:: Buzzwords

3:AM Cult Hero: J.G. Ballard

“When in doubt, quote Ballard.”

Nicholas Royle on Ballard’s distinctive prose:

The buildings and infrastructure are as important as, if not more important than, the cast of characters. The settings – the M25 and its miniature familiar, the Brooklands race track; the glowing dome of the Metro-Centre itself; Sangster’s school; Julia Greenwood’s hospital – are imprinted on the mind as much by constant repetition of their appearance and qualities as by the author’s use of active verbs when referring to them: “The Metro-Centre withdrew behind me…”, “Giant floes of black concrete emerged from the darkness”. Inanimate objects are described in ways that can make them seem more alive than the characters observing them: “Eddies of scum circled aimlessly, exhausted by the attempt…”

Ballard’s satire is grimly funny. It makes you align your facial muscles in something closer to a grimace than a smile. In one of two jibes at Auntie, we are told that the Metro-Centre’s cable channel has ratings higher than those for BBC2. (Ballard’s most recent exposure on terrestrial TV was as the subject of ITV’s South Bank Show.)

For fans of Ballard, Kingdom Come is a rich source of pleasure from page one. His distinctive prose immediately sets up expectations of a particular kind of content. Ballard has gone through the phase of having the adjective that describes his own work applied to that of other writers, so that now it is used by reviewers tackling new work by Ballard himself. By holding back most of his work from publication during his lifetime, Kafka managed never to be saddled with the adjective Kafkaesque while he was alive. Ballard’s work, however, is increasingly described as Ballardian.

More: Ballardian / V.Vale‘s tribute to Ballard / Jonathan Lethem on the “poet of desolate Landscapes” / Spike Magazine‘s “Extreme Metaphor: A Crash Course In The Fiction Of JG Ballard” / Crash at the Gagosian Gallery & Iain Sinclair on the exhibition

First posted: Saturday, February 27th, 2010.

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