I learned this morning that the great English writer J.G. Ballard has died. He was 78.
Ballard has no discernible Foucauldian connections that I can think of, instead I mark his passing in this space because I imagine that many readers here would know or appreciate Ballard’s work.
Ballard always seemed to me an English writer rather than a British one. He had colonial experience (brought up as a boy in Shanghai he was imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, which he fictionalised in Empire of the Sun, later made into a movie by Steven Spielberg). His early work on Ambit magazine, his life in the London suburb of Shepperton, home to the British movie industry, the Atrocity Exhibition, all these seemed very English. His work in the 1960s for example was a kind of “fantastic” translation of the Angry Young Men.
I knew Ballard was ill and elderly, but for a while it seemed like he would live on. His death is not so much a shock as an opportunity for reflection.
The geographer David Wood offers a fine tribute to him here. Wood suggests that Ballard prefigured many later writers of alienation, especially those that worked within the urban or better, suburban landscape, and I would agree. There is also something for those of us who identify with the American space mission as not something shiny and successful, or not only that, but also resulting in abandoned spacedromes and rusting rockets.
For those unfamiliar with JGB you should try the Re/Search re-issued book The Atrocity Exhibition (1990), shown above. Illustrated by medical artist Phoebe Gloekner (Ballard himself could have had a medical career) the book is a collection of short, disturbing pieces interspersed with photos of abandoned airports (no drained swimming pools however!).
The first American edition of this book was pulped by Doubleday in 1970 when they learned of the piece here “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan.” Ironically, at the the 1980 Republican Conference, a version of the piece (minus its title and running sideheads) and, Ballard says “furnished with the seal of the Republican Party,” was distributed to delegates. “I’m told that it was accepted for what it resembled, a psychological position paper on the candidate’s subliminal appeal, commissioned from some maverick think-tank.”
Thus the Ballardian world.