I discovered this morning that the sometime Science Fiction writer and chronicler of the late twentieth century, J G Ballard, whose semi-autobiographical novel The Kindness Of Women I wrote about a few weeks ago, has died. Eulogies are apparently all over the blogosphere.
His early experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese in wartime Shanghai flooded indelibly through his work; images of wrecks, ruin and abandonment abound. An air of the inevitability of decay hangs over nearly everything he wrote. (The word “already” is a Ballardian trademark.) Here it should be noted that as a road map of where as a civilisation we may be headed this aspect of his work may be all too predictive.
Yet to me his writing always seemed to be quintessentially English; it represented a kind of über Englishness in the way that possibly only an expatriate could express. His stories somehow embodied the stiff upper lip and also the “hanging-on in quiet desperation” that Roger Waters of Pink Floyd described as the English way. Yet they dissected alienation and elevated its description to an art from.
Having said all that it nevertheless remains true that pretty much all of his works plough a similar furrow. I know this will be sacrilege to his admirers but to read one Ballard novel is more or less to read them all. The crucial affect is of detachment, events are described matter-of-factly, as if they do not really impact on the character whose point of view we inhabit at the time.
His obsessions, Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedy assassination, car crashes, the nuclear bomb, urban blight, were those of an Englishman of a certain age. In that respect he was more a man of his time than he was one ahead of it.
He is undoubtedly, however, one of the major writers in English, and of world literature as a whole, of the second half of the twentieth century.
And the novels of his that were published as Science Fiction are indissolubly part of his canon, covering the same concerns, and equally as worthy, as those that were not.
J G Ballard 15/11/1930-19/04/2009.
So it goes.