Thursday, September 07, 2006

At the TLS

M. John Harrison on J. G. Ballard's new novel:

J. G. Ballard’s early landscapes flickered up off the page, their drowned or desert conditions hinting at the landscapes of global warming to come. His early narcissistic psychiatrists and deranged movie stars glowed against this background – less human beings than messages etched into the brutalist semiotics of arts centre, Hilton hotel and motorway flyover. Whatever else he has been, Ballard began as an imagist. His ideas were welcome because they seemed to be inseparable from his inventiveness, the tone of his voice, the archi-tectonics of Ballardian space. The symptoms of his literary pathology were presented with all the enchantment of a page of Vogue or Architectural Review, while deconstructing both. His eye was cinematic, fractured, relentlessly selective, intermittent as a broken video camera operated by one of Rebecca Horne’s disordered mechanical structures, prefiguring a kind of art accident not yet technologically possible. Now, years later, in Kingdom Come, we encounter the same frozen restlessness, the same obsessive but broken regard, no longer inventing the future, only misappropriating the present. It is difficult to overstate how far ahead of his time Ballard seemed to readers in 1956. But now that history has caught up and passed the old motorist, his late vision – of consumption as Fascism out of uniform, or at least as a precondition for the full-blown, full-dress kind – seems simultaneously unassuming and cranky.

(Ballard is one of many novelists I was initially turned on to by means of Anthony Burgess and the demented99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939.)

1 comment:

  1. Harsh. Which novel did Burgess pick? I always thought that Ballard's short fiction was easily his best work and that his lack of narrative drive tended to make his novels plod, since he was stuck with a setting with a limited number of images. His last story collection, War Fever (1991), still has some good stuff in it. As someone who CAN'T write short narratives, Ballard was inspirational to me in showing that narrative wasn't necessarily what was required.

    Burgess did say "The Drowned Giant" was one of the greatest stories of the 20th century, and I don't think he's that far off. I found it profound when I read it as a teen.