Sunday 18 February 2018

A homage to the genius of J G Ballard and his weird worlds

Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I've always been a huge admirer of the late J G Ballard. His fiction cut deeper to the core of modernity than anyone else's, and indeed was weirdly prescient about the future: he predicted the current age of social media when the internet was still just a glint in the US military's eye.

BBC Radio 4 has been paying well-deserved homage to his genius with Dangerous Visions, described as a series of "dramas exploring contemporary takes on future dystopias, inspired by the literary distinctiveness and imaginative world view of J G Ballard".

We had a mix of Ballard's own material – adaptations of the seminal novels The Drowned World and Concrete Island (read them!) – and original work by other writers.

They were instructed to use Ballard as an influence in imagining what life might be like in the near future.

So we had, variously, a world where sleep didn't exist; cloning was commonplace; and north London declared war on the southern part of the city.

Needless to say, I loved it. (It runs until tomorrow, by the way, and all this material is available on their website – I strongly recommend everyone to check it out).

This was work of great ambition, intellectually and artistically; and how often can you say that about something?

In fairness to radio, it is generally more open to genuine risk-taking, inventiveness and the avant-garde than other media. That's probably because radio is, relatively speaking, cheap and easy to produce. And here, Radio 4 raised the bar once more.

The station Head of Drama was quoted as saying: "Radio provides the ideal medium for these alternative worlds, playing out in 3D, entirely in the listener's mind."

I think that's entirely correct: exactly like reading a book, radio allows you to actively participate in the act of artistic creation.

It doesn't present a visual image and say, 'here: this is what the future looks like'. Instead, it hints, suggests, aids and provokes; your own mind gets to fill in the gaps, and gets to literally create its own fiction.

It's a wonderful thing, and radio – again, like books – is a wonderful medium. No matter what technological advances a Ballardian future might hold, radio will always be a central part of it.

Irish Independent

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