Grave New World
The Decline of the West in the fiction of J.G. Ballard
[ba-column size=”one-third” last=”0″]We learn that Ballard was severely criticized by fans as a pessimist and a life-hater and that the science fiction world wrote him off and that he never won a science fiction award. Pringle also describes the hostility with which editors treated his later “difficult” prose (the entire Doubleday edition of Atrocity Exhibition was printed but pulped just before the publication) because he used people such as Ronald Reagan, the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe as characters. Pringle ends by presenting psychological war novels by Ballard and by shortly characterizing his biography – these are the beginnings of the legend of J.G. Ballard, his war and the impact it had on his imagination. Pringle concludes:[/ba-column]
Although most of his longer work of the past decade has been outside the field, the originality and appropriateness of his vision continue to ensure JGB’s standing as one of the most important writers ever to emerged from sf. (Pringle 1993: 85)
When in 1994 Simulacra and Simulations (1981) by Jean Baudrillard was translated into English the prose of J.G. Ballard found a new and influential advocate. In a chapter devoted to Ballard’s Crash (which had previously been translated and reprinted in Science Fiction Studies) Baudrillard calls Ballard’s book one of the masterpieces of contemporary literature, which shows the world of today as it really is, the simulated unreal projection of mass culture and sophisticated technique. Science fictionalizes reality, the world of high technology is by nature fictitious and Ballard’s prose is a rare example of conscious exposing of simulacra-ridden mediascape.
Generally, in the late nineteen-eighties the status of ambitious science fiction changed; on one hand some of the very good writers coming from ‘the field’ elevated the genre to the status of intellectually provoking erudite reading, on the other hand many postmodernist writers began to apply science fiction conventions. Used as sophisticated literary trope, science fiction was no longer associated solely with male adolescent audience and acquired an ambiguous status of ‘a game with the reader’ or ‘a play with convention’.‘The Angle Between Two Walls’ The Fiction of J.G. Ballard (1997) by Roger Luckhurst, the best critical book on Ballard to date, is devoted to the role Ballard’s output plays in the contemporary discussions about literary genres. Luckhurst major thesis is that Ballard escapes any classifications and that, moreover, his writing produces an effect of unease just because it exposes binary oppositions-based categories we apply when reading. Ballardian books (especially Crash and Atrocity Exhibition, other works are either just mentioned or discussed in brief subchapters) are for him a pretext to expose contemporary reading protocols defining what is post-modern, what is modern, what is science fiction and what is avant-garde.
Luckhurst begins by showing Ballard as a fringe writer living literally in the suburbs of London and figuratively outside literary London and outside the Academia of English studies (a little like Iain Sinclair and, once, Angela Carter). His key to Ballard is the notion of la brisure (according to deconstruction it is the point in any structural system that makes the working of the system at once possible and impossible) and in his analyses he most often refers to Derrida . The choice of deconstruction as his approach is dictated by paradoxical proliferation of ‘Ballards’ in recent criticism:
The mainstream post-war novelist of increasing import; the aberrant foreign body within science fiction; the belated voice of a science fiction modernism,; the anticipatory or timely voice of a paradigmatic postmodernism; the avant-garde writer of extreme experimental fictions; the prophet of the perversity of the contemporary world. (Luckhurst 1997: xii)
Deconstruction exposes binary oppositions we constantly use while thinking and thus allows Luckhurst to subverse generic codes and frames of recognition that allow readability, and to “speak from a structurally similar space of the ‘between’ (Luckhurst 1997: xiii). Such a critical standpoint sometimes makes his text a little enigmatic and focused not on Ballard’s output but on reader (and critic’s) response to it. Nevertheless, Luckhurst study is very erudite, well grounded and full of insights into Ballard, the most valuable of which is the observation that Ballard’s text anticipates its interpretations. “His work at once constantly activates theoretical models, but it is also awkward, didactic, and overtheorized, tending to evade or supersede the theories meant to ‘explain’ it” (Luckhurst 1997: xvii).