J.G. Ballard: Conversations, J.G. Ballard: Quotes
RE/Search founder V. Vale is still cranking out handsome compendiums about (and for) creative iconoclasts and enlightened miscreants, this time two complementary volumes focusing on fringe novelist J.G. Ballard. Pulling from 40 years of interviews, quotes, and Ballard’s own writing, Vale loosely shapes a catalog of Ballard’s reigning obsessions and theories—the death of the future, how the synthetic world of images has engulfed reality like a hungry amoeba, and how sex and violence are a purifying antidote to our consumer-age stupefaction—and creates a definitive archive perhaps too much for a single sit down but worthy of absorbing a few pages at a time.
The repetitiveness and contradiction contained in 40 years of quotations make it easy to dismiss Ballard the man as an argumentative crank, but every few pages unearths a nugget of nihilist purity, such as “Working in an office for a great many years can be one of the most crucifying experiences. You are forced to repress your biological need to kill everyone”; “Postmodernism is a gift to nostalgia and reaffirms that we don’t have a future”; “The curious thing about the Zapruder film is that it’s so like a car commercial. The only drawback is that the passenger gets his head blown off”; or “Sooner or later, everything turns into television.” Ballard’s brand of post-machine age apocalyptic glee has been sorely lacking in a media-inundated 21st century, and it’s refreshing to simmer in a clever ideology free of self-referential smirking, simultaneously giddily doomed and existentially optimistic. And it’s hard to refute something as pithy and verifiable as “Sex plus technology equals the future.”
Some of the same impulse that drives Deadheads to hoard bootleg tapes of live shows must be at foot here. Otherwise, why preserve a transcript of not one but two semimundane conversations Vale and Ballard had in 1988? Still, the interviews—especially one between Ballard and Survival Research Labs founder Mark Pauline—grant the ultimate boon of eavesdropping on bright and unfettered minds in communion. And while Vale never addresses his (inferred) assertion that Ballard is the most unjustly ignored literary voice of the 20th century (and his unfettered adoration of Ballard may fall just on the dignified side of fawning), these books provide a decent and fair portrait of an iconoclastic talent. At least the admiration is mutual. “Marvelous books, those RE/Search books,” Ballard concludes at one point. Seconded.