Friday 22 November 2019

JG Ballard: the seer whose eerie visions of the future came true

As a writer, JG Ballard is best known for his novels and short stories, in particular, the Booker-nominated Empire of the Sun, which was brought to the screen by Steven Spielberg.

Less well known are the hundreds of interviews he gave, many of which are gathered here, covering much of Ballard's writing career. Some of the interviews appear in print or translated into English for the first time.

The material comes from a wide variety of sources, with an interview for almost every year of the period covered.

In a featured interview with fellow writer Will Self, Ballard states that "as a writer I have always relied on my obsessions. I have always faithfully followed them."

This book makes it clear just how much that statement is true.

Ballard's particular 'obsessions' are in evidence throughout, from nuclear testing to advertising and popular culture; from gated communities and surveillance to violence in society.

Ballard explores these obsessions to the point of repetition through many interviews, using the format to test his ideas.

He is persuasive, passionate and playfully challenging, good-naturedly testing his interview-ers, eager to goad a response.

As a writer he is unusually willing to discuss his novels in great detail and to elaborate on what led him to write them, making the interviews a fascinating insight into the creative process.

What makes this collection compelling, however, are Ballard's predictions about the fate of society amidst the social and technological change which so fascinated him.

His visions of the future are eerily prescient and relevant to modern society; what better description is there for the landscape of social media than Ballard's prediction of a future where we can broadcast 'the inside of our heads'?

This collection demonstrates that Ballard's thinking is as relevant now as it has ever been. It also reveals his human side.

We learn that he loved playing bridge, reading Graham Greene and being in the south of France (an intoxicating mix of "garlic, Gauloises, shit and perfume").

Catherine McKenna

Catherine McKenna is a PhD research student at King's College, London, studying JG Ballard and his personal library and archive.

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