the review below, Olsen offers a positive review of Cocaine Nights.]
Criminality has become a kind of performance art at the end of this millennium, the protagonist of J. G. Ballard's wonderful new novel [Cocaine Nights] notes, the last real impetus for communal action in a bored leisure society.
It's no surprise, then, to find the author of twenty-five books, including such cult classics as The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash (the latter now an unnervingly good film by David Cronenberg), turning to the murder mystery genre for inspiration, and, with typical innovative grace, reconfiguring its key narrative elements: Charles Prentice, a British travel writer who enjoys the in-betweenness of his profession, journeys to a town forty minutes up the coast from Gibraltar on behalf of his carefully self-destructive brother, Frank, who has confessed to five horrific killings he apparently hasn't committed; even the police handling the case aren't quite convinced he's guilty, despite the fact they must arrest and hold him for trial since the scant evidence they possess seems to implicate him.
Charles's quest for the real murderer leads him into the world of safe-zone compounds that stretch along the beaches of the Costa del Sol,...
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SOURCE: “Allusions in Ballard's The Drowned World,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, July, 1997, pp. 302–10.
[In the following essay, McCarthy examines Ballard's use of literary allusions in The Drowned World,including references to works by Joseph Conrad, William Golding, Daniel Defoe, John Donne, John Keats, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, William Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, and others.]
J. G. Ballard's fiction has received substantial critical attention, much of it focusing on the postmodern qualities of such works as The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, and Hello America. Indeed, the starting point for much of the criticism is summarized in Jeremy Lewis's observation that “Ballard's fiction stands at the forefront of postmodern aesthetics” (27), which implies a sharp distinction between Ballard's aesthetics and those of his high modernist predecessors. Ballard's professed disdain for “the alienated and introverted fantasies of James Joyce, Eliot and the writers of the so-called Modernist Movement” might also suggest that his work has little in common with modernist fiction (qtd. by Wagar, “Transvaluation” 68).1 Yet the line of demarcation between modernism and postmodernism is not always so easily discernible, as we might infer from Matti Savolainen's postmodern analysis of Ballard's work, which begins by noting a connection between “New...
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SOURCE: A review of Cocaine Nights, in Insight on the News, September 21, 1998, pp. 36–8.
[In the following review, Roberts makes a positive evaluation of Cocaine Nights.]
British writer J. G. Ballard leads us once more into the dystopian future. Cocaine Nights, recently released in the United States, presents a world of leisure with a distinctly sinister side.
Because so many contemporary novelists are identified with the movies made from their books rather than the books themselves, they benefit or suffer from cinematic interpretations that have little relation to their body of work. Certainly this is the case with British writer J. G. Ballard, author of Empire of the Sun and Crash, dissimilar novels whose differences are exaggerated in their film versions.
Ballard's autobiographical Empire of the Sun, published in 1984, recounts the author's boyhood in Shanghai during the Second World War and his internment in a prison camp in Japan. Steven Spielberg turned the book into an affecting if sentimental movie. Ballard's autoerotic Crash, a psychosexual fable published in 1973, explores the dysfunctional but seductive relationship between people and technology. David Cronenberg directed the sexually explicit but aesthetically insipid film.
Of the two books, Crash is far more typical of Ballard's work...
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SOURCE: “Modernity and Its Discontents,” in New Statesman, May 10, 1999, pp. 41–2.
[In the following review of Iain Sinclair's Crash: David Cronenberg's Post-Mortem on J. G. Ballard's “Trajectory of Fate,” Gray discusses Ballard's literary significance and the major themes and disturbing cultural observations in his work.]
Derelict airfields, drained swimming pools, encroaching sand dunes, mangled cars, drowned cities—if these images remain in collective memory, as ciphers for what it was like to be alive in the closing decades of the 20th century, it will be the utterly individual vision of JG Ballard that put them there. Ballard's work fits comfortably into no known genre. A more prolific and consistently inspired short story writer than HG Wells, a novelist more unblinking in his insight into solitude and the flimsiness of character than Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene, an “experimental” writer more unsettling and often funnier than William Burroughs, Ballard has taken up the familiar genres of literature and anti-literature as experimental devices in a lifelong effort to communicate a particular view of the world.
It is a view of things that goes flatly against the pieties of the age. It takes a certain nihilism as given. Ballard regards with suspicion all schemes—liberal, environmentalist—that aim to make the world over. Such schemes repose a faith in...
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SOURCE: A review of High-Rise, in New Statesman, December 20, 1999, p. 126.
[In the following review, Amis offers a generally favorable assessment of High-Rise.]
Towards the end of Auden and Isherwood's The Ascent of F6, Ransom, the Oedipal, megalomaniac hero, is about to scale the last heights of the mountain when he is told that the local demon will be awaiting him on the summit. Ransom climbs on alone, and as he reaches the summit unharmed—his great moment of personal and public triumph—he sees a small hooded figure on the crest, facing away from him. He approaches the demon, it turns—and it is his mother. Folding on to the ground, Ransom feels his life begin to drain away, as the demon sings him a tender lullaby which is also his dirge. JG Ballard's High-Rise is a harsh and ingenious reworking of the F6 theme, displaced into the steel-and-concrete landscapes of modern urban life.
The high-rise, with its 1,000 overpriced apartments, swimming-pools and shopping concourses, is what Ballard calls “the vertical city”, and to begin with its residents observe conventional class and territorial demarcations (“upper”, “lower” and “middle” levels), showing resentment, expediency and disdain for their fellow citizens in much the same way as life is run in the outside world. Soon, though, the enclosed nature of the building has encouraged and...
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Greenland, Colin. “The Works of J. G. Ballard.” In The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British ‘New Wave’ in Science Fiction, pp. 92–120. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.
Provides an overview of the central themes and stylistic devices in Ballard's fiction and discusses the influence of Surrealism on Ballard's evocation of time and consciousness.
Hultkrans, Andrew. “Body Work.” Artforum 35, No. 7 (March 1997): 76–81, 118.
Ballard and David Cronenberg, director of the film version of Crash, discuss their respective works, formative experiences, and the intersection of contemporary culture and technology as portrayed in Crash.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Review of War Fever, by J. G. Ballard. New York Times Book Review (21 April 1991): 9.
A review of War Fever.
Luckhurst, Roger. “The Angle between Two Walls”: The Fiction of J. G. Ballard. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997.
A book-length study of Ballard's stylistic techniques, recurring preoccupations and motifs, and a critique of contemporary mass culture in his novels.
Marcus, James. Review of Running Wild, by J. G. Ballard. New York Times Book Review (7 December 1989): 19.
(The entire section is 345 words.)