GRAVE NEW WORLD – introduction

.Grave New World

The Decline of the West in the fiction of J.G. Ballard

Such a characterisation of Ballard’s early style strikes as very exact, it accounts for Ballard’s fascinations with Lautréamont, Jarry and Breton, numerous visual intertextual allusions in his stories and for Ballard’s obsessive returns to the same or similar figures of speech. What Ballard and the Surrealists have in common is surely the belief than an apocalypse had taken place, both in the intellectual sphere and in daily life. Ballard’s prose shows the contemporary world abundant in fictions whose only connotations are fantasies of their authors. Our environment is fragmented and coded, popular imagery of posters and commercials needs deciphering (thus Ballard’s indebtedness to semiology and Roland Barthes) – we live in the nightmarish world of the Surrealists.[/ba-column]

Greenland describes Ballard’s style and his specific figures of speech trying to show why Ballardian prose is immediately recognizable and “unmistakable”. He analyses Ballard’s habit of introducing a story with a stylised tableau and his conscious use of what he calls “pseudo-simile, one in which there is no discoverable parity between the terms. Ballard’s version of it employs a literary sleight commonly used by ironists: he keeps the relation but blurs the distinction, so that the two halves of the simile, the actual and the virtual, can be swapped over” (Greenland 1983: 103).

Greenland’s book is still after over twenty years the best critical analysis of the ‘New Wave’ movement and it allows us to look at Ballard’s early works from the perspective of the literary life in England at that time. It shows Ballard’s involvement in the editing of New Worlds, his views on art and civilization in the 1960s and his ambiguous position on the literary scene. Greenland (just like Merril) is very much interested in categories such as science fiction, mainstream literature, modernist writing, and the avant-garde. He shows difficulties in pigeonholing Ballard and diverse opinions about how to classify his works. His major achievement as far as critical appraisal of Ballard’s fiction goes is the discussion of his style in the context of the Surrealists: painters and poets alike.

In the nineteen-seventies many writers and critics ‘discovered’ Ballard and highly prized his unique style and remarkable literary achievements: Kingsley Amis (a great advocate of all the ‘New Wave’ prose), Graham Green, Anthony Burgess, Susan Sontag and William S. Burroughs. They wrote reviews and introductions but no monograph was published till the end of the decade . David Pringle decided to work on a serious study of Ballard and finally, in 1979 he published Earth is the Alien Planet J.G. Ballard’s Four-Dimensional Nightmare, a brief (sixty-one pages) but important monograph. His ambition in the book is to present Ballard’s literary output to both science fiction fans and general reading public, and to offer them a key to Ballard – Pringle defines the place Ballard has on the market, divides his career into periods and classifies Ballardian characters and motifs.

Pringle starts by comparing Ballard to ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut who also started their careers as science fiction writers but subsequently transgressed that category. Ballard according to Pringle is less acclaimed but equally worth of being published “without the SF label” (Pringle 1979: 3) and his lack of popularity is due to the fact that unlike Bradbury and Vonnegut he does not write for big and glossy magazines such as Playboy but for ambitious low-circulation press. This “courting of the avant-garde” (Pringle 1979:3) gains him new but limited audience. Nevertheless, Pringle is sure that in the future Ballard will be fully appreciated and the book ends in a prophesy:

Nevertheless, Ballard’s reputation will grow in the decades to come, and he is likely to become recognized as by far and away the most important literary figure associated with the field of science fiction. More than that: he will be seen as one of the major imaginative writers of the second half of the 20th century – an author for our times, and for the future. (Pringle 1979: 61)